The video tutorial on informative prose

Yesterday I made the point that workplace readers don’t read minds. It’s the writer’s job to give them the information they need to get the writer’s message. So what do pros do when they aren’t sure what their readers need to know? The smartest way to proceed is to interact with the readers BEFORE sending them your document.

I’ll give you a personal example. As a university administrator, I’m preparing a BIG report (due next fall) for the organization which grants accreditation to our business school. The primary audience for the report is a committee made up of four business school deans. One of them, the committee chair, has already seen and commented on two drafts of our report. I created the first draft using generic guidance from the organization. But the reader’s specific comments on that draft helped me identify additional information he needed to understand the report. The second draft included more definitions, descriptions, examples, etc. that I didn’t predict he would need. Happily for me, he signaled he was satisfied with the information in the second draft.

Getting readers to review a draft is not always possible. You can ask substitute readers instead, but their comments will be useful only if their knowledge accurately represents the knowledge of the target audience. (We did ask two other b-school deans to comment on a draft of my report.) The next best thing to reader- or expert-review is to ask your readers questions about the information they need. (Your questions must be specific.) But, if no other options exist, the key is to provide all of the information your audience could possibly need. This poses special challenges. You’ll have to work VERY hard at organizing your content so that readers can find the information they need and skip the information they don’t. Plus, workplace readers often impose maximums on document length. (More on that in future posts.)

I created the video tutorial below to help amateurs develop informative content for workplace documents. You can find the business plan excerpt it refers to under “Docs.”

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