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Self Management

Writing Well

In these days of fewer people doing more work, having an assistant or administrative help is a luxury many managers no longer have. One result of this new work pattern is a heavier reliance on each person's doing his or her own writing, not to mention typing. No matter whether you enjoy or try to avoid it, you probably wish you could do it better. Studies show that business people who write well get ahead quickly. Good writing eliminates confusion, reduces mistakes, and saves your organization money. Here are some tips that will help you tackle your writing tasks more easily and effectively.

Getting Started

  • Whether it is a letter, report, memo, or e-mail, focus on your readers. Who are they? What is critical for them to understand? How technical should you be?

  • Have a clear purpose in mind. Define your message, and consider the best way to transmit that message. Should it be by telephone, e-mail, fax, or some other method? Faxes and e-mail are not the best media for long documents.

  • Try to see your writing through your reader's eyes. Write, as you would speak to them, in a way that comes naturally using words that come easily to mind. Write to inform, not to impress. Avoid verbosity.

  • Organize your ideas. Outlines are helpful, and even brief notes help reduce the number of rewrites or the chance of sending something that is incomplete. Readers need to know the "who," "what," "why," "where," "when," and "how" of your message.

  • Write first, edit second. Get all the information down initially, but do not worry about style. You can edit and polish on your second draft.

  • When stuck, start in the middle of the document. There is no law that says you must write the introduction first.

  • Use plain, simple English. Write with nouns and strong verbs. Avoid the passive voice as much as possible. Example: "The project report was written by Roberta Gonzales" (passive) is not as strong as "Roberta Gonzales wrote the project report" (active). In general, shorter sentences are easier to understand than longer, more complex ones. Short paragraphs encourage the reader to continue.

  • Write succinctly. "Choose" is better than "make a choice." Why use three words when one will do? Eliminate useless phrases such as: "Please be advised," "We wish to draw attention," and "I have before me your letter." The reader will appreciate the brevity.

  • Check your facts. Be careful with names, dates, and numbers. The easiest way to check a telephone number is to call it.

  • Proofread your work. Never trust the spell check function. A person needs to read it for sense, meaning, and accuracy. Try the proofreading trick of reading sentences backwards. This overcomes the tendency to read too quickly and skip words and syllables. Asking a colleague to review the document is also a good idea.

  • Whenever possible, set your writing aside for an hour or even a day, and come back to read it fresh. This is particularly important if you were emotional when you wrote the copy initially.

  • Of the final copy, ask the question, "Would a bright thirteen-year old be able to understand this?" If not, rewrite it.

If writing is an agony, try taking a class to help hone your skills. When you consider the frequency with which you are called upon to write, becoming better at this daily task will eliminate one source of distress. Surely, there are enough other things in a standard work day to fill your quota of stress.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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