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No Response? Have You Given Enough Info?

This week I traveled to North Carolina to teach a Writing Tune-Up for Peak Performance class in the Raleigh-Durham area. While waiting to board a plane in Texas, I overheard an airline announcement something like this:

"The flight is oversold. If you would like to give up your seat in exchange for a seat on the next flight and a $500 credit on a future flight, please come to the counter."

About 10 minutes later, this announcement followed:

"Maybe my microphone isn't working, because I haven't gotten any takers. As I said, if you would like to give up your seat in exchange for a seat on the next flight, you will get a $500 credit on a future flight. Please come to the counter if you are interested." 

It wasn't that her microphone wasn't working. The problem was that she was not giving enough information. In the busy Dallas-Fort Worth Airport terminal, we could hear many announcements, and it was impossible to tell which gate the announcement was coming from unless one was standing directly in front of it. So we passengers needed to hear which flight to which city was oversold. Saying "The flight is oversold" was not enough information. 

Do you sometimes not get the reaction you expect from your writing? If this happens to you, check to see whether you have included enough information. Without the information they need, your readers will not respond the way you had hoped.

I receive many emails in which essential information is missing. The most common missing piece is the answer to the question "What do you want me to do?" For example, people write to me saying, "I need help with my business writing." But how can I help? By recommending a class? Suggesting the person subscribe to my free monthly newsletter? Referring the writer to this blog? Yes, I can do those things. But if the writer spent a little more time telling me what he or she seeks, my job would be easier, and I would be more likely to respond quickly and helpfully.

Other examples:

If you are asking for volunteers, tell how many you need from each team and approximately how much time they will need to commit to your project.

If you are asking for action, provide a deadline or a suggested due date.

If you are asking for feedback, ask a specific question. "What do you think?" is too open-ended and requires too much work from your audience. A question such as "Have I described the features accurately?" helps the reader respond.

If you are making early plans for an event, tell people the day, time, and place–not just the day.

Remember: If you are not getting the responses you would like, you may be leaving out essential information. You may be making it difficult or impossible for your readers to respond.

As a reader, do you receive business messages without essential information? What is typically missing?

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

4 comments on “No Response? Have You Given Enough Info?”

  • When appropriate, I indicate if a response is requested or required AND the date in the subject line of an e-mail. For example: RESPONSE REQUIRED BY 8/16/11: Enter Performance Management Ratings in (insert system name). The receiver knows they need to do something, what it is and when. It also helps them prioritize their e-mail inbox.

  • If I ask for someone’s feedback but no response after one or twice reminders. Can you suggest a way I can write to chase again in a polite way? Thanks!

  • Hi, Bella. You may need to talk to the person. One possibility is that your request came across as too broad. For example, if you wrote, “Would you please give me some feedback?” the other person would have to think broadly about how to reply. In contrast, if you wrote, “I would like feedback on my emails. Are they clear and complete?” he or she could respond about those two specific areas of your emails.

    Good luck!

    Lynn

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