Not everyone is a skilled or talented communicator. Most professionals have no idea how their letters or emails are coming across – but clients and colleagues certainly do. And so does your boss.
Even for someone whose writing is purely functional there are little tricks to improving the quality of any type of communication.
In my experience with business writing, one bad habit cuts across all levels and all professions: overuse of “I”. It’s everywhere. Almost every sentence starts with “I”. It’s peppered throughout letters and emails.
So what’s wrong with that?
Besides being sloppy and lazy its main fault is that it leaves behind an impression of narcissism: I want to meet with you, I’m interested in doing business with your company, I’d like this, I need that, I’m the best, I can improve your results.
Next time you’re writing a letter or email try one simple change. Write the entire communication without using “I” at all. And don’t try to fudge your way around it (Over the last year I worked hard to deserve this raise). It’ll be a challenge but what this will do is make you more mindful of your reader’s point of view.
Why would the client want to do business with you? Why would your colleague want to collaborate with you on a project? What’s in it for them? Why are you writing this particular document? Under what circumstances?
Audience, purpose, and context form the three prongs of rhetorical power. When you know the answer to those questions before you even begin writing a letter or an email you’ll not only find yourself breaking the “I” habit, you’ll be conscious of the most important part of any message: the reader.
The secret of great writing is the secret of the sale. The reader, like the client, comes first.