Writing Faster, Long Term (The Big Picture)
1. Know the rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage. Your communications are clearer, and knowing the rules allows you to break them (occasionally) for effect.
2. Know your audience. Use language that will appeal to them the most. (This is called “slant”.)
3. Never lie. You will lose all credibility.
4. Never take credit for someone else’s writing – it’s called plagiarism. If someone helped you prepare a document, acknowledge their assistance.
5. Know your topic. Do any research required.
6. Whenever possible, keep it short and simple.
7. Make it easy for others to meet your requests. Highlight what you need from them, when you need it, and how they should send the information.
8. Use footnotes or endnotes to document your sources.
9. Consider whether admitting your findings are limited or less than perfect will clarify communications. Likewise, consider admitting when something is unknown. (Example: “I was unable to speak to Glen, so I don’t know whether our losses continue into September and October.”)
10. Be aware that other problems masquerade as “writing problems”. Are you really having trouble with the actual writing, or are other issues the real concern (e.g. a co-worker who always looks for something to criticize, or insufficient information from your boss)? Sometimes written communications are not meant to communicate anything, but are sent to further a round of office politics.
11. Read good books. Watch less television. Increasing the quantity and quality of your reading improves your writing.
12. Can you set aside some time every day to handle correspondence? Find the time that works best for you so you can concentrate on writing with few interruptions. Allow phone messages to go to voicemail and close your office door, if you can.
13. Practice makes perfect: Write something every day, starting today.
Writing Faster, Short Term: Quick and Easy Things You Can Do Now
14. Look for extraneous words you tend to use, especially at the beginning of a sentence, and eliminate them whenever possible.
15. Maintain a good reference shelf: Dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar book. (See Appendix for recommendations.)
16. Find out if your company has a style guide, and use it in your written communications. (If they don’t, suggest that one be created and implemented.)
17. Avoid excessive capitalization. Which is easier to read: “I went to the Accounting Department for their input on the Report, and their Supervisor said it was OK,” or, “I went to the accounting department for input on the report, and their supervisor said it was OK”?
18. Create templates for repeated items, such as regular reports and updates.
19. Before you send an e-mail or hand off a letter, take the time to run a spelling check, and re-read your document completely, from beginning to end.
20. Before using the pronoun “we”, be sure it is defined. Is it you and the recipient? Your entire department? The company? Better still, use the noun that applies: The department, the company, our work group.
21. Is industry jargon required to convey a concept, or can it be reworded into plain English? If it can be reworded with standard vocabulary, use that instead.
22. Even company acronyms may be unfamiliar to some of your co-workers. Spell out all abbreviations the first time they are used in any document.
23. Avoid cliches as much as possible. (Readers tend to skip over them. You want readers to read, not skip over what you wrote.)
24. Be sure your audience is familiar with any cultural references used. If in doubt, leave them out. (For example, you may know what reference to a “Van Damme film” means, but not all of your readers will understand.)
25. Leave out duplicate phrases. Instead of “Our goal is to fill a niche by providing,” write, “Our goal is to provide”.
26. Use the active voice and minimize the use of the verb “be”. For example, instead of writing “We had been going to go to the theater, but then we had changed our minds,” write, “We were going to go to the theater, but changed our minds.”
27. Avoid duplicating words. In the sentence above, a better choice would be, “We initially planned to see a movie,” or “We were going to the theatre, but changed our minds,” thus eliminating using the word “go” two times in one sentence.
Your Buzzword Litmus Test:
28. Avoid excessive use of the “in” buzzwords. If you actually write “We are incentivizing our teleforce by empowering them with integrated clicks-and-mortar e-commerce solutions,” you will be met with suspicion (that you are hiding something bad behind the buzzwords) and derision (because you cannot seem to write using everyday English). If you still want to use the word, ask yourself the remaining questions in this section:
29. Would I use this term away from work, i.e. with friends or family?
30. Is there a word in existence which already means the same thing, and can therefore be used in this word’s place? (For example, the buzzword “incentivize” can usually be changed to “motivate”. By contrast, e-commerce is a word that describes a new way of buying and selling goods and services, so it could probably be used without diminishing your writing.)
31. Is the phrase redundant? For example, the buzzword “clicks-and-mortar” refers to a business that is both Internet-based and real-world based. Most businesses have a foot in both worlds (and many readers are aware of this), so why use the phrase at all?
32. Would using the buzzword make you or someone else feel silly, hurt or insulted? For example, does a co-worker really want to be referred to as a “road warrior”?
33. Does the word clarify or obscure what you are trying to say? For instance, does the phrase “development force” do a better job of describing what some may call your “sales force”?
34. Does the word suggest an incomplete idea? For instance, if you use the word “convergence”, does the reader know what two or more things are converging?