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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    Writing Against the Clock

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    My workstation is a quiet place. As I type these words, all I hear is the dull hum of my computer monitor and the faint ticking of a clock behind me. These are suitable acoustics for a writer. Or at least I think so. But listening to the seconds' hand go tick and tock reminded me of a writing challenge a friend of mine recently encountered where the sound of time passing by wouldn't be so pleasing.

    Smack in the middle of a job interview, my friend was given 30 minutes to respond to a writing prompt. She was interviewing for a job in retail pharmacy, a profession in which writing is not often thought of as a required skill set, so she was a bit caught off guard.

    Apparently on-site writing tests are gaining popularity as an interview assessment tool for all fields of work, even for jobs that don't often deal with writing. In most cases, the objective of the test is not so much to assess your writing aptitude but to see how well you can communicate ideas, respond to deadline pressure, and deal with unanticipated workplace assignments.

    My friend noted the last time she performed on-demand (timed) writing was for an AP English exam in high school. I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. Just as I'm sure the very thought of receiving a writing assignment during a job interview sounds as agreeable as a trip to the DMV or listening to a Lady Gaga album. Thankfully, there are simple strategies you can make use of to make on-demand writing less stressful and the writing product more successful.

    Here are five easy steps for taking timed writing tests:

    1. Consider how much time you have. Formulate your response based on the time limit. For example, if you have 30 minutes, you will need to budget less time on planning and revising than you would with a 60-minute time limit. For a 30-minute time limit, I suggest setting aside five minutes for planning, twenty minutes for writing, and five minutes for revising.
    2. Analyze the prompt. What is the subject of the prompt? What is it asking of you? What audience will most likely read your response?
    3. Develop a plan. Before you begin writing, take some time to plan your response. What is your main feeling or thesis regarding the subject? How can you support your view? Consider organizing your ideas and support in a quick outline or numbered list.
    4. Relax and write. Focus on getting your ideas down in an organized manner rather than stressing over the perfect word or skillfully crafted sentence. Begin by stating your thesis or main idea. From there, develop body paragraphs based on ideas that support your thesis.
    5. Revise for clarity and content. Save enough time to read over your work. Remember, your prompt will be evaluated on clarity and content. So don't sweat the small stuff. Do change any spelling or glaring grammar errors.

    Fingers, up! Looks like my time is up for this blog post. Now I'll hand it over to you: Have any of you encountered a timed writing test at work or in a job interview? What strategies worked best for you? As always, comments are welcomed.

    - Tim Kemper

    Working Out Strong Sentences

    Thursday, May 06, 2010

    Want your writing to not only present information but also make it sing (and sell)? Then strengthen your sentences. If they engage your reader, and keep your reader engaged, you can be assured your message will get across. Here are some tips for strengthening your sentences by varying their construction.

    • Vary sentence length. Use short, punchy sentences to grab your reader's attention or make a quick point, while letting longer, more complex sentences carry the meat of your message.
    • Vary sentence openings. Avoid the plain old "subject-verb" habit and enhance impact and interest by using modifying words, phrases, or clauses to open your sentences.
    • Vary sentence types. Make your point with declarative sentences, but pique the reader's interest with questions, commands, and conditional statements. On occasion, pepper in a few fragments and exclamatory sentences to add impact.
    • Vary sentence arrangements. Place your main point at different places within the sentence. Beginning with the main point gives it direct importance, while ending with it allows you to build up to it. Or, if you would rather cushion or elaborate the point, surround it with modifiers, tucking it somewhere in the middle of the sentence.

    They say variety is the spice of life, and it can certainly invigorate your writing.

    You can learn more about creating sentences beginning on page 255 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace, just one of the many helpful business-writing materials from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

    Free the Angel in Your Writing

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

    - Michelangelo

    When it comes right down to it, writing is a lot like marble sculpting. The sculptor starts by sketching, the writer by jotting down ideas and arranging an outline (at least a rough list). The sculptor turns the sketches into finished plans from various angles; the writer generates a first draft.

    Now comes the real work. The sculptor tackles the marble itself, chipping away everything that doesn't match the drawings. During the process, properties of this particular block of stone may require adaptation - whether to avoid a flaw or take advantage of a previously undiscovered beauty. In some cases, a limb may have to be sculpted from a separate piece of stone and attached, to make the sculpture work. Similarly, the writer must evaluate the first draft, looking for weak spots and unpredicted strengths. Some parts may have to be trimmed, others added, to suit the unfolding sense of purpose and meet the audience's needs.

    Once the overall shape of a sculpture or piece of writing has been finalized, the work of polishing can begin. Surface details such as the contour of tendons and veins can be brought out in the stone; specific sentence structures and word choices can be adapted in the writing to improve the voice. Finally, last bits of roughness are buffed from the statue, as a spell check and grammar check look for surface imperfections in the writing.

    I'd only argue that Michelangelo should have said "an angel" rather than "the angel." An infinite number of angels could reside within any single block of stone, though the sculptor's work can reveal only one. In a like fashion, a piece of writing has nearly infinite possibilities when the writer starts, but each decision along the way - informed by the reader's needs - narrows the writing's focus, leading to a specific result.

    What do you think? Has the angel in this essay been effectively revealed? Would you express the writing process differently? What metaphor might work better? I'd love to hear your comments.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo: Justus Hayes / Shoes on Wires / shoesonwires.com

    Perk Up Your Word Power!

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Read any good books lately? Try the dictionary - seriously. As a copy editor, I work with the dictionary almost nonstop, and I often get sidetracked, spotting words I've never heard of, reading the meanings, thinking, I've got to find a way to use this wonderful word - somewhere.

    Take the word "fubsy," for instance. I came across that word today, and I think it is a very friendly word. Try it in that common sentence you have probably uttered yourself a number of times: Gosh, I just feel so fubsy today. Now, I won't spoil the fun of your looking up "fubsy" for yourself; but I can tell you, I think the word runs circles around the nasty three-letter word it stands in for.

    Then there's "folkmoot." Just bear with me here. While this old English word may equate to a village or townhall meeting more than to a business meeting, I say, what a great word for those lovely gatherings we have all sat in, and sat in, and sat in some more. It feels better to say, "Sorry fellas, have to get to a folkmoot by 1:00 p.m. See ya later." You'll have them wondering, don't you think? They may even feel jealous, until they look up the word for themselves.

    Okay, so you aren't likely to use "fubsy" or "folkmoot" in business writing. Still, words like this can liven up the workday. More importantly, for every "fubsy" you encounter, you're sure to find a dozen other more business-like words to enrich your vocabulary. So why not do a little exploring?

    Do you already have a favorite word or two you can share with us? We'd love to hear about them! Just click on the comments link below to respond.

    - Lois Krenzke