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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    When Writing is "For the Birds"

    Wednesday, September 01, 2010

    A customer wrote us recently about trouble "getting words down before I forget them." She explained that she finds writing slow and difficult, and that when sentences do begin to come, they fly too quickly to be recorded. So her best thoughts are often forgotten.

    I'm certain that many of us have felt the same way. It's as if those phrases are stray birds leaping into the sky, glimpsed once and then gone. The fact is, however, that stray thoughts can always be recaptured. Even birds have to land sometime. The trick to catching them is to use a net.

    That is to say, the early stages of a writing project are messy. Feathers should fly. Snatch a bird and stuff it in your sack and move on to the next. Later, you can decide how to arrange what you've captured - which ones to put together in which cages, which ones to let go because they don't belong, what order you want to display the cages themselves.

    Usually when people can't get started with a writing project, and then can't keep up once the ideas start coming, it's because they're subconsciously hoping to do it all in one draft. Often, they've come to think of writing as so difficult that they just want to get it over with. But again, even birds have to land sometime. A migration of a thousand miles isn't accomplished in one long swoop but as a series of shorter trips, each growing nearer to the final goal.

    That's my best advice in this case, but what ideas would you offer? Have you experienced a similar situation in your own writing, and if so, how did you overcome it? We'd love to hear your comments.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by mikebaird

    Write Like Magic!

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    As a child, I read a fairy tale about a boy who wanted to be a wizard. The current court wizard gave him three tasks to accomplish.

    First, the boy had to show him something no one else had ever seen. Cleverly, the boy brought an egg just as it hatched, revealing a brand new chick.

    The second task I don't recall; I suspect it wasn't that important to the story.

    But the third task was truly amazing. Pointing toward a tall tower in the distance, the mage said, "Jump to the top of that tower." The boy started hopping, all the way to the tower, then up the steps one by one. What had seemed impossible merely took some time.

    One mistake many writers make is wishing to get a project over with in one quick leap. Consequently, the project seems more daunting than it really is. They avoid the writing process (planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing), thinking it too time consuming, thinking it unnecessarily focused on polish. They miss the fact that the process can actually save time and effort by breaking things down into easily manageable stages.

    Of course, it's also about polish, producing writing that makes you seem like a wizard. For example, as writing trainer Lynn Gaertner-Johnston points out in "Editors: Here Is Data to Support Your Job," a recent IBM study revealed a 30-percent higher click rate on edited Web text.

    What's your writing process like? Do you plan an e-mail message before sending it? Do you write more than one draft of a memo? For that matter, what are your most common writing challenges? Click the link below to add a comment.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Swami Stream

    The Two-Step Recommendation

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    With the rise of social media, requests to write a "letter of recommendation" are ever more common. I put those words in quotation marks because the requested recommendations are often less formal than a traditional letter - more of a note. Still, the effect can be far-reaching for everyone involved. It's important, then, to do it right, while keeping time, and words, to a minimum. I recommend the following two-step approach.

    1. What features do you admire most?
    Ask yourself what honest praise springs to mind concerning the requester. If you can't think of something quickly, do everyone a favor and decline the request. The old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" finds a new application here. It's better to avoid wasting your time and a potential reader's, avoid damning the requester with faint praise, and avoid filling the Web with more pointless text. Your response to the requester doesn't have to be cruel; you can simply say you don't have time to give the request the attention it deserves, and wish the person well.

    2. What does the reader want to know?
    If you do have something nice to say about the requester, next ask yourself what a reader really wants to know. Is the recommendation for employment? Acceptance to school? An award or grant? Each of these readers will be looking for slightly different details, whether work ethic, potential for growth, or applicable accomplishments. Consider how the nice things you have to say match up with what the reader needs, and start writing.

    Remember, though, to keep it brief. People on the Web are scanning for a quick sense of things. If they need more details, they will investigate further (and may contact you for that reason).

    If you have any other suggestions for writing online recommendations, we would love to hear them. Either add a comment below, or send us an e-mail. Thanks.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by PinkMoose

    A Business Plan for Adventure

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    If you've ever done a Web search for "business writing," you know just how many "business plan" results occur. Obviously, writing a business plan is an important topic. From the content of those search results, it's just as obviously a daunting one. Most people launching a small business seem more comfortable just jumping in and adapting to whatever happens than writing a business plan to prepare first.

    If only they realized that a business plan can be approached the same way: Jump in, get started, and adapt as you discover what's needed.

    A business plan is not a marriage contract. Instead it is a guide - merely a guide - pointing out the direction you want to head, what you predict will be encountered along the way, and what resources you have for those encounters. Think of it as a vacation itinerary. Few people set out on a road trip without mapping a route and setting aside some funds. Although they know the route may change (whether due to road work or an unexpected side attraction) and expenditures won't exactly match what's forecast (usually costing more), the itinerary provides a yardstick for measuring reality versus predictions, so that intelligent adaptations can be made.

    Certainly if you're applying for a bank loan or courting investors, you'll need to prepare a business-like document. The US Small Business Administration provides a great business-plan outline. Just remember that its purpose is to make your task easier. Use it like a tourist guide to make sure you visit all the significant spots. Don't worry about formality till the end, as we often state in this blog.

    Writing a business plan doesn't have to be a frightening or laborious task. Think of it as an adventure, an exploration of your own hopes and dreams, dressed up respectably for presentation to other people (like a good vacation slide show). There's no reason not to enjoy yourself along the way.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Elven*Nicky

    My Big Fat Greek Blog Post

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Chances are you recognize in the title above a reference to the 2002 movie. (If not, definitely go rent My Big Fat Greek Wedding and watch it with someone you love.) What I'd like to point out here is that the adjectives in that title follow a particular order. You can't rearrange them: "Fat Blog Greek Big My Post," for example, just doesn't make any sense. "My Greek Fat Big Blog Post" comes closer, but it still doesn't feel right to native English speakers.

    Order of adjectives isn't something we study in school. It isn't even a common topic among grammarians. Instead, it's something native speakers learn by immersion - just absorbing it into our brains throughout childhood - and so come to use without any conscious thought. Imagine having to recall opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose every time you wanted to use more than one adjective.

    I'm reminded of the story of the ant and the centipede. The ant asked, "How do you keep track of all those legs?" The centipede considered for a moment, tripped over its own feet, and fell into a ditch.

    What does this order-of-adjectives lesson have to teach us about writing? It reminds us that language is primarily a natural, unconscious activity. It is about communication. Focusing on grammar and other mechanics too early in the process can trip us up, make us feel foolish, and stifle our expression.

    So write something, and let yourself enjoy it. You can always ask an ant to proofread later.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Andrew