Business Writing Workarounds

Pen and Paper“Workarounds,” a word borrowed from the techie community, has become an interesting part of our business vocabulary, generally meaning if the way you usually do it, or are supposed to do it, doesn’t work, or if you’re not sure how to do it, here’s how to work around it to get the job done.

Many of us were taught – or at least thought we were taught – that there is only one correct way to write. Certainly when you are talking about a prescribed type of writing, say a thesis or a dissertation, that is true.

But in business writing, workarounds can get that piece of writing done both quickly and correctly, and can be useful when we’re not certain of the grammatical correctness of what we have written. There are many correct ways to get the job done, and in the typical business situation we do not have time to spend figuring out how to fix a particular phrase or sentence exactly as written. Business writing is not, and should not, be an English class exercise. Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done. And the writing itself should be correctly done to enhance your professionalism and credibility.

So let’s talk about a couple of quick, correct workarounds.

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Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Technical Writing: Will They Get It?

womanTyping250Strictly 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.

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More About the Business Writing Trend: Short!

Last week, we said that “short” is not what we really want, when we are looking for clearer, faster communication; when we want the reader to “get it” and to act on it now.TwoBusinessPeople175

What we are looking for is “concise.” “Short” can cause you a lot of problems, cost you more time, and result in lost productivity. You need to anticipate the questions you must answer for your reader before he or she can do what you are asking him or her to do. “Concise” – providing the information your reader needs, in as short a space as possible – greatly increases the odds that you will get what you need at all, and probably much sooner.

The second part of this is to make your writing faster and easier to read.

We already talked about alternate formats, cover letters, and whether to pass along this information at all. See last week’s post here.

Here are three more things you can do:

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Cost-Effective Marketing Part 2: Words and Phrases

Last week, we said that your day-to-day business writing should be your most cost-effective marketing tool (see the post here), and promised you some words, phrases, and techniques that will help.

PileofWords180Whether you are actually writing to persuade, or just passing along some requested information, the overall tone – the “feeling” your reader gets about you, and subsequently the way he or she thinks about you, and about your organization, is absolutely critical to the success of the piece you are writing, and in a larger sense, to the success of your organization overall.

So here goes…

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Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 11:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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Business Writing Tip of the Week: “Spin”

Can you remember when “spin” was what we did as little kids to make ourselves dizzy and fall down? And then we all laughed so hard?SpinningTop175

“Spin” is not a laughing word today, is it?

In the kindest terms, maybe we could say “spin” is “putting the best face on it,” or maybe just call it “reframing,” helping your reader to see the positive side of what might normally be considered a negative.

For example, pretend you are the copywriter for an advertising campaign promoting a new housing development. Here are some of the facts about this housing development you must deal with. See if you can turn each of them – which would normally be considered negative – into a positive statement about the development:

  1. The new housing development is across the street from the main entrance to a busy urban airport, and directly under the flight path.
  2. There are sidewalks on only one side of the street.
  3. The playground has only one swing.
  4. No required minimum landscaping will be provided.
  5. There is a dangerous swamp in the southeast corner of the development.
  6. The model home blew up last Friday.

Now let’s have a little fun with this exercise. Take a couple of minutes to turn each of these probably negative statements into positive ones.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

So what did you come up with?

Perhaps on negative #1, you thought how perfect this new housing development would be for the busy business traveler, saving commute time, and allowing his or her family to be alerted to his or her return.

Negative #2: Did you think about the sidewalks provided for safe walking, or greater privacy with reduced foot traffic?

For negative #3, how about “Children’s playground thoughtfully designed for cooperative play, and to support sharing.”

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stretch your imagination and create the unbelievably beautiful garden you have dreamed of, and only imagined until now,” might work for negative #4.

And of course the dangerous swamp in negative #5 can easily be translated into an unusual wildlife preserve allowing your family to observe nature at first hand.

Finally, the model home in negative #6 that blew up last Friday?  “Only one home has not met our rigorous standards, and it was promptly removed last Friday.”

You’ve probably come up with many other negatives-into-positives, and I hope you have had some fun with this exercise. Let us hear from you!

Now that we have the general idea of negative-into-positive with this light-hearted exercise, let’s get a little more serious. Over the next week, listen for “reframing” statements. Listen to the ads, listen to the news, listen to your co-workers, customers, and clients. Listen for how your family members – kids are particularly good at this – manage to “put the best face on” what could be a negative situation or fact.

Word choice can also be a tool of “spin.”

We all recognize connotative words, words like “propaganda,” “gossip,” and “manipulate” – words that carry baggage. Words that in and of themselves can create a negative emotion. And of course there are also words that in and of themselves can create a positive emotion.

But let’s talk about “neutral words,” and how they can be ramped up, or ramped down to inflame emotion, or to calm emotion. For two examples, let’s use the words “situation,” and “important.”

How many ways can you think of to say “situation”? Take a minute here to jot down half a dozen or more as they occur to you.

Which of these words might, under certain circumstances, create a panic? Which are the potentially inflammatory words? Crisis? Disaster? Catastrophe?

Which of these words could you use to calm a general sense of panic? Which neutral words tend to minimize the serious nature of a crisis? Situation? Issue? Matter?

Now let’s look at “important.” Well just how important is “important”? Not very is it? How much attention do you pay when someone says, “This is an important issue”? Let’s ramp it up a bit. How about critical, crucial, life-threatening? Dire, desperate, or grave? Even there you can see various levels indicating just how important this issue may be.

And to ramp it down? Important? Worth consideration? Or fairly serious?

While thinking about the quality, nature, and potential effect of the words you use may not be critical, crucial, or life-threatening, probably not even dire, desperate, or grave, I do hope you will find it worth your consideration this week.

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 We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

What was that again?

Take a quick look at the following sentences. Can you see what the three of them have in common?

  1. The troops fired into crowds protesting the return of the religious leader.
  2. John and Bob were in the coffee room when Bill Smith and Art Jones from accounting walked in. Words were exchanged, and the two wanted to argue about the hiring policy decision.
  3. Army helicopter pilots reported seeing steam plumes venting from near the top of the smaller mountain last week, but they disappeared shortly after the observation.

Whatever else these sentences may have in common, none of them tells the reader who did what. Take another look.

In sentence1., who was protesting the return of the religious leader? Was it the troops who were protesting? Was it the crowds? And in sentence 2., who was it who wanted to argue? And how about sentence 3.?

Creating confusion is easy to do when the writer knows so much about the subject that it all seems clear at first glance. So now look at sentence 1. How can you make it perfectly clear who was doing the protesting?

Perhaps you said something like.

“The troops, who were protesting the return of the religious leader, fired into the crowds.”

Or, if it had been the other way around, perhaps something like,

“The troops fired into the crowds, who were protesting the return of the religious leader.”

And how about sentence 2. How could you make it clear which two wanted to argue?:

This one is relatively easy, right? All you need to do is substitute the names of the would-be arguers for “the two.” So fixes are not always that complicated. The hard part is to recognize when what you have written is not as clear to the reader as it was to you when you wrote it.

And now for sentence 3.  Who was it who disappeared?:

This one is probably the most common source of confusion created by the writer. Is “they” the pilots (oh no!) or the plumes? This sort of confusion is also the easiest to spot when you proofread your writing before you send it. Just look for words like  “they,” “he,” “she,” “we,” “it.” Then substitute the name or description for that word.

Fixing this sort of confusion – who did what? – can be relatively easy. The trick is to be aware of, and to recognize the sentences that will be confusing to the reader. Then fix them.

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

Published in: on October 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Blogger Tip #1: Make it readable

This week, we’re welcoming blogger Marilyn Tycer. Marilyn is a graphic designer and blogger, and we’ve asked her to share some of her tips for bloggers.

Tip #1: Make it readable.

Now that you have a subject for your blog, and some ideas for posts, what comes next? Start typing! But it’s important to take care to craft your blog posts into something readable. So before you hit the “Publish” button, take a moment to revise your writing. While the subject of your blog might be popular, your blog probably won’t get a lot of followers if your writing is hard to read or bland. (more…)

Review: Writers INC

[Image source]

Writers INC is a valuable resource for writers of all ages and all genres. While intended for high school students, it contains a wealth of essential information that is relevant to business writers.

A quick look at the Writers INC table of contents:
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Good writing, or just good rewriting?

“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” –Louis D. Brandeis.

I don’t believe that there isn’t good writing, but much of what makes a piece of writing good is the effort put into revising and rewriting it. However, many times, people agonize over trying to say things perfectly while writing a rough draft, and they get so caught up in perfectly articulating one sentence that they lose momentum and the rest of the draft suffers for it. Remember to see the forest through the trees! Just get something written down on paper, and then revise, revise, revise.

(more…)

Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A fun story about “woman” vs. “women”

Happy New Year, everyone!

My granddaughter shared a funny story with me. She works in a middle school and was helping a student revise his work. The assignment was to make a comic strip about a scene in the book Jennifer Murdley’s Toad, and this particular student chose the scene where the young woman protagonist is humiliated because she has to wear her brother’s underpants and everyone at school finds out. (It is a very amusing book, to say the least!) (more…)

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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