On-the-Job Writing in the 21st Century (Part 1)
As more and more business communications take place online, your writing skills must adapt accordingly. Julie Ellis in her article, “The 10 Most Important Business Writing Skills,” outlines many of these capabilities. This issue of Writing Tips will showcase the first five, and the March issue will cover the last five (edited for space and clarity):
We all wrote essays and papers in high school and college. And we were taught to write in very formal, scholarly ways. Vocabulary and style were important; impeccable grammar was a “must” for a decent grade. Most of us, moreover, have probably composed a resume or two, along with cover letters that made us sound highly skilled and perfect for a position. There will still be a need for scholarly writing, but for most of us, our careers will lie outside academia and so different writing skills will be required.
1. Clear, concise, and simple prose
Long, complicated sentences with sophisticated vocabulary is “out.” No one has the time anymore to re-read content, in order to figure out what has actually been said. You will need to practice writing shorter sentences, containing only one thought. Your vocabulary, unless it must be technical in nature, will need to be at a high school level. Consider these two examples:
A. We are rapidly approaching a point in our organizational growth at which we must consider viable courses of action for expansion into additional global markets, and it will be imperative, in the ensuing months, that everyone begin developing strategies that will achieve this, so that we may evaluate their efficacy at our March 15 meeting.
B. We’re at a point where we have to think about expansion. We need to come up with ways to market our products to consumers in more countries. Over the next few months, everyone should think about options for getting this done. Let’s get together on March 15, and bring your ideas with you.
“B” will be the preferred style – everyone will “get” it during the first “read.” And if this message must be sent by text or email, it will be much easier to compose if you keep it simple.
2. Writing skills will not only include prose
No one will have time to pour through volumes of text and detailed explanations. The use of graphics to impart information will be critical and far more effective. You will need to be able to reduce lots of information and concepts into picture form, and this means some self-study. There already are great tools and apps for creating infographics, and these will only get better over the next few years. Learn to use them!
3. Grammar, spelling and punctuation will not be “thrown out”
While your writing may become simpler, basic writing skills will still need to be in play. You never know. The person you are trying to impress with a sales pitch may be a “stickler” for good grammar and spelling. Fortunately, if you have never been really good at this, the tools, apps and services keep getting better. There won’t be any excuse, except laziness.
4. Prose writing will have to be broken up
One of the effects of so much use of technology is that people’s attention spans are shorter. If you want your stuff read from start to finish, you had better learn how to use headings, sub-headings, and bullet points. This is going to require real thought organization before you ever begin to write, so that your points flow logically. Remember that old outline “routine?” It’s still a pretty good organizer for writing!
5. Writing for your audience
This will be more important than ever. You have to know the intellectual and reading levels of the people who will be reading your stuff, and you will have to adjust your style and vocabulary accordingly. Being able to change your style for different audiences will be pretty critical, and it takes real skill.
- Worldwide, over 50 million roses are given for Valentine’s Day each year.
- Richard Cadbury invented the first Valentine’s Day candy box in the late 1800s.
- In 1537, England’s King Henry VII officially declared February 14th St. Valentine’s Day.
- In order of popularity, Valentine’s Day cards are given to: teachers, children, mothers, wives, sweethearts, and pets.
- Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day of the year for sending cards; more than 1 billion cards are exchanged. Christmas is the most popular.
- The average number of wedding proposals on Valentine’s Day each year is: 50,000, 165,000, 220,000, 310,000?
Word of the Month
bailiwick | BAY-lih-wik | noun
• a special domain; the sphere in which one has superior knowledge or authority
“Keith always felt his bailiwick was creating financial incentives, but his entire sales staff disagreed.”
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Choose the set of words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
There has been little _____ criticism written about de la Mare; indeed, that which has been written is at the two extremes, either appallingly _____ or bitterly antagonistic.
(SAT Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
Members of the Marine Corps are often called jarheads. Why? There are several reasons. First, the Marines, which were founded on November 10, 1775, have long made use of a high-collar uniform. The high collar gives a Marine the appearance that their head is sticking out of a jar, leading to the jarhead moniker being adopted around World War II. Second, a trademark Marine haircut is short on the sides and a square, flat look on top, which appeared to some like the lid of a jar. Third, the jarhead label also refers to more of an overall Marine attitude. Marines are known for enduring challenging physical training and combat situations. As early as 1918, the term jarhead was a slang word for a mule. Considered a loyal and hardworking animal able to follow orders, it’s possible the jarhead name was ported over to Marines, who saw it as a favorable comparison since it designates them as unwavering in their sense of duty.
Dr. Kevin Ryan's business-writing book is available on Amazon.com and qualifies for free shipping.
Answer: Objective/sycophantic. While both complimentary and sycophantic are opposed to antagonistic, only objective logically fits the context of the sentence.
Fun Facts Answer
The average number of wedding proposals on Valentine’s Day each year is 220,000.
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