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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Poor Business Writing is Not a Character Flaw!

Writing skills can be fixedPoor 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, 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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Writer’s Block: What are you talking about?

Writer's Block

I can pretty much promise you that if you suffer from writer’s block – you know, that endless period when you sit in front of your blank screen, virtually incapable of getting started – I can tell you why. And how to fix it.

If you are like most of the people who suffer from this malady, the most likely reason is, you haven’t thought through four key elements: why you’re writing, what that writing needs to achieve, or what you want to say, and how to say it. And the sticking point is most likely what you want to say.

As I like to tell participants in my business writing workshops, there’s the good news, and there’s the bad news. Then there’s the worst news, and the best news.

The good news: Writing is easy.
The bad news: Thinking is tough.
The worst news: You have to think before you write.
The best news: Here’s how!

Here’s what you need to think about before you begin to write:

1. Ask yourself:
a. What am I writing? A report? Instructions? A “regular email”? What is the piece?
b. Who am I writing to?
c. Am I writing to inform? To persuade? Of what? To do what?

This is where you’ll decide why you are writing.

2. Next, list the results this piece of writing needs to achieve. What will happen when you are successful?

3. And how you’re going to say it? What “tone” will you use, remembering that “tone” is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. How would you describe the relationship you will create or reinforce to get the results you are looking for?

4. Now that you have primed the thinking pump, you’re ready to decide what you want to say. It can be pretty tough to start writing before you think through the first three steps. That’s where what you want to say will come from.

List the items you want to talk about. Edit your list against three criteria:

1. What do I want to accomplish with this piece of writing
2. Why does the reader need this information?
3. How will the reader use this information?

Next, no matter how interesting each thing you want to say may be, if that point does not serve, to your complete satisfaction, one or more of the above three points, ruthlessly edit it out! Your goal is to have all of the information your reader needs to meet one or more of the above three tests, and nothing else!

Beware of distracting, or overloading your reader. Lack of clear understanding can easily lead to lack of any action or decision. It’s not necessary to tell your reader everything you know about the subject. First of all, he or she probably doesn’t care to hear all of it, and secondly, probably will not read such a torrent of information. Select only the information that serves your purpose, and meets the reader’s need for, and use of this information. Truthfully. As one workshop participant put it, tell your reader “just enough.”

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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, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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