Set goals

The importance of setting goals

To have the impact you want to have, you must decide what you want from the readers and expect to get it. Having unclear goals is the primary reason business writers may experience writer's block.

You may take thirty seconds to think through your goals for a short report, or your committee may take three days to decide what you want to accomplish during a six-month writing project. This training presents the types of goals you normally will have for your writing and brief summaries of how the goals should shape your writing.

The goals in business writing

The goals in business writing are for the reader to

  1. act or respond as expected
  2. have relevant reference information and be able to use it
  3. understand and remember information
  4. follow procedures or instructions successfully
  5. solve a problem or make an effective decision
  6. be persuaded, be motivated, or feel committed

Give the reader what he or she expects and needs.

Your first priority is to provide the reader with what he or she expects to receive and needs to receive from you. If you aren't sure what the reader expects or needs, find out.

Write the goals in reader terms

Write the goals in reader terms. That means you should describe what the reader will know, believe, or do. For example, "Jim will know the contents of the new travel form" states what Jim will know. On the other hand, "To explain the new travel form" is a statement of what the writer will do. It doesn't describe what the reader will be able to do. The e‑mail could explain the new travel form very well, but Jim may not understand a word of it or read it. The goal isn't to explain the new travel form; it is for Jim to know the contents of the new travel form.

To help you write goals in reader terms, begin the goals with "The reader will be able to . . ."

Adapt your writing to accomplish your goals.

The primary goals for your business writing follow. Below each is a short summary of how the goal should influence your writing. We will spend more time with each of these writing activities as you need to use them.

  1. Goal: The reader will act or respond as expected.

    • Focus on the action or response and eliminate distracting information.
    • Make the writing, instructions, and standards concrete.
    • Write clear procedures that anticipate all problems and explain them.
    • Repeat the action that must be taken at least twice.
    • Make the criteria for success clear. What is the standard by which success will be judged?
    • Include a feedback loop to be sure the action was completed. The more important the action, the more concrete the feedback loop should be.

  2. Goal: The reader will have relevant reference information and will be able to use it.

    • Ensure that the reader can retrieve the information easily.
    • Use headings, tables of contents, and indexes so the reader can find what he or she needs when necessary.
    • Include only the information necessary for the reader to accomplish his or her purpose for using the information.
    • Include everything the reader needs to be successful at the moment when he or she needs to use the information.

  3. Goal: The reader will understand and remember information.

    • Maintain focus and avoid including irrelevant or distracting information.
    • Repeat information that must be committed to memory at least twice.
    • Include important facts such as meeting dates and times at the beginning and end of the correspondence.
    • Make sure the reader can understand the concepts and vocabulary.

  4. Goal: The reader will follow procedures or instructions successfully.

    • Use a see-do-see format to make the procedure explicit.
    • Make each step in the procedure as concrete as possible.
    • Break out the steps and actions with lists and white space so they are clear.
    • Include examples to help the reader follow the instructions.
    • Anticipate errors and problems the reader may encounter and provide guidance.
    • Include contact information in case the reader has problems following the procedures.

  5. Goal: The reader will solve a problem or make an effective decision.

    • Explain all sides of the issue without bias so the reader can make an informed decision.
    • Provide sources and suggestions for further study.
    • Include human resources to aid the reader in solving the problem or making a decision.
    • Make the explanation complete and clear enough for the reader to make an informed decision.
    • Interpret complex or difficult parts of the problem so the reader understands them.

  6. Goal: The reader will be persuaded, be motivated, or feel committed.

    • Focus the writing so it has maximum impact for the reader.
    • Be ethical. Provide the reader with all the relevant information, not simply that which supports your case.
    • Write needs-based explanations. Show how the reader will benefit from the outcomes. Begin every explanation with the benefit to the reader.
    • Write complete, compelling explanations. Include thorough rationales.
    • Avoid emotional or inappropriate appeals.



To see examples of well-written business writing objectives, click on the "Examples" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.




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