Recently, I explored the reasons for writing in the tech industry. Now, let’s delve into how to write effectively. It is challenging to write a good business narrative and even harder to explain exactly how to do it. I’ll provide a few principles that, when followed, will make your narrative better.
The essence of a business narrative lies in its power to influence and drive sound decision-making. Concrete assertions, backed by data, always trump vague statements in achieving effective outcomes. Weasel words typically serve as a convenient escape from the rigor of sourcing data or making definitive statements. It can be hard to remove them because to replace them with data will need some digging. To replace them with a concrete statement might require more thought too: Do you deeply believe what you’re writing? Ultimately the way you provide value isn’t by having the narrative. Remember, the value doesn’t come merely from having a narrative. The narrative is a synthesis of the research and clear thinking you’ve done on a topic.
Below are some examples of weasel words and alternatives:
We are confident that our new marketing campaign will be successful.
We expect our new marketing campaign to generate 20% more sales-qualified leads than our baseline.
We value diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
We have a 50/50 gender balance in our workforce and a 20% representation of underrepresented minority groups.
Our new product is the best in the industry.
Our new product was rated the highest performing by 4 out of 5 independent reviewers.
You might find you have to do more work to even make a statement like these, but that’s part of the value! Now it doesn’t mean you should do busy work to fix a sentence. Should you remove the statement altogether? Will forcing people to read the statement help you make a better decision? Is your “unknown” a project in and of itself? If so, consider writing it as a “risk worth taking” rather than an unsubstantiated statement.
Present arguments for and against a decision to help drive consensus. Presenting both sides of an argument ensures that you considered other peoples’ views. Rather than spending time later for a question or debate, head it off by including it in your narrative. Don’t fear being transparent about risks and uncertainties associated with a decision. Including them will show that you considered factors involved in the decision, and that you are not trying to hide anything.
For example, acknowledge the risk that a new AI feature may not work, but your team has done enough to mitigate risk.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. Visuals are particularly helpful whenever a visual user experience is present. They also can be helpful to understand complex data relationships or complicated processes. Visuals tend to disrupt the flow of thought in a narrative, place them at the end to maintain reader engagement while still helping readers know what to expect.
One of the greatest challenges of writing a good narrative is length. By the time you write a narrative you likely an expert on the topic and it’s intricate nuances. Your objective isn’t to teach everyone what you learned, but to simplify a topic to its essence. Yet, your audience may want to dive into a particular detail and you can’t anticipate everything. Aim to keep your narrative concise — ideally to a single page. Echoing my experience at AWS, I advocate for a maximum of six pages.
So how do you do it? Just add a big “Appendix A” heading at the end. As you write your document when including a fact is tempting but not essential, put it in the appendix. This will help keep your your narrative concise. Appendices are also valuable for those that refer back to your narrative - because as I’ve noted in Why Product Managers and Engineers Should Write Business Narratives narratives live.
I hope these insights enhance your narrative writing and clarify your thought process. What are some best practices that you use?