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Viewing posts for category: Writing Best Practices

Writing Fatigue


It’s Called Decision Fatigue

Find yourself yawning as you write? Are you exhausted when you finish writing? If you’re like most people, your answer to both questions is yes. Why do you think that is?

When you write you don’t exert yourself physically – you’re sitting at your desk. So why do you feel like you need a nap? Mental exertion is the culprit. You make constant decisions when you plan and write a document and your brain pays the price.

Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in Willpower call this phenomenon decision fatigue. They explain that people who make a lot of decisions deplete their willpower quickly. Without willpower, you lose drive and determination and you’re less able to make decisions. To conserve willpower, you may avoid or postpone making decisions. Perhaps you procrastinate as a result.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Think about all those decisions you need to make when you write.

  • How much detail, i.e., full analysis or just key points?
  • What should I include? What doesn’t belong?
  • How do I organize my content logically?
  • Should I aim my message at one important reader only? What if I have several readers? What if I know nothing about my reader—should I make assumptions about their motivation, prior knowledge and preferences?
  • Should I change my approach for internal or external readers? If so, how?
  • Should I use a direct approach with my conclusions up front? Spell it out or let my reader reach the obvious conclusions?
  • Should I lead my reader through my thinking, my analysis and then to the conclusions?
  • How do I build credibility and authority?
  • Should I strike a formal or informal tone? Should I use business-like niceties and phrases to show respect?
  • Should I establish credibility with my technical jargon and savvy?
  • Should I be conversational?
  • How do I give bad news? How do I express regret while maintaining goodwill? Should I sugarcoat the bad news?
  • If the benefits seem obvious, how do I state them without sounding condescending?
  • Should I use color, boldface, all caps, or italics to emphasize important ideas?

Whew! Makes you tired just thinking about all those questions. And you could easily face many more as you plan, write and edit a document.

Strategies to Minimize Fatigue

So what can you do – refuse to write? Take a nap? You don’t usually have the luxury of these choices at work. You may have to write that business plan, website, feasibility study or briefing note and you likely have a tight timeline to do it.

You may find these strategies that Baumeister recommends helpful:

  1. Watch for symptoms – signs that you are depleted. Are you finding decisions increasingly difficult to make? Do you feel stressed? Are things bothering you more than they should? You need to boost your energy – eat something healthy, something that contains protein.
  2. Take care of the basics. Make sure you eat, diet, exercise and drink enough water. A healthy body increases mental acuity.
  3. Keep track of your accomplishments and reward yourself often. Writing a large report? As you finish the chunks, check them off the list.
  4. Set aside a block of time to write. How much can you achieve in that time? You may surprise yourself. And, if you find you can’t write, walk away and do NOTHING.
  5. Be good to your brain. Maintain self-control with less strain on your brain by keeping order in your environment. Tidy your desk and clean out your inbox every day.

How do you keep going? What other strategies help you overcome the need to sleep instead of meeting a writing deadline?

Posted: January 22, 2015 at 12:32 PM
By: IWCC Training
(1) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
Plural Form of Words

When you mean more than one…

When you talk about more than one of something, you need to use the plural form of the word. So let’s talk plurals. What are the rules?

You can add an “s” - you own one house or two houses. But wait, you see two mice not two mouses. You rake up the leaves in your yard, not the leafs. And more than one goose isn’t gooses, it’s geese.

Stop the confusion!

We want to review some rules about plurals in this blog and make life easier for you. However we must warn you, the rules are many. Some rules stand firm; some rules have multiple exceptions. And just to make it more confusing, English has some plurals with no rules to guide us.

Rules with exceptions

In the chart below, you will see seven rules with examples that follow the rule and others that break it.

Rules with few or no exceptions

English has some rules about plurals that you can count on almost every time. Here are four:

  • When the word ends with “is” (from Greek root), change “is” to “es”: e.g., analysis/analyses; basis/bases; synopsis/synopses.
  • With compound nouns, make the main noun plural: e.g., post office/post offices; chief of staff/chiefs of staff; secretary of state/secretaries of state.
  • When the word ends in “y” and is proceeded by a vowel, add “s”: e.g., key/keys; attorney/attorneys; boy/boys.
  • When the word ends in “y” and is proceeded by a consonant, add “ies”: e.g., ally/allies; lady/ladies; theory/theories.

The “no rule” plurals

Then we have words and their plurals that follow no rules. You have likely already memorized these words: e.g., child/children; foot/feet; goose/geese; person/people; that/those.

One word is the rule

Some words don’t change from singular to plural. You use the same word for both: e.g., equipment; legislation; evidence.

And other words have only a plural form. You cannot make them singular: e.g., series; pants; news.

How can you be sure?

Unless you have a photographic memory and can remember all the rules and all the exceptions, you cannot be sure. In our fast-paced business world, we are even choosing to accept plural forms of words that break the rules - just as we have relaxed some grammar rules. We suggest three strategies:

  1. For words you use regularly - learn the rules and exceptions that govern them.
  2. For words you use sometimes - create a list and keep it close at hand.
  3. For all other words - the ones you rarely use - look them up!



Posted: October 30, 2014 at 09:16 AM
By: IWCC Training
(2) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
Tone-deaf E-mails

Are you “tone deaf” when you write e-mails? Your readers aren’t. Our writing workshop participants complain regularly about the negative tone in e-mails. Let us help you manage the tone in your writing.

To get started, try using these three tips to eliminate tone-deaf e-mails:

  1. Build allies not adversaries

Positive tone builds allies…negative tone builds adversaries. Look at the examples below and ask yourself, “Would the tone turn me into an ally or an adversary?”

Example A:

  1. Any further requests for paid time off (PTO) will be denied.
  2. As you have used all your paid vacation time for this year, you are not eligible for any additional paid time off (PTO). However, I am happy to consider a request for time off without pay.

Example B:

  1. I was told we have to work together on Project T.O.N.E. You need to understand that I won’t have time to work on the financial parameters or fix your errors.
  2. I am looking forward to working with you on Project T.O.N.E. and will call you next week to discuss our roles.

Positive tone is not just about being nice. You create it by using at least one positive word in your e-mail. Even when writing with a negative purpose, consider adding a little positivity to build a bridge with your readers. A simple word like please/may/together added to a request leaves your reader with a more collaborative attitude. Never miss an opportunity to build a relationship!

  1. Seek collaboration not just compliance

Negative tone leaves a bad taste. It leaves your reader angry, irritated, defensive – and focused on you and your inappropriate attitude. You should be communicating in a way that fosters collaboration – not just compliance. Take the high road!

  1. Fix the problem not the person

Neutral tone focuses on the problem or behavior…negative tone targets the person. When positive tone is not a reasonable option, try neutral tone to deal with difficult situations or feedback. Because neutral tone uses no positive or negative words, you force the reader to focus on the situation or their inappropriate behavior. They focus on the situation or behavior, not on you.

To sum up the cure for tone-deaf writing...

  •   Adopt a positive tone to build relationships and to spark a collaborative attitude in your readers.
  •   Apply a neutral tone to fix a difficult situation,.
  •   Relegate negative tone to a dark space somewhere!



Posted: October 16, 2014 at 10:52 AM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
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Posted: August 28, 2014 at 09:14 AM
By: IWCC Training
(6) Comment/s | Categories: Meeting Skills Series Presentation Skills Series Writing Best Practices
When to use e.g. and i.e.

How many times have you asked yourself, do I use e.g. or i.e.? E.g. and i.e. grew up in the same era – they are both Latin abbreviations. However, they have different meanings.

First e.g.
E.g. stands for exempli gratia which technically translates to free examples. Use e.g. when providing some examples of something. After e.g., you provide an example or list of examples, naming some items but not an all-inclusive list.

Correct:      Amphibians are animals that can live in the water and on land, e.g., bullfrogs, tadpoles.

Incorrect:   Tadpoles are the type of animal that can live in the water and on land, e.g., an amphibian.

Now i.e.
I.e. stands for id est or that is. Use i.e. when looking for another way to say something. After i.e., you would write a definition, metaphor or clarification.

Correct:     An elephant is an animal with thick skin and nails resembling hooves, i.e., a pachyderm.

Incorrect:   A pachyderm is an animal with thick skin and nails resembling hooves, i.e., an elephant.

Using the correct punctuation
You may have noticed in the examples above that these abbreviations do have one thing in common – punctuation. They both have periods between letters and a comma after.

How can I remember the difference?
If you like memory tricks, perhaps these will trigger you to remember the difference. Use the letters themselves to help you. To remind you that e.g. stands for examples, let the letters “eg” stand for egg sample. To remind you that i.e. stands for another way to say something, let the letters “ie” stand for in other words.

Posted: July 24, 2014 at 09:11 AM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices

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