The college students in my writing classes are, by now, digital natives. Writing, for them, is something done on a phone…or maybe a tablet/laptop. These students clearly don’t know the standard comma rules. The evidence shows that they know what a comma is, and they obviously see them in some of the more officiated writing online. We know they know what a comma is because they usually sprinkle them, sparingly, through the college essays they’re required to write. But they were not taught the standard comma rules, as I was in the second half of the 20th century, and they don’t care. Should they? Should we?
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If you learn to punch up your punctuation, proofreading, and paragraphs; spit-shine your sentences; and touch up your typing, you may feel better about your writing, but until you go up in your helicopter and get a panoramic view of what writing really is, your writing may not become much more efficient or effective….
I claim that workplace writing is 90% about content and 10% about presentation, in the same way a cargo ship is 90% about the cargo and only 10% about the ship. Of course, if the ship itself (the 10%) sinks, the 90%—that valuable content—is lost. Our conversations, by the way, are also 90% about content.
You should totally be checking your documents for adequate content before you worry too much about the particulars of presentation. So, what criteria/standard should you use to evaluate the adequacy of content in any workplace document?
There is just SO much information/advice out there on writing, by many experts, who mean well and have their own approaches to teaching others to write well, approaches they swear by, approaches backed by rhetorical theory or possibly the latest brain research from neuroscientists.
However, I find myself on an island, all alone, with an idea about writing and teaching writing that's different, perhaps idiosyncratic, and pretty much iconoclastic. Not everything I have to say about writing is new and out of the blue, but my whole approach is certainly unlike the others.
Students tell me they love it. Those in the workplace I've trained over 30+ years tell me they love it. But academics are skeptical and tend to tune me out. So what makes me an expert in writing and teaching writing?
Most people think of writing as just the sentences, the grammar, punctuation, spelling. But it's way bigger than that.
We judge writing the way you'd judge someone at a speed dating event...holistically...by the CONTENT that's immediately apparent, by the FLOW of information, by the APPEARANCE, and by the overall STYLE....
First impressions matter! When you read any kind of workplace writing, print or on-screen, you should start judging it holistically simply by considering your "level of interest" and your "level of effort"...
We pledge allegiance to criteria, condition, cause, and effect (consequences) and…recommendations. We regard these as the logical foundation for every evaluative audit report. And we believe every auditor has to have this logic-path down cold.
Unfortunately, we think the Yellow Book is wrong (or at least misleading) in its definition of “condition.” We hear it being misused regularly. We seek to explain and correct this perilous misapprehension….
Performance audit reports, which are always issue-driven (think risk), are declarations built through a series of logical steps, which include identifying appropriate criteria as standards for making judgements, describing condition (what has actually happened), comparing criteria to that condition, and, where there is a gap, stating the effects (consequences) of the gaps, ascertaining the causes of the gaps and, from these causes, presenting recommendations that will resolve the issue.