Let’s analyze NBA Commisioner David Stern’s memo sent to the players yesterday for strengths in the writing style. Tomorrow I will highlight the memo’s weaknesses.
You can still take away valuable business writing lessons after noting the persuasive-writing techniques found in this memo.
The Memo’s Pros
Mr. Stern used the following writing techniques to influence the reader by applying:
- White space — The document is visually appealing mainly due to the actual white space surrounding the text. The reader can easily move from paragraph to paragraph without being blinded by mammoth blocks of text. The use of indenting, which creates staggered layers of text, gives the eyes an interesting picture to see instead of looking at all content aligned to the left.
- Bullet points — This structure emphasizes key concepts by displaying them in an unordered list. Each explanation contains an average of two sentences per point. The document becomes a reference guide since the reader can quickly pick out the main ideas.
- Parallel construction — The technique of using the same word, verb tense, or noun phrase to start each bullet provides a pattern to hook the reader into the document. For example, the first few bullets begin with the phrases: “Increase, not reduce, the market of mid-level players” and “Permit unlimited use of the Bird Exception.” Elected officials often use parallel construction to connect with a crowd, such as when President John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you,ask what you can do for your country.”
- Active voice — The writer uses the active voice (subject – verb – object format or S-V-O) to describe the positive next steps or the good news. This format draws the reader into the message by being direct and simple. In the following sentence, the reader can quickly get the main point through the S-V-O format, which is highlighted in italics.
Page 1, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1: “After further collective bargaining negotiations last week, the NBA on Friday presented a revised proposal to the Players Association that contained several improvements for the players over the NBA’s previous proposal.”
Subject – NBA
Verb – presented
Object – proposal
In the sentence below, the S-V-O format is again highlighted in italics with an underline for the parallel construction which can be used for verbs or nouns.
Page 2, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1: “I encourage you also to focus on the numerous compromises that were made to the NBA’s initial bargaining positions in these negotiations, including our move away from a “hard” salary cap, the withdrawal of our proposal to “roll back” salaries in existing player contracts, our agreement to continue to allow players to negotiate fully guaranteed contracts, and our agreement to a 50/50 split of BRI.”
Subject – I
Verb – encourage
Object – you
- Persuasive structure – Readers can easily understand an argument when it is presented in the order of: background, recommendation, benefits to reader, and next steps.
Background – The first sentence is:
After further collective bargaining negotiations last week, the NBA on Friday presented a revised proposal to the Players Association that contained several improvements for the players over the NBA’s previous proposal.”
Recommendation – The second sentence in the second paragraph is:
While we recognize the right of any player to disagree with the proposal, there should be no confusion over its actual terms — so we have attached it here for your review.”
Benefits to the reader – This sentence starts the third paragraph:
Under the NBA’s proposal,the players would be guaranteed to receive 50% of Basketball Related Income each year, and average player compensation is projected to grow to close to $8 million. In addition, the proposal is structured so as to create an active market for free agents, while enhancing the opportunities for all teams and players to compete for a championship.”
Next Steps – The memo concludes with this sentence:
We urge you to study our proposal carefully, and to accept it as a fair compromise of the issues between us.”