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3 'write' ways to make a great first impression

Friday, October 14, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Sandra Folk

Do you know that a person forms a first impression in just three to five seconds?

So, if you just had dental work and can’t smile, someone meeting you for the first time could walk away with the impression that you’re unfriendly. The same can be said of the first impressions created by the written word.

Related: 5 wrong ways to apologize

Writing a compelling opening in your business communication requires knowing your audience and understanding what might appeal to them conceptually. After that? It’s all about the writing.

If you want your audience to quickly take notice and respond to your communication, make sure it is:

Sharp and snappy. Take a cue from newspaper headline writers and make sure the opening sentences and subject headings are direct, simple and sharply written. You may want to look at 10 Questions to Help You Write Better Headlines. The article is geared for journalists and editors, but many of the concepts apply to business writing. For example, one question to consider is, “Are all the words necessary?” Often we overwrite or use jargon when simplicity would be better.

Active and direct. The active voice engages an audience more than the passive voice. If you are not sure of the difference, think of it this way. In the active voice, the subject takes action. An active sentence is simple and direct compared to a passive sentence. Grammar Girl uses a great example with the title of the Motown song, “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” If the songwriters had used the passive voice, the song title would be “It Was Heard by Me through the Grapevine.” It’s pretty clear which title grabs your attention!

Vivid and creative. While being simple and direct is essential for grabbing audience attention, it doesn’t mean your writing should be dull. Painting a vivid picture through words is often key to grabbing people’s attention. For example, think of the famous quote from Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates, “A computer on every desk and in every home.” In the days before computers were everywhere, that vivid image made people pay attention.

It’s not easy crafting communications that make people take notice right away. If it were, every slogan for every company would be memorable. Every email subject heading would make you want to read the email. But there are skills that can be learned that will help you grab your audience’s attention. And, fortunately, it’s a little easier to control your business communications than it is to smile after dental surgery!

Dr. Sandra Folk, founder of the  Language Lab, specializes in improving the business writing and presentation skills of executives and their employees. She is a published writer in the fields of education and journalism and has authored textbooks and articles on the subject of business communication.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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