Conversational Pattern Ensures Well-Engineered Memos, Letters
- Hugh Hay-Roe (Murray Associates Intl.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- October 1995
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 917 - 917
- 1995. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 5.4.1 Waterflooding
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 67 since 2007
- Show more detail
- View rights & permissions
|SPE Member Price:||USD 1.00|
|SPE Non-Member Price:||USD 2.00|
The real secret of "reader-friendly" writing is reader-friendlyorganization. Four questions, similar to the journalist's checklist, keeptechnical writers on track - from an opening with impact all the way to aconvincing finish. These questions frame a silent dialog between writer andreaders based on a transfer of information in a face-to-face conversation. Thereaders, needing information, ask the questions; you, the writer, answer them.It sounds straightforward; it is. And it works. Used properly, the questions -What? Why? How? and So? - ensure that any letter, memo, or brief report isstructured so that readers get the message quickly and accurately. All readersin a hurry, especially busy managers, appreciate such well-engineeredcommunications.
"What?" is short for "What have you got for me?" or"What do you want from me?" One of these two questions will beuppermost in your reader's mind. It begins the imaginary conversation betweenreader and writer.
When you take the time to decide what you offer to your readers or what youwant from them, and then set down your answer in plain language (see table),you accomplish three things.
1. You will get going quickly on every writing assignment. If gettingstarted is a major headache for you, answering this simple question,"What?" will put an end to writer's block.
2. You will command readers' attention by responding at once to their needsas they see them. But to anticipate and answer readers' questions effectively,you must be familiar with their backgrounds and interests in your particulartopic. If you can't define the interest - if a reader is merely a name to you -take the time to find out. It is unprofessional and risky to write in ignoranceof your audience.
3. This reader-friendly start will allow you to organize the rest of yourcommunication in a logical and economical way. Having delivered your main pointup front, you will find you can devote less space to answering Why? and How?(much of the supporting detail can go in attachments). Why do they sell so manyhighlighting marking pens? Because readers use them to find "buriedtreasure" - the main point(s) that should never be buried in masses ofdetail.
Industrial editor Jerry Murray found that in most situations, theconversational pattern typically moves from What? to Why? For example, if youare (1) making a proposal, (2) recommending something, or (3) requesting funds,the questions triggered by those three main points might be, respectively, (1)Why do you propose to do this? (or Why do it this way?), (2) Why do you thinkthis recommendation will save us 2 years?, and (3) Why do you need such a largesum?
Such questions give you a logical opportunity to sell your concepts, defenda particular course of action, explain the engineering rationale behind yourchoice, or justify the money requested. But if readers will not ask"Why?" you do not waste their time - and yours - by explaining,defending, or justifying. You just go to the next question that readers wouldask in response to what you have already said. This is an effective way toreduce length.
With their "Why?" questions taken care of, readers usually startasking questions that begin with "How . . . ?" Again, you will answerin the sequence in which you expect questions to be asked, beginning with theinterests of management. For example: "How much will it cost?" (Thisquestion could be so important that your answer becomes part of the main point,like this: "The Midland office recommends a pilot waterflood in theGreaseville reservoir, at an estimated cost of . . . ")
"How do you know that?" "How is this going to work?""How big a team do you need?" "How long will it take?" Theseare other common interests to respond to. The question "How did you getthis answer?" could be your opportunity to write what some authors likebest - a detailed description of just how cleverly they handled the project.But perhaps such information belongs in an attachment titled "FieldMethods" or "Laboratory Procedures."
For a closing with impact, consider whether your readers will want to know,"Where do we go from here?" "What do you want me to do next?""What's the timing on this?" Here is the logical place to sum up, topull any loose ends together, to motivate your readers to act immediately, orto leave them thinking the way you want them to think about the matter at hand.Even if readers would not ask "So now what?" you still have the optionof answering that unspoken query bring your message to a strong conclusion.
So, try this approach on your memos, letters, or brief reports. And keep inmind that the method has additional steps for handling long reports andtechnical papers. A future article will detail those steps.
|File Size||118 KB||Number of Pages||1|