The Four Key Aspects of AEC/RE Business Writing

Training employees how to write professionally can be a challenge. Millennial employees often write too informally. Individuals in positions of power habitually write too aggressively. Entry level employees have difficulty asserting themselves.

In order to learn more about the best practices for professional writing in AEC/RE, the BuiltWorlds Future Workforce Forum turned to expert communicator Rachel K Oleinick, a Vice Principal at Northworks Architects and Planners. Here are the four key aspects of AEC/RE business writing that Oleinick shared.

1. Who? – Define the cast of characters and the terms of communication

There are so many parties involved in a construction project that “navigating the overall project correspondence is a bit like herding cats,” Oleinick related. Therefore, it is vital to identify all the players involved in the project. Then, all the players must set clear expectations for project communication before work begins. To illustrate her point, Oleinick told the group that when she was an intern on a project, she faced a difficult challenge in part because she was not told explicitly to cc all parties on her communication. She worked with a millworker on an expensive piece for the project, only to realize when he tried to install it that the client had changed his specifications. The mistake cost the architecture firm thousands.

2. What? – Use precise language

“Business writing gets to the point immediately and includes a call to action,” Oleinick informed the group. Business writing should be “framed as polite commands” followed by “a call to action.” For example, instead of asking a client or colleague, “when are you available?” one should state, “I am available at 2:00pm on Friday and 10:00am on Monday. Please let me know by the end of the day today which of these times work for you.”

Oleinick also warned the group to avoid “undermining language” that “erodes the authority of the writer.” Refrain from “stating a lack of expertise in relation to others.” Instead of using the phrases “I feel” or “I believe,” say “I am confident that.” For example, do not say “Although I have only been in this industry for a year, I believe this is the best solution.” Instead, simply state “I am confident that this is the best solution.”

3. How? – Email, phone calls, in person meetings, and text messaging meet different goals

Email is the best form of communication to use if the correspondence needs to be documented. However, Oleinick warned the group to “assume that every email will be forwarded to the entire universe.” Business relationships are based on trust and referrals, she emphasized. One thoughtless email can undermine years of work.

Phone calls and in person meetings are the best forums to resolve disputes. Long email chains just get people heated and angry. Take it off line.

Text messaging is a very informal method of communication.Therefore, make sure that you establish whether texting is appropriate before you text a colleague or client. Texts are best for quick updates that need to be seen immediately, but are not urgent.

4. When? – There is a time to respond and a time to wait

Oleinick surveyed the group, asking, “How many people in this room have gotten business emails after 5:00pm? While they were on vacation? Over the weekend?” Every individual in the room raised her hand.

Oleinick believes that this trend is a failure of management. “We aren’t firefighters,” she stressed. “We’re not on call. It is the job of managers to set limits.” As a manager, Oleinick has set a precedent not to send emails after 5:00pm or on weekends unless there is a true emergency.

The members of the Future Workforce Forum found Oleinick’s pointers very useful. One young human resources professional commented, “I have implemented Rachel’s advice in my own emails. I started framing my requests as polite commands followed by a call to action. I have noticed that I have a far higher response rate than before and that I can set up meetings with less back and forth.” As this young professional demonstrates, professional writing is one of the keys to professional success.

To learn more about the Future Workforce Forum, email