By Dr. Ashutosh Karnatak

(This article is based on my experience in the corporate sector, wherein I found that most of the officials need a much-needed improvement in writing skills)

A good write-up communicates whatever the sender-writer wishes to convey to the receiver. It contains an informative content, is simple enough to be comprehended by a person of average intellect, gets to the point and ideas are presented in an orderly manner. All successful people throughout history have shown that not only good oratory but good writing skill is an integral part of their success and this is absolutely true in the corporate world. If you analyse as to who all are on way to the top, you will find that  apart from oral expression, they all have good writing skills.

It is often seen that officials keep writing letters in a routine, ineffective manner, which is not able to make the desired effect. Good letter writing is an art, which makes the reader easily understand the subject. In fact, a bad writer is often under an illusion that the reader will have the same perception and understanding as the writer was thinking, while writing out a document. In the perspective of communication, a document is a piece of paper which contains some information which the reader is supposed to read , understand , comprehend and finally take action as per his understanding of the subject. The process is as under.

  1. Document
  2. Reading
  3. Capturing the subject matter (Comprehension)
  4. Retention of the subject
  5. Action on the same

Document composition by the sender: It is written by the writer based on his understanding of the subject. He downloads the words out of the vocabulary which is there in his mind. The words should be effective enough to convey the correct message. Along with the words, the right kind of preposition etc should be there. Ddocument writing is an art which the writer has to master through training. This is the first step from where the communication between two persons starts. So,it is the document which determines the end result i.e. a corrective action on the part of the receiver of the written message.

It is my experience that most of the officials are weak in this writing they are not able to translate what is in their mind. It may be lack of words or delay in the speed of writing and use of the appropriate word. It is again my experience that the writer writes garbage in the document. A lot of unwanted text is introduced, which has no relation with the main subject. In other words, effectiveness is lost.

Reading by the receiver: This aspect is also a cause of concern. Most of us read the document casually and are not able to comprehend the subject and ultimately take a wrong action. To avoid this mistake in later life, educationists have devised and designed English comprehension to be taught in English classes from the childhood itself. Based on that childhood study, it is upto the adult reader how he reads the document. In fact, the reader gets interested in seeking a point which he thinks and hopes to be there in the document. If not found in the document,, he throws away the document .Therefore the document needs to be able to create interest.

“As per a group of researchers at Harvard University led by a psychologist named Barbara Flagg who were expert in something called eye movement photography.  Eye movement research is based on the idea that the human eye is capable of focusing on only a very small area at one time -- what is called a perceptual spanWhen we read, we are capable of taking in only about one key word and then four characters to the left and fifteen characters to the right at any one time. 

We jump from one of these chunks to another, pausing – or fixating – on them long enough to make sense of each letter.  The reason we can focus clearly on only that much text is that most of the sensors in our eyes – the receptors that process what we see – are clustered in a small region in the very middle of the retina called the fovea.  That’s whey we move our eyes when we read: we can’t pick up much information bout the shape, or the color, or the structure of words unless we focus our fovea directly on them.”(2)

It should be like a like a journey, and start from “To:" and end with “Yours Sincerely”. Based on my experience, reading is also an art which ends to be practiced. At a senior position one should be able to understand and quickly comprehend the subject matter within seconds after seeing the document.

Capturing the subject matter: The writer of the document must know how and where to insert the subject so that the reader is able to capture it in his mind. Mind is the main centre of all the reactions but has to deal with many issues at a time, which is to be processed. So when the reader reads the text of the document, the subject needs to enter into his mind, otherwise the objective of the document will get defeated.

Retention of the subject
It is the attribute of the reader which needs to be cultivated. At the senior level of the organization, the manager has to go through hundreds of documents every day. It is very difficult to read all of the documents and equally difficult to retain the subject matter of the letter. But in a meeting one can find a certain official mentioning about a letter which he saw years ago. Such officials have a good retentive memory and a capability of selection of the information which is to be retained.

Action on the same:
Lastly, after reading the document one decides action to be taken on the same. If one is not able to read the document properly, the action taken by the concerned person will, in all probability, may not be appropriate. Thus it is all the more essential that the writer prepares the document in such a way so that the reader is enabled to take an appropriate action.

You, as a reader, by now must have realised how important is to write a correct document.

Precautions to be taken before meeting senior officials: In our day to day professional life ,we are required to interact with a person to make him understand the subject matter .Once again I have to repeat this  fact that that we often feel that the opposite party thinks as we think – it is a wrong notion.. Whenever going to meet a person, or write to a person, we must think from his viewpoint. Recently, we had to meet a senior official for some issue. I told my colleague about the preparation on the subject.  He had a file comprising of many documents.The colleague believed more on verbal discussion than written one. I advised him that we must have ONE SINGLE paper which may reflect the total issue to him understandable in the least possible time. Consequently, the total issue was captured in one single page as under:

  1. Issue
  2. What is our position
  3. What is the position of concerned authority
  4. What is required from him/her


After approaching to the concerned authority, and wishing him, we sat down and asked about the subject matter which had brought us there. We placed the one -page note and while we were explaining him the subject matter , he had already gone through the note and marked it to the concerned matter as he could understood the issue and the  action  to be taken by him and within 5 minutes, we were disposed .

So, it is essential that whenever we meet any one, we must take the following precautions:

  1. Keep ready a structured note or letter which enables the senor official to understand the issue quickly and enables him to advise concerned person to take action.
  2. Necessary precaution is required to be taken on the FONT size, which should be minim 14 as most of the senior officials wear spectacles and feel comfortable while reading a bigger font.


What is writing?

Writing is an art as well as science. The Art part consists of style of writing consisting active or passive voice, deleting needless words, writing the way we speak etc., whereas the Science part is grammar, spelling, punctuations etc.

As a general law, the writings are FOR OTHERS, and not for you .However, most people feel or understand that readers have the same mindset as that of the writer. One book on the subject mentions that the writings are based on SAP (1), wherein S stands for subject, A indicates audience and P stands for purpose.

Subject (S) : One must be clear about  the subject so that all the contents are related to it .
Audience (A) : This is the group or person for whom the texts  is being written . If your know the person, then you must understand his physique, his knowledge base, his reading habits etc . The objective of the letter or text is to enter into the mind of the reader . And if the message-receiver is not known in person, then the text should be made simple enough and understandable without much flowery words, After all, the person, in all probability is not a the person who has appeared in GRE and a native English speaker.

Purpose (P): What are you writing? What do you wish to covey to your audience?

Improvement techniques:

  1. Identify what is to be written point wise.

    1. It is the staring point of writing any text. Just scribble the points which you want to cover in the text without any application of mind i.e. allows free flow of thoughts.
    2. Filter the scribbled thoughts with respect to requirement of the subject.
    3. Sequence the filtered thoughts i.e. delete the thought which is not related with the subject matter.

     This exercise helps in drafting the letter.

  1. Structure the letter /document as a journey
    1. In my opinion any document is a journey of thoughts and the writer is like a driver who controls the movement of eyes of the reader as per writer’s requirement.
    2. The document needs to structure in such a way that one feels it like a journey in National highway, sitting comfortably in a Limousine.
  1. Plan, write and rewrite, edit 1, 2, 3 (Read the document minimum 3 times to remove the garbage.)
    1. It is my vivid experience that most of the texts have a lot of garbage which is neither required in the text nor related to the subject. It is basically editing, which is required at this place, and editing is an art and the person learns only after experience.
    2. Avoiding adverbs in the text, can lead to misinterpretation of facts by the reader. The result is - misunderstanding.
    3. Thus it is important that the text be read after writing and minimum three times editing is done to remove the garbage.
  1. Practice  comprehension :
    1. Learning has no age, so keep at it. Practice comprehension exercise, which will help you to understand the subject. You will be able to summarize the situation in a few words.

      It is worth mentioning here that at management level, reporting of the subject to your superior is an art. The management is not much concerned about the progress, but about the outcome, and that too, positive. So when you are reporting to the management, the total episode needs to be summarized in few words like the “Work has been completed” or “It will be completed by this time.” The reason of this co-relation is that it is analogous to writing out a comprehension. If you practice comprehension, you will start speaking comprehended text and not a descriptive one because now you know what is important to tell or write.
  1. Making bold and underline makes the issue eye catching :

    The document is required to be written as per the physic of the reader. It is also to be understood that the reader's mind is also engaged in other thoughts just like ours .So, it is essential to have the document written in such a way that key points get into the mind of the reader despite his mental engagement in other thoughts. One of the simplest ways is to underline the key issue or make it bold so that it catches the eye of the reader.
  1. Understand the physic of the person :

     One of the important factors which is required to be taken care by the writer is:

    1. Who is the recipient of the document?
    2. What is the mental engagement of the person?
    3. What is the position of the reader?

Readers are required to read books on this subject and improve upon the skills required for writing the text so that the reader finds ease in reading and comprehending the document.

Reference: (1) “Write up the corporate ladder” by Kevin Ryan
                    (2) “the Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell


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