Developing your organisational skills

Last week we outlined the different kinds of business correspondence that you, as an office professional, will handle in your office.  To get your message across efficiently, you need to start developing your organisational skills.

A large part of writing effectively is determining the readers’ needs, gathering the appropriate information, drafting, editing and preparing the final product.  Additionally, you must be able to organise your time so that you can produce the correspondence in a timely manner.

Let’s take a closer look into the writing process:

  • Determine the goal or purpose

Many times people start the writing process before they understand clearly what their purpose of goal is.  Ask you begin writing, to ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my purpose in writing?
  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • Analyse the reader/audience

An important consideration in the writing process is determining the reader(s).  The strongest communications focus on the readers and their needs.

  • Gather the appropriate information

Information for your correspondence can be gathered in various ways including researching the topic.

  • Organise the content

The first part of your document should convey the purpose of the correspondence.  The second supports, informs and/or convinces the reader and the last part states the desired results, the action or summary of findings.

  • Draft the correspondence

Your goal when drafting correspondence is to write everything down that you want to say in rough draft form.  Do not spend too much time agonizing over each word – rather get all your ideas down.

Once all of this has been completed, you need to then go into the process of editing the information

You need to check a few things before you hit the send button – Is you Grammar correct? Is the language clear? Is the sentence structure appropriate, and does the readability level matches the audience?

When you are editing, you must be precise and address the writing mechanics!

Ensure effective paragraphs

  • Unity – a paragraph has unity when its sentences clarify or support the main idea. The sentence that contains the main idea of a paragraph is the topic sentence.  The topic sentence helps the writer stay focused on the main idea of the paragraph.
  • Coherence – a paragraph has coherence when its sentences relate to each other in content, grammatical construction and choice of words.
  • Parallelism – parallel structure also helps you achieve coherence. When grammatically equivalent forms are used, parallelism exists.  Consider the following example of nonparallel and parallel constructions:

Nonparallel – the position is prestigious, challenging and also the money is not bad

Parallel – the position offers prestige, challenge and money

 Use appropriate sentence structure

Sentences should be simple but varied.  Use a combination of sentence structures to keep your reader’s attention.  There is no formula for determining sentence length, but shorter sentences keep the reader’s attention.  Generally, short sentences are also easier to understand.  A reader loses attention when a sentence is more than 20 words in length.  You do not necessarily have to count all the words in your sentences or try to limit them, simply be aware that the readability is increased when sentences are short.

  • Eliminate passive voice

Passive voice is present when the subject of the sentence receives the action or is acted upon.  It has three characteristics:

  • A form of the verb to be (is, am, are, was, were, be, been, being)
  • A past participle (a verb ending in ed or en)
  • A prepositional phrase beginning with by


The document was written by Mylien

The results of the meeting will be sent to you by Monday

In contrast, the active voice is present when the subject performs the action.  Read the same sentences above rewritten in active voice.

Mylien wrote the document

You will receive the results of the meeting on Monday

The active voice is clearer and stronger than the passive voice.  Sometimes the writer can use the passive voice to obscure who is responsible for an action.  In the sentence below, the reader does not know who made the decision:

The decision was made to downsize the organisation by 20 percent.

The writer intended to be ambiguous about the decision.  Although the writer can use passive voice intentionally, if it is overused, it can result in wordy, dull writing.  Use passive voice when necessary but do not overuse it.

  • Determine readability level

Readability is defined as the degree of difficulty of the message.  These items contribute to greater reading difficulty:

  • Long sentences
  • Words with several syllables
  • Technical terms
  • Evaluate – process and time usage

Once you have completed your writing, take time to review it and the time you spent on writing the document.  Check to see if there are any ways that you could perhaps improve on the next time you have the task.

Don’t forget that you can develop your organisational skills and get a SAQA recognised Professional Designation – one of a kind for South African Office Professionals!  Click here for more information

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