Can You Get – and Give – Clear Directions?

There’s nothing like a bit of travel to remind you just how important asking for, getting, and giving directions is. When you’re lost – in the airport, getting into town, or on the city streets, it quickly becomes very clear just exactly how vital this information can really be.

When you’re traveling, the best answer we’ve found for getting directions to where you need to go geographically – just getting out of the parking lot can often be a challenge – is your favorite version of a GPS. By favorite, I mean the one you can figure out how to use! Our favorite is Siri, a personal assistant application for iOS. One of Siri’s many capabilities is a GPS function which pretty much gets you out of trouble – or into it – your preference!

Siri comes already installed on newer versions of the iPhone, making “her” easy to keep with you at all times. Many new cell phones today have some sort of GPS with various capabilities built in, or apps available.

But what if you do not have a GPS with you? How do you get directions? What questions do you ask, and more importantly, how do you ask them in a way that will avoid confusion and get you the answers you need?

If you’re still inside the terminal, it comes right down to reading the signs, which are, hopefully, in a language you can read, or have pictures that help you guess where they are telling you to go.

The second choice is to ask someone. This is where it starts getting more difficult. Asking for directions is an underrated, frequently overlooked skill. Ask the wrong question, or add extraneous information, who knows where you may wind up. When asking for information,

  1. Remember that “How do I go to…” or “Where do I go to get to…” are very different questions from “Where is….” The former are more likely to get you step-by-step directions, while the latter will most likely get you a general direction wave of the arm, and a turned back.
  1. If there is a Tourist Aid counter, start there. If not, perhaps a uniformed employee could help. In all cases, be aware of cultural considerations. Bone up a bit on the “rules” for interaction in the places you will be visiting, including the airports or transportation hubs. Make your personal safety a top priority, and use common sense when selecting the person to ask. He or she is not your new best friend, and could turn into quite the opposite. Too much information is not only unwise from a safety point of view, but can also significantly confuse the issue. So provide no information or interaction beyond asking for directions, and any necessary follow-up questions.
  1. Use only the information your listener needs to be able to give you the answer you need. He or she, with few exceptions, really doesn’t need to know why you need to go there, who you’re going to meet there, or what you plan to do next. And you certainly do not need him or her to know.
  1. Beyond the usual “How do I go to…” a follow-up question might be necessary to find out what to expect. For example, you might ask, “How do I go to Baggage Claim?”

After getting the answer, your follow-up question might be, “How far is it?” This will help you to decide whether to request a wheelchair, catch a shuttle, or walk. You may have more than one follow-up question. Be sure you understand each answer, and if not, ask it in another way until you do. At the end, repeat all the information back, to be sure you “got it.”

When giving information,

  1. Provide step-by step directions, eliminating any extraneous comments or information.
  1. Again, consider your personal safety first. Provide no further information or interaction beyond providing the information your questioner needs to provide the answers you’re looking for.

Bon Voyage! Have a great trip, and let us hear about it!


 

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.

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The Words We Use Reveal How We See Our World: What Do Your Words Say About You?

You know how some conversations have a way of sticking with you? You’ll wake up re-living it in the middle of the night. Or something someone says later makes you think of it? Such a conversation happened to me in class the other day.

A participant in one of my business writing workshops was talking about getting a very expensive speeding ticket. He said “they” were going to charge him several hundred dollars, and that “they” were creating a real hardship for him.

The strangest thing happened. While I heard, and understood every word he said, I also heard my mother, in the background, saying to a four-year-old me, “If you do (whatever it was I should not do) you’ll have to pay the consequences.”

And while the “consequences concept” was a bit murky in my developing vocabulary, I sure as anything knew I did not want to have to pay for them! So what does consequences mean?

This is the point where the conversation kept coming back to me. I asked a number of friends and colleagues what they thought consequences meant. With about a 50-50 split, some thought consequences were punishments. Others thought they were the results of an action (e.g. speeding), or a happening (e.g., a flood).

“Consequences” is a word very much like “criticism.” Both words carry negative connotations for many, and in fact “consequences” is frequently used interchangeably with “punishment,” while “criticism” is often considered to be something negative expressed about someone or something. It’s true that this can be one meaning, but criticism is also “the activity of making careful judgments about the good and bad qualities of books, movies, etc.” So criticism can be good, too.

Let’s take a deeper look at the difference between “consequences,” and  “punishment.”

Again, thank you Merriam-Webster. It sounds to me like the critical difference between these two words is who does what. For example, punishment is “… A penalty inflicted on an offender…” (presumably by an outside source). On the other hand, a consequence is “… Something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions…”  (This could easily be an action done by the person who experiences the consequence(s).

So, a consequence could be a punishment. And a punishment could be a consequence. But not necessarily. We’ve all done things we’ve regretted – sometimes with unexpected, or unintended consequences. Sometimes knowing exactly what consequences to expect. And getting them.

Back to the point: Words create the way we look at our world, and telegraph how we see ourselves relating to it. A consequence may be a punishment – expected or not – that naturally follows some action that in many cases we have control over, and have chosen to do anyway. It is not always something that “they” inflict on us. Frequently we have chosen to bring down the consequence on ourselves.

What do the words we use say about us?

Is every consequence inflicted on us by someone else? A punishment? Or is each of us responsible for some of our own consequences – good and bad?

Sometimes things just happen, with no one responsible, and with no one at fault. How we understand our words, and how we use them can indeed determine how we see these things. What do our words say about our view of the world, and our place in it? Do we accept appropriate responsibility? Or do we see ourselves as victims? What secrets do our words reveal about us?

 

Let Gail Tycer show you how to write less, say more – and get results!  *Business writing workshops – your location or ours *Meeting presentations and Breakouts *Executive coaching  *Consulting * Writing and editing  To see how we might work together, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or emailgail@gailtycer.com

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How Important are Teachers?

1062_4347856Think back a bit. Can you remember your favorite high school teacher? Especially the one who taught you how to value, enjoy, and use the English language? The one who may, or may not have been your English teacher?

I certainly remember mine. She was a dragon of a woman – all of 4’10”, and maybe 70 pounds on a good day – who struck terror into the hearts of those gargantuan football players, pierced each student to the very core with her sharp blue eyes – and by sheer dint of her will, taught us English! Well beyond retirement age, she had stayed on at my high school, almost as though the administration had forgotten there was anyone at all occupying her classroom. We definitely knew she was there.

And what a great teacher she was. How fortunate we were to have studied with her. She was fair. She gave simple, honest feedback so that you knew exactly what she was saying. She taught so that you had to understand her if you were paying any attention at all. And heaven help you if you were not!

Who was your favorite teacher? The one you really learned from, although he or she might not have been the funniest, the easiest grader, or the one who was not very strict about discipline in the classroom?

I had a great email from a reader last week, responding to the Use Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation to Demonstrate Professionalism and Build Credibility with Your Business Writing post. He said, “I could not agree more. My colleague is quick to spot grammatical errors – and lets me know if I’ve made one….”

Harry remembers Mr. Benjamin, his high school English teacher, who “…taught us that any verb with ‘re’ (e.g., report, refer, recycle) does not require ‘back’ (e.g., ‘Bill will report back to the major)….” He concludes with, “…just a peeve of mine based on the profound influence of a terrific sophomore English teacher.” A memorable teacher with lasting influence indeed.

Referring to a very bright, very accomplished radio host, Harry commented, “Intelligence notwithstanding, he stumbles over personal pronouns….Every time I hear him…I pause and wonder just a bit, ‘so how smart is he?’”  (Click here for an easy to check whether this is an error you may be making.)

Concluding his very thought-provoking email, Harry added, “…accurate grammar…reflects a deep respect for one’s reader. Getting the grammar…right removes one barrier to…clarity – and it avoids confusing or annoying some of our most attentive readers.”

There you have it, my friends – not just from me (see previous post) but from a highly successful veteran consultant as well.

So who was your favorite teacher – the one you really learned from? What did he or she say or do to “anchor” those lessons about writing in your mind? How can you help your co-workers, friends, and family to succeed on the job, or at school?

Let us hear from you! I look forward to sharing your comments.

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How to Write a Blog Post that Gets Read

As I was thinking about this post, I remembered the professor who used a “shuffle the cards” exercise in his writing class. We were all so focused on giving good, clear instructions for shuffling cards, that we forgot the obvious step number one: “Start by obtaining a deck of cards.”

Sjuffle Cards to find the right topicSo, the obvious step number one in writing a blog post that gets read is, “Do you want to blog?” There are many good ways to pass along your information. Everything from phone calls, to text messages, to emails, and beyond.

If you have decided you want to write a blog, why?

There are different kinds of blogs. There are different ways to write a blog post, and different reasons for posting your content. You may want to express your feelings about a certain issue or happening. You may have a subject, or some ideas that you just need to share. Or, you may be supporting your organization or your business. Your blog site may be a personal one, or a business one. Next come the toughest questions:

What do you want each post on your blog site to achieve? What do you want your blog site overall to do for you? Are these goals consistent with each other?

With this in mind, what reading audience are you writing your posts for? Who will be interested in what you’re writing about? Are you speaking your language or theirs – both visually, and in words? Are the readers you’ve identified consistent with your reasons for blogging, and with what you want to achieve with your posts? Do they have the resources to do what you want them to do? How will you obtain, create, and maintain a good, appropriate mailing list?

When your medium (the blog posts); the type of content you want to write about, and the type of blog site you want to create; your reasons for writing it; the reader; the tone – the personal nature or the business nature of your blog site; and your expectations for the results you will get from each post, and from the blog site overall can be expected to work together, you’re ready to write.

At this point, with your strategy settled,

1. Figure out what you want to write about with this post. To give you clarity and focus, a good place to start is by giving the post a rough title that says what you are posting about. Later on, you can rewrite that rough title into a headline for your post.

2. When you write your introductory paragraph(s), appeal to the interests of your readers. Let them know what this post is about. Suggest how it will solve a problem they may be having.

3. Organize and write your content for easy reading. The longer the post, the more important this becomes. Consider using sections, lists, and visual clues such as drawings, charts, and photos; type sizes and weights; perhaps videos, and colors to help your reader follow your conversation.

4. Make it pretty. If it looks professional you gain credibility. Consistency in appearance helps your readers to recognize your company and your brand at first glance, reinforcing your other consistent activities.

5. Give the post a final once-over. Revise your working title into an accurate, clear, appealing “grabber” to bring your readers in. Check for awkward spots, typos and inaccuracies. Now you’re ready to go!

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Research: How Do You Find Out About Things?

Ask any kid from the age of four (maybe younger if he or she is really precocious), and that youngster will tell you, “On the Internet!”

Couple searchingINternetIt’s true. Probably the handiest, and easiest place to “find out about things” is on the Internet – on your computer, your phone, your tablet. The key? Discretion. What you “find out about things” may not always be useful. Unfortunately, much of what you find on the Internet may not be true (oh, but it makes a great story), may be highly biased, or may only be possible under limited circumstances. And many Internet researchers may not yet have the experience or background to evaluate what they are reading. Here are some tips:

1. Who wrote it, and where did you find it? Another way to say, “consider the source.” Look beyond what was said. What was the purpose of the material you found? What was the writer trying to do with it? What does the writer want you to do with it? Why did he or she write it?

2. Compare Sources. If various “reliable” sources provide the same information, ask yourself whether these sources share a particular persuasion, or whether they represent a variety of points of view. Compare sources representing a variety of points of view. If they say pretty much the same thing, it’s more likely to be accurate. Check it out.

3. What was the original source? Who said it first, thought it first, or wrote about it first? Are you getting the information “firsthand,” or are you getting what someone said, thought, or wrote about it, later?

4. Finally, ask. Ask a trusted authority in the field. Ask a teacher, librarian, or researcher. Ask yourself. Is this information reasonable, reliable, believable? Is the information accurate, current, complete? Does it make sense?

 

Let’s shift gears for a minute.

Before the Internet, we still had homework assignments, questions about how the world worked, and the need for specialized information. Where did we go? To the library. Remember your trips to the library? Remember what that library looked like, how it sounded, and the wonderful scent of years’ worth of books, magazines, and newspapers? Maybe you even had a carrel where you could hide away, and quietly bury yourself in your studies.

Or maybe you were in a main room, sharing a long table with other readers. And the research librarian was just over there. Anything you couldn’t find, he or she could.

To keep up, libraries have had to change gears too. If you haven’t been to your local branch lately, go. You’ll find that treasure of yesteryear, the research librarian, still in place, and still an invaluable resource.

Some libraries offer a live chat with a librarian 24/7. Others offer homework centers, a variety of research tools, and live one-to-one help in a variety of languages. You may also find academic support in most major subjects, real-time writing help, online tutoring, guidance for GED and citizenship tests, adult literacy programs, and back-to-school prep for adults. There are social activities, room rentals, and “meet the author” meetings. Tours, special events, and free admissions to local and regional points of historic and artistic interest.

Your library doesn’t have the material you need? No problem. Most libraries borrow back and forth from others. In some cases worldwide. If they don’t have it, they can get it for you. Many libraries offer books that can be downloaded on your mobile device, or transferred from your computer to your e-book reader or MP3 player. There are special programs and activities for hobbyists, and for children, teens, and senior citizens. Outreach services for special populations – homebound, jails, non-English speakers.

So, how do you find out about things? The Internet, of course. And the public library.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Important Trend: Storytelling for Business Writing

It was almost buried in the speaker’s content. In fact, I wasn’t sure I had even heard it: what Shane Show, Chief Creative Officer for Contently, calls “The Biggest Business Skill of the Next Five Years.” Here’s what the speaker said,

“To explain the abstract, or complex, we need to use stories.”

StorytellerAnd it hit me. That’s what we do with business writing all the time – we try to explain the abstract, or complex! But how often do we think about using a story to do it? Oh sure, we talk about telling stories, using testimonials, and getting quotes for marketing, sales, and advertising materials. And it works! Of course, that is business writing too – but for “regular” business writing? “Regular” business writing, like memos, instructions, reports?

I don’t think so – or at least not very often, if at all. Hardly ever. But why not?

And where to begin?

Where to begin? Have you ever had this experience: You are thinking very intensely about something – It could be an on-the-job challenge, a new software program, or even a paint color for your house. As you are thinking about it, you run into thoughts, ideas and comments about that “something” just about everywhere? Well that happened to me this morning. I flipped on the radio for the news, just to hear the tail end of an interview on who-knows-what subject. And the sentence I heard just before the sign-off was, “A story begins where you think it does.”

This will likely be best accomplished by tying into your reader’s needs, problems, or interests. And that will be the point where he or she starts to “hear” your story. The sooner you get to that point, the sooner you’ll pick up your reader, or your listener.

There has been quite a bit written about using stories in oral presentations, and for sales and marketing pieces. These longer three-part stories (setup/conflict/resolution, with your product, service, candidate, cause as hero) are frequently far more sophisticated than using a simple story in an instruction, a memo, or some other “regular” piece of business writing. But they are similar, in that each has a job. Each has a specific purpose to fulfill; a specific job to do. It may be the greatest story in the world. It may be your favorite party gambit. But in the business situation, it won’t fly unless it strongly and obviously supports the point you want to drive home.

So, day-to-day, how might you use stories in your regular business writing? Stories can be used for team building, to improve morale, to make an instruction clear, to get “buy-in” for a policy or process change, to gain trust, to enhance credibility, to relate with a customer issue, to connect in a positive way with the variety of contacts you have daily – the list goes on. Stories create a “tone” that can establish, or reinforce a relationship.

Here are four more specific story tactics you can use for your “regular” business writing.

Politicians use stories of people who have benefitted from their ideas, processes, or policies to gain votes. Sometimes these folks will tell their own stories, but more often, the politician tells the story – carefully crafted, of course! – for them. So can you.

You can let the reader “tell his or her own story” by starting a sentence with, “Has this ever happened to you…” or, “Do you remember a time when…” and letting the reader fill in the blanks, which is also effective to bring your point home.

Provide informal testimonials, or anecdotes, demonstrating a problem that was solved by the new policy, or maybe a process change, or by the new product, equipment, or software.

Tell a story about another employee, or perhaps better yet, your “reader as hero.” For example, for an instruction setup, or trouble-shooting section, this could be as simple as “You’re (describe process) when (describe problem – what happens) so you (describe action to take) and (describe result of their action).

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Does Writing Really Matter?

The importance of writingMaybe you’ve asked yourself, in a moment of writer’s block frustration, what difference does it make if you can write well or not. More and more, writing well – conveying ideas clearly, concisely, convincingly – is becoming a rarity. And that’s not even considering the grammatical side of business writing.

Perhaps part of it is because email, the most common form of on-the-job writing, is a quick, often casually-approached process. There never seems to be the time to review an email for clarity, to tighten it up, or to polish those grammatical issues that seem so easy to forget, and are so frequently used that neither the writer nor the reader seems to notice them. And maybe that’s really the point.

But does writing really matter? I’ve got a book for you. If you haven’t read 1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, read it. Discussing the Neolithic Revolution, the point, about 11,000 years ago, when a formerly nomadic middle-eastern people settled down in permanent villages and invented both farming and the tools and agrarian practices to make it possible, Mann says, “The Sumerians put these inventions together, added writing, and in the third millennium B.C. created the first great civilization.”

Mann adds that “Writing begins with counting….The bureaucrats were not intending to create writing….they were simply adding useful features as they became necessary….”

And those “useful features,” at first represented by stylized symbols, have morphed, perhaps for the same reasons, into today’s writing.

That was then. This is now. How important is writing today? And especially, how important is it to write well in the business situation? Perhaps the more important question is, “How much more effective could we be in the business situation if we could write better – correctly, strategically, clearly? Concisely and convincingly. Does it really matter in our jobs?”

Your business writing is one way you can give “free samples” to a prospective employer. The clarity of your writing is perceived as a clear indication of the clarity of your thinking. If nothing else, clear writing demonstrates how well you can communicate your thoughts to others. No matter how brilliant your thoughts, for others to benefit from them, they must be communicated effectively.

If writing to prospects and customers is, or becomes part of your job requirements, strong business writing skills are important not only to getting a job, but in being promoted within your organization once you have the job. Communicating well is often interpreted as proof of intelligence, professionalism, and attention to detail – critical qualities for increasingly important leadership roles. A recent Time magazine article quoted a Grammerly study of 100 LinkedIn profiles over a 10-year period that found, “…professionals who received one to four promotions made 45 percent more grammatical errors than did professionals who were promoted six to nine times….”

When you represent your organization to customers, clients, or prospects, not only will you communicate your message clearly, you must also project a credible professional image of your organization.

A few ideas: Get right to the point; use active verbs; organize logically; write for your reading audience; proofread; make your material look (and be!) easy to read.

Your on-the-job writing can increase your professionalism and demonstrate your credibility. Your clear, correct, concise writing skills significantly enhance both your professionalism and your credibility. Start with spell checker, and then do an additional check with your own eyes. Do it with every piece you write – from that email to that text, to that tweet. Consistently.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment, and let’s start a conversation!

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Taking Good Notes

Business note takingThis 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 expected 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, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Good Manners, Good E-mail

Good and Bad manners in e-mailConsider the tone of your message.  Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader.  Even though email is a friendly medium, it’s tough to make humor (especially humor clothed in sarcasm) or tongue-in-cheek comments work in email, and it’s best to avoid them.  Also avoid personal comments about others, or knee-jerk emotional responses – email is no place for sarcasm, hostility, cynicism, or whining.

Remain professional at all times.  Consider waiting a bit before emailing a “sensitive” message.  Avoid “venting,” vulgarity, or certainly, any kind of profanity.  Think about your corporate culture, or prevailing attitude – which can be especially critical for emails to co-workers.
If you receive an email that you cannot answer immediately – perhaps one requesting information requiring research, or an answer that needs more time to put together, let your reader know right away that you have received his or her message, that you are, or will be working on it, and approximately when you will be able to respond.

Allow sufficient time. Your email could be received within minutes – or hours.  Even though your system may interrupt to announce a new message, it’s best to avoid time-sensitive communications (e.g., announcing a staff meeting in half an hour).  Email is designed for convenience, not necessarily for immediacy.

Remember that email is a two-way communication.  Consider what your reader has to say on an issue. Do not assume that no answer means agreement – or even understanding.

On deadline issues, ask for the follow-up, confirmation, or answers you need by a certain date.   If you get no acknowledgement, follow up until you do.  Consider international time differences, and take cultural expectations and practices into account when emailing internationally. Here’s an interesting comment we hear often: If everything you write is “important,” with a deadline attached, the reader may tend to discount the importance of anything you write.

 

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Can Writing Be More Than Just “Writing”?

Man interested in business writingThe 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.

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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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