October 2011  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Test Your Writing Acumen

Here’s a quick brainteaser to test your knowledge of writing and grammar.

Below are four similar sentences requiring different punctuation. Using a comma, a semicolon, a colon, or a combination of two of the marks, correctly punctuate each sentence as necessary. (You’ll find the solution at the end of this newsletter.)

  1. Although I had planned to go to the convention I missed my plane.
  2. I had planned to go to the convention but missed my plane.
  3. I missed my plane consequently I missed the convention.
  4. Here’s the obvious lesson when you want to go to a convention don’t miss your plane.

Online Writing 1: An Overview

As the Internet has become a major source of information, it has led to a change in the way people read. We seldom pore leisurely over every word and sentence on a Web site. Instead, our eyes tend to scan for keywords and phrases.

With that in mind, writers should adjust their online content, using slightly different techniques than they do for print materials. Here are a few hints for writing scannable Web copy.

  • Offer information in quick bursts. This means no dense, text-packed paragraphs. Keep it to one main thought per paragraph plus any necessary supporting details.
  • Provide punchy headings that direct the eye and signal main ideas.
  • Use concise, clear language so Web readers can quickly snap up facts and move on.
  • Supply bulleted lists and highlighted keywords. Like headings, lists and highlighted keywords help the reader to quickly digest your information.
  • Use appropriate language. A B2C (business-to-customer) page should be worded less technically than a B2B (business-to-business) page.
  • Employ keywords intelligently so search engines can index your pages. While the old days of search-engine manipulation are pretty much over, keywords are still important for the reader—in headings, bulleted lists, and opening sentences. Write intelligently to help your reader, and search engines will reward you with more traffic. (We will discuss generating keywords in an upcoming issue.)

Finally, position your important information in the best possible place. It was discovered years ago that newspaper readers followed a specific pattern: across the top (headline), down the right, then on to other areas of the page. (That’s why you will find the main story after the headline and down the right side of the front page.) This is not surprising, as we are taught in this country to read from left to right, and our eyes naturally move that way.

Studies have found that Web readers also read in a certain way, following either an “F” or an “E” pattern. They, too, scan from left to right across the top, but then they move back to the left, down and across again, repeating this pattern down the page. Also note that they do not read every word, so your important points should be placed within this common pattern and formatted to grab attention.

Teacher Tips

You have probably heard the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Well, that philosophy also holds true in the workplace. When workers can find answers on their own, they don’t need to bother others with their questions, and office efficiency improves.

When training new employees, provide ways for them to find answers for themselves. This may include a manual that lists departments and personnel, available electronic or written materials, and Web sites containing information about the company, its benefits, and any services employees may need in the course of their employment.

That Little Extra

The days are growing shorter and colder once again. If you want to reduce the cost of heating your office space this year, consider providing employees with individual heaters. Look for heaters that are tilt-proof, have cool-to-the-touch surfaces, and can be set to automatically turn off at a certain temperature. There are many different types available, including radiating ones that heat people but not the air. Up-front outlay ranges from $20 for an underdesk foot-warmer to $400 for the newest bladeless model. Individual heaters can help you lower your office utility bills while raising comfort levels…and employee morale. And of course, for optimum efficiency, ask employees to shut their heaters off when they are away from their desks for long periods of time.

Solution to this month’s brainteaser:

  1. Although I had planned to go to the convention, I missed my plane. (A comma follows the long introductory clause Although I had planned to go to the convention.)
  2. I had planned to go to the convention but missed my plane. (Ha! Got you! Or maybe not. This is an example of a compound verb, not a compound sentence. A comma should not separate the two parts of a compound verb: had planned but missed.)
  3. I missed my plane; consequently, I missed the convention. (A semicolon is used before a conjunctive adverb—consequently—that joins two independent clauses, and a comma follows it.)
  4. Here’s the obvious lesson: when you want to go to a convention, don’t miss your plane. (A colon is used to emphasize the sentence that explains the main clause, and a comma follows the long introductory clause When you want to go to a convention.)

Note: A second possibility for number 4 is this:

  • Here’s the obvious lesson when you want to go to a convention: Don’t miss your plane. (Because that last command is emphasized so strongly, we recommend capitalizing “Don’t.”)

October Writers' Forum Topic

Here’s your chance to tell us how your work environment operates. Send us your responses to the forum question below, and we’ll print the most interesting in our eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Let’s talk about office performance reviews. How are such reviews handled at your workplace? Whether you are the reviewer or the reviewee, how do you prepare for a report? What follow-up is common? Share with us your office policies and procedures for optimum employee performance.

E-mail your response to writersforum@upwritepress.com. Write “October Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

We Want to Hear from You!

This is your chance to be part of the UpWrite Press newsletters and blogs. What writing topics do you want to hear about? Have you any favorite communications tips you’d like to share? What words do you constantly mix up? Send us your ideas and you could see your name in Writing eTips or the Mid-Month Mini.

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Coming in November

Online Writing 2: The Business Blog

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