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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Write Faster – Communicate Better!

We are all so very busy, and now we have the holidays coming up, and want some time to enjoy them!ThinkingWoman170

More than ever, holiday time is time to keep those lines of communication open. Not only with friends and family, but especially on the job with our customers and clients. Where are we going to find the time? Let’s begin by taking less time to communicate effectively.

So how can we write faster – and communicate better?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have a very definite bias in this area. Here it is: To write faster, you have to begin by knowing what you’re talking about! And then…

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Published in: on November 5, 2013 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Why Don’t They “Get It?”

How many times have we asked ourselves that? Lots. How frustrating that they don’t understand our point when it is so clear to us!ScaredMaleFace

Over the years, we’ve talked about a great many of the techniques that will help our readers understand the point quickly and easily, and we will continue to do so.

But today, let’s talk about the essential basics of what happens in the communication process, and what we need to know about that process to communicate more effectively with our readers. To help them “get it.”

We’ve said many times that writing is a visual art. And indeed it is – how those words and other visual elements look on your screen or on paper when printed out, has a tremendous impact on how the reader understands the point we are trying to make – or not. That’s another one of those “essential basics.”

Business writing is certainly a cerebral art as well. The thought that goes into each piece is critical to how your reader will feel about what you have said, and subsequently how your reader will feel about you and about the organization you represent. Please do not underestimate how important this is, or the responsibility you bear because of it.

The following diagram shows what happens, and what you need to know about what happens during the communication process:

messageWorkflow

The big question we’re asking ourselves here is, “Will the message that comes out of the system be the same as the message that went into the system?”

As you see, the message you start with begins with you. Then it goes through your “filters.” So what are some of these filters? Filters are things like experience, education, understanding, expectations, biases, and in general, how you look at the world.

Mechanical issues, such as your competence in the language in which your material is written, factor in as well. Another mechanical issue can be how well you understand, and can use, the channel through which your message will be sent.

So let’s take a look at that channel, now that the message has gone through your filters. The channel is the vehicle by means of which your message will travel. This could be an email, an advertisement, a phone call, a personal visit, a training session – well, you get the idea.

But once that message is on board the channel, it will still have to negotiate the receiver’s filters. Like you, that reader will likewise have his or her own filters. An objective understanding of your reader’s filters can be very useful. Note the word, “objective.”

So now it’s time to retrieve the message from the system, and to answer the question, “Does the message we sent equal the message the reader ‘got?'”

When you were a kid, did you ever play that birthday party game, “Gossip”? Or maybe you called it “Telephone”? Same game, different name. The way the game went was this: The first little kid would whisper a short sentence to the second little kid, who in turn whispered what he or she had heard to the third little kid, and so on around the circle until that message stopped with the last little kid, who had to repeat what he or she heard.

Thus, “pressing papa’s purple pants” (for some reason, this one was always a favorite at the parties I went to – don’t know why, maybe it was the effect of whispering so many plosives into the next kids’ ears), came out of the system usually sounding something like, “pop, pop, the bandana.” This result was, of course, always unfailingly funny to a group of six- or seven-year-olds.

But how funny is it in adult miscommunication? The objectives are not the same. Kids of a certain age love to be silly. The objective of their game was to laugh, and to make others laugh – even to the point of laughing at them.

Adults in the business situation: probably not so much.

To answer our question: No, it’s not a sure bet that the receiver will 100% “get” the message exactly as sent. There are many tactics and techniques we can use to improve the odds, but those filters are very powerful influencers in the communication system. Understanding them well – ours as well as the reader’s – can go a long way toward improving those odds.

And so will the careful selection, and knowledgeable use, of the most appropriate channel through which to send your message.

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.

Published in: on June 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Strategic Email

Joseph Pulitzer said:

“Put it before them briefly, so they will read it, clearly, so they will appreciate it, picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

That goes double for email.emailIcon

Ask yourself:

  1. What am I writing? To whom? Why?
  2. What will happen when I am successful?
  3. What tone is needed to get these results?
  4. What content will get these results?

Figuring out what you want to do BEFORE you start doing it is critical for many reasons. You will virtually eliminate writer’s block; the writing will flow far better, making it infinitely more readable; your reader will have a much better chance to “get it,” thereby enhancing their impression of you as a credible professional; and when properly presented, your writing will have a greater chance of achieving what you need.  When you spend a little more time up front to think, to plan, you will spend a whole lot less time writing.

In an informal medium like email, all the rules we used to work with sometimes seem to melt away. Email is so much easier, so much faster, so much better – isn’t it? It sure can be. But it needs the same thought, the same planning that business writing has always required. In the business situation the same attention to grammar, usage, and format still applies.

Unfair though it may be, your reader also still judges you, and your organization by the only things he or she may know about you. So, unless you have established, or reinforced a relationship with that reader in addition to your email correspondence, perhaps through such activities as phone calls, meetings, or working together on a project, the only things he or she knows to judge you on are (1) how well you use the language; and (2) how quickly, and how well he or she “gets” what you are trying to say.

So take a look at that piece of email.

1. Overall, is it no more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half? If you have more to say, did you prepare an attachment for the longer message, and use the main email as a “cover letter” introducing your attachment?

2. Does your first paragraph – not more than a maximum of five lines – inform the reader of exactly what you want him or her to know? Or, does it persuade him or her to take a specific action? Is there any ambiguity? After the first five lines, is your reader immediately “in the picture”? Does he or she “get it” at a glance?

3. If you have a message detailing a number of steps or processes, are the details well presented in the next paragraph or two, following a logical, well-organized pattern?

4. Have you written – or not written, as appropriate – a good, strong close? Remember that just quitting after you have said what you need to say, is also an option, and may be a very good one.

5. Overall, how does this piece “read”? It’s all about the reader now. Knowing what you know about your reader, put yourself firmly in his or her shoes. What questions might your reader still have, after reading this email?

And then, still looking at it from that reader’s point of view, how would you expect him or her to feel about what you have written? Neutral? Happy? Angry? Depending on how you expect that reader might feel about what you have written, what can you expect him or her to do, as a result of those feelings?  And then, what, if anything, do you need to do to be ready for that response?

6. Is it possible to put your reader completely in the picture in five lines, or fewer? If so, most readers would rather read no more than five lines than they would several pages. Of course this assumes that from those five lines your readers know exactly how your message applies to them, what they need to do, and how they need to do it, if action is required of them. “Action” can mean anything from how to go out and physically do some action, to how to think about, or change the way you think about an issue or a process.

These are the steps to take to “put your reader in the picture.” This is the way to “Put it before them briefly, so they will read it, clearly, so they will appreciate it, picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe.

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

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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Four Terrific Tactics for Improving Comprehension, Part 4

This series of posts will describe four terrific tactics that you can use to improve comprehension.

The four tactics are:

  1. Make “who did what” clear.
  2. Edit for clarity.
  3. Eschew obfuscation!
  4. Use specific words.

This week, I will talk about Tactic #4. (more…)

Four Terrific Tactics for Improving Comprehension, Part 3

This series of posts will describe four terrific tactics that you can use to improve comprehension.

The four tactics are:

  1. 1. Make “who did what” clear.
  2. 2. Edit for clarity.
  3. 3. Eschew obfuscation!
  4. 4. Use specific words.

This week, I will talk about Tactic #3.

  1. Eschew obfuscation!
    (more…)
Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Four Terrific Tactics for Improving Comprehension, Part 2

This series of posts will describe four terrific tactics that you can use to improve comprehension.

The four tactics are:

  1. 1. Make “who did what” clear.
  2. 2. Edit for clarity.
  3. 3. Eschew obfuscation!
  4. 4. Use specific words.

This week, I will talk about Tactic #2. (more…)

Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Four Terrific Tactics for Improving Comprehension, Part 1

This series of posts will describe four terrific tactics that you can use to improve comprehension.

The four tactics are:

  1. 1. Make “who did what” clear.
  2. 2. Edit for clarity.
  3. 3. Eschew obfuscation!
  4. 4. Use specific words.

This week, I will talk about Tactic #1. (more…)

Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Getting Started Quickly, Easily (Part 6): Formats: Because Writing is a Visual Art

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked about how to get started quickly and easily with your business writing.  This week in Part 6, my focus is on Formats: Because Writing is a Visual Art.

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