Sunday, May 1, 2011

Developing Basic Writing Techniques

Developing Basic Writing Techniques
(an excerpt from Mary Ellen Guffey's Essentials of Business Communication)

·                     Make your writing more readable by using plain language, and by substituting unfamiliar words with familiar words.
·                     Achieve a forceful style by using precise verbs, concrete nouns, and vivid adjectives.
·                     Recognize and avoid unnecessary jargon.
·                     Recognize and avoid slang and clichés.
·                     Eliminate repetitious words and redundancies.
·                     Replace outdated expressions with more current business language.
·                     Develop a concise writing style by avoiding wordy prepositional phrases and long lead-ins.
·                     Recognize and avoid needless adverbs and expletives.

Plain Language
This means a clear and simple style that uses everyday words. It's a writing that is easy to follow, well-organized, and appropriately divided.  Good writers use plain language to express clear meaning. They do not use showy words to dazzle or confuse readers.
Complexity of language used in a document could tell the writer's intelligence and education, but don't be impressed by high-sounding language such as herein, thereafter, whereas, and similar expressions. Your writing will be better understood if you used plain language.
Dull: I had a career with a chemical company. Thereafter, I hopped into a financial giant.
Preferred: I used to have a regular position in a chemical company. Then, I decided to work with ABC Inc., the leading credit company in the country.

Familiar Words
These are words that are meaningful and familiar to the readers. How can we know what is meaningful to a prospective reader? Although we can't know with certainty, we can avoid long or unfamiliar words that have simpler synonyms. Whenever possible, use short, common or simple words in writing. However, don’t give up a precise word if it says exactly what you mean.

            Less Familiar Words             Simple Alternatives
            ascertain                                  find out
            conceptualized                         see
            encompass                               include
            hypothesize                             guess
            monitor                                    check
            operational                              working
            option                                      choice
            perpetuate                               continue
            perplexing                               troubling
            reciprocate                               return
            stipulate                                   require
            terminate                                 end
            utilize                                      use

Unfamiliar: The financial crisis in the US is perplexing. Many economic minds hypothesize the downfall of the country. The scene will probably encompass with the world's economies.
Familiar: The US financial crisis is troubling. Economic experts guess the sudden decrease in their economy. The situation will probably affect/include the status of other countries.

Precise Verbs
These are used to make writing more forceful, clear, and lively. In business writing, they are called effective verbs. They not only indicate the action of the subject, but also deliver the force of the sentence. Select verbs carefully so the readers can visualize what is really happening.
            General: Our salesperson will contact you next month.
            Specific: Our Salesperson will call/write/visit you next month.
            General: The manager said that we should help the company's project.
            Specific: The manager urged/ordered/requested that we should help the project.

When verbs are converted into nouns, the strength of the meaning is lessened. This is because the nouns receive the central emphasis in the sentence. Observe the power of original verbs as compared with noun forms:
            Strong: The managers discussed the credit status. (verb centered)
            Weak:  The managers had a discussion about the credit status. (noun centered)
            Strong: Both companies must approve the merger. (verb centered)
            Weak:  Both companies must grant approval of the merger. (noun centered)

Concrete Nouns
They name objects that are easily imagined such as desk, car, computer. In business writing, concrete nouns help your reader "see" what you mean.
            General nouns:                                  Concrete nouns:
            a change in our budget                       a 10 percent reduction in our budget
            company's product                              NEC's Ultra Express Pagers
            a person called                                    Mr. Swain, the supervisor, called
            improved office equipment                  brand new computers

Vivid Adjectives
These adjectives make writing more vivid and concrete. Be careful, though, in selecting them for specific descriptions or to overuse them.
            General: The report was on time.
            Vivid: The detailed 12-page report was submitted on time.
            General: The company needs a better truck.
            Vivid: The company needs a ten-wheeler truck.
            General: The employees enjoyed the party.
Vivid: The employees enjoyed the entertaining presentations during the party.
Overuse: The employees enjoyed the totally exciting, captivating and absolutely entertaining presentations during the party.

Jargon is a special terminology used in a particular activity or profession. Every profession has its own specific vocabulary. When writing within the field, it is acceptable and even necessary for accurate, efficient communication. Don't use specialized terms if you are not sure that your reader can understand them.
            Geologists: exfoliation, siliceous particles
            Engineers: infrared processing, output latches
            Telecommunication experts: protocol, mode, frequency transmission
            Example: A woman is applying for a clerical position in an advertising company.
            Unacceptable: I can handle duties in frequency transmissions within the company premises.           
            Acceptable: I can handle inter-office communications.
            Unacceptable: I have a black belt in accounting.
            Acceptable: I have an in-depth training in accounting.

Slang is composed of informal words with extravagantly changed meanings. These are words that go out of fashion quickly because they are no longer appealing to a group of users when everyone begins to understand them.
Awkward: I worked for a company with an awful lot of other things in the pipeline. Government policy has more wriggle room, so we can move down the totem pole smoothly.
Smooth: I worked for a company that has many discrepancies. However, government rule is so loose that we can do illegal activities with ease.

Clichés are expressions that are overused. They lack newness and clarity, and are meaningless to people in other cultures.
The following are the examples of clichés to be avoided in business writing:
            below the belt             easier said than done               hard facts
            last but not the least    exception to the rule               stand your ground
            Weak: The assigned task in my previous company is easier said than done.
Strong: The assigned task in my previous company involved technical skills that are difficult to express in words.

Repetitious Words
Good writers use variety of words to avoid repetition. Using the same words creates monotonous and boring material.
            Employees will be able to elect six employees to serve with the previously elected employees who currently comprise the employees’ board of directors. To ensure representation, employees from different departments will be electing representative employees for the group.
The paragraph above uses the word employee six times. In addition, the last sentence used similar words representation and representatives. Improve writing by searching for appropriate synonyms or by using pronouns.

            Easier-to-read version: Employees will be able to elect an additional six representatives to serve with the four previously elected members of the employees' board of directors. To ensure representation, each department will elect their own board member.
Redundant Words:
Repetition of words to achieve emphasis is important in writing. Needless repetition, however, is a writing fault called redundancy. This is done by using similar words when the meaning is already implied.

            Examples of redundant words to be avoided:
            absolutely essential                 final outcome
            advance warning                     big in size
            combined together                  each and every
            few in number                         grateful thanks
            new beginning                         past history
            reason why                              repeat again
            Dull: The company has sent advance warnings to delinquent debtors.
            Preferred: The company has sent warnings to delinquent debtors.

Outdated Expressions
These are words used during the period when people consider exceedingly formal and flowery expressions in business writing.
            Avoid using the following common outdated expressions:
            Outdated Expressions:                                  Modern Phrasing:
            attached hereto                                               attached
            thanking you in advance                                 thank you
            I trust that                                                       I think/ I believe
            pursuant to your request                                 at your request
            under separate cover                                       separately

Outdated: I trust that I posses the capacity to work with your company. Attached hereto is my resume for perusal purposes.
Modern Phrasing: I believe that I have the skills to work with you. Attached is        my resume for your reference.
Concise Wording
In business, time is money. When used in writing, this means that concise messages save reading time and, thus, money. In addition, ideas that are written directly are easier to read and comprehend. "Say what you have to say and stop". Examine every sentence that you write, and find ways to express them in shorter ways.

Shorten flabby sentences by omitting needless adverbs, excessive prepositions, and expletives.

            Flabby:                                               Concise:
            at a later date                                      later
            at this point in time                             now/presently
            despite the fact that..                          though
            due to the fact that..                           because/since
            during the time                                    while
            in addition to the above                      also
            in the event that...                               if
            in the near future                                 soon
            more or less                                         about

Flabby: At this point in time, I am connected with XZY Company. Due to the fact that your office is known for the extravagant employee benefits, I wish to test the water of my career with you.
Concise: I am presently working with XZY Company. Because your company is popular for the generosity on employees' benefit, I wish to apply for any position available.

Wordy Prepositional Phrases
Shorten you sentences by replacing some phrases with single adverbs.
            Wordy: Datatech approached the merger in a careful manner.
            Concise: Datatech approached the merger carefully.
            Wordy: We have taken this action in very few cases.
            Concise: We have seldom taken this action.

Long Lead-ins
Lead-ins are introductory words. Try to omit unnecessary phrases by deciding which words to include. Most important messages usually follows the words that or because.

            Wordy: I am sending you this announcement to let you know that the office will be closed on Monday.
            Concise: The office will be closed on Monday.
            Wordy: I am writing this letter because my professor said that your organization was hiring trainees.
            Concise: My professor said that your organization was hiring trainees.

Needless Adverbs:
Eliminating adverbs such as very, definitely, quite, completely, extremely, really, actually, somewhat, and rather shortens your writing. Omitting these intensifiers also makes you sound more credible.
            Wordy: We actually did not really give his plan a very fair trial.
            Concise: We did not give his plan a fair trial.
            Wordy: Professor Bell offered an extremely fine course that students definitely appreciated.
            Concise: Professor Bell offered a fine course that students appreciated.

Expletives are fillers such as there and it. They are used to express that something is existing.  Avoid expletives that fatten sentences with words.
            Wordy: There are three vice presidents who report directly to the president.
            Concise: Three vice presidents report directly to the president.
            Wordy: It is the client who should make application for licensing.
            Concise: The client should apply for licensing.

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