VOL. 126 | NO. 126 | Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Light Their Fire
Present Yourself with Polish
Before the advent of email and texting, we didn’t take many shortcuts in our written communication. Now, our finesse with messages depends on the size of our thumbs, the amount of time we have between flights and how much our viewers’ screens (or brains) will comfortably hold. What suffers is the refinement of our compositions.
As a writer, I’m disappointed at this turn of events. I believe that when we write we show off our organizational skills, our critical thinking and our powers of persuasion, not to mention our attention to detail and concern for perfection. The opposite can also be true: It can reveal our shortcomings.
This is my plea to everyone in the workplace: Please remember that how you present yourself in writing matters. And if being sloppy spills over into truly important documents such as your resume or cover letter, your LinkedIn profile, a proposal to senior management or a sales presentation to potential clients, it could affect your career. Polish your words to polish your image.
In 500 words I can only give you a few tips for writing effectively, so here goes.
I’m always grateful for my training in journalism because it taught me to put thoughts into a logical sequence and to avoid errors. The reporter’s “inverted pyramid” method summarizes the most important ideas in the first paragraph – who, what, when, where and how. The next paragraphs tell details, with less important information at the end. Using this format ensures that if your reader stops short of the end, he won’t miss the good stuff.
Writing a proposal or a speech uses a similar framework. Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them. It’s different than an inverted pyramid in that you provide a conclusion and a call to action.
Proofread your work. Mistakes leave the impression that you’re careless, lazy or not very intelligent. Even experts miss typos when they’re the author, so ask someone else to proofread your work too.
Brush up on your grammar. Example: Ellipses ( … ) mean that words have been left out; they do not imply a pause. Check out a book called, “Woe Is I,” by Patricia T. O’Conner for a humorous description of grammar rules.
Pet peeve 16: An acronym is not any set of initial letters. It’s only an acronym if they form a word. Real acronym: COP, standing for Citizens on Patrol. Fake acronym: ACBL. Those are just the initials of the American Contract Bridge League.
Strong writing uses active voice: subject, verb, object. Example: “You wrote the story,” not, “The story was written.” Look this one up in O’Conner’s book for more explanation.
Watch your tone. Being concise is good. Being abrupt is not.
Smooth, clear writing may appear effortless, but it takes a lot of work to make it look that way. Believe me.
Susan Drake is the President of Spellbinders Internal and External Marketing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.