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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    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    English is a language of synonyms, multiple words with similar meanings. At first, that might seem wasteful. But it allows for nuance, subtle differences that convey added meaning. And it allows for concision.

    As an example, let's consider that word concision in comparison with its sibling conciseness. They're both noun forms of the adjective concise, meaning "short and to the point." But concision carries the added sound of precision. In some contexts, it might even echo incision—being direct or "cutting to the heart of the matter."

    In addition, at just nine letters, concision is a better model of terseness than the eleven-lettered conciseness. What's more, concision's final syllable simply "sounds" more to the point than its sibling's.

    Of course, conciseness is the more common word, which means it gets the idea across without drawing attention to itself. Most often, then, you're likely best served by conciseness. If you want to emphasize terseness, however, concision does the trick.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by Creative Tools

    Don't Be ASAP

    Wednesday, November 09, 2011

    dripping tree sapHow often do you see the abbreviation ASAP? How does it make you feel? How often do you use it yourself?

    ASAP (As Soon As Possible) has been with us since 1955, originating as U.S. Army slang. Over the intervening years it has become cliché, losing what impact it might have once had. Here's a short list of why ASAP is ineffective nowadays.

    1. It doesn't specify a delivery date. "As soon as possible" is actually a vague statement, leaving delivery to the listener's judgment. What seems a "possible" date to one person might seem very different to someone facing other circumstances.
    2. It doesn't identify priorities. ASAP doesn't specifically mean "Do this first" or "Do this now." It could legitimately be interpreted as "Fit this into your schedule." If my other tasks seem more pressing, "as soon as possible" might actually mean "tack it onto the end."
    3. It sets unrealistic expectations. ASAP creates a general sense of tension and unease. Even when an "ASAP" project is finished, people can't tell whether they met a milestone or missed it. And while an "ASAP" project remains uncompleted, they can only worry.
    4. It sets a negative tone. Using ASAP is basically like saying "I need this in a hurry but can't be bothered to tell you when." It devalues the receiver and his or her time, treating that person as a servant rather than a colleague or team member.
    5. If everything is needed ASAP, nothing is. Let's assume you have multiple tasks assigned at the same time. If they're all "top priority," that puts them all on the same level. Even if your tasks come one at a time, if every one is "ASAP," the situation becomes like "The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf.'"

    So avoid using the term ASAP. Take time to actually set priorities and target dates, to praise people for meeting those goals, and to devote more resources to a task that is falling behind. That's a much more effective strategy for getting things done quickly than just demanding them "ASAP."

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by AfroDad

    Writing in Cars with Boys

    Thursday, October 06, 2011

    Have you ever bought a used car?

    Recently my youngest daughter asked me to look over a used car she was considering buying. The dealer's salesperson smiled and walked us over to it, saying, "Great body. Not a scratch on her." I got in, started the engine, looked over the interior - all in good shape. I got back out, opened the hood and looked at seals, hoses, and so on, then bent down to look at the tires and underbody. The wheel wells were rusted completely through. When I asked the dealer's mechanic about repairing them, he took a look and replied, "The whole underbody is rusted out. I wouldn't feel comfortable selling this car to your daughter."

    Now for the other side of the picture. One of the first cars my wife and I owned was a used Buick. Mechanically, that car was wonderful. Cosmetically, it was a mess. The paint was peeling off the roof. The hood had been replaced, and its color didn't match the rest of the car. The rear bumper was falling off and had to be held up with a rope tied inside the trunk. My wife was embarrassed to be seen in the thing, but I loved it: Good on gas, dependable starter even in the coldest weather, a smooth ride, and so on.

    Those two cars represent different attitudes about business writing.

    Writing teachers often focus on grammar training, punctuation practice, spelling, and correct word usage, as if these were what make writing perform. But this is like paying attention to how a car looks without considering how it runs. A great paint job and leather upholstery do no good if the underbody has rusted through or the engine is broken.

    Business leaders often focus on content to the exclusion of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct usage, arguing that the only thing that really matters is communication. But this is like driving my old junker back and forth to work. Other people really do care how your ride looks.

    Having been a writing teacher, I understand that grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage are easiest to grade. Ideas, organization, and voice require more expertise and energy. Working in business, I also understand that communication and delivery speed are essential. Devoting time to proofreading can seem counterproductive. (And maybe we still have some slight resentment toward those teachers who marked up all our papers in school.)

    The truth is, of course, that we need both. A piece of writing must be well designed and mechanically sound to communicate. It must have sound ideas, a logical organization, and an appropriate voice for its audience. But it must also look good if we are to be taken seriously. This is where editing and proofreading become important - to ensure correctness in spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and sentence construction. Page design (use of headings, columns, lists, graphics, and so on) is also important, of course, to help readers quickly comprehend your message.

    You can find tips about all of these things by using the search box on this site, and more in-depth information in our print publications. You might consider these your toolboxes. Here's wishing you the best on your writing journey.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Ross Griff

    A Contest Can Make Your Business a Winner

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Hand-drawn sweepstakes ticketLooking for a creative way to drive traffic to your Web site, maybe introduce your product to new customers? Of course you are. One idea might be a contest or sweepstakes, offering the chance to open your product to new markets.

    The advantages of having a contest are many, including driving people to your Web site where they will learn more about your company. Most contest entries require an e-mail signup as well, giving you an expanded list for marketing purposes. A contest also humanizes a company and can lend it the rosy glow of being fun. It establishes your brand and gives you a wider audience.

    To prepare, consider the type of contest you are running, and the prizes being offered. Your contest should be related to your product, of course. For example, if you manufacture vacuum cleaners, your main prize might be cleaning related and might be anything from your top-of-the-line vacuum to a month of cleaning service. Naturally, your budget will determine the size of the prize, and your company's purpose will determine the audience. If you run a family theme park, for instance, your prize should be family oriented, but if you are a prestige liquor distributor, your prize would be geared more toward adults.

    Next, write the text to announce the contest on your Web site. This shouldn't be just an explanation of the rules. Use it as a chance to project your company's personality. A contest or sweepstakes should be exciting and fun! Your Web copy should capture that excitement, while also providing the essential facts about how to sign up.

    Follow that friendly information with any legal requirements and contest rules, such as requiring winners to participate in advertisements. You'll want to establish those rules before you post the contest, so that there isn't any confusion later on. Fortunately, the Web is full of contest examples both good and not so good, so that you can best prepare your own text. Oh, and check with your IT people to make sure your system is set up to receive the responses and the increased traffic.

    Remember, too, that a main purpose of having a contest is to spread your brand awareness and draw more people to your site. So make sure the rest of your site is inviting, that menus and text links make visitors want to explore and learn more after they've submitted their contest entries. In effect, your contest is a Welcome mat, but your true goal is to show visitors around the rest of your home. If you need to do a bit of "housekeeping" to prepare your site before launching the contest, that's time well spent.

    Finally, when you do launch your contest, keep the duration short, or people will forget about it or lose interest. Announce all winners and make sure the prizes are delivered in a timely fashion. Generally it's better to run several small contests at intervals than to attempt one long one—even with a bigger prize.

    Here's hoping your contest goes well. Let us know!

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by jma.work

    Power to the Pointer

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

     The first time I created a PowerPoint presentation, I went a little crazy. I overdid all those neat little bells and whistles - animations, colors, patterns, sounds - so my presentation ended up like a carnival midway.

    And my message was lost in the tumult.

    Learn from my mistake. When preparing a PowerPoint presentation, don't get all caught up in the technology. Animations and such are great, but only if they serve a purpose.

    Now you might ask yourself, so what's the attraction of features like animation anyway? Think about a time you sat through a long, boring lecture that was nothing but a single speaker reading from notes. Do you remember anything from that presentation? Chances are your brain shut off from monotony. Now imagine if the same speech had been presented in colorful bites with movement that woke up your brain. The benefits of a colorful, zesty presentation include grabbing and holding audience attention and connecting main points to visuals so that they can be remembered.

    The trick is to not go overboard and dazzle your audience with so many pyrotechnics that they lose the point of your presentation. Choose interesting but subdued backgrounds for your slides. Make your transitions practical and cohesive, allowing them to signal a wake-up without getting the listener off track. And most important, follow the standard pattern of a good speech: "Tell them what you're going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you told them." Using attractive, muted colors, start with a quick overview; give your main points and supporting details; and then wrap it all up with a crisp and efficient listing of your main points.

    That's it. When it comes to PowerPoint, opt for interesting instead of dazzling, and let your message show through.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com