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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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Strategic Business Writing – a Powerful, Cost-Effective Marketing Tool

Companies that thrive today realize that as dollars tighten, every word of every email, memo, letter, report, or proposal could also have a financial payback, as well as the more subliminal, less tangible results brought about by clarity and directness. womanTyping250

More and more, successful business people understand that strategic business writing — writing that gets the results it was meant to get — can be an extremely powerful marketing tool, and certainly one of the most cost-effective.

Here are a few quick tips on what makes everyday business writing — whether we’re talking about email, or paper writing — work today:

  1. Decide what you want this piece to accomplish. It may be that all you want to do is to provide information, and let the reader decide what to do with that information. Alternatively, you may want this piece to generate an action, or to avoid an action; perhaps to influence, or to change what your reader thinks, or believes.
  2. Focus on the reader’s needs/wants/desires. Think about your reader. Your reader wants to know “What’s in it for me?” “What will happen if I do,” or, “What will happen if I don’t?” Focus on benefits to the reader. Understand your reader’s options. Consider and address his or her real concerns, rather than just what you want to say, if you want to get, and to keep his or her attention.
  3. Select the items you will discuss based on your reader’s need for the information, your reader’s use of the information, and your purpose for writing. If your information does not meet at least one of these criteria, leave it out.
  4. Determine, and use the appropriate tone for this specific message and for this specific reader. “Tone” is the relationship that you — the writer — set up with your reader. What do you want that relationship to be? Formal? Informal? Friendly? Helpful? Authoritarian? Professional? No-nonsense?
  5. Decide on the “take away” — what do you want your reader to understand, and to remember from this piece.
  6. Provide a “call to action.” Tell the reader what he or she should do with, or about the information you provide.
  7. Aim for clarity, not cleverness.
  8. Write carefully, thoughtfully. Make it easy to read. Select comfortable words. Use the best format to make your point. Use active sentences for greater clarity. Keep your average sentence length in the 14-17-word range. Vary the length of your sentences, words, and paragraphs to keep the reader reading: some short, some long, some mid-length. Work with syntax — try moving the words around in a sentence; sentences in the paragraph. Be consistent.

And finally, nothing will destroy respect for a company or organization faster than sloppy, grammatically incorrect correspondence — and that goes for email as well as for paper mail.

Good business writing has generally become more strategic, and a bit less formal than it was at one point. In many organizations, it’s now considered acceptable to use contractions; to start sentences with “And,” or “But”; to use alternate formats — and even to end a sentence with a preposition if it makes your meaning more clear!

Check what is acceptable in your workplace. Each company has its own personality; its own style; its own way of doing things. Even if there are no company-wide guidelines, your particular boss may have his or her own ideas about how things should be done. Understanding your organization’s “ground rules” — the environment in which your writing must work — is a good place to start writing strategically.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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Even Before You Think About Writing…

If I could give you an easy way to be more productive in your working life, would it be worth a try?

Recently-published research from Stanford University (Ophir, Wagner and Nass) indicates that people who identified themselves as high multitaskers did not do as well at filtering irrelevant information, organizing memories, or switching from one thing to another as low multitaskers did.

UCLA researcher Russell Poldrack found that students focused on learning a specific task out-performed those multitaskers who were distracted.  Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) testing further indicated that different brain systems were involved for each group, and that “there was a cost to switching back and forth” for the actively multitasking group involved in learning new information while distracted.  University of Michigan researcher David E. Meyer notes that switching the brain from one task to another can be incredibly time consuming.

From the historical point of view as far back as the 1890s, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, researchers found that while some are better able to concentrate while distracted than others, “Beyond a fairly low level of multitasking, everyone’s performance breaks down.”

Paradoxically, while most of the plethora of current research strongly concludes that, for a variety of reasons, multitaskers do not perform as well as their more focused counterparts, “Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities,” Stanford’s Nass said.  Yet, “they’re suckers for irrelevancy,” and “Everything distracts them.”

“They’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” Stanford’s Wagner continued, and “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

What does this mean in the business situation?  Two things:  (1) It’s possible that by focusing; and (2) by cutting distraction around you, you could actually be more productive, while seemingly doing less.

At a practical level, a single focus, and lack of distraction may be very close to the impossible dream, given today’s rapid-fire, multitasking work environment.

Try dedicating your workspace only to focused work – saving personal email, face book, Twitter, and LinkedIn – for personal time and space at home.

If you are a home office worker, establish and observe definite work hours, and dedicate a definite space used only for work.

More free business writing tips from Gail Tycer are available here, and information about Gail’s Effective Email, and other business writing workshops is available here.

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© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

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Prepositions

A preposition is a connecting word that shows the relationship between words in a sentence, and elaborates meaning. A prepositional phrase begins with one of the prepositions below. A very common mistake is to match the verb in the sentence to the word at the end of the prepositional phrase, rather than to the subject of the sentence (“A selection of three entrees is available at dinner” is correct; “A selection of three entrees are available at dinner” is incorrect). By learning to recognize a preposition when you see is, you can avoid this grammatical error.
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Diagnostic Checkup

Try out your writing skills! See if you can correct the errors in the following sentences.

  1. As a homeowner, repairs have just become too time-consuming for me.
  2. Each 4-H member will have a chance to show their animal at the Fair.
  3. A selection of 3 entrees are available at dinner.
  4. One way to judge software is by installing at your office to see if its making a difference in productivity.
  5. Athletes will have a chance to wear their uniform at the tournament.

Answers after the cut…

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