Tuesday, February 28, 2023

How to Become a Better Business Writer: Part Two

How to Become A Better Business Writer: Part One (last week) covered the basics. Now it’s time to dive back in and learn how to add the finesse. Aladdin didn’t understand the magic of his lamp until he started to polish it. Your research and organization are done. You’ve finished the first draft. Now you need to go back through your document to refine it into a communication you can be proud to send out or give to others. 

Keep It Interesting. Vary the length of the sentences you use to keep the flow of your communication interesting. Compare and contrast. Use metaphors and quotations. Pepper your writing with stories that substantiate the points you are making. Avoid cliches and archaic phrases as well as acronyms, buzzwords, gobbledygook, and jargon. 

Don’t Leave Readers Confused. Use specific, concrete words to convey meaning. Vague references leave room for significant misunderstanding. Fuzzy details leave your readers filling in the blanks -- and they may not have the right answers. 

Use the Active Voice. Have your subject ‘do’ the action. Your writing will be more interesting and alive. Passive voice should be used sparingly. Action verbs make writing more exciting. They give even more life to your writing than colorful adjectives. 

Use Good Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling. Careless writing costs you business. When your writing is careless and sloppy, clients assume your work is careless and sloppy. Your computer’s grammar and spellcheck will catch some mistakes but leave many behind for your readers. It’s up to you to catch the rest of them. Here are some additional pointers that will help improve your writing.

• Capitalize proper names only. 
• Use hyphens between adjectives describing each other. 
• Write out ‘and’ and ‘percent’ instead of using ‘&’ and ‘%.’ 
 • Use Parallel Structure by putting related ideas in the same form and tense in sentences and bulleted lists. 

Edit. Edit. Edit. Proofread and then have someone else proofread your work. Even professional writers need to go back over their work. Make sure your reasoning is logical. Cover alternative arguments and conclusions. Check your facts for accuracy. Cite your sources. Sometimes it helps to put your document aside overnight and look at it the next day with a fresh pair of eyes. You’ll be able to be more objective. Do you have a colleague or friend whose advice you respect? Ask them to look your writing over for you. 

Make Your Document Visually Appealing. Your document will be easier to read when you allow adequate white space. Format your text thoughtfully with bold headlines, sub-headlines, bulleted lists and indention. They act as signposts to direct readers and make your document more attractive. Be sure to use a typeface that is easy-to-read. 

Make your document easier to read. Avoid widows and orphans -- short or single lines of type at the bottom or top of a page. They are not aesthetically pleasing and slow readers down. Justify the left margin only is also a reader-friendly strategy. It ensures there are no uneven gaps between words and makes reading easier. 

Add colorful photographs, pictures, and other graphics. This provides increased spark. And don’t forget to use good quality paper when your project will benefit by it. 

Effective writing is clear, concise, and interesting. If you write with your readers’ best interest in mind and are sensitive to their needs, they will be appreciative and receptive always.

Monday, February 20, 2023

How to Become a Better Business Writer: Part One

You can have or do something really fabulous but if you can’t communicate about it you won’t be successful. That’s why it’s critical to hone your business writing skills. The effectiveness of your writing will be measured by whether or not it achieves its objective. You do that by catching your readers’ attention, making them think about what you’re presenting, and leaving them wanting more. 

Know your audience. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. How much do they know? How much do they need to know? Will they need to be convinced? If so, how much? Will they have objections? If so, how strong do you expect they will be? These and other questions will impact how you present the information you have. You can’t effectively target people unless you understand what motivates them. Don’t bother writing unless you research your readers in advance. 

Know your message. Content is king. We live in a world of special effects and attention-getting devices. But all the bells and whistles in the world will not help you if you are not intimately familiar with the topic you are writing about. Grab your readers’ interest with your headline. Draw them in further with the first sentence of your first paragraph. Then give them an overview of the material you intend to cover. 

Your goal is to be clear and concise. Use a new paragraph to introduce each new idea. Share relevant, accurate information with each idea you present. And be sure to distinguish facts from opinions. To present a convincing argument, avoid negative constructions. Structure your ideas positively for better results. Avoid redundancy but do sum your points up in a tidy conclusion. 

Outline before Writing. This is probably the most important advice in the article. Establish your starting point, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there. Organizing your material before you start writing is an excellent way to deliver a message that is not only more forceful but also easier to follow. Be sure to substantiate your points with relevant evidence. Present your topic. Introduce your points in the body of your document and back them up with relevant data and pertinent information. After you summarize the issues you have addressed for your readers, you are in a position to draw conclusions and make recommendations. 

Pay Attention to Style. There are many tricks to make your writing more succinct, audience-friendly, and easier to follow. 

• Use Gender-Neutral Construction to avoid alienating any of your readers. This can often be accomplished by substituting singular references with plural ones. 

• Use ‘signposts.’ These are words that purposefully direct the reader. They include: ‘by contrast,’ ‘finally,’ ‘furthermore,’ ‘next,’ ‘therefore,’ and ‘thus.’ 

• Use transitional words. They help your writing flow more smoothly. Some transitional words are: ‘also,’ ‘in addition,’ ‘meanwhile,’ and ‘nevertheless.’ 

• Use the word ‘may’ in place of ‘can’ to explain a product’s capabilities. 

• Describe a product’s capabilities with ‘and’ to link related items. Use ‘as well as’ to link items that are not related. 

• Use infinitives to eliminate subordinate clauses, and prepositional phrases to streamline your ideas 

Use a Friendly, Conversational Tone to Show Interest. Stuffy language turns readers off. Be conversational unless the document demands a more formal style. State ideas in a positive form whenever possible. Readers are more receptive to information presented in the positive. 

Ensure Readability. Make what you write easy-to-read. That means using simple words, relatively short sentences, and short paragraphs. There are many readability formulas you can apply to your writing to test its readability. 

One of the standards was developed by Rudolph Flesch. His specific mathematical formula states: RE = 206.835 - (1.015 x ASL) - (84.6 x ASW). 

• RE = Readability Ease 

• ASL = Average Sentence Length (number of words divided by number of sentences)

• ASW = Average Number of Syllables divided by the number of words) 

• RE is a number that ranges from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the easier the document is to read. (90 - 100: easily understood by a fifth grader), (60 -70: easily understood by eighth and ninth graders), (0- 30: easily understood by college graduates). 

Your writing will also be easier to understand if you avoid language that is too formal or too informal. And be sure to tell your readers what abbreviations stand for the first time they are used. Always be sensitive to your readers to keep them with you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Answer: Six to Twelve Seconds

How long does it take for someone you meet to form an opinion about you? Only 6 to 12 seconds. And first impressions are lasting impressions that are difficult to change.

People you meet need to conclude you are professional, attractive and intelligent. The right clothing and nonverbal cues make this happen. 

People assume all sorts of information about you based on your appearance: whether you're educated, well-informed, have ‘personality,’ and if you're someone they'd like to get to know. 

Start with good grooming and hygiene. Attend to your hair and nails. Makeup? In business, less is more. The same goes for fragrance and jewelry. 

How do you dress? 

For men: Best business colors are blue and gray. Navy blue projects an image of authority. Dress for success in navy and gray, especially when attending meetings, interviews and presentations. Diversify your wardrobe with suits, jackets and pants in khaki, tan, and taupe. Convey a formal image in a dark suit and long-sleeved white shirt. Accent your wardrobe with pastel, solid-colored shirts. Choose ties that reflect your personality. For a formal image, choose ties with a neutral background. Otherwise, there's more leeway. 

For women: Mix and match color-coordinated separates to maximize wardrobe options and stretch your clothing budget. Choose fashion colors or rely on standards: navy, black, gray, taupe or burgundy for winter and beige or khaki for summer. A white or cream colored blouse for your ensemble creates a more formal appearance. Choose styles that are more conservative for business wear. Tailored pants can easily be substituted for skirts and are often a comfortable alternative. 

Keep your shoes in top-notch condition. Shoes are very telling. Polished shoes suggest attention to personal grooming. Others will assume you pay attention to detail with all aspects of your life. 

When all is said and done, it makes sense to invest in quality, not quantity. Make sure your clothes fit well, are clean and wrinkle-free. 

Remove ‘wrinkles’ in your body language, too. Body language speaks to who you are. Maintain good eye contact to connect with others to establish trust. Use facial expressions that indicate you're listening and responsive. Smiling is always a plus, but don’t be phony. Be relaxed, responsive, and reassuring. 

Maintain good posture. Align your body toward the person you're speaking with. Give them your undivided attention. Open body posture conveys confidence. Avoid crossing your arms. This can suggest defensiveness and lack of receptivity. 

Develop a firm handshake. Use hand and arm movements to add strength to what you say. And avoid placing your hands around your mouth. It suggests a lack of confidence. Don’t fidget unless you want others to think you are nervous or insecure.

Six to 12 seconds isn’t much time. But now that you know how to make a great first impression, you are in a position to make those seconds really count.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Why to Avoid Humor in Business Writing and Speaking

Everyone loves to laugh. That’s why you may be tempted to use humor in some of your business communications. You may want to start a speech with a joke, or break the ice at a meeting with a funny story. It seems like a good idea, but it may backfire. That’s because everyone does not find the same things funny. 

Here’s the problem. You share a joke or humorous story and ... 

 • Half the group already heard it. 

 • Many attendees previously received it in e-mail. 

 • No one gets it. 

 • Someone in your group is offended. 

 • It gets groans instead of laughs. 

 • You find you are the only one laughing at it. 

The upside of the telling is you get a laugh. The downside may be a steep fall that at best reflects poorly on your judgement. Best advice? Stick with human interest stories. They’re a lot safer and everyone can identify with them.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

How to Add Polish to Your Interpersonal Communication

E-mail, IM, Skype, phone, snail mail --- there are more vehicles for communication than ever before.   But when it comes to truly effective communication, there is nothing as good as face-to-face meetings.  That’s because more than 90 percent of the communication we do is nonverbal.  How can you possibly accomplish your communications objectives if the person you are communicating with receives only 10 percent of your message?

Add Strength to Your Words.  When I was growing up I was repeatedly told, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”  That’s what nonverbal communication speaks to. When you meet with someone, you have the opportunity to send your entire message and they have the ability to truly embrace it.  You can share the tone and volume with your voice and place emphasis on certain words.  Your facial expressions, gestures, and body language convey additional meaning that is totally lost with computer-based communications.  There is little room for misunderstanding.

Power Up Your Nonverbal Communication.  When you get together with someone, they have the chance to experience the real you.  If you want to make a good impression you’ll dress properly, and make sure your hair and nails are clean.  You’ll lead with a firm handshake that demonstrates self-confidence and follow up with good eye contact and a winning smile.

Tune In to Feedback. Meeting with someone is more personal than using high tech lines of communication.  It gives you the opportunity to build a bond and establish trust.  When you’re talking, you get immediate feedback from the person you are with.  If the response is not what you expected or hoped for, you are in a position to modify it on the spot.

Ramp Up Your Listening Skills. A face-to-face meeting give you the opportunity to listen.  And listening is the most important communication skill we have.  After all, you don’t learn anything when you are talking.  You already know all about what you have to say.  It is when we listen to others that we have the chance to learn about them and what they are sharing.

Being an effective listener means asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers.  Avoid the tendency to interrupt or advise.  Cultivate the ability to make the person you are listening to feel like they are the center of your world while they are speaking.  Let them see how interested you are in what they have to say -- even if you really aren’t.  Actively listen.  That means listening intently and processing the information so you are in a position to respond in a thoughtful manner.  Be sure to read between the lines.  And be cognizant of their nonverbal behaviors.

Show That You Care.  Face-to-face communication is an opportunity to establish a common bond.  Make an effort to find an interest that you share. Be sincere.  Be interested.  Be giving. Supplementing your newly polished communication skills with the knowledge you care can work miracles with your interpersonal communication.