Taking Good Notes

This week let’s talk about taking good notes in the business situation. Perhaps you’ll be making notes on an assignment you’re being given; you may be taking meeting minutes; or perhaps you’re learning a new process and want to be sure you get it right. You may be using your tablet, a laptop, or – yes, people still do this – even a piece of paper!

For a simple assignment, maybe just a piece of paper to remind you will be enough. For more detailed information, there will be two parts to taking notes: listening, and developing a good note-taking process.

1. Here are some ideas on listening:

• Listening – really listening – requires concentration, and yes, some work! So start with the idea of what you will do with the information you receive. How will you use it? What is the end result you need? Listen for, and note especially the information you need in these areas.

• There are two kinds of listening. Listen for the factual content, and then listen for the “between the lines” content. This implied content may be the most important part of the communication. Clues include the speaker’s volume, tone, gestures, and facial expressions, all of which can help you determine what the speaker actually means by what he or she says.

• As you are listening, ask yourself who (will do what); when; where; why; and how they will do it. Be sure you know your part in the whole matter. What are you ex09pected to do, if anything? You will need answers to each of these questions to be clear on what is being said. The speaker may not include all of these elements, so be sure you are clear in your own mind about the answers to these questions.

• Much of what you will hear will be a combination of fact and opinion. Learn to separate the two. Fact is important and useful, and opinion gives you the strategic guidelines for working with this person.

• Identify the critical parts, and pay particular attention to the details in these parts. It may be embarrassing, but if you have forgotten, or didn’t quite understand some parts of the conversation, ask.

• As you review your notes, see if you can re-phrase them, as though you were explaining what you have heard to someone who was not involved.

2. As for your note-taking process:

You’ll want to think about two things – how to “format” your notes, and your own personal “shorthand” to speed the note-taking process.

We talked about how to “format” your notes when you will use them to write meeting minutes: (a) Have an agenda for the meeting; (b) have a separate piece of paper for each agenda item; (c) take notes on the appropriate agenda item page. This gathers and organizes your content for you at the same time, and eliminates the need to search every page of your notes to get this done. So think about ways you can simultaneously gather and organize your notes for the piece you will write.

If you’ve learned it, regular shorthand will work fine if you’re taking your notes on paper. If not, you can develop your own personal shorthand system. For example, you might omit articles like “a,” “an,” or “the.”

You might use abbreviations that mean something to you, like “prev,” “lbs,” “etc,” “psbl,” “s/b,” “reg,” “lg,” and so on. Perhaps your personal “shorthand” will involve the elimination of vowels. Maybe you will be using the first parts of words, like “intro.” You will want to develop abbreviations for the words you use frequently.

Hope you’ll find these tips and tactics helpful, and we’ll look for you next week – right here!

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Poor Business Writing is Not a Character Flaw!

Poor business writing skills are not a character flaw. Neither are they a mark of stupidity, as some of my class members start out feeling. One of them even told me, “You can’t fix stupid.”

This seriously concerns me. Talking with a group of writer friends the other day, I asked why they thought so many perfectly bright, competent business people feel apprehensive about their on-the-job writing.

Fear – of making mistakes, of inadequacy – maybe even leading to procrastination; and vulnerability – “putting yourself out there” came up from several of them. Some mentioned specific skills that business writers may feel uncomfortable using: grammar, word choice, sentence structure, inability to create interest or to make the point clearly, were some of them. While most were appreciative of the skills they learned from their English teachers, others mentioned school teachers who made them feel dumb when they didn’t “get it.” Well here’s the good news: Once you can identify where you feel vulnerable – grammar, clarity, focus, or wherever – you can fix it!

Here are some other issues we talked about:

  • The feeling that you have to start and write perfectly the first time. Not true. Most good writing has been written, reviewed, and re-written. It’s quick and easy with a computer, and the “checkers” available. Just remember to put your own eyes on your writing to be sure the computer is accurate with its suggestions.
  • Thinking that you were good in English in school, and not realizing there is a big difference between academic writing and business writing.
  • The tendency to give too much information. Don’t try to tell your reader everything you know about the subject. Select the facts and the information that provide insight into what your reader needs to know to do whatever it is you are writing about. The “too much information” syndrome is usually caused by a sincere, and worthy desire to be complete. Too much information, or unrelated information, only leads to confusion.
  • Difficulty getting started. What you have to do here is let the reader know, in the first sentence or two, (1) what this piece is about, (2) why he or she is getting it, and (3) what he or she needs to do with, or about it. If there is a deadline, you will want to include that as well. The complete first paragraph formula has been explained in previous posts, so take a look for more information. More about the first paragraph formula in future posts.
  • Lack of focus. Too many interruptions in an average business day make it hard to focus. For the shorter email or note, it may not be as noticeable. For a longer piece it is. The best way I know to fix this is with my Strategic Business Writing Blueprint. Having a system to fall back on is vital in this situation. Knowing how to proceed results in the confidence you need to write well. Tip: Your subject line is a quick and easy way to focus the reader. Just be certain that what the subject line says is what you will say in your email. Again, check some of the older posts, and we will do some new ones in the future as well.
  • Need for a habitual system that makes it easy to start quickly, comfortably, concisely; continue confidently; and finish strong. See the previous two sections. More posts upcoming.
  • Using the best medium before starting the communication – email writing, paper writing, texting, phone calls, in-person visits, and so on – is a critical consideration before you begin.
  • Using the right “tone” with your reader. Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader, and is a significant portion of your communication. How do you want your reader to think about you?
  • Concern about giving offense. This concern can come into play when you have a solution to a problem, but may be reluctant to present it for fear of overstepping your boundaries, and giving offense. Of course you have to know your reader, but most business people who are in a position to make a decision, or to accept or reject your recommendation, greatly prefer having a “starting point” recommendation or two to having problems moved from your desk to theirs to solve, without a good recommendation or two – with backup!

Hope you’ll find these tips and tactics helpful, and we’ll look for you next week – right here!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Timing and Frequency for Blog Posts

Many organizations, from very small businesses to large corporations, use blogging  to stay in touch with their clients and prospects, and to maintain a web presence. Many use their posts to sell products and services.

How important is the timing and frequency of these posts, what should the timing and frequency be, and does it really matter? As my business partner used to say, “Timing is everything in this life!” Was he right?

Fortunately for all of us who want to provide something of value to our old (and new!) friends and clients, there is considerable research ongoing, and a great deal of results-sharing online. And the recommendations are in a constant state of change.

Joe Pulizzi offered some practical advice back in 2011 that still makes sense today. When he asked his research group, “How many blog posts make the correct frequency for corporate bloggers?” He received answers varying from twice a month to once a week to at least once per month.

Considering each of these answers correct for the time, he summarized by saying that as long as your blog post serves two goals: (1) providing interesting and compelling information to your readers; and (2) serving your objective for your blog; do a post, and post it. Frequency, he added, depends on these two criteria, plus consistency. Consistency, he emphasized, is the key. Once you have decided on your frequency, whether it’s five times a day, once a week, or twice a month, stick with it.

Kevan Lee in a May 28, 2014 post, suggests that based on Track Maven research covering 4600 blogs and 1.2 million blog posts, blog posts get more shares on Saturday and Sunday than any other day of the week.

Additional Track Maven results suggest that, “the late-night infomercial effect might come into play… Essentially when there’s less competition, the more your post stands out….”

On the other hand, many professional bloggers advise that the best time to publish your blog post is when your reader is most likely to be reading. If this is on the job, a workday could be more appropriate.

You will most likely experiment a bit to figure out the frequency, and the schedule that works best for you and for your readers, based on your goals, and what your readers want. There does, however, seem to be consensus on three important things:

1. Publish a new blog post at least once a week

2. Publish on the same day of the week consistently

3. Place your focus on creating the best content you can

Blogger Christina Walker recommends, “…Publishing at least one new blog post a week is optimal because it helps maintain good relationships with customers, attract natural search traffic, and avoid burnout from writing too often.” Three very practical reasons indeed.

“Once you discover the best times to blog, being consistent with your publishing schedule also increases SEO value and encourages readers to come back regularly for more,” Walker added.

An article from Marketing Savant offers three important questions to ask yourself when planning your publishing schedule:

1. Can you keep this schedule consistently?

2. Can you always publish high-quality content at this rate?

3. Will you have enough content for this schedule?

Adjust the frequency of your publishing schedule so that you can answer “yes” to each of these questions. “It’s okay to tone down or ramp up your blogging frequency as your goals, resources, and audience desire change over time,” the article points out.

One final piece of excellent practical advice: “… Before you finalize how often to blog, consider ways to avoid burn-out…blogging less often, using guest posts, assigning blogging responsibilities to a team…and anything else you can think of.”

What are the best times to blog for business? Jason Keith noted that the most popular weekday time appears to be 9 AM to 10 AM, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays the most popular weekdays.

Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist at HubSpot, found the best time to blog for page views is Monday between 8 and 11 AM, and the best time to blog for increased engagement is Saturday between 8 and 11 AM.

His recommendations?

“Keep in mind that the best time to blog varies by your audience. If they are mostly business people, blogging on Saturday probably won’t work very well. If they are mostly located in a certain time zone, schedule your posts to publish in their mornings, not yours.”

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Can Writing Be More Than Just “Writing”?

The other day, we were talking about the richness and fullness of our language, from formal to informal, from slang to regional words and phrases. And once again shared the joy of words.

Someone brought up the word “take,” and how many ways it could be said. Our southern friends suggested “carry,” and “tote.” The difference, of course, is that you “carry” a person (as in “Can I carry you to town?”) while you “tote” a bundle – maybe even “toting” the groceries into the kitchen for the person you carried to town to buy them.

At that point one of the group asked, “Just what is the difference between “toting” groceries “into” the kitchen, or toting groceries “in” the kitchen? The AP Stylebook tells us that “in” is location, as in “She was in the kitchen.” On the other hand, “into” implies motion, as in “She toted the groceries into the kitchen.” Of course, you could change that meaning by saying “She toted the groceries in the kitchen,” which could mean either that she carried the groceries that were in the kitchen to somewhere else, or that she moved the groceries from one place to another in the kitchen. Whew!

At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with business writing.

The point is that just as there are many ways of expressing one’s thoughts, ideas, and plans, there are many different types of writing, designed to accomplish various results. Business writing is one of them.

Although the writing “rules,” tools, and words may be similar, it’s how they are used, how they are put together, and what they are meant to achieve that makes the difference. Business writing is a special type of writing, totally different from writing a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, which our academic writing classes were designed to teach us, so we could progress in the academic environment. If our business writing begins to sound like a term paper, we may be mis-applying the excellent academic writing skills we were taught – skills that could be so useful when adapted for the business situation.

Business writing is a tool, meant to achieve a specific result, and different from poetry – where the joy of the words, and the emotions evoked are the main point. Different from the novel, with its intricate plots and skillful character development – designed to create an experience for the reader. And different from strictly technical writing – the type of writing that technical writers in a variety of fields use to communicate technical information to technical readers.

For that matter, what most readers consider to be technical writing is likely to be good business writing that deals with technical information.

Critical to good business writing is a strategy that focuses on results. It begins with determining whether writing is the best way to get the desired results. Then, consider the most effective type of writing (e.g., informal email, formal email letter, postal mail letter, handwritten note, and so on). Consider the reader, and the best way to approach that reader. Decide whether this piece should inform or persuade. Have a very clear, very focused statement as to what you are informing the reader about, or what you want to persuade the reader to do. Now, and only after you have determined what you want this piece to accomplish, you are ready to decide what to say.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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What’s In A Name?

As kids, many, if not most of us were instructed to call adults by name. Depending on when, and where you grew up, that name could have been the traditional “Mr.,” Mrs.” or “Miss.” Also on the formal side, it could have been “Dr.,” “Reverend,” or “Professor.”

Somewhat less formally, we might have been able to call a physician or dentist who was a close family friend as well, something like “Dr. Larry.” Your mother’s close friend may have been called “Auntie Susan.” She may have arrived with “Uncle Colin.” Now, as adults, we may still call our older friends and “special people” by the names we learned years ago.

And some parents and friends preferred just a first name.

Names, we learned, are important. Not only for identification, but, depending on how they’re used, to create or reinforce a “tone” – the relationship that, in writing, the writer establishes with the reader. As has been attributed to Robert C. Lee,*  “The sweetest sound to anyone’s ears is the sound of his own name.”

Names – the correct name, correctly spelled and appropriately used – can make a huge difference both in business and in personal life!

My toddler granddaughter and I were walking out to the garden one day, and I made the mistake of calling her by her first name. Through her tears, she reminded me that she was not the name I had called her, but that she was my “little chipmunk” – the nickname I had given her, and obviously the name she preferred, and how she saw herself.

Names have been important since ancient times, when it was believed that if you could name someone, you could control him or her. And that if you could name an issue, you could get hold of it, and control it.

“Labels” can be names as well. For example, do you label yourself as an introvert? You probably are, or will be. If you call yourself a math super star, you very possibly will do better in math than if you label yourself a math dunce.

Watch how you “name” yourself. What you tell people you do, or who you tell them you are. What you can talk yourself into being.

Names are important.

Here are five tips for “naming” in business:

  1. Do not use ”he,” “his,” or “him” when you are referring to humankind in general. To avoid sexism, you can reword the sentence using a generic term for his or her position.

Campaigning eliminates a politician’s privacy.

  1. You can use a plural name, and “they,” or “their.”

Politicians lose their privacy when they run for office.

  1. Use optional pronouns.

A politician cannot expect privacy when he or she runs for office.

  1. In a formal letter, avoid using a gender-specific salutation, such as “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” or “Gentlemen” unless you know for certain the gender of your specific reader or readers. If you do not know, you can use “Dear (title),” “Dear Madam or Sir,” or “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen.” With a less-formal email, salutations are frequently not used at all.
  1. Avoid making a point of the gender of a person in a formerly non-traditional role. Use “police officer,” rather than “policeman” or “police woman.” Consider using “nurse,” rather than “male nurse,” for another example.

*Yes, Robert C. (for “Corwin”) Lee is correct. Robert C. Lee was vice president of McCormack Lines shipping Company. He was also a Rear Admiral (lower half) in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving during World War II.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Are You Getting the Most from Your Marketing Materials?

29While we usually talk about writing strategies and techniques each week, this week let’s do a quick eyeball analysis of your online, print, and digital materials, and what else we might do with them.

In today’s tech-savvy world, there are many ways to evaluate – to get numbers showing what is working, and what isn’t. Extremely useful information, and readily available for online activity. Here’s another way to look at your materials to get the most from what you have.

Let’s say you’ve been in business for a while, or maybe you’re just starting out. In either case, you’ve produced some promotional materials online and off. Most likely a website to begin with, maybe an online newsletter, or blog site. Perhaps a brochure – online or in print – and certainly letterhead, also online or in print, or both. Envelopes, business cards, mailers, “one-sheets,” flyers, sales letters. All need to be reviewed regularly to make sure they are consistently working together, and that they will continue to do the job for you. But before we begin, here’s something you really need to know about penny-pinching marketing:

If the only thing wrong with your materials is that you’re getting tired of using the same old stuff, you cannot justify dumping it and starting over. Not if you’re a savvy penny-pinching marketer.

It could well be that the same old material you are tired of really is doing its job for you. And besides, it’s quite likely that this is the first time your prospects have seen at least some of it.

So print out your materials, and gather everything you have. Here’s what to look for:

Do they have a “family look”? Are you using a consistent visual theme? Each piece should carry a unifying element – perhaps your logo, a photo, a slogan, a positioning statement – along with a consistent color scheme.

Is the “look” of your pieces consistent with who you are? If you’re building an upscale position for your product or service, you’ll probably want to look upscale. On the other hand, some clients, who position themselves as a low-cost option, have told me they work against themselves by looking too high class

Is the message consistent from one piece to the next? Will your readers, viewers, or listeners get the same message from each piece, or will they be confused about who you are, what you do, why they need what you offer, and what action they should take to secure the benefits you promise? Being consistent multiplies the effectiveness of your materials.

Remember that it’s not about us – it’s about those individuals, or those organizations you have identified as your prospects. Consider, and write down the way you want them to think about you. Share this desired impression with everyone involved in producing your materials to consistently reinforce, and thereby multiply, the effectiveness of your every single effort.

Now that you’ve completed your first scan, let’s dig a little deeper. Which pieces are working best? What could you do to help the less successful pieces do better? What could you add or leave out? Which pieces is it cost-effective to keep, which should be eliminated? Are there pieces you really need, but don’t have?

Does each piece spell out strong benefits that really matter to your prospect – or have you focused more on how great you are. Each one of us – prospects included – acts from enlightened self-interest. How enlightening are your materials – for your prospects? Have you made it easy for your prospect to find you? To do business with you? Include a “call to action” in each piece, asking for their business, and making it easy for them to do what you are asking.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Do You Run, or Leap? Crawl, or Creep?

Let’s talk about that old workhorse, that four-letter word, that indispensable element in every sentence: the verb.

So what is a verb, and how do you use it? Perhaps you remember your English teacher telling you, “A verb is a word that expresses action (throw, run, examine, read, write), or state of being (is, are, was, seem).”

In a typical sentence (not always the most useful, but certainly the most common), the verb comes between the subject and the object, e.g., Mary (subject) throws (verb) the ball (object). You can also think of it as who (subject) does what (verb) to what (object). This of course, is for an active sentence. More about that later.

While we could talk about the differences between types of verbs (there are about a dozen types), Let’s concentrate today on how to use verbs for effect.

  1. To add spice, and enhance your writing with greater clarity, use specific verbs, verbs that go a long way to creating the picture you want your reader to “see.” Paint a picture for your reader.

You could, for example, say,

“Jerry went down the hill.”

To be a bit more specific, you could say,

“Jerry ran down the hill.”

A bit better, but let’s be even more specific,

“Jerry raced down the hill.”

  1. You can paint an even clearer picture with a step-by-step description, adding additional “picture verbs,”

“Jerry raced down the hill, tripped, stumbled, caught himself, and kept running as if the devil himself were about to devour him.”

In this case, we’ve used a couple of words with verbs to help paint the picture – “himself” with caught, and “kept” with running, and then the “as if” phrase to complete our picture.

You’ll note that in the above example, we’ve added words as we paint the whole picture for the reader.

  1. Frequently, just exchanging one verb for another (“ran” for “went,” and then “raced” for “ran” in the above example) works well, and is all that is needed to paint a sufficient picture for more concise business writing. For example, you could say:

George sat at his desk.

Or

George slumped at his desk.

For tighter writing, you may want to avoid verbs like is, was, are, were…. E.g.,

MaryAnne is a person who plans for unexpected events.

Or

MaryAnne plans for unexpected events.

  1. You could use a verb that “shows”:

Barbara is taller than her co-workers.

Or

Barbara towers over her co-workers.

  1. Finally, that familiar grammar checker item: passive verbs. An active sentence is one where someone/something is, will, or has done something – an actor and an action, e.g., “Alex grasps the situation.” A passive sentence is one where someone/something is being done to, e.g., “The situation was grasped by Alex.”

Note that the active sentence in the above example contains four words, while the passive sentence must contain six words to provide the same information.

Passive sentences tend to be longer, slower moving, and impersonal. For better comprehension, easier reading, and fewer words, use active verbs to create active sentences.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Love a Mystery? Here are Some Clues

I’ve always thought of those magic bits – prefixes – the beginnings of many words, as clues to the mystery of what in the world that word could mean.

For one example: You go to the doctor. Your doctor says you are suffering from hypothyroidism. Does that mean you will get a prescription and be taking thyroid pills for it?

For another: If someone tells you, “That was an atypical result.” What should you expect the next time?

Let’s look at a few common prefixes:

  • Hypo – as in hypodermic, or hypothyroidism. The prefix “hypo” means “under.” So it’s easy to figure out that, for example, hypodermic means under the skin (“hypo”=under, and “derm”=skin).

In similar fashion, hypothyroidism must mean that you have under (or less than) the required amount of thyroid. Your doctor could decide to write you a prescription.

  • Under is also a prefix that means beneath. For example, underground, or underlayment.
  • Hyper – as in hyperactive. The prefix “hyper” means “over or above.”
  • A (as well as “an”) means not, or without. So, if you got an atypical result, you would not necessarily assume you would get the same result next time. In fact, it would be “atypical” if you did!

(Note that il, ir, in, and im also mean “not.” For examples, illegal, irregular, incorrect, and immoral.)

  • Ante means “before,” as in antedate, or anteroom. But note that:
  • Anti means “against” as in anticommunist. “Ant” also means “against,” as in antacid.
  • Multi and Poly both mean “many,” as in multiply, or multiform; or polygon (a figure with many sides.)
  • Extra and Extro mean “beyond, or “outside.” Examples are extraordinary, extrovert, and extracurricular.

Numbers also come into play. For example:

  • Deca means “ten,” e.g., decade.
  • Di means “two, or twice,” e.g., divide, dioxide, ditto.
  • Hex means “six,” e.g., hexagon, a six-sided figure.

Words can be fun to investigate – to put the clues together to solve the mystery. First, of course, comes the prefix. “Pre” meaning “before.” The prefix, depending on its meaning, has the power to change the intent, or the sense of the root, or base word.

Next comes the root – the base on which to build other words. We’ve mentioned a few of the root words in the examples above. Finding the root of the word is a major clue to solving the word meaning mystery. We’ll save that for another discussion.

The final clues come with the suffix. This final bit at the end of the word (e.g., “ly,” “ology,” “al”), can be very helpful in telling what kind of a word it is – a noun, adverb, adjective, and so forth – as well as adding to the reader’s understanding of the meaning of the word.

There you have the clues to solve the mystery. Happy sleuthing!

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Do You Write the Way You Want to Write – Or the Way They Want to Read?

In a worlwide culture where today and every day in 2017 an estimated 269 billion emails will be sent by some 3.7 billion email users; where an estimated 54% of the entire planet currently uses email; and where the number of email users is projected to increase from 3.7 billion today to 4.1 billion by the year 2021, it is truly mind-boggling to consider how in the world it could be possible to break through all this Internet “noise” to communicate anything to anyone!

A good question indeed. To get started, here are a few things to consider:

1. Decide on your purpose. Why are you writing? Do you want a specific reader, or readers to read what you have written? Or is just writing it enough? Who are you writing it for?

2. While it seems obvious, your best chance of getting your writing read is to write about something your reader wants to read. Second-best is to write something he or she has to read. In the second case, don’t count on that much of it getting through.

3. Now that you have decided what to write about, ask yourself how your reader prefers to read: Online – in a letter, memo, instructions, report? Or in a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn? On paper? Where are you most likely to find your reader?

4. Next step: assuming you want your writing read, what is the appropriate tone to use? What is the tone your reader will expect? What is the tone that will best connect with your reader? Should you use a formal, or academic tone? Will your reader be more likely to read and comprehend a less formal tone? Is that appropriate? Does your reader speak a specialized language – “legalese,” “medicalese,” “computerese”?

5. Much of the business writing done for higher-level co-workers tends to sound almost like a vocabulary test, as staff tends to “write up” for the higher-level reader. And yet, if that higher echelon reader were asked, he or she most likely would prefer to spend less time with a more comfortable, more readable, more easily-understood writing style. After all, that reader probably prefers having a family dinner, and maybe watching a little football, to staying late at work, trying to figure out what that piece of business writing says.

6. So if you want your writing to be read, write about something your reader wants to read – or present the information in such a way that he or she will want to read it. Use the writing medium your reader prefers, when you can appropriately do so. Write with a comfortable style, and an appropriate tone and language. And by all means, if you do nothing else, make it easy for the reader to get your point quickly, clearly, and concisely.

That last guideline is, and will continue to be, your most essential, most critical tool for cutting through all the “noise” your reader deals with on a day-to-day basis. The one tool you can totally control: Make your point quickly, clearly, and concisely.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Eight Critical Checkpoints for Successful Business Writing

We’ve hit grammar and usage – the mechanical aspects of business writing – pretty hard over the last few weeks. This week, let’s talk about eight critical checkpoints to increase the effectiveness of your writing:

  1. Even before you begin to write, ask yourself, “Should this information be passed along at all?” And if so, should it be passed along in writing?
  1. When? And who should sign it?
  1. Should I use a straightforward, to-the-point-immediately approach? Are emotions involved? Should I build in reading time?
  1. Considering the reader from demographic, psychographic, and “problem” points of view, what approach should be most effective?
  1. Using this approach, do the thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next – all the while building the point I intended to make? What content can be eliminated? What holes need to be filled in?
  1. Are my lead paragraph, and my final paragraph (if I used one) consistent with each other? Do they support the content in between? Should my reader reasonably be expected to take the meaning I intended?
  1. How hard will my reader have to work to understand what I have written? Is that appropriate?
  1. Have I given this piece both a spellchecker and an eyes-on visual check before it goes out, to find those old goblins – grammar, punctuation, and spelling problems?

Let’s talk a bit more about some of these checkpoints:

Probably the number one rule of communication is whether or not a specific piece of information should be passed along at all. Some of the participants in my workshops tell me that this can save up to 50% of their writing activity!

Should this information be passed along in writing? While there are many reasons you might want to write, the most common reasons for writing are to create some sort of record or proof, such as documenting an agreement; to provide a reference – instructions are one good example; because there is a mandate to put this information in writing; or to get the same information to a large number of people at relatively the same time.

Timing is always a critical strategic element, as is the decision as to who should sign the piece. Tone, the relationship the writer establishes or reinforces with the reader, is also critical, and may well tie in with the signer decision. The writer has the opportunity to set the tone with the reader to be what he or she wants that relationship to be. For example, it could be friendly, professional, authoritarian, technical, collegial, helpful – or even warm and fuzzy! What is the word you choose to describe that relationship?

The purpose of most of these posts is to talk about clear, concise, easily-understood business writing.  Business writing that can be read and the meaning grasped at a glance. One thing we have not yet discussed is when you might want to build in time for the reader. This does not mean to make the writing confusing, or your content hard to follow. You need to be clear at all times in the business writing situation.

There are times you will want to include more information, and times you will want to keep it as brief as appropriate. The effect of providing more information is that it takes the reader longer to read. Sometimes you can assume the reader has the background and the information to understand a brief message on the topic. At other times that’s just not the case. On rare occasions you might be writing about a serious emotional issue, and you might want to provide a bit of additional background or information to the reader, which will give him or her a bit of extra reading time to come to grips with his or her emotions.

Now, considering the reader from the demographic (what are the facts I know about, or can find out about this reader); the psychographic (what drives this reader, how he or she sees himself or herself, how the reader wants you to see him or her); and the “problem” (what is the issue you can solve for your reader) points of view, what tone will be most effective? What content will best serve your purpose?

From this perspective, do your thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next, building to the point you need to make? What information needs to be added? What information could result in “overload,” and could be easily deleted?

How hard are you making the reader work to “get it”? Can you reasonably expect that the reader will understand your intended meaning?

Finally, of course you will use the spellchecker and the grammar checker, but have you also put your own eyes on that piece of writing to give it a final proofing? Watch for words that are correctly spelled, but are in the wrong place, e.g., to-two-too; or there-they’re-their. Also look for words that are correctly spelled, but not the words you meant, e.g., “an” when you mean “at,” “on” for “of,” and so on.

At the very end, look for consistency, particularly in issues of style; then check, and revise as necessary, your word choice and syntax.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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