Having Troubles with Your Business Writing? Get It Down P.A.T.

Most examples of poor business writing can be traced to the root: the absence of a proper outline. Writers often begin without a clear sense of Purpose, Audience and Tone (P.A.T.). Writing with these things in mind will yield successful results because they show you have a plan for your readers – and you respect their time.

Here are several points to consider when preparing a letter, report or memo.


  • Why are you writing this particular letter, memo or report? (This is the single most important question to ask yourself in anything you write)
  • What, When, Where and How – adopt a journalist’s approach. Which questions must you answer in your correspondence?
  • What response or course of action do you expect or want?


  • Who will be reading this letter, report or memo?
  • Who is the primary audience? Are there secondary, or pass-along, readers?
  • How will your reader(s) be using this information?
  • What do they already know about the topic (i.e. what can be excluded)?
  • What more do you need to tell them, by order of priority (i.e. what must be included)?


  • How well acquainted are you or your company/organization with the reader?
  • Is this a formal or informal message?
  • How can you word your message to make it professional and courteous, without sounding cold and stuffy?

These questions will help formulate your outline. They will also point to any deficiencies you have in information. If you cannot answer these questions, especially the purpose or audience, more research is required before writing.

An outline can come in many forms – there is no one “right” way. Some examples include chronological, order-of-importance, problem-to-solution, pro-and-con, cause-and-effect or simply a category or listing of topics. As along as the outline provides a logical, coherent structure for your ideas, go with it.

The outline should include the following:

  • a clear statement of the purpose and relevance of the material to reader(s);
  • a brief overview of the key issue(s) and your priorities;
  • a summary of your recommendations and/or conclusions; and
  • if suitable, a summary of follow-up tasks and a timeline.

For simplicity purposes, an outline for a letter or memo should have no more than three central messages, with sub-points (such as evidence, proof, refutation, etc.). If there are more than three points, it will be difficult to convey in a brief medium, such as a business letter. This may require a lengthier report or executive summary format.


Speak Your Mind