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Lesson 5. Give Your Reader Sufficient Ba... > What to Omit from the Background - Pg. 20

Give Your Reader Sufficient Background 20 When you state facts, you should, as often as possible, cite the source of the facts. In the preceding example, the sentence would read, "According to Nielsen data for this year, frying volume is down." Citing your source lends credibility to your statements and gives the reader a place from which to do further research. When you state assumptions, label them as such to let the reader know that, while you believe these statements to be true, they are not facts. The assumption about increased butter usage in the pre- vious example ("We believe the recent campaign by the American Butter Institute has significantly increased the use of butter in baking at the expense of shortening") was signaled by the opening words "We believe." In addition to labeling your assumptions, whenever possible support them with corroborating evi- dence. Such corroborating evidence for the butter/shortening example might be, "Nielsen share data show that butter use for baking is up 19 percent since the beginning of their marketing cam- paign, while shortening for baking use is off 11 percent in the same time period." While this fact doesn't prove your assumption that the campaign has increased butter usage at the expense of shortening, it certainly provides strong circumstantial evidence to support your belief. Tip After you've written a draft of your document, check the statements made in the recom- mendation or conclusions section. Are all of these statements supported by information included in the document? If not, you may need to expand the background to include the support needed. What to Omit from the Background To ensure that your background contains enough information, you may include more information than is needed. Too much information makes inefficient use of the reader's time, and can be con- fusing if the reader is expecting all the information in the background to be relevant to the rest of the document. There are a number of categories of information that should not be included in the background: · Unsupported or controversial assumptions.The background should be the foundation for the rest of the document, a section that all relevant parties agree on. If you include assumptions in this section that many of the document's readers may legitimately disagree with, you undermine the rest of the arguments in the document. In the background, statements should be self-evident or easily supported. The place for arguments in favor of a controversial point of view is in the main body of a document devoted to that subject, not the background of a document on a dif- ferent subject. · Extraneous information.Information that may be true but does not have any impact on the sub- ject of the document should not be included anywhere, including the background. For example, you may have recently tested a new package made of lightweight plastic that is a 10 percent cost-savings compared to the current package. You believe the company should immediately switch to the new package, in order to save money. However, that cost-savings effort is not relevant to the subject of the memo--increasing shortening usage--and thus should not be mentioned in the current document. · Information that is not general knowledge or has not been previously reported.If you have re- cently acquired information that provides important perspective relative to the main subject of your document, that information should be either reported in a separate summary specifically on the subject, or potentially, included in the main body of the document at hand. The general rule here: If the information you're reporting will be "news" to your readers, it probably does not belong in the background.