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Viewing posts for category: 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
Hi - Goodbye - Thank you

When was the last time you ended a phone conversation by hanging up – without saying goodbye? When was the last time you walked into your boss’s office for a meeting without saying hello? In all likelihood, you will answer “never” to both questions.

Thank you, hi, goodbye – how many times a day would you say these words? Think back to yesterday and how many times you said “thank you”. Did a colleague bring you a coffee? How about on your way to work when you picked up your non-fat, triple milk, low foam, extra hot latte? Or when your toddler managed to pick up a toy and hand it to you last night?

These three word structures are part of our social make-up, the very core of communication. We learned at a very early age we must be polite. Our parents clapped their hands, jumped up and down and praised us endlessly when we managed to say “ta, ta” – our first thank you. Or even before that - how about the first time we managed to wave a cute hello or goodbye to mom or dad – you would think we climbed Mt. Everest! And thus we learned the value of hi, goodbye and most of all…thank you.

Linguists might call these word structures “politeness formulae” - aptly named wouldn’t you say? And now you are thinking…so what?

When we communicate through technology, we seem to have lost sight of the value of those politeness formulae that we learned as absolute necessities as children. Over and over we hear people complain about the “poor” tone in e-mail. Tone is hard to interpret in e-mail and those seemingly antiquated necessities can help. Many e-mails today simply dive into the meat with no consideration given to a simple opening that sets the tone. And these same e-mails usually end as abruptly as they started, with no consideration given to a simple – yet valuable – close.

Or in our subconscious need to follow what we know is polite, we simply end our e-mails with “thank you”. Have we forgotten what thank you means and its value in communication? How often do you automatically type “thank you” at the end of an e-mail without even thinking what it means or why you are using it? Thank you may be the most overused “goodbye” in e-mails and texts today. And why is it any better than ending with “Sincerely”. It seems an easy close to write. However, why would you write thank you at the end of an e-mail where you did something for the reader? Are you being sarcastic or saying it because you don’t know how else to close?

In our writing skills workshops, we see so many e-mails that have no open and no close. In our rush to save time today, are we sacrificing personal connections – the “Personal Touch”. Has our desire to be quick forced us to leave behind our social politeness?

We must remember that even though we use electronic methods to send e-mails and texts, we are still communicating with “real” people! People want to feel that the sender on the other end of that electronic communication is credible, trustworthy and human. You can’t accomplish that with technology alone – no matter how fast your e-mails and texts fly back and forth.

What’s the cost of speedy? We may rationalize as writers that we “get right to business” because we save our readers’ time. Let’s be honest, how long does it take to read a sincere hello and goodbye. Maybe it’s worth the extra time to write it and read it. Even a “talk 2 u later” at the end of a text works magic. Think about it – what are you sacrificing for speed?

Posted: June 20, 2013 at 01:54 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
Woulda, coulda, shoulda – sound professional?

As communication skills consultants, we work consistently with people to improve their professional image through their communication. Recently, we have noticed that more and more people are sabotaging their professional image when delivering presentations, by using “informal contractions”.

We are not talking about contractions like “don’t” for do not or “we’ll” for we will. When you use a few of these contractions in your speech or your writing, you sound quite personable. However, some contractions can make you sound sloppy and unprofessional. Here are six common examples:

  • Gonna for going to                          
  • Shoulda for should have
  • Woulda for would have
  • Coulda for could have
  • Wanna for want to
  • Dunno for don’t know

Although these informal contractions may be acceptable in informal settings with your friends and your colleagues, they may damage your professional image in business settings. Say the words out loud: woulda, shoulda, coulda, gonna, wanna, dunno. How do they sound – professional or a bit sloppy? What image do you present if you regularly use these informal contractions during a presentation, meeting or business interview?

Almost everyone allows these informal contractions to slip into their speech sometimes. We never use these informal contractions in our writing, so why do we use them in a presentation? That’s easy to answer! We use them because they slide off our tongue so easily. Enunciating the full phrase takes much more focus, concentration and work – especially if we have allowed these informal contractions to become a speech habit.

Listen to yourself and see how many times you are using these poorly enunciated phrases. Listen to your colleagues too and see how often they use them. You be the judge – sound professional?

If you want to sound professional when you deliver a business presentation, we recommend you minimize these information contractions and make a conscious choice to enunciate!

Posted: May 1, 2013 at 11:55 AM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices

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