In our fast-paced society, we are familiar with phrases like, “Hurry up,” and “Get to the point.”
We are Americans; we want it yesterday.
Did you know the writing style that is in a hurry to get to the point is called direct writing? As you might guess, the opposite is called indirect writing, which delays the main point. Both are common in business communication and work well in other disciplines also.
For example, if I want to share good news with you, I should use direct writing. I would get right to the point (or purpose): “Congratulations! You made an A- in our class!”
After getting right to the point, I would explain the reasons for the good news. That might go like this: “As you know, if you have perfect attendance in our class, you receive three extra points. Your final course grade is 87, but the three extra points you receive for perfect attendance raises your final grade to 90. Instead of a B, you have an A- in the course.”
After the explanation, I would end my letter with a positive closing, such as, “Again, congratulations on perfect attendance this semester and for doing well in the class. Thank you for always contributing to our group discussions, and enjoy a blessed summer!”
As you can see, direct writing follows three steps: 1) get to the point or purpose (the good news), 2) explain the reasons for the good news, and 3) end with a positive closing.
What about indirect writing–when should we write indirectly? You guessed it–we should use indirect writing if we have bad news to share.
For example, I would NOT begin with the bad news. Instead, I would begin with a neutral statement, such as, “Thank you for your hard work this semester. I have enjoyed seeing how you have learned more about public speaking and gained more self-confidence with each speech you gave in our class.”
After the neutral opening, then I would explain the reasons for the purpose, or the point, of my letter. It might go something like this: “As you know, you missed three classes this semester, and two of them were unexcused absences. In order to receive the three extra points for perfect attendance, all absences must be excused.”
I could elaborate even more if need be, but this second step of explaining the reasons leads us to the next step, which is presenting the bad news (the purpose or the point).
When presenting the bad news in this third step, be clear and concise so the reader understands easily. The bad news for this letter might go like this: “Therefore, you will not have three extra points for perfect attendance added to your final course grade.”
After that, the last step for indirect writing is the same last step as the direct writing style, which is a positive closing. In this scenario, I could end the same way I began by reiterating my appreciation for the student’s hard work this semester and the progress s/he has made.
Remember, direct writing has three steps, and indirect writing has four steps. When you have good news to share, use the direct writing style and get right to the point. When you have bad news to deliver, wait until the third step to state it.
Even though these are common writing styles in business communication, the formula works well in most types of writing.
(Written by Paula Dixon, who teaches BU360 Managerial Communication at Emmanuel College. This information is based on Chapters 3 and 4 of the course textbook, Improving Business Communication Skills, by Dr. Deborah B. Roebuck.)