The Trick to Making Your Workplace Writing Impressive?

The Trick to Making Your Workplace Writing Impressive?

Answer interesting questions interestingly!

That's the trick! (...to making your workplace writing impressive) 

You probably assume I'm talking about something easy, a quick TRICK, something you can learn in a flash, a quick solution to a difficult problem. Presto! ...as if by MAGIC. These days, how we all crave as many quick FIXes as we can get!

If you understand the TRICK, it may be easier to learn, but performing the trick well--mastery--requires mindful practice, perhaps a great deal of mindful practice, and maybe even a coach. As Pfeffer and Sutton have said, "the gap between KNOWING and DOING is far, far greater than the gap between KNOWING and NOT KNOWING." (https://www.amazon.com/Knowing-Doing-Gap-Companies-Knowledge-Action/dp/1578511240)

Still interested???

If so let me explain this "slow" trick for making your writing impressive....

MOST PEOPLE HAVE THE WRONG IDEA ABOUT WORKPLACE WRITING

Having taught business/technical writing classes to undergrads and grad students over the past 35+ years, and having worked as a writing consultant for 30 of those years, I know well what people think the keys to impressive workplace writing are: 1)Learning the proper business/technical writing formats, and 2)Learning how "to sound" impressive--the formal style most people associate with business/technical writing...what amounts to rhetorical flourish.

But there are no FORMATS. And the formal, often pushy, tone associated with business/technical writing is either a smoke screen to hide ignorance or insecurity or downright evil. I advocate clarity. Simple, straight-forward CLARITY...stating the TRUTH (that which can be verified with facts) so a reader sees, without rhetorical interference, what is being said.

I understand that CLARITY is an extreme political stance, a high standard that would shrivel many enterprises and many people who are up to no good, who wish to put themselves and their own needs above the needs of others. CLARITY is a highly extreme stance, for sure.

If you're going to lie to me, at least do it as clearly as you can. That way I know exactly what you're saying, and I can consider what you've said more easily. (Shame on you for lying, but shame on me if I'm not smart enough or motivated enough to discover your lie.) 

As for "proper formats," it's like asking how to make a cracker. There are as many different kinds of crackers as there are people who make crackers. I work a lot with the GAO (http://www.gao.gov/). Most of its reports are so-called "letter reports." They're like Triskets. No matter where you are in the world, every Trisket looks and tastes the same. The GAO Letter Report is its own formulation, its own format, a GAO brand. Sure, I could teach you how to make one. But I wouldn't be teaching you how to make all kinds of reports. There is no universal format, except for the email/memo format, which is merely displaying the "TO" "FROM" "DATE" and "SUBJECT LINE" up front. 

What I can teach you is the art and science of document design. That way, you can create your own formats that serve your reader well.

SO HOW CAN YOU MAKE YOUR WORKPLACE WRITING IMPRESSIVE?

If learning formats and "the official style" (as Richard Lanham describes it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_A._Lanham ) is NOT the way to make your workplace writing impressive, then how do you do it? What IS the trick?

As I said at the start, you must answer interesting questions interestingly. Here's what that means. (Please stop me if you're heard this before.)

I believe you must begin with impressive CONTENT...content that the actual READER finds important (not what the writer thinks is important), content that excites interest in the actual READER, content that will benefit the actual reader, will advantage the reader, will keep the reader from loss or harm.

As I've written (repeatedly), CONTENT COMES FROM THE READER'S QUESTIONS about an ISSUE (an area of risk/concern/interest for the actual READER). It's not about what the writer wants to transmit into space. Hey, I'm transmitting writing into space at this very moment. It can never be impressive unless a reader deems it so. If I can find a reader who is interested in the issue I'm writing about and who wants to have the question I'm answering answered, and who finds my answer satisfying, then my writing, if it's clear (big IF), should be impressive. That's the TRICK.

Know all your reader's questions about the issue in question. Then answer them. That's the most important part of "writing."

Be sure to put your answers (actually they're answers for the reader) first, then explain as needed. Use headings if you have several different points to make. Keep paragraphs under about 8 lines long. Write sentences your reader will understand. Proofread carefully before you hit SEND.

ANSWER INTERESTING QUESTIONS INTERESTINGLY.

The Biggest Mistake Writing Teachers Make!

The Biggest Mistake Writing Teachers Make!

"Audience," we writing teachers tell our students, "is one of the most important considerations for a writer doing business or technical writing"...or any kind of prose writing, for that matter.  We greatly emphasize this essential building block of writing, telling our students

  • Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing.
  • Knowing your audience—their general age, gender, education level, religion, language, culture, and group membership—is the single most important aspect of developing your essay.
  • When writing for business, we need an audience-centric approach and must create our message in a language appropriate to audience needs.

I realize this advice sounds perfectly familiar to any writing teacher and to anyone who ever sat through a writing class in college. But this is the biggest mistake we writing teachers make....

In Memorium…Derek Walcott…a short poetry reading

In Memorium…Derek Walcott…a short poetry reading

Writing, according to Aristotle, has three purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to delight (entertain). I imagine these purposes on a line. To the far left is writing to inform. Just to the right of that is writing to persuade. And at the extreme right is writing to delight and entertain.

While I’ve dedicated much of my working life to the first two purposes, I’m not unacquainted with the far extreme of writing to delight. This blog post celebrates that far extreme where words transform into art. But specifically, this post is in honor of the Nobel Prize-wining poet Derek Walcott, my teacher, who died on Friday (March 17, 2017) at 87….

Why My HOCs & LOCs Approach May Never Catch On

Why My HOCs & LOCs Approach May Never Catch On

We all tend to follow the path of least resistance. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever work hard. Sometimes working to grow a business consumes your attention 24/7…but there’s no other path to success. But, as Mark Cuban reminds us in his surprisingly brilliant little book, How to Win at the Sport of Business (https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Sport-Business-Can-ebook/dp/B006AX6ONI), whatever you’re selling will fail if it doesn’t offer the customer the path of least resistance.

And that’s why my HOCs & LOCs approach to writing—as brilliant as it is, as much as students whom I force it on end up loving it and people in my writing seminars who have paid to hear what I have to say about writing love it and retain its main ideas over many years—is having a really tough time catching on. My bad!

LETTER TO MY WRITING STUDENTS

LETTER TO MY WRITING STUDENTS

Hi, 

I wanted to talk to you now after the first 3 weeks of class about 4 things that are very important to your success moving forward in our class. So in this rather long email, I’ll talk about the following:

Proactive vs. Reactive Editing

Proactive vs. Reactive Editing

By definition, “editing” appears to be a reactive exercise—we have a text and edit it, finding and fixing weaknesses and whoppers. But some of the most important, time-saving editing editors can do should come before any words are written, or, to be more precise, before any drafts have begun. How does that work?

What Does a Good Report Sound Like?

What Does a Good Report Sound Like?

What does a good report sound like? Does it sound like this?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnnXVKld8YI

 

Or like this:

 

Over lighting is an international concern, with much of the Earth’s population living under light-polluted skies, which, if you live in an urban or suburban area, all you have to do to see this type of pollution is go outside at night and look up at the sky.

 

Maybe a good report receives great applause and appreciation from its audience and sounds like this?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CaBikk_DRg

 

Or like this:

 

In this special report there is the inclusion of recommendations whose intention is to improve the cost‑effectiveness of state programs, such as the Department of Health Care Services, School‑Based Medi‑Cal Administrative Activities programs audit that identified weaknesses in the contracts between the local educational consortia or local governmental agencies and their claiming units that effective Health Care Services’ oversight should have prevented.

 

Whoa, Nellie!

 

Come on folks, we can do better than this.

 

Treat your sentences…paragraphs…sections as though they were alive, as though they were spoken aloud to the invisible (but easily imaginable) actual report reader, face-to-face! Words are actually magic. (http://themindunleashed.com/2015/03/magic-and-the-power-of-words.html)

 

Why don’t sentences in a lot of workplace writing—from email to complex, team-generated reports (and probably this very blog) SING? And how might we allow them to croon and warble just a little more pleasantly?

The Magic Touch: SERVE YOUR READER!

The Magic Touch: SERVE YOUR READER!

I admit it. I’m a tad S-L-O-W sometimes. It has taken me over 35 years to figure out the very simple answer to a question I get a lot: What’s so different about the way you teach writing?