Write for Business - Blog

UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Three Words for Moving Forward

    Wednesday, May 05, 2010

    From time to time UpWrite Press receives requests for advice from people frustrated at trying to write for their supervisors. Sometimes it’s that an e-mail goes unacknowledged, leaving the writer to guess whether the message was lost, ignored, or acted upon. Sometimes it's difficulty deciding what to write in a personal review. Sometimes it's drafting an entire report for one supervisor, only to have someone in a higher office return that writing with extensive marks for change, or - worse - pass it to someone else entirely for a thorough reworking. Any of these can leave the original writer feeling undermined and diminished, wondering about his or her future with the company.

    I've been there. I'm familiar with the sick worry that major edits to my writing were harbingers of an impending layoff. (And I really hate looking for work.) I've struggled through personal reviews. I've known the vague disconnectedness of unacknowledged e-mails or reports. Most likely you've experienced these things too.

    The trick to getting past these frustrations is a simple one. Are you ready? Here it is: Just be helpful.

    It really is that simple. Just be helpful. Those three words shift the focus of a task off the writer and onto the result.

    With these three words, it doesn't matter whether an e-mail was acknowledged - only that its intended effect occurred. If so, no follow-up is necessary. If it didn't occur, a phone call, memo, or simple hallway meeting (Hi, Ernest. Did you get that e-mail about…? Great!) may be needed.

    These three words also take much of the stress out of an annual review. Instead of approaching that task from the standpoint of selling something, the writer thinks about what the supervisor might need for the review. It's the difference between trying to force-feed and laying out a buffet.

    Further, this three-word motto kills the worry about drafts and re-drafts of larger pieces of writing. From a corporate standpoint, it doesn't really matter who wrote the quarterly report, just that it got done effectively. Most of these things are team efforts anyway.

    Which brings me to my final point about Just be helpful. Other people notice this attitude. Team members appreciate it, and supervisors find it refreshing. Whenever a new task comes up, the purely helpful person comes to mind first. And whether or not it's actually written on an annual review, helpful makes a powerful impression and contributes to advancement.

    It has taken me a quarter century of working in publishing to learn this little mantra, but the effect is so refreshing that I consider that time well spent. I hope this advice is helpful to you, as well.

    Do you have other advice for writing in a corporate environment? We'd love to hear your comments!

    - Lester Smith

    Communication, the Four-Legged Beastie

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    There's a famous quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke that goes, "What we've got here…is failure to communicate." We all want to avoid that failure, especially in business. But communication is a process, and a failure can result from an interruption in any part of that process.

    Communication is like a pack animal standing on four legs: sender, medium of transmission, receiver, and feedback. The sender and the medium of transmission determine the form of the message: spoken, written, or even the hand gestures used in sign language. The receiver decodes the message by reading, listening, or watching, and then returns feedback to the sender in the form of a response, completing the communication process. When all four legs are working, the message travels successfully.

    So how can understanding this process help you? First, when crafting a message, consider which medium will work best for the receiver, and think about the desired result. For example, if you need immediate feedback, you might use a phone call, an e-mail, or a text message. For a less urgent response, you might send a letter. Finally, examine the feedback to be sure the receiver has correctly understood your message.

    To summarize, you will truly communicate when you choose the best medium for your receiver, take care that the message itself is clear, and then check the feedback to make sure that the message was properly understood.

    You can learn more about communicating successfully beginning on page 3 of Business and Sales Correspondence, just one of the many helpful business writing materials from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

    Flirting with Disaster

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    According to a 2005 study cited in USA Today, women who flirt for advancement on the job actually receive fewer promotions.

    Why mention this in a writing blog? Well, much of business writing is about persuasion, and insincere or manipulative persuasion is not only ineffective, it can actually be harmful. People today, surrounded by advertising, are growing ever more savvy about manipulation. They're looking for honest assessments, including honest admissions of shortcomings as well as statements of benefits. They know how to walk away from a flirt.

    Keep this in mind when writing a résumé or an annual self-assessment. The point is to not oversell yourself, but rather to realistically measure your skills - as well as any room for improvement - and present that appraisal in a positive light. The result will be a better personal connection with your reader, and that makes for the most persuasive writing.

    What has your own experience been in writing résumés and annual self-assessments? Do you have any tips to share?

    - Lester Smith

    Not Just One but Four Grammars - and Why That's Good

    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    If you're like most people, the word "grammar" makes you cringe. It conjures up memories of long, dull classes in fifth grade, of rules that choke the life out of writing and then dissect it like a dead frog.

    Happily, there are actually not just one but four grammars. Let me explain why that's a good thing.

    Prehistoric people invented talking before there were any rules at all. You can still see this in the way children learn to speak. They just start gabbing, putting words together, discovering what gets the point across and what doesn't. This sort of communication is Grammar One: The way people speak.

    Grammar Two is the study of the way people speak. This grammar isn't of much interest to anyone but linguists. The closest it comes to daily life may be when parents attempt to correct a child's usage - "I went," Tommy, not "I goed." Of course, we all know what Tommy meant by "I goed," but that isn't Standard English. (And Tommy doesn't yet know that "I goad" has its own, very different meaning.)

    Grammar Three is the way people write. Writing brings an added level of formality to language, because it can't rely on the context of speech. Even the most lax dialog in a summer novel is less chaotic than real conversation. Similarly, even the most personal letters are more controlled than a face-to-face talk. Instruction manuals, business proposals, and marketing plans require even more care, to ensure that the point gets across. Let me restate this: Grammar three requires more care than grammar one simply to ensure that the point comes across clearly.

    Grammar Four is the study of the way people write. This is the language of grammarians. It's purpose is not communication but classification. And classification inevitably brings about rigidification. When you're sorting things into boxes, and you come across something that doesn't fit, it's tempting to pitch it out rather than figure out how it could fit - or admit that it's time to make a new box.

    You can consider these four grammars as a continuum:

    Speech > Study of speech > Writing > Study of Writing

    This is the direction I've introduced in the paragraphs above. It provides a common-sense reason for being casual in speaking and taking more care in preparing important documents.

    There is a danger in reversing the continuum:

    Study of writing > Writing > Study of speech > Speech

    When we start to believe that rules create communication, rather than the other way around, we give up our natural human legacy as makers of meaning and become little more than code talkers, at risk of choking on our words.

    What are your own experiences with and opinions of grammar? Are you someone to whom grammar "comes naturally" or a person who has to struggle with it? Do you love it, or does it make you crazy? We'd love to hear your comments.

    - Lester Smith