While I’m posting some great cartoons, I came across this one on Facebook. Unfortunately I don’t know the source, but it includes a link to The Plain Language Programme, so I’m going to assume that’s the original.
While I’m posting some great cartoons, I came across this one on Facebook. Unfortunately I don’t know the source, but it includes a link to The Plain Language Programme, so I’m going to assume that’s the original.
I came across this great Savage Chickens cartoon that made me giggle. I was feeling especially glum because I had finally done some new creative writing and then ended up losing it all on my silly computer, so this majorly cheered me up.
Now it’s the blank screen and the keyboard that do us in….
Academic and creative writing are worlds apart from business writing. This does not mean you can’t be creative or intelligent when writing business messages. On the contrary, you need to be use the same kinds of skills of careful thought, research, proofreading etc. that academic writing requires, and you do need to think and write creatively in order to focus your business writing.
If you can spend more time planning your business messages (whether a report, email, web pages, proposal, business presentation etc) and focusing on the following three tips for business writing, you will find that the process becomes easier, yields better results, and helps you project a positive image in the business world.
In the workplace, there are certain tasks you need to achieve. When you communicate with clients, coworkers, employers, stakeholders etc, you are trying to achieve a specific objective. You may be trying to sell a product or service. You may be making a request. You may be replying to a message. No matter what the situation, you want to ensure that your communication not only delivers the message, but is understood, and produces the correct action and/or feedback.
Know what it is you want your audience to do. Write down “I want my reader/listener to…” and complete the sentence. If you don’t know what you are on about, they certainly won’t. Centre the message on this core idea. Emphasise the main idea throughout the message. Ensure that the follow up action is easy to understand and carry out. In this way, you succeed in the hidden agenda of business communication: protecting a positive image of you/your organisation and maintaining excellent customer relations.
No where is it harder to write in an audience-centred way than in a job application letter. You are trying to tell them what you can do, so you fall into this resume repetition of “I can do this… I worked here… I studied that…”. People don’t care. What they want to know is what can you bring to them? What can you do (what are your “features”) and how will this benefit them? Always put yourself in the place of the audience.
If you know your product backwards, that doesn’t mean the audience will understand what you are on about, unless you “translate” the information into language that the audience will understand. You need to think about their level of knowledge and understanding and ask yourself
If you have anticipated and answered all the audience’s questions before they have had to ask them, then you will be that much more successful in ensuring your message is received, understood, and acted upon.
The major difference between creative, academic and business writing is often length. Business writing needs to be concise, clear and focused because people deal with incredible volumes of data these days. People are also lazy and don’t like to spend time reading, especially if they inundated with emails. They also don’t want to sit through a rambling presentation.
Get to the main idea in your opening few sentences if you know the audience is neutral or positive about the material. Use crisp, precise words. Avoid unnecessary fillers (for example, my favourite is “I am writing to tell you…”. I know you are writing to tell me. I am reading what you have written). Minimise jargon if the audience won’t understand. Keep your tone friendly and conversational, but avoid slang and acronyms. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Order the information in a logical way. Group similar ideas together and include only the most relevant information.
Once you have put your message together, edit and proofread it. Cut out fillers, redundancies (e.g. revert back. Revert = to go back to), noun forms (e.g. “extend an invitation” can be replaced with “invite”) and long-winded explanations. Check for spelling and grammatical errors. You can still sound intelligent without having to use cliched business phrases (e.g. Thank you for your cooperation) or fancy words (remuneration = salary, so use salary).
Improving your business writing is not a challenging task; it simply takes a bit of careful thought and organisation. Focus on the audience, KISS, and what your reason for communicating is, and you’ll see positive results.
I am a 30-something software developer who would prefer to spend his time writing and drawing, often both at the same time. With a full-time and very demanding job it is difficult to make these more than hobbies, but I’d like to change that as soon as possible.
I have a very new blog at www.alzacklen.com, and I will soon be putting examples of my writing here. You can see one of my drawings in the header of the website you’re currently reading.
1. How long have you been writing? How did you get started with it?
I’ve been writing ever since I was old enough to browse through the vast collection of books my parents had collected. In particular my dad had a fascinating selection of old sci-fi which inspired me to think up many bizarre stories and kept me speculating ever since.
2. Is this your full time job? A career goal? A hobby?
Right now it’s a hobby, but …
3. If this is not your full time career, do you struggle to make time for this? Is there anything you do to ensure you make time?
I do struggle, but I have recently been focusing more seriously on making time. I have set up a blog for myself and I will be putting the first few chapters of a story I am working on there – this is my way of prodding myself to work on completing it, since other people will be able to read it and give feedback. It’s not easy to write in the evenings after a work day, but once I get going it’s a lot of fun.
4. If this is your full time job, how did you achieve this?
It isn’t, but I am lucky enough to be in a position to make it a serious part of my working day very soon.
5. How do you deal with “naysayers”… you know, those voices/people who keep asking when the phase is going to pass? Or negative criticism about your work/creative endeavor?
Luckily for me I haven’t had anyone telling me I shouldn’t give up my current day job. As for negative criticism… if it’s valid, I’m happy to listen. You can’t please everyone all of the time, so I believe one can choose what one wishes to take to heart. It’s still your work, after all.
6. What would your dream project be?
I’ve already begun. I’ve wanted to complete a full-length novel for a long time and I am now working hard to get there. Keep an eye on my blog for a preview.
7. Is there something you have worked on that you are especially proud of? Or received accolades for?
For fun, I submitted a short story for the 2003 ITSF competition, which got me a place in the top five. That boosted my confidence somewhat.
8. What does creativity mean to you?
Building something awesome when you didn’t know you knew how.
9. What advice would you give to others trying to follow a similar path?
For anyone who is just starting on a creative path, whether it is your first novel, first drawing or first software application: Don’t be shy about showing other people what you’re working on. I have learned a lot from others, whether I liked what they told me or not – particularly how to take criticism without taking it personally.
I was invited to talk at the BCIT Tech Writing Alumni lunch and workshop on Saturday about using social media as a self marketing tool, as well as taking the online conversation offline. One of the other speakers, Kemp Edmonds, talked about he got into the world of social media and education, and one of the things he mentioned as his career starting point was passion.
To me, this is such a key element to success, in whatever your field of interest. You have to identify your passion, and you have to have the guts, and perhaps a bit of selfishness (in the best sense of the word) to follow that passion. It’s what motivated me to leave full time teaching and begin the adventure of Meerkat Communications.
When I was heading home after the lunch, I thought about how much I love speaking, and sharing information and knowledge with others. It was great to talk to a room full of fellow writers and also to reflect on my own journey. It also reminded me of how good it feels when you are doing what you are truly passionate about. It is energizing and also reassuring; reminding you that you are on the right path.
It got me thinking, too, about the three words I chose a long time ago to sum up what it is I do, and that are the pillars of what Meerkat Communications does as a business.
There is something about words. About how they can roll off your tongue, how they can inspire or hurt, compliment or destroy, humour or surprise. I have always loved words, and have to confess that I even love swear words. There are also certain words that I just hate. They just hurt the ears and seem wrong. I love how certain words just suit their meaning, and how others seem to say the opposite of their meanings. I love word play and jokes, poetry and prose. I really will read anything, from trashy holiday novels to serious academic journals.
I love being able to use words to create and illustrate ideas. I love helping clients express what it is that they do, and promote their company or ideas through their websites and marketing materials. It’s all about finding the right words..
I love being able to also use words to share my own information and ideas, whether it be through articles, blog posts, emails, and yes, even real letters! I am lucky enough to have some correspondents and we actually write real letters. It is such a great surprise to find a real, hand-written letter in amongst the bills and it makes such a difference from the brevity and speed of emails.
I love that I get to pursue both my passions: writing and teaching. I love been able to help my students and give them “real world” skills, and show them how using proper business writing skills can help them reach their goals. I also love helping them learn to feel more comfortable presenting in front of others. I also use my love of teaching to help people advance their skills, in the workshop context. It’s great to see people’s faces when they “get it”. It’s incredibly rewarding and I love being able to pass on ideas, tips, resources, and anything else I can think of to help other people find and promote their passion.
Through speaking engagements, workshops, teaching, my volunteer work for Wired Woman, and also through writing, I love being able to help people make connections – whether with other people, or connections in terms of ideas. If it helps or inspires them to find their passion, or take even one step towards reaching that passion, then I feel like I have really made a difference, and helped motivate someone.
It is so easy to let the humdrum of daily life trick us into thinking that we have to do something. It is very easy to follow the security (I mean, who doesn’t want to live free of the stress of uncertainty?), but if you deny rather than embrace your passions, the stress can actually be bigger and have more of an affect on your emotions and mental well being. It is important, too, to remember (as a wise person once told me) that just because you have an aptitude for something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. You may have many passions or abilities that you can pursue.
Personally, I have been really lucky to have had great support in terms of family and friends, and wonderful mentors too, who have never let me feel like I have made a mistake and who remind me that I am doing what I love and am good at. It does, however, also take a lot of self belief and a definite leap of faith to stay on the path of your passions. I have learned to trust my instincts, and also to let people know not only what it is that I do, but also what I need help with.
If you follow your passions, your rewards are that much sweeter, but don’t feel afraid to ask for help, seek a mentor, network and put yourself out there.
You will get there.
PS – If you are looking for inspiration, you can read my review of The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry. I highly recommend the book.
I think it really does illustrate the difficulty with Web 2.0 and the social media explosion. How are you an expert? How did you build your reputation? And do you really know more than the next guy? It also ties in wonderfully to the Building Community theme (albeit in a humourous stab at the subject).
The fantastic speakers we had at our event definitely were not “Social Media Douchebags” and really did have a lot of insight into turning that online community into ROI, and gave us valuable tips, tools and insights. The speakers were:
Everyone seemed to really enjoy the round table format and it generated a lot of discussion, with different women from vastly different industries coming together to add their insights too. One of the biggest lessons I took away from the event was the importance of listening. See what people are saying about you/your industry and start to build a following by answering their questions and finding your audience in the right places.
I came away with a lot of ideas and also a sense of pride that the event went off so well.
Now to get to the point were I really can add “social media expert” to my Twitter bio…
As you may know, I teach Business Communication part time at BCIT and earlier this week we had a Professional Development workshop for the department. We had some interesting speakers (including department members) and a lot of the discussion focused on teaching millennials. One morning session was lead by Jim Muldowney, a former instructor at North Island University, and he talked about the challenges of teaching the NetGeneration (to use a Don Tapscott term).
It was an interesting discussion and one point that I brought up (because of my experiences as a South African and a teacher in the Third World) was the fact that the majority of the research out there focuses on a lot of assumptions around access to technology, and centres largely on the First World. I would be really interested to see some research done on the same age group in places where technology isn’t as prevalent. Do the same types of values hold? Are the differences between generations less apparent? Do they have different abilities and principles?
An area that Jim addressed was around the assumptions that many researchers are making about so-called shared principles and abilities of the NetGen. One of the major inferences is that when confronted with all the information that is at their fingertips on a daily basis, the NetGen has the ability to think critically and analyse the billions of megabytes of data zooming at them. Not so true if some of the research papers I have seen over the years as a teacher can be taken as empirical evidence…
Having studied an MA, I am well familiar with the scornful “so what are you going to do with that?” questions. One thing that I can truly say that I learned in my years of study in Humanities was the ability to think critically, evaluate texts (of any kind – image or written), and select the best material for my purposes. This has given me frustration at times (I can often not watch movies or read books without overanalysing), but also great joy at the layers of meaning and information I have uncovered for myself.
These skills have also in turn, I feel, lead to a stronger ability to do the same with people, and have well prepared me for the path of an entrepreneur. I would not trade these skills for all the “practical, useful” degrees in the world. As the realms of information and technology, and education change, I agree with Jim; I think we are assuming a level of sophistication that just isn’t there yet. I know it certainly took me time, effort, passion, and engagement to reach a certain level of ability, and I had the guidance of instructors along the way.
To me, this lack of sophistication can be a good thing though, because as educators, we are working with a clean slate. However, the difficulty is always the fact that we have limited time and resources to try and get through a curriculum and also promote and instill these skills. In a culture that I have observed to be very entitlement-based, this is certainly a challenge. Add to the fact that I teach at a training institute and the challenge swells.
One thing that I took away from the workshops, though, was the need for us as educators to be adaptable. I think this is a vital skill in business too. Something else that Jim discussed struck me immensely; the students are a resource in themselves, and we should be talking to them about what they want. If collaboration is a sign of the new world of communication, then this needs to become a large part of what we do, for our own success, and theirs.
I’ve recently been working with some wonderful women on their resumes, helping them update them as they look for a new direction in their career paths. One of the tough things about resumes is that because they are so personal, they can be so hard to write without a helping hand. There are so many things we want to highlight and illustrate; we want to prove we are well-qualified for the job, but it can be so hard to know what to include, and perhaps even more difficult, what to exclude. There are a few things to bear in mind before we get too carried away. Here are some tips to enhance your resume:
It is absolutely vital, for both your resume and your cover letter, that you include key words that are mentioned in the job ad. If you are applying for a job that has not been advertised, then simply find a similar sounding position online and use those key words. Why are these key words so important?
Well, the reason is two-fold.
A) These days, many resumes are put through search engine-like scanners that check to see if you have what the ad asks for. You may have all the essential qualifications they ask for, but if you don’t word them the way the ad specifies, then you run the risk of being passed over.
B) Bear in mind that the person who reads your resume first may not be in the same profession that you are. They may be an HR Manager, who has a general knowledge of what the company is looking for, and has a copy of the same job description listed in the ad, but they don’t necessarily understand what it is that you do. They will scan for easily identifiable, relevant key words. Make their job easier by using similar language and targeted keywords.
Although this may seem like a lot of work, tailor-making each resume (and cover letter for that matter), you will find that similar positions ask for similar things, so all you need to do is just tweak the main draft you have to suit each slightly different position.
When you are listing the duties/explaining what it is you did under your previous positions, it is important to remember a few things. You need to ensure you cover measurable achievements. Don’t just say you increased productivity in your department. Put a percentage to it; show the number of people you managed; put down figures that people can understand and that give tangibility to your experience. Try and think of five key duties or tasks that you performed under each position. If you have held similar positions in different companies, then highlight different aspects of the job (remembering those key words). Use strong verbs and precise, active descriptions. Also remember that your resume is more a fact sheet of your achievements. Try not to be too wordy; rather save the elaborations and “stories” of what you have done for your cover letter.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to do with a resume or cover letter is to adapt it to the audience. We get so caught up in trying to show what we have done, that we forget to prove how it will benefit the company organisation that is hiring. Try and think of how you can list your experience in a way that shows what it will bring to the position, not what you’ll get out of being hired. Prove to them, through the measurables and the key words, that you have what they are asking for, and that you are eager to bring those skills to work for them. Although this is easier to do in your cover letter, it is still important to bear this in mind in every aspect of your resume, from design to content. Does everything you mention cover not only your “hard” /technical skills, but your “soft” skills too (i.e. communication skills, interpersonal and teamwork abilities, and organisational skills)?
Remember that many people may have the same “hard” skills as you, but you bring your experience and your “soft” skills, and as importantly, your personality to the position. You need to ensure that this is illustrated in your resume and your cover letter.
I know that job hunting can be depressing, challenging and frustrating, but the more you focus on how to prove to a potential employer that you have what he or she is looking for, the greater your chance of success will be. If you would like more tips on resumes, please feel free to read an article I wrote for Suite101.com entitled Writing the Perfect Resume and its companion articles on cover letters and interview skills. Please also feel free to email me to set up a one-on-one resume consultation, if you are in the Vancouver, BC area.