Writing to the
BY VINCENT DODGE, DIRECTOR ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE, DYNEGY - PJM & NE
update a previous event or communication.
Message - The Story (see below)
Conclusion – “Please contact me if you have any questions.”
I like this kind of ending because it’s simple and I don’t want
to send the agency something that requires them to respond.
Also, if I have done a good job greasing the skids I already know
there will be no questions.
4. TELL A GOOD STORY. The story is the most important
part of the correspondence. It needs to effectively communicate
our message to the agency. It needs a theme with a clear, concise,
and logical progression that leads the reader to understand and
follow to the conclusion we want them to walk away with.
Identify the concepts
– Begin by having a
clear idea of the overall
message we want to
communicate, and the
pieces or concepts that
will get us get there.
The list of concepts
needs to be as short as
possible so that our
story doesn’t get too
long or go in too many
Know your audience –Know and understand who will be
reading the correspondence; Write to their level of understanding, not ours. While it is sometimes important to educate our
audience so they understand our story, accomplish this when
“Greasing the skids.”
Be concise - Don’t use 200 words if 75 will clearly tell the
same story. If it is a response to questions from the agency be
careful to clearly respond to all of the questions, but stick to
answering the questions only. Don’t include details and information that are not absolutely necessary. Providing unneeded
details of an action plan may require follow up correspondence
later if minor plan deviations occur.
Don’t create deadlines and requirements – Don’t set deadlines,
make promises, or require a response from the agency unless
it is required.
Effective written communication establishes rapport with
the agency and facilitates compliance.
I HAVE provided environmental compliance support for the
power generation industry for almost 25 years. The more I
communicate, verbally or in written form, the more convinced
I am of the difficulty in doing it well. My job depends on effective written communication with local, state, or federal
agencies. Before I begin writing, I focus on four concepts:
1. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IS HARD. Reminding
myself of this fact, right off the bat, helps put me in the proper
mind set. I didn’t major in English, and I am not a linguist.
Like many of us who find ourselves in the unenviable position
of writing to an environmental agency, I am an engineer and
therefore somewhat challenged in all things non-technical. My
dad (who was an English major) almost had a stroke when he
discovered freshman English wasn’t even a requirement in my
college curriculum. Literary difficulties aside, many common
everyday issues make good communication difficult. Differences
in beliefs, experiences, understanding, and vocabulary interfere
to confuse our message.
2. “GREASING THE SKIDS” is an old ship building phrase
that means “to facilitate,” or “to help matters run smoothly
along the intended path.” Remember that writing a letter to
the agency should not be the first step in our efforts to communicate with them. Never surprise them with a letter, and
never send them written communication they are not already
expecting. There should have been a conversation, a meeting,
or a phone call preceding the letter. I use a letter to confirm
the understanding, decisions, or actions that were previously
agreed upon. Whenever I am communicating with the agency
I have a desired result in mind. The bigger the desired result,
the more “grease” is required.
3. WHAT IS THE MESSAGE? The meat of the message is
the story but using a basic construction for the correspondence
can significantly improve its effectiveness.
Identification - Clearly identify the facility, the date, and the
event. The agency deals with many different events at many
facilities. Don’t make them search through piles of old documents or email to try to understand what you are talking about.
Reason for writing – State the reason I am writing, clearly and
simply, up front. There are usually only a few basic reasons to
write to the agency. It can be to explain an event which occurred,
respond to an agency request or notification, document a
previous communication (meeting, discussion, etc.), or to
“I am an engineer
- Vincent Dodge. Dynegy