If the participants of my business writing workshops take away one thing only, I’d want it to be this: it changes everything to write from intention.
If, before starting to write, you set the intention for a document or email, the end result will be very different from how it will be if you don’t. The difference is subtle and powerful, and by some mysterious process communicates itself to the reader.
The difference also applies when you use intention in non-writing activities. Setting an intention prior to a meeting or a phone call, or when you get out of bed in the morning, will have the meeting, call and day go differently.
Confusion about intention
Most people are confused about intention. If you ask someone about the purpose of a document (“purpose” and “intention” here are equivalent), it’s almost guaranteed they will give you a summary of the content.
The intention of a document is what you want it to achieve; what you want to have happen as a result of the document. You can hear when you’ve nailed the intention; there’s a distinct “click”, a rightness or fitness that is unmistakeable. Here are three examples from a series of workshops I ran with a legal firm.
Listening for the “click”
P is a lawyer, and was acting for a client who was a victim of crime. Compensation for the crime was being determined by a tribunal, and as part of the tribunal’s procedures they routinely offer victims the opportunity to speak to the perpetrator. P was about to write back declining the offer, and we began speculating about how we would state the intention. The intention is to say no. It’s to prevent the client seeing the perpetrator. It’s to make sure the client never has to deal with the person again. We tried all these, and then after a few minutes moved on to another topic. Suddenly, P burst out, “I’ve got it! The intention is to keep the client safe!” Bingo.
S is a lawyer who regularly has meetings with another lawyer and the meetings are too long and rambling for S. She applied intention to this non-writing activity, and when she came to the workshop told us how it went. “I set my intentions for the next meeting, sent out an agenda listing the intentions, and when I got there everything went differently. At one point, when we were discussing something, he brought me back to the intention I’d written down!”
R is an office manager who said that setting intentions didn’t come naturally to her. “You’re so right,” I said,
we have to be intentional about setting intentions. Like, coming here today, I got out of bed and thought, “Nah, I don’t have to bother setting an intention. They’re a great group; it’ll just happen” and then I caught myself. So I created the intention of “community” right then and there.
I asked her what her intention was for the afternoon, and she gave me a list of tasks she had planned to prepare for a Board meeting that evening including ordering food and flowers. That’s what happens. I explain intention, we discuss it, and then because we’re so unused to thinking this way, we go straight back to lists, tasks, content. After some more discussion and questions, she got it beautifully. “Ah, I’m making sure the Board members feel welcome and cared for.”
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