September 2012  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Test Your Writing Acumen

Sometimes it’s the little things that trip us up, and that also goes for little words. Consider the tiny indefinite articles a and an. When is one right over the other? Test yourself below, choosing the right word from the pair in parentheses.

  1. Did you see (a, an) small dog run by here?
  2. Brenton waited patiently for (a, an) opening to give his pitch.
  3. Ms. Taft was called upon by (a, an) union representative.
  4. My instructor handed me (a, an) history textbook for the class.
  5. The footnote came from (a, an) historical reference.

Answers can be found at the end of this newsletter.

Effective Prewriting

Effective prewriting relies on solid organization. This organization comes in two types: “macro” and “micro.”

“Macro” Organization

In this phase, consider major concepts.

  • First, clarify your message. Make sure you understand what you want to say, what outcome you seek, and whether you intend to inform or persuade.
  • Next, think about your audience. Who are they? What do they already know? What do they need to know? How well acquainted are you with this audience and their position?
  • Finally, consider the context. What format should you use? What is your deadline? How much research will you have to do?

“Micro” Organization

In this phase, gather your information; then arrange your facts and ideas for maximum impact. A graphic organizer can help you arrange ideas in the clearest, most effective way. Write for Business contains many examples of such organizers.


During prewriting, your goal is to get the information and ideas organized and ready to put into a first draft. Prewriting is a vital part of the writing process, helping you to hone your thoughts and make the actual writing a lot easier.

You can find more on writing persuasive messages beginning on page 71 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace.

Trainer Tips

When planning a training session, consider giving the participants an overview before the actual class. Provide them with materials that introduce the topic, and allow them time to think about what they will be learning. This way they can form questions and become more involved in their own learning. Consider also providing a pretest on the information you’ll be covering. If you can gather the pretest results ahead of time, you can tailor the presentation to the trainees’ needs and avoid simply reviewing what they already know.

That Little Extra

How about putting a little extra thought into the language you use? Start with a politeness check—“please” and “thank you” are golden and should almost always find their way into your business correspondence. If you’re looking for phrases to eliminate, start with business jargon that would be meaningless to readers who may be unfamiliar with the lingo. Also drop trendy terms that won’t hold up over time. Instead, use words that are both concise and clear. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Use language appropriate to your position and the intent of your communication.


September 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.

With the fall season coming, we’re bound to see—and participate in—lots of multivendor events. How about sharing your favorite tips for making the most of a trade show or convention?

Email your response to Write “May Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Answers to This Month’s Quiz

  1. Did you see (a, an) small dog run by here?
    Use a when the following word begins with a consonant sound.
  2. Brenton waited patiently for (a, an) opening to give his pitch.
    Use an when the following word begins with a vowel sound.
  3. Ms. Taft was called upon by (a, an) union representative.
    Use a when the following word starts with a consonant sound. (The word “union” begins with a consonant “y” sound, as in “you.”)
  4. My instructor handed me (a, an) history textbook for the class.
    Use a when the following word begins with a consonant sound.
  5. The footnote came from (a, an) historical reference.
    While some contend that an should be used before words that both begin with the h sound and do not have an accent on the first syllable, the Chicago Manual of Style calls for the article a.

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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Efficient First Drafts

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