1.2 Message

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I will talk about current best practices in language, style and format, and I'll give you some specific strategies for achieving brevity and clarity in your writing. Regarding the issue of jargon, by all means, use the commonly accepted language for your industry, but avoid words or phrases that are unique to certain job functions or activities. I'm referring here to the business words and phrases that we often see in form letters, such as at your earliest convenience, which tend to make your document appear to be using boilerplate text or that you aren't taking the time to clearly state what you're trying to say.

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In lesson two, we will focus on your message. What exactly do you want to say, and how do you want to come across? I will talk about current best practices in language, style and format, and I’ll give you some specific strategies for achieving brevity and clarity in your writing. And we’ll talk about what belongs in a summary whether it’s the introductory paragraph of a letter or a summary of a more lengthy document. What is the best way to present your information, your request, your proposal? Once you’ve considered the needs and perspective of your audience, think about how you wish to present yourself and how do you wish to be perceived. Keep in mind that unlike a live conversation, either in person or over the telephone, your reader has only one source of input for interpreting your meaning, interpreting your intent, your tone. And that’s your writing. When speaking in person, there’s voice inflection, body language, and gesturing to assist with communicating your message. But with a written document, you have only your words. Therefore, your words must be carefully chosen and assembled. Remember too that most people are very busy and have little time to read lengthy documents. So, you really only have a few sentences to grab the reader’s attention and demonstrate that what you’ve written has enough value to the reader to finish reading it. And of course, you wanna be friendly, conversational, and professional. Don’t go so far as to be silly, flippant, disrespectful, or unprofessional though. Once you’ve gain the attention of the reader and demonstrated the value of what you have written, keep the reader engaged by loading your document with meaningful content. State facts, evidence, and results of studies. Demonstrating your command of the facts is a great way to gain credibility. Present your facts in chronological order, if there is a chronology, or in order of complexity or importance, if not. The more evidence based your arguments are, the more persuasive you will be. Also make it easy for your audience to understand what you’re trying to say. Avoid the use of industry jargon, complex sentences, and inaccurate language. Writing in a straightforward manner should make your writing easily understood by any adult. I’m not trying to suggest you should dumb down your message or use imprecise words. In fact, it can quite challenging to write sentences that are easy to understand. You may have to revise your writing multiple times to get your point across in a straightforward manner. But it’s well worth the effort. If your readers have to struggle to understand you, they’ll probably stop trying and might even think less of you for making it so difficult. Regarding the issue of jargon, by all means, use the commonly accepted language for your industry, but avoid words or phrases that are unique to certain job functions or activities. If you’re not sure if you’ve accomplished it or you just want to be sure, try asking a colleague in a different department to read your draft to see if they can identify what they think your main points are. If they struggle, you have more work to do. The issue of clarity can be challenging, particularly if you tend to rely on a few more words or a few more sentences to ensure your message is complete. You want to write so clearly that your readers can’t possibly misunderstand or misinterpret your meaning. Two hints regarding how to write with clarity are to use simple language and avoid bizspeak. To keep your language simple, start by not switching your sentences around to sound formal. For example, in this sentence, it is important that we meet in the short term to discuss this problem. Therefore, could you provide me with your availability? The sentence is much more complex than is necessary. Instead, you could say, are you available next Tuesday or Thursday for a meeting to discuss the problem? So what do I mean by bizspeak? I’m referring here to the business words and phrases that we often see in form letters, such as at your earliest convenience, which tend to make your document appear to be using boilerplate text or that you aren’t taking the time to clearly state what you’re trying to say. Instead, you might say, as soon as you can. Let’s review a few of the common ones. At that, as I state the bizspeak term or phrase, think about what might be an alternative that is more straightforward. In light of the fact that. As per our telephone conversation on today’s date. Pursuant to your instructions, I met with Roger Smith today regarding the above-mentioned. Please be advised that the deadline for the above-mentioned competition is Monday, April 2nd, 2012. Thank you for your courtesy and cooperation regarding this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding this request. Another form of bizspeak is the use of currently popular or fad phrases. These phrases cause you to sound too informal. Some examples would be popular phrases such as I’ll be out of pocket next week. Meaning, I will be traveling out of town or not available next week. Another one is let’s touch base next week. While people might say it in the office, don’t put it in writing. Instead say, I’ll email you Monday with some good times and days for a meeting. When phrase, whi, while phrases such as this might come up in daily conversation in the office and may even be popular in the business world at the moment, bizspeak and business jargon don’t belong in business documents. As I’ve stated, when you’re writing for business, think brevity. Business writing is about getting to your point and getting it across succinctly. For North American readers, you must get right to the point after a few formal courtesies. Then you need to make your point as clearly, completely, and briefly as you can. Jane Hicks, in her book, Writing for Business, says, fewer words capture more attention. Keep in mind that there are many demands on our attention. So much content online and our inbox is demanding our attention. We tend to read quickly material that is quick to read. Think of business writing more as news reporting, a 30-second spot on the evening news, as opposed to trying to impress your English professor with your ability to turn a phrase or a write eloquent and exhaustive descriptions of scenery or situations. Here are a few ideas to help you with writing. First, I’ve discussed it already, but it truly is important. Get right to the point of your document. Second, use active voice instead of passive voice. Active voice is, is much stronger and generally results in shorter, more straightforward language. For example, instead of saying, it was stated to me, try saying, she described to me. There is a time though to use passive voice, and that is if you’re trying to sound less accusatory. For example, some errors were made in the processing of the paperwork is less accusatory than human resources didn’t process the paperwork properly. This helps to ensure positive tone, and a sense of goodwill. Third, avoid fussy endings such as ion, ing, and ness. For example, instead of saying, let’s take the time for contemplating, just say, let’s contemplate. Or, during today’s discussion we perused the following topics, instead say, today we talked about the following topics. Finally, be ruthless with your editing. You’ll need to be willing to cut out words, cut out sentences, and state things in more straightforward ways. Now, please try the following activity. When you’re finished, please continue the lecture for this module. A summary will typically appear at the beginning of the document and will vary in length, depending upon what type of document. Any proposal, report, business case, or research document should have a summary, which is typically at the beginning of the document. An executive summary is often a separate stand-alone document which is provided with more lengthier comprehensive documents. And I’ll talk about executive summaries in module three. For documents other than executive summaries, a good summary at the beginning of a document is focused and specific, and gets right to the point, and includes crucial information. There should be a sentence in the summary at the beginning of a document which addresses the five W’s, who, what, when, where, and why for each of the document sections that will follow. Take care not to be too wordy though. Provide only the information the reader needs to understand what’s to come, no more and no less. It’s easiest and usually best to write your summary last. Write one sentence that addresses the five W’s for each paragraph of your document, and then use those as the skeleton of your summary. Use transitional words and phrases to put those descriptive sentences together. In this lecture, I spoke about being brief, clear, and to the point. I talked about the importance of using straightforward positive language and the use of active voice unless you’re trying to soften your message. Make it worth your audience as well to read your document by making it easy to understand, and help them to see the benefit within the first few sentences. Support your arguments or requests with meaningful facts and evidence, and assume goodwill on the part of all parties. Finally, when you summarize, as you will in various locations depending upon the document, you can start by writing a single sentence for each paragraph that touches on the who, what, when, where, and why of each paragraph being summarized.

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