Comprehension: Screen vs. Print Reading

ReadtoChildrenAn April 6 Washington Post article by Michael S. Rosenwald , Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say, raises a question many of us have been wondering about, and asking ourselves: Is, and if so, how is online reading changing our reading habits, and, as a result, our comprehension of what we are reading? And what do we, as business writers, need to know now about today’s most common communication practices?

In her remarkable book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf, Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, states that the brain was not designed for reading, but has adapted to reading.

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Ten Tested Tactics for Clearer Writing

BusWomanComputer200Have you ever sat in front of your computer, staring at the blank screen, and wondering what to write? We all have! So what can you do to avoid those awful blank-screen-staring-moments – and why is it they always seem to come up when you’re working against a deadline? How can you get started quickly?

Strangely enough, you can get off to a faster, easier start by taking just a little more time up front to save a whole lot of time writing the whole piece. Begin tactically.

What are tactics? Strategy. Good strategy is the essential part we so often leave out, before we begin to write. And a clear strategy is what lets you start quickly and easily; continue step-by-step; finish with a piece that does the job it was meant to do; and get the results you need.

 Here are the ten steps that will get you off to a quick, easy start:

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Is Grammar Dead – Or Deadly?

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In a recent New York Times piece decrying the practice, John McWhorter, author, blogger, and contributing editor states, “We cannot help associating ‘bad’ grammar with low intelligence, sloppiness and lack of refinement.”

This criterion, he notes, makes it “…increasingly challenging to find work providing a living wage or upward mobility, much less satisfaction,” for people lacking these skills. While acknowledging that this is the case, McWhorter questions barring someone from a decent job “…because he or she isn’t always clear on the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’”

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Technical Writing: Will They Get It?

typingOnKeyboard200Strictly speaking, the purpose of technical writing is to provide technical information in a totally objective way. This type of technical writing is frequently written for professionals in a specific field who already  “speak the language,” and understand the general concepts. So what may look like unintelligible “jargon” to the non-technical reader may well be a timesaving “insider language” for the technical reader in that specific field.

It is important to make the distinction between this type of technical writing, and a second type – the type of technical writing most of us will most often be called upon to write: technical writing that is, by most (short) definitions, good business writing dealing with technical information.

Unless you are specifically employed as a specialized and highly-skilled technical writer in your organization, this second type of technical writing – writing technical information for the non-technical reader – is what most of us will be called on to do, and frequently just from time to time.

Understanding what this technical writing is, what it has to accomplish, and how to do it effectively is critical if it is to succeed.

Why? Two examples:

1. Writing technical information effectively for the non-technical reader could well be the “go/no go” difference when the non-technical reader is the one, or perhaps the group, who decides whether your project or process is likely to be viable – or not. Or when that individual reader – or sometimes the group – holds the power of the purse, and can decide whether or not to fund that project. Remember too, that often-overlooked, but critically important group – the influencers whose opinions strongly affect the decision makers.

2. Alternatively, your non-technical reader could be a technician who is unfamiliar with a process, or perhaps a purchaser who implements – or tries to implement – your technical instructions, for example, and may well determine whether the process, or the product “works” or not.

You must understand who your reader is, and how to write for that reader.

Where do you start?

  1. First, identify what you will be writing – an instruction, a proposal, a “sales sheet,” or…
  2. Understand your reader. Who is he or she, and what is his or her background, knowledge, experience with what you hope to communicate? What do you want him or her to do with this information – why are you writing it? How will he or she use it? What kind of words, terms, phrases will you use? How “technical” can you get – at what level will you best reach your reader(s)?

And then what?

Now that we have a good starting point, over the next few weeks let’s take a look at how to

• ”Translate” technical information to improve non-technical reader understanding

• Make necessary and appropriate adjustments to strictly technical writing for your non-technical reader – and why it matters

• Use the basic grammar and usage of technical writing

• Select, edit, and organize your material

• Use graphics to enhance your message

Join me right here next week!

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog. 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentationsexecutive coachingconsulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Hello 2014 – Fare Well, 2013!

Over last weekend, I’ll bet many of you, like me, were busy packing away ornaments, deciding which candles can be used again, and trying to find a youth organization to give our retired trees to for recycling. Or at least, again, like me – thinking about it!

And now it’s serious back-to-work time. Time to try something new. I’m not quite ready for 2014 yet – what happened to 2010, anyway? So, with a final salute, let’s wrap up 2013 with the Best of the Blog – a short collection of my top nineteen posts of that year, as judged by the number of “likes” each garnered. An “e-book” for want of a better name, and the first e-book I’ve ever done.

I’d like to give this compilation to you as a thought-starter. A new way of thinking about your writing. Or maybe as a way to address a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your on-the-job writing, making it faster, easier, and more effective. Totally free. Please email me (gail@gailtycer.com), and I’ll send you the free link.

We’ll talk about:

1. If You’ve Ever Said, “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

2. How to Say It When You Can’t Think of What to Say

3. Shorter, Fewer Emails

4. Strategic Email

5. Meeting Minutes

6. Writing a Successful Instruction

7. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Getting Started

8. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Finishing Strong

9. How to Write a Business Thank You Note

10. Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

11. “Spin”

12. Hide, Hedge, Mask, and Cloud?

13. How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

14. How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

15. Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

16. What Was That Again?

17. Words That Create Mix-Ups

18. Words, Words, Words…

19. Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

We’ll also include a few of our weekly Quick Tips, answering some of those pesky grammar questions.

So here’s to 2013, wrapped up with a bow – and on to a great new year: 2014. Let me know how I can help you to achieve your business writing goals this year. I’m totally committed to helping you write less, say more – and get results in 2014.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

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, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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How Important is a Thank You Note – Really?

Thank You Card

Take just a moment to think about that person in your life who always sends you a thank you note.  In our family, Cousin Harriet comes to mind. Her thank you notes are gifts in themselves. They make you feel good. Happy about whatever small service or gift, and eager to see her “next time.”

Can your thank you note do this for your friend or family member? Of course. And what a privilege it is to write that note, knowing you are brightening the day for Aunt Minnie or Uncle George, who spent hours online, or at the Mall, finding just the right thing to brighten your holiday.

A hand-written note – on paper and through the U.S. Mail – is often the best. A hand-written note, on paper, has a more lasting quality. In some cases, an email, a text message, or even a quick phone call of thanks may be more appropriate. What is important is to let that person who has done you a service, or sent you a gift, know that you sincerely appreciate his or her effort.

Is this equally true in business?

Absolutely. Things can often be so rushed that we may forget to say thank you. To let the people who do so much for us know how much we appreciate we appreciate them. To let them know that what they do is important to us, and that it matters in the business situation. It’s the right thing to do.

Please note: We are not talking about “form” thank you letters, printed postcards, or even a thank you note offering a discount on future purchases. These are advertising messages, not a sincere, personal thank you.

One of our readers, Holly, commented that she makes a conscious effort to write at least one hand-written note of appreciation each week.

The key is – you must really mean it. Readers have a built-in ability to sense when a message is sincerely meant, and when it is just words. This week, finish those holiday thank you notes to your “Aunt Minnie” or “Uncle George.” Then think about those in your business life whose days you can brighten with a sincere “thank you.” Personalize that message with believable specifics. And get it done – if only one each week.

See you next week!

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

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Let’s talk a bit about grammar and usage errors today. Can you find the errors in the following three sentences?

1. Woodland Caribou: Less than 65 roam America’s mountains and mesas.

2.  As soon as they get the test scores back, her or her assistant will call you.

3.  They thought living in Canada would be a lot different than living in Portland, Oregon.

Here are the answers:

1. The error here is “Less.” When you can count them, it’s “Fewer,” so this sentence should read: Woodland Caribou: Fewer than 65 roam America’s mountains and mesas.  Use “Less” when it’s something you can measure (volume): There is less coffee in the blue cup than in the red one.

If you thought the problem was the capitalized word following the colon, then when do you capitalize the word following a colon? Capitalize the next word after a colon when it is a proper noun, or when it is the first word of a complete sentence. If it is part of a series, and not a complete sentence, it should be lower case.

How about “65”? Numbers nine and lower are spelled out. Numbers 10 and higher are shown in Arabic numerals.

2. This one is easy, but I included it to give you a shortcut. The error, of course, is the first “her,” which should be “she.” The shortcut: When you have a situation like this one, just cover up the first of the two words or phrases in question. Cover up the first “her,” and this part of the sentence reads, “…her assistant will call you.” Sounds fine. But cover up “or her assistant,” and this part of the sentence will read, “…her will call you.” Clearly not fine. You can hear that it should be “…she will call you.” The sentence should read:

As soon as they get the test scores back, she or her assistant will call you.

3. The error here is that things are “different from,” and not “different than.”

And yes, the comma needs to be between Portland, and Oregon

Hope you’ve enjoyed this short quiz. If you’d like to test yourself further, visit our archives by clicking here.

 

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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The Write Gift – Beyond Price, Yet It Costs Nothing

youngBoyWriting200

This week, I’m feeling that old holiday nostalgia, and would like to digress, and talk a bit about some of the best gifts I’ve ever received. They would not be for everyone, but it may be they’ll spark some ideas for you, and perhaps some wonderful memories for someone special to you.

As a young lieutenant’s family, we lived by the motto, “If the Air Force had wanted you to have children, they’d have issued them to you!” So, if we bought new school coats, or shoes, or sweaters in the fall, we really had a struggle to get them paid for by Christmas.

Enter The Poem!

We wrote poems describing each of the “early Christmas gifts” the children had already received. Much to our astonishment, they loved the poems, and the small gifts and stocking surprises they got on Christmas Day. Of course, that was then, and this is now. Then, most of their friends and classmates were in much the same situation. So it all worked out then.

Now they get regular presents, but the poem tradition remains a high point of our gift giving, closely followed by the stocking free-for-all!

I look at my office wall. There hang three treasures: Grandma’s Garden, a beautiful poem describing Sarah’s thoughts while weeding, planting, and just “being”; Tony’s short descriptive essay starting with a small seed and its nurture, and ending with an emerald green bowl of Garlic Butter Broccoli on the dinner table; and Marilyn’s cherished Picasso-style ink rendering of watering the garden, bringing it all to vibrant life. Treasures indeed.

And then there is Madison’s work. As a third grader, she was assigned to interview a neighbor, and then write his or her biography. I was the fortunate neighbor to be interviewed. Madison received an excellent grade for her fine work, and I received a dear gift in the form of an illustrated biography she had hand written and illustrated for me.

The spoken word can be powerful. Texting is clearly useful, and generally gets a quick response. And we all enjoy Pinterest and YouTube.

But the written word is just as powerful, more durable, and infinitely more memorable.

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We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, give us a call at 503/292-9681, or email us at gail@gailtycer.com

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Are You a Professional Writer?

WomanatComputer175

Do you write on the job? Are you paid for writing on the job? If so, that makes you a professional writer.

A “professional writer” is someone who is being paid to write consistent, dependable numbers of words regularly – no matter how he or she feels, whether inspired or not. We are not always going to be positive, happy, and generally “up,” especially over the holidays when there is so much to get done, and we are often distracted.

Here are some ways you can “fall back on technique,” to write clearly and effectively, even when inspiration is on vacation:

1. Resist the urge to let “attitude” takeover – especially in writing, especially when you are tired, or distracted with too much to get done, and too little time to do it in.

Think of “attitude” translated into writing – on purpose or unconsciously, as “tone” – the relationship we are using our writing to build, or to reinforce with the reader. “Tone” can not only reflect your attitude, your stress, your feeling of being overwhelmed, but the reader’s as well.

Consider especially how that reader is feeling right now and how he or she is likely to “hear” what you have written, above the noise of all the other thoughts that are crowding in on his or her decision-making process.

2. Enlist your subconscious to help.

While you are doing “holiday things,” or washing the dishes, or walking the dog, let your mind wander a bit to the message, or to the project you have to write. Keep pen and paper handy wherever you are to capture your thoughts immediately in list form.

Think about that project as you drift off to sleep. Make notes as ideas occur to you during the night, when you wake up, and while the thoughts are still fresh.

Don’t waste good thoughts! Hang on to them! These are the grist for good writing, writing that will be clear and effective, especially for those tough, emotional, or worrisome pieces you write on the job.

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our blog, or to our newsletter.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, give us a call at 503/292-9681, or email us at gail@gailtycer.com

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How to Write Comfortably About Yourself

Among the top challenges in business writing is how to be comfortable writing about yourself. Especially good – no, excellent – no, superlative! things about yourself for that promotional piece, certain portions of that resume (many, these days, are fill-out-the-form), or that requesting-an-interview letter, on paper, or online. Here’s the secret: Don’t focus on yourself. You are only incidental to focusing on the reader, and what you can do to help that reader.

So, as the saying goes, “get over yourself.” And as a client told me years ago, “If I’m not for me, who is? And if not now, when?” But the focus is on your reader!

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