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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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    Buffing Out the Scratches

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    There's a time when checking for correctness makes the most sense. And that time is near the end of the writing process after you've made sure that your thoughts and ideas are clear: Think content before correctness, always.

    If you pay undue attention to the spelling of every word and the placement of every punctuation mark too early in the process, you may overlook or even ignore what's really important - the quality of the information you are sharing. And you don't want to do that.

    Checking for correctness is like buffing out any smudges and scratches on a car after it has been painted. The buffing is certainly important, but it becomes so only after the main work - the actual painting - has been completed.

    I'm not trying to be cavalier about correctness. Far from it. In fact, this blog entry is meant to help you edit for accuracy. I just what to make sure that you understand at what point it becomes important.

    When editing, what you're really doing is checking for surface elements, or elements at the sentence and word level: Does this sentence need a comma? Is that word spelled correctly? Is there or their the correct word in that situation? To help you with the editing process, I've reviewed a number of Web sites to see what advice the experts offer.

    Here are some of the best tips I came across:

    • Get some distance between yourself and your writing before you begin.
    • Edit first thing in the morning, after one cup of joe.
    • Edit in short blocks of time, especially if your document is long; otherwise, you're sure to miss something.
    • Work on a printed copy so you have a record of the changes you make.
    • Separate your text into sentences. Changing the look of your work should help you check it more carefully.
    • Check one element at a time, perhaps spelling first, punctuation next, and so on. (And don't forget to check headings and page numbers.)
    • For spelling, start at the bottom of the page to force yourself to look at each word.
    • For punctuation, try circling all the marks to force yourself to look at each one. Pay special attention to your apostrophes.
    • Understand the limitations of a spell checker. It won't catch usage errors or wrong words.
    • Also understand that grammar checkers work with a limited number of rules.
    • Double- and triple-check names and facts.
    • Double-check little words: of, or, it, etc.
    • Ask a trusted colleague to check your work. If this person is agreeable, try reading the text back and forth out loud, noting any errors as you go along.

    Your Turn: Please share with us some of your own editing strategies. Perhaps you have favorite resources handy when you edit. What are they? Maybe you keep a personal list of errors. What's on it? Or maybe you read your work out loud, in a different voice. We're open to any suggestions.

    - Dave Kemper

    When It Comes to Writing, Soldier Beats Knight

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010
    Once upon a time, armor-clad warriors dominated the battlefield. Individual strength and ferocity were prized. Then someone realized that a disciplined group of soldiers with pikes could defeat even the mightiest of knights, and that this approach was much more cost effective. Soldiers work together to achieve a single objective. Warriors work alone, not necessarily toward a commonly viewed goal.

    When it comes to business writing, are you a soldier or a warrior? Do you try to carry off a writing task all alone, from concept to draft to revision to editing and proofreading, or do you solicit the help of colleagues at one or more stage of the writing process?

    Frankly, you'll get a lot more done as a writing soldier than as a writing warrior.

    Imagine that you and a colleague each have a memo to write. If you approach your memos as warriors, you're both more likely to miss an unclear point in your writing, or to overlook a typographical error, even if you spend more time looking for them.

    Taking the soldier approach instead, you each draft your memo then hand it to the other for review. A fresh set of eyes can more quickly catch potential problems, which means both memos are completed more quickly and more accurately. What's more, the practice of looking at someone else's work in progress actually improves your own writing skills.

    Not convinced yet? Consider this: Even your favorite authors, who might seem to be writing warriors, laboring away alone in their attic offices, often confer with other authors when working on a project. Then, once an author has finished a draft, it goes to an editor for a review, and that editor usually sends back comments for the author to incorporate. This may happen more than once before the editor is satisfied. After that, the text goes on to one or more proofreaders to check for mechanical errors, misspellings, and incorrect punctuation.

    Honestly, it takes a small army of people to get a book into print. So why not call on a fellow soldier or two the next time you need to get something written quickly and accurately?

    - Lester Smith

    Three Tips to Get the Most Mileage from E-Mail

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Do you want to make sure your e-mail gets results? Here are three simple tips for making your messages stand out from the crowd.

    1. Write a clear subject line.

    Think how often you receive an e-mail, scan it, and realize you can't deal with it's business immediately. Later, when time permits, you browse your inbox for that message, but the subject line was blank or vague. You're forced to run a computer search for a phrase you remember, then scan the contents of each resulting message to find the right one. Often you end up deciding that, again, there isn't enough time for this, and the business will have to be delayed further. Ultimately, it may never be dealt with.

    Now think of those times when you receive an e-mail with a subject line that clearly states the message's purpose. You're able to quickly decide whether time permits to deal with it now. If the business has to be delayed, later you're able to scan the subject lines in your inbox and easily pick out the message you need. The time savings means you can deal with the business and move on to the next item on your list. You're happy and grateful, and you can't help but admire the sender, which means you'll be more receptive to messages from that person in the future.

    As e-mail senders, we need to be that person other people feel good about. Taking care to write clear subject lines is arguably the most important step toward that goal.

    2. Deal with one topic only.

    E-mail is designed for rapid response. It's a mistake, then, to slow things down by including multiple topics in one message. Readers may have time to deal with one of the issues but need to delay the others. Often they forget to come back. Assuming they do return, they have to scan through the text of the former topic to reach the remaining ones. Frustration builds.

    If you must deal with separate issues, put them in separate e-mail messages (each with its own clear subject line). That way your readers can tackle each and delete or archive it as time permits. Again, they'll think well of you and be more responsive in the future.

    3. Reread before sending, and delete every word possible.

    When it comes to e-mail messages, the more succinct the better. So treat your e-mail as you would any more formal piece of writing. Use the writing process: Plan the ideas you need to cover; draft a copy of the message; revise it for clarity; and edit it for correctness. During that last step, specifically look for clutter that might be forgiven in a longer writing (in an extended memo or report, for instance). The fewer words your recipient has to read, the more likely you'll receive a quick and favorable response.

    Conclusion

    As you can see, none of these tips is difficult to accomplish. However, they all take just a bit of discipline. That little bit of extra care is like the cut and polish that makes a finished diamond sparkle among even bigger, uncut ones.

    - Lester Smith

    Revising and Editing Sales Proposals

    Thursday, December 31, 2009

    When you revise and edit a sales proposal, you can't check everything at once. Instead, look at your work one trait at a time.

    • Start with your ideas. Make sure - first and foremost - that your proposal is accurate, with triple-checked figures and details. Check that you provided the information your reader most needs.
    • Next, check your organization. Does the information follow a logical order and use an approved format for a proposal?
    • Make sure your voice is confident and sincere, demonstrating a concern for the reader's needs and a desire to provide the best service or product.
    • Then focus on each word, making sure it is as clear as possible. If necessary, define any technical terms that might raise questions in the reader's mind.
    • Check your sentences for smoothness and flow, adding transitions where needed.
    • Next, check your copy for errors, paying particular attention to punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar.
    • Last of all, review your design to make sure you have followed specifications for solicited or unsolicited proposals. Make sure that any graphics are neat, attractive, and properly placed.

    Sales proposals generally follow a specific format, but that's no reason your proposal can't stand out as a model of clarity, attractiveness, and readability. The more professional your proposal looks, the more likely it is to be accepted.

    You can learn more about sales proposals beginning on page 67 in Business and Sales Correspondence, one of the many helpful business-writing resources from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

    Podcast

    Organizing Your Proposal

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Last time we talked about how to handle prewriting of proposals. Once you have your ideas set out, it's time to write your draft, arranging those ideas to make sense and have impact. Here are some tips for drafting the three parts: the opening, the middle, and the closing.

    Design the opening to catch your reader's attention and explain the purpose of your proposal. Identify the importance of your product or service and, if possible, include a brief service timeline and cost.

    In the middle, present your points in a clear, organized manner. For persuasive writing, it's a good idea to begin with your second-strongest argument and end with your strongest. Supply support materials, including a description of your proposed product or service, and give details as to application, delivery, or service. This is the time to show why your product or service is more desirable than other, similar ones.

    Finally, use the closing to emphasize why your reader should use your product or service. Present any additional information that will clinch your argument. Your closing is the last thing your reader will see, and usually the last thing remembered, so make it strong, clear, and to the point.

    When you're finished drafting, read through to make sure you've answered any questions your reader might have. You should have included a description of your product, a proposed budget, a schedule for implementation, and your qualifications for the job. Once you're satisfied with the content, go through it again and make any structural revisions. Finally, always proofread for grammar and spelling errors.

    You can learn more about writing proposals beginning on page 67 in Business and Sales Correspondence, just one of the many helpful business-writing materials from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

    Podcast