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Viewing posts for category: Writing Best Practices

How do I improve my business writing? Try bending, toning & stretching "old school" grammar rules

Language changes over time and so must we. Millions of e-mails travel through cyberspace every minute. In order to help our readers understand our messages, we must stay in shape by stretching, bending and toning the “old school” grammar rules. In IWCC’s effective business writing workshops, we encourage our participants to apply a little Yoga to tone up the “old school” grammar rules. Today’s effective business writers have learned to bend and stretch to let go of the old rules and move on with new business writing techniques.

IWCC supports Yoga for grammar rules – even though a few academics might disagree. Here are three examples of how you can bend and stretch three “old school” grammar rules.

1.  You can end a sentence with a preposition.

Everyone is doing it! Not only is it accepted in today’s business writing, you make your sentences easier to read and understand. Which version below do you find easier to read?

You will need safety tools to work with.
You will need safety tools with which to work.

Can you bend this rule right out of shape? Of course you can! Just like overstretching your muscles before a workout, you do not want to overstretch this rule by ending a sentence with an unnecessary preposition. For example, you wouldn’t say: “Where are the safety tools at?” You would simply say:  “Where are the safety tools?”

2.  Feel free to start a sentence with and, but or because.

Old grammar rules forbid us to start sentences with and, but or because. Why? We think the answer is simply “because”. IWCC discovered that this rule has been passed through the ages – that’s as grammatical as it gets. Our advice for business writers…"Let go and start stretching!"

3.  You can use contractions and still sound professional.

When used in moderation, contractions can make you sound friendly and approachable in your business writing. IWCC’s advice…feel free to bend a little…use the occasional contraction such as, “I’m looking forward to meeting you.”, or “We’ve provided you with a new software program.” Just remember not to over bend this old grammar rule.  If contractions take over, your writing will sound ridiculous.

Posted: March 6, 2014 at 01:30 PM
By: IWCC Training
(1) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
Improve your communication skills in 2014

Are your communication skills helping you get work done or wasting everyone’s time? Listening to participants complain about e-mails they read and presentations or meetings they attend, leads us to believe that everyone could improve their communication skills. Here is a little quiz to help you decide if you could improve your communication skills. Answer Yes, No or Sometimes to these four questions:

  1. Do your e-mails get the results you want them to the first time?
  2. Do people give you what you need to do what you have to do?
  3. Do your presentations inspire people to do what you want them to do?
  4. Are all your meetings productive…do you accomplish your objectives in the time scheduled?

If you confidently answered YES to all four questions, then congratulations! Your communication skills are working well. Don’t change a thing.

If you answered SOMETIMES or NO to any of the four questions, then it’s time to do things differently! Make a New Year’s resolution that 2014 will be the year of better communications.

You probably have a long list of excuses you use to rationalize doing it later, even though you know you could communicate more effectively. Here are the top three excuses we hear over and over again:

  • I don’t have time to plan – I have to get it done.
  • People don’t do it that way in this organization.
  • I’m very busy right now and applying new skills is too hard and too time consuming.

Hogwash! Why are you willing to accept negative consequences when you write a poor e-mail, report, proposal or procedure? And what about making a less-than-effective presentation or leading an unproductive meeting…what can come of that? What makes you think that you can keep doing things the way you have always done them but magically somehow the result will change…it won’t!

Okay then, answer these questions to decide if making a change is worth your time and effort:

  • Do you have time to rewrite your presentation or your documents more than once today?
  • Do you have time to communicate the same message over and over again?
  • Do you have time to redo tasks because someone misinterpreted your message?
  • Do you have time to meet repeatedly to accomplish the same objectives?
  • Do you have time to complete an accident report because someone misunderstood your procedure?
  • Do you have time to rebuild a relationship that you injured with a short, curt e-mail?
  • Do you want to tell your boss your presentation bombed because you did not have time to prepare?
  • Do you want to choose the “traditional way”, even when you know you could do it better?
  • Do you want your professional image to suffer because you didn’t take time to replace a bad habit with a good one?

If you answered NO to any or all of these questions, it’s time to make a change. As communication training experts, we can provide the skills, but you must provide the effort. Don’t be foolish! Don’t expect different results in 2014 when using the same poor communication habits from 2013.

Spend some time growing new and better communication habits and stop doing damage control. Make 2014 the year you communicate with others the way you would like them to communicate with you. You’ll be glad you did.

Posted: January 9, 2014 at 02:56 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Meeting Skills Series Presentation Skills Series Writing Best Practices
Use passive verbs sparingly

In IWCC’s Effective Writing Skills workshops we encourage you to minimize the use of passive verbs because they are not as helpful to your reader as active verbs are.

When readers read a sentence with an active structure, they clearly picture your message. They see an actor taking an action. On the other hand, when readers read a sentence with a passive structure, they have to stop and figure out who is doing what to whom. Read the difference for yourself:

  1. Active Structure: The analyst will explain the results of the research.
  2. Passive Structure: The results of the research will be explained by the analyst.
  3. Passive Structure: The results of the research will be explained.

In sentence #2 above, the writer hid the “who” (the actor) in the prepositional phrase “by the analyst”. In sentence #3, the writer didn’t even tell us who the actor is. With passive sentences, you make your reader work harder to figure out what you mean. You also risk misinterpretation. If you don’t tell your reader who did it, they may guess – and they may guess incorrectly. Read this message written in passive as an example:

• To receive your paycheck, two payroll forms must be completed correctly and your personal information must be added to the personnel database. Instructions will be provided.

The readers do not know who will provide the instructions. Do instructions magically appear? Who completes the forms? Who inputs the information? Are the readers supposed to do something? Will they get their paycheck?

Whereas in this active version the reader knows exactly who is doing what:

To receive your paycheck, you must complete two payroll forms and give them to the Administrative Clerk in the payroll department. The Clerk will then enter the information into our personnel database. Your supervisor will explain how to complete your payroll forms correctly.

While you can’t always eliminate passive verbs from a large document, you can use them sparingly. Here is one more example to convince you that active verbs are more helpful.

Passive Structure:

• The initiation of the implementation of the project and the acquisition of the necessary resources will be carried out to ensure targets are met.

The active alternative:

The Design Team will start the project and they will also make sure that the necessary materials are available so we meet our targets.

People are reading millions upon millions of messages every minute.  If you want your readers to understand your messages quickly and easily, make the active choice - tell your readers who did it!

Posted: November 7, 2013 at 09:41 AM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
How do your survey answers compare?

Thanks for your input! We received 136 great responses on the survey from our last blog. In today’s blog, we would like to share the combined responses from you with the statistics we gathered from several consulting firms.

Some of you may be quite surprised about the collective answers. Here are the five questions you answered, your collective response and statistics from the research.

1.    What percentage per day (awake time) do you feel you spend communicating in some form (writing, speaking, reading, listening)?

Statistic from PR Daily:

“The average business executive spends 75% of their time communicating with others, either individually, or in groups.”

Your Responses to our blog survey:

51% said >76%
37% said 51%-75%
10% said 26%-50%
1% said 1%-25%

2.    What do you think you do most: read, listen, write or speak?

Statistic from Cooper & Simonds, 2011:

“70% of our waking time is spent participating in some form of communication:
Talking: 30%            Listening 42-57%    
Writing: 9%              Reading 16%

Your Responses to our blog survey:

36% of you feel you read most
25% of you feel you listen most
20% of you feel you write most
18% of you feel you speak most

3.    How many messages do you feel you send every day (e-mails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, memos, faxes)?

Statistic from PR Daily:

Workers send and receive about 1800 messages every day via telephone, e-mails, faxes, papers/memos and face-to-face communications.

Your Responses to our blog survey:

54% of you feel you send 10-50 messages per day
35% of you feel you send 51-100 messages per day
12% of you feel you 100+ messages per day

4.    What do you think you can do faster: think? Or listen?

Statistic from PR Daily:

We listen at a rate of 125-250 words per minute (wpm) but think at 1000-3000 wpm.

Your Responses to our blog survey:

67% of you agree that we can think faster than we listen
33% of you feel that we can listen faster than we can think

5.    Have you had any formal training in listening skills?

Statistic from PR Daily:

Less than 2% of people have had any formal education on how to listen.

Your Responses to our blog survey:

68% of you have not had training in listening skills

Noteworthy observations to consider…
Perception and reality are often exact opposites. Looks like the results above reinforce that difference. For instance, look at question #2. The statistics tell us that the communication activity we perform most often is listening – that’s the reality. However, 75 % of you thought otherwise…perception versus reality! Look closely at the other survey comparisons and see what other discoveries you make – you might be surprised.

Join us next blog for another survey. This one is about how people waste their time at work (web surfing, e-mails, meetings, etc.). You won’t believe the reality!

Posted: September 26, 2013 at 04:09 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Meeting Skills Series Presentation Skills Series Writing Best Practices
How do your communication skills compare?

You deserve to get the most current ideas and communication techniques to deal with today’s business challenges. Therefore, IWCC is always looking at business and communication trends to stay attuned to the world of interpersonal communications.

We value your input. You can add to some interesting statistics that we recently researched - statistics relevant to the field of business communications.

Would you like to see how you compare to others when it comes to communication? Just take our survey and answer a few questions. In our next blog, we’ll let you know how the rest of the world answered.

Click on this link to take you to our survey: How do your communication skills compare?

Posted: September 12, 2013 at 12:41 PM
By: IWCC Training
(1) Comment/s | Categories: Meeting Skills Series Presentation Skills Series Writing Best Practices

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