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Revision in Business Writing

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Few writers are so talented that they can express themselves clearly and effectively in a rough draft. For short, routine business communications, you may be able to write quite easily with little or no revision. However, for most business writing—especially longer, more complex letters and reports—you should expect to revise, sometimes substantially, to ensure that you've said exactly what you meant to say in a manner that the reader will understand.

Remember: An ineffective message is a waste of everyone's time.

Revision Provides a Service for Your Reader

If you are always satisfied to send out the first draft of your letter or report, you are not serving your reader well. Not only are you asking a high payment in terms of your reader's time and attention and running the risk that the reader may misinterpret or be confused by what you have to say, but you are also risking your reader's low opinion: careless, hasty, unrevised writing is always apparent.

Revision Requires a Shift in Your Perspective

To revise effectively, you must first distance yourself from your writing so that you can respond objectively. In other words, you need to shift your perspective by assuming the role of the reader. To accomplish this, you should get away from the paper for a while, usually leaving it until the following morning. You may not be able to budget your time this ideally; but you can put the paper aside while you visit a friend, grab a bite to eat, or work on something else. Unless you divorce yourself from the paper, you will probably remain under its spell: that is, you will see only what you think is on the page instead of what is actually there. And you will be unable to transport yourself from your role of writer to that of reader.

Such objective distance may at first seem difficult to achieve; however, the following questions should help you to systematize the revision stage of your letter and report writing and enable you to keep your reader in mind as you determine appropriate detail, language, tone, organization, and mechanical correctness.

Detail: Deciding What to Include

  1. What does my reader want or need to know to enable him or her to understand my message?
  2. Does my letter/report answer all the questions my reader has asked or questions they may have in mind?
  3. What is my purpose in writing this letter/report?
  4. Does my letter/report give all the information needed to accomplish this purpose?
  5. What purpose does this communication serve for my reader?
  6. Have I included ONLY the material essential to my reader's purpose and understanding? Or am I boring or distracting my reader with unessential and/or obvious information?
  7. What do I want my reader to do when they finish reading my letter or report?
  8. Have I included all the information needed to enable my reader to easily take this action or make this decision?