Writing for the Workplace

Writing for the Workplace

No witty introduction to this one – we’re diving head first today!

I work in Corporate America… and I can’t tell you how many times I want to claw my eyeballs out of their sockets with the nearest sharp utensil when I read a terrible email from a colleague. Why does this happen? I have to assume a lack of proper preparation for workplace environments is to blame.

Over the summer, I took a course about teaching technical communication. Because of that course, I have narrowed down the area of college writing I want to teach – writing in the technical world for engineering and science students. I think it’s important for students bound for a corporate, professional workplace after they graduate understand how to effectively communicate through writing.

Our world has most definitely reached the digital age in recent years – communication will never be the same as a result. It seems that we, in corporate environments, converse with our colleagues over email and IM systems more than we pick up the phone. I personally like this, because I find it easier to be more concise with my words and convey my point clearly. Granted, there are some times where it’s always better (and easier) to pick up the phone or schedule some face time with your co-workers, but it’s essential to corporate success that people understand how to communicate through written words.

Some tips I’ve come to hold near and dear when composing work emails, documents, and more are as follows. If you can remind yourself of these when writing a co-worker, you’ll be off to a great start.

  • Keep it simple and be quick, clear, and concise as possible. Short and sweet is the best way to go – you don’t want to bog your readers down with pages and pages and pages to read. Explain your message clearly, be concise, and be sure to get to your point as quick as you can – if you are a busy person, you should assume your reader is just as time-poor as you are.
  • Write as you would talk – except use the proper version of your language. Your voice is what the reader will hear when they read your message, so make it conversational. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, either – these are your words, and you are attaching your name to the message… so own it!
  • Break your message into short paragraphs and avoid long sentences. Reading words on a screen can be daunting for some, and easier for others. Accommodate your audience – breaking up your paragraphs and keeping sentences short will allow your message to be easier to read. I tend to get overwhelmed when a colleague sends me a long email and it’s all in one paragraph. I have literally copied and pasted it into a Word document to break it down, so I can receive their message a little more clearly. Think about this the next time you don’t use paragraph breaks!!
  • Maintain a positive tone.  It’s tough to read emotion through written word sometimes (especially in text messages!), so it’s important to be positive throughout your message. This will help your reader see the point you’re trying to make without negativity.
  • PROOFREAD AND EDIT BEFORE SENDING! I will say this over and over until my students understand this must happen EVERY SINGLE TIME a message is sent to someone through written words. I won’t lie – I’ve caught some serious typos or found that my message didn’t make sense when I reread it before sending. I suggest reading your message to yourself out loud to see if it makes sense. Things seem to read differently when you hear them aloud versus when they stay on the page. Don’t hesitate to have someone take a glance too – a fresh pair of eyes can catch things we don’t the first few times around.

Of course, there will be exceptions. Case in point, my boss and I are very close – if someone read our emails, you’d be able to tell that right away. We use emoticons and sometimes shorthand, but most of the time we keep it super professional – our company records all communication for legal purposes, so we want to be sure we’re professional when on the record. We start with the usual address (“Hi Nicole,”) in the first round, but then usually it’s a conversation back and forth in the replies that follow. The important thing here to be sure you gauge your audience and use communication to accommodate accordingly.

If you have questions or want more advice about writing for work or your professional environment, let’s chat!

Revision & Poetry

Revision & Poetry

Well, this is embarrassing. I haven’t been updating like I should. I have let things get in the way of writing for me again. That changes today. For those who know me, I’m somewhat a perfectionist when it comes to sharing my writing. I need to work on being more candid on my blog, because that’s what it’s for, right? So, here we go again. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. :)

I am in a poetry course this semester, studying under the Indiana Poet Laureate. Thus far, this class has helped me change the way I view writing poetry. I’m becoming unafraid to share my works-in-progress, and learning to better embrace critical feedback. Last night, we were discussing readings about revision. A few things grabbed my attention, but especially the notion that we have to stop being nice and sweet throughout our poems. This is me, completely. My poems are generally whimsical and fluffy and nice, leaving me with either a longing or a warm, fuzzy feeling. But sometimes we need that harsh reality to shine through. That darkness is everywhere in our lives, and we shouldn’t sugarcoat it when we share our experiences with others by way of writing. We have to stop letting our good manners get in the way of being raw and rude. Our poems can mean so much more if they have that bite or sting. That means it’s real. If it provokes emotion, then we’re on our way to a good poem.

Revising is something I’ve talked a lot about on here in the past.
TL;DR:
I revise as I go and that’s kinda bad for my writing.

I need to learn “first vision, then revision” (wise words by Lynn Emanuel in her piece “In Praise of Malice: Thoughts on Revision”). The idea of getting it out on the page without trying to revise immediately is key. I’m beginning to learn that I need to put a piece of writing away for some time before revising it, because the person I was when I wrote that poem is not who I am now, in this moment… or even five minutes from now. Something new will come along, either through education or experience, and I can apply that to an editing/revising session down the road. In fact, I pulled out a poem I wrote 12-13 years ago for our “X-Treme Revision” process in my class. I read through it and like the thought of it… but my age shows in my writing. I look forward to sharing it later after I complete this process with my class.

There is another poem I am working on for our packet project – this basically is an assignment that will track our revision process. As a class, we all took an oath to revise this one piece of work over the course of a week for a minimum of one hour each day. I will be tracking my progress and will probably scan my revisions so I have them saved electronically – I will be glad to share with you. I always enjoy seeing how others revise or get from one point to the next with their writing, so I hope you will find something useful out of my experience. Also… I urge you to give me feedback – I want to know what you think of my work. Tell if if it sucks, tell me what I need to work on, tell me what you’d change if you were the author… I don’t like hearing “this is great, don’t change a thing!” (See my earlier post on peer response sessions.) Side/end note: one thing I struggle with when it comes to poetry is knowing when it is done. When do you stop revising a poem? When do you call it done? I don’t have an answer for this yet, but I hope to get closer as my poetry improves.

Revising As I Go

Revising As I Go

Freewriting, to me, is the ultimate way to begin any piece of composition. It prompts the writer to get their thoughts out and on to the paper. Freewriting helps the writer to organize their thoughts before starting the final draft. The key to freewriting is to not stop writing – no matter what. Why is it when I write… why do I always want to stop, contemplate, and revise what I’m writing.

Peter Elbow tells us in his book Writing Without Teachers that I shouldn’t revise myself as I’m writing. Goodness, I believe that is my biggest problem.  (Wow, see, I just did it with that sentence, editing it as go.) I have to stop the madness sometime if I’m going to expect my future students to understand and work with a freewrite method/model. If I can’t make attempts to break my habit, how can I in turn 1) teach the model when I am not perfect and 2) help others learn the model and break their own bad writing habits?

I want to write about my writing habits for a while. I have found that revising as I go is not effective when trying to compose a piece of writing. I often get frustrated, find myself staring off into space while I try to think of a clever way to reword a sentence, and I don’t make progress within a small period of time, versus where I could end up if I would just write off the cuff and not worry so much about the revision process. I think that’s the editor in me, and the drive to write a document once and only have to lightly edit it. It is hard for me to turn that off, but when I do, I can plainly see the success. I notice I get further, I have more written down to potentially draw additional ideas from, and I don’t have to do as much work.

So I must ask myself… why do you work harder instead of smarter in this case? Come on! The answer at first is obvious – I’m an editor. But I need to dig deeper than that. Why do I enjoy editing? Refining a rough draft to get closer to a finished piece gives me a great sense of accomplishment. So, why won’t I just get closer to the finished piece to start, and then go from there, revising as I need to once the first draft is complete?

Once I do have a draft together, I usually print it out, read through it once, and then cut up the paragraphs if I feel there isn’t a solid flow throughout the entire piece. I have a rough time getting to that step, though, unless it’s personal writing. Writing for my undergraduate degree (the first few years, that is), I would often procrastinate and turn documents in as is, and hope for the best. More times than not I would get the grade I desired, which would lead me to believe I was okay doing this process, and could keep going. I’ve learned in my last year of my undergraduate degree, I needed to take more time to develop my writing. Perhaps this is because I began tutoring in my last year of my undergrad degree, but either way, it helped me achieve a better result: a good grade and satisfaction. Before, I would just turn something in and hope for the best, but at the end of my senior year, I knew I was turning in something quality and would deserve the best.

What changed? What did I do different? I spent more time on a project. I was organized from the beginning. I still struggled to stop revising as I wrote a paper, but would have my fellow writing tutors or my boyfriend proofread for me. By the way, he’s an excellent writer, although he won’t admit it often enough. I enjoy reading his work – he’s very intelligent when it comes to tech-centered ideas and video games. He always manages to put a creative spin on things. I sit here and wonder to myself, does he freewrite when composing his blog posts, and at the end of the piece, revise then and only then, or does he revise as he goes along? I know he has me proofread and edit for him on occasion, but I have never asked him this. I do wonder what his process is… and now that I sit here and think about it, I’m kind of mad at myself for not asking him this sooner. I suppose we will have to have a discussion when I get home this evening!

Anyway, back to revising as I go… how do I turn it off? How do I stop the urge to edit while composing a document? I need help with this. Maybe Elbow’s practices will stick with me. I particularly enjoy the concept of allowing four hours to work on a piece and breaking up the first three hours into two sections: the first 45 minutes and the final 15 minutes. This might actually help me concentrate more on getting the writing done versus making it perfect. I need to remind myself that this comes later, not first. I bet I’d be more productive with this approach, and then in turn, I could teach my future students this model and get their feedback. Does it work for everyone? I’d imagine it doesn’t, just as there is no one standard way to write. But I do believe that following Elbow’s suggestion will help writers, both struggling and expert, improve their craft.

I love both revising and editing – sometimes I have to remind myself they are two very different elements of the craft. Revision – re-seeing a document and making changes as necessary to fulfill requirements, whether it be substance or flow. Editing is different. And there are different types. Copy editing, editing for grammar and spelling and punctuation, editing to add a creative spin, and more. This is the part of writing I really enjoy.

Write, write, and write. I hardly spend time writing for pleasure anymore, and I really should, as it is my form of therapy. The fact of the matter is, I always find something else to do, or something else that needs to be done. I’m making time for reading more fiction, so why can’t I stick to my proposed daily writing schedule? How I wish there were more hours in a day, to accomplish everything I want… but by the end of the day, I end up giving up because I’m tired, work has worn me out, my eyes can’t bear to read another word, let alone paragraph or page. This must stop. I remember I used to tell myself “you make time for the things you want to do.” I should start telling myself that again. I have many things I want to do, and writing at least for an hour, or even 30 minutes a day is one of them.

Does the above help me gain clarity about freewriting and my own habits? I do believe so. It has helped me to point out what I believe is a top flaw in my own writing: revising as I go, editing before a document is complete, etc. Sure, I rambled a bit, but I think I was finally getting somewhere regarding revision. Is this a breakthrough? Quite possibly.

The Power of Proofreading

The Power of Proofreading

It’s no secret: I have always enjoyed writing. During the past few years, I’ve discovered I have a knack for professional and technical writing. I know, it seems kind of boring at the surface… but I love it. I enjoy creating how-to guides, drafting emails to colleagues, and editing/revising professional documents to make sure they are as clear and concise as possible.

During my undergraduate studies, the course I completed have helped me improve my craft tremendously, and I still use many of those practices I learned in the classroom today. This includes how to draft letters and emails to clients  and colleagues, as well as how to communicate clearly with other professionals.

From my experience as a writing tutor, I realize writing is not a strong point for everyone. That’s OK – that’s why I’m here. :) In all seriousness though, I have one tip that can save you when communicating through writing.

PROOFREAD.

It is absolutely necessary to proofread your messages before sending. Start to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it… before the words come out. When it comes to communication through written documents or over the internet, you have the upper hand. Take the time to proofread your message. I promise it will save you time and embarrassment in the future.

I cringe when I receive an email with bad grammar and spelling mistakes. Well, I cringe when I see bad grammar and spelling mistakes in general. I feel that to get your point across and be respected, there is little to no room for errors when communicating with colleagues. Now, I’m not saying I’ve never made a mistake and sent something without proofreading… but when I have, I learned my lesson almost immediately.

Before I send out any email to a client or colleague, I proofread it once or twice. I can guarantee you I catch something every single time I give it another look. I search for spelling and grammatical errors. Sometimes to double-check myself, I even paste the draft into MS Word to run a spell check if my mail client doesn’t offer the service. I get embarrassed when I send an email to someone and it has errors throughout the draft. When I receive an email like that, I won’t lie to you… I can’t take it seriously. The sender did not want to take the extra time to proofread for mistakes or make sure their message is clearly conveyed.

Don’t be afraid to ask for someone to read over your message.

Always have a fresh pair of eyes look over a document, no matter the length. Even if you are an expert writer, I guarantee you will miss something if you don’t take the time to proofread or have someone else double-check your work for you. In my last job, my co-worker and I would read emails out loud to one another to make sure we a) sounded clear and concise and b) found any/all errors. Granted, this doesn’t help catch spelling errors, but that is what the second pair of eyes (and spell check) is for.

Another scenario: the company I used to work for added another fellow English major to our staff, so we had two in-house writers with proofreading skills. The marketing department would constantly rely on both of us to proofread documents for errors before it was published. Also, we could use each other as a fresh pair of eyes. Every single time we read each other’s work, we would find something the other didn’t find before. See, even two English majors made mistakes – but we were there for each other to correct them before anyone else read the material.

When in doubt, Google it.

I do understand that grammar and spelling may not be a strong skill many people have – but with the internet, I don’t believe anyone can use that as an excuse. Even I use Google to double-check myself on occasion. Chances are if you have a question, someone else does too, and they’ve gone on the internet to find the answer. The internet is a wealth of knowledge, so don’t be afraid to use it.

I am a huge advocate for using the internet to do everything. Shopping, connecting, communicating, writing, researching… you can do virtually anything on the internet. So, when you’re having trouble getting the spelling right or you’re not sure if you’re using a word in the correct form, open up your browser and head to Google.

The moral of the story: always, always, always remember to proofread.

Read over your email a few times before you send it. You might find a spelling error or that you can better phrase a sentence. If it makes you feel better, just remember that even the best writers make mistakes. If you need some help, feel free to contact me. I can guide you along the way and be that second pair of eyes you know you will need sooner later. Good luck!

Literacy and My Life

Literacy and My Life

Since I was young, I have been in love with books.I began reading when I was very young, right after I turned three. By the time I started kindergarten, I breezed through every book at a quick rate. From then on, I could hardly be found without a book in my hand.

Learning the alphabet, forming letters into words, and reading complete sentences on my own were the most important things I could have learned at that young age. I excelled in the “Book-It” programs (a sponsorship my school held with Pizza Hut where students had to read a required amount of books to win free pizza and other prizes). I couldn’t stop visiting the library. I remember reading plenty about Abraham Lincoln, panda bears, the Civil War, and plenty of fiction.

When I was in elementary school and challenging myself to read every single book in the Baby Sitters Club series. I probably read the first 100 books, including all their ‘summer specials’ – longer stories about the characters and their summer vacations. Reading these books started my real love for reading anything I could get my hands on. I got to the point where I could finish one book each day – driving my mother crazy, as I would always need a ride to the library.

As I was growing older, I started to mature in my reading material choices. I loved the required readings in my classes in middle and high school, such as Hatchet, The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, and A Separate Peace. Understanding Shakespeare was also a large influence on me, as it prompted me to read and write much more, especially in poetic settings. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, the Odyssey, and many other works have made me feel confident that my literacy stretches far and wide.

Everything I learned over the past 20 years have prompted me to continues my education and keep expanding my knowledge of literacy. Last year, I started a book club with my best friend. We both share a love for reading, and it became a way for us to stay close after she moved 3 hours away.

People keep saying books are dead, books are becoming extinct, books won’t be around much longer. I beg to differ. There is nothing like holding a book in your hands and turning the pages with great care. The smell of a new book is so comforting. Even though I own a Kindle (which I love, by the way), I alternate between reading physical and electronic books. I have a stack of books on my bedside table, waiting for me to peel the edges of the cover off the printed paper. There is not a feeling quite like the one I get when I am able open a new book I’ve been waiting to read.

A Writer’s Nightmare

A Writer’s Nightmare

I won’t lie. I groan, wince, and kind of die a bit inside when I see those three little words when I’m looking for feedback on a piece of writing…

“That Sounds Good!”

Ugh, what a nightmare.

Reader response sessions, or peer workshop days, often make me excited for the chance to receive educated feedback. Unfortunately, I seem to run into the same problem: feedback that simply states “that sounds good.” That last one makes me shiver; leaving me to wonder what in the hell can I do with this? Where do I improve? What parts aren’t clear? There has to be something else they want to tell me!

I remember from my first writing courses peer response days very well. Maybe this is because I feel robbed once I was given my first draft back. When I give a response to a peer’s work, I tend to spend a significant amount of time pouring over their draft while the recipient barely makes a mark on mine. Even though I felt confident about my writing, I still would get discouraged the minute my eyes fell upon that one, dreadful phrase: “that sounds good.” It could be peppered in with useful comments and suggestions, but I would still grimace.

In my experience, peer response has not always been very helpful. I asked some fellow peers how they felt about reader response sessions and we have come to the same conclusion. Peer workshops simply do not help; however I have found throughout my college experience that there is in fact hope – but not until I reached 300-400 level courses. Perhaps this is because it was not until then I was surrounded by other writers who take the craft sincerely. The fact that a draft “sounds good” is not up for discussion. Writers want to know areas of improvement, if the draft is clear and concise, and if transitions are used effectively, among other things.

Now that I’m out of college and writing in the real world, I finally feel like I receive constructive feedback when I share my writing. Writing in the workplace is a bit different from the classroom and I am lucky to work with people who are not afraid to voice their opinion about my writing. It’s very important for people to give feedback without feeling like they are tearing down the author, and I can understand how hard that can be at times. I often find myself thinking of ways to politely tell someone their piece needs work, but I try to remember how much I appreciate the honesty. It doesn’t come from a bad place – it comes from a helpful place.

I believe the biggest reason for a lack of response is that the reader is afraid to actually write what they really think. We are naturally concerned about others and their feelings, and the easiest thing to do is tell the writer that everything “sounds good.” One of the two people will walk away from the session empty-handed, and this should not be the case. “This sounds good” is a phrase that is generally unheard of and not accepted when it comes to reader response in these courses. The point of a peer workshop is to get feedback on a draft – this means the reader must question the writer. The reader must engage the writer to get the missing pieces. We cannot improve as writers if we are constantly told our work “sounds good” and we aren’t challenged to advance our writing skills.

(Photo credit: http://www.thepoetryworld.com/gallery.asp?ImageID=14175&Ink-Pen-Hand)

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