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Viewing posts for category: Writing Best Practices

Communication Skills Training: Critical Need?

My name is Alan De Back and I am thrilled to once again be a guest writer on IWCC’s BLOG. Since joining IWCC as an Associate Consultant in 2001, I have facilitated IWCC writing skills training, presentation skills training and meeting skills training workshops to hundreds of business professionals across North America.

I’d like to talk with you about why you should strive to develop and maintain good communication skills. I decided to conduct some research and found a very interesting survey that I believe provides outstanding credence to the value of good communication skills. The American Management Association (AMA) conducted this "Critical Skills Survey" in 2010. They focused the survey on skills they felt were of huge importance in today’s business world and in preparing for tomorrow’s challenges. Among others, these skills included: communication, critical thinking and problem solving.

AMA surveyed 2,115 managers and executives in member and client companies. I’d like to share three interesting statistics from the survey::

  • Priorities in employee development, talent management and succession planning are communication skills (80.4%), critical thinking (72.4%), collaboration (71.2%), and creativity (57.3%)
  • Over 3/4 of the respondents (75.7%) said that they believe these skills will become more important to their organizations in the next three to five years.
  • Over 1/2 of the respondents (51.4%) said that their employees were only average in effective communication skills.

That final bullet has the most impact for me. How about you? Do you want to be only average in your ability to communicate effectively? If communication skills are at the top of the list in terms of importance for your organization, and you believe they will become more important, don’t you want to be an exceptional communicator?

Are your communication skills going to take you and your organization to the next level?

Posted: April 4, 2013 at 12:57 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
What Clear Writing Looks Like - Part Three

In our first blog of this three-part series, we invited you to assess 10 sentences and decide which sentences were clear and easy to read and which ones you would ask the writer to rewrite. In the second blog of this series, we provided you with some tips and techniques to help you write in a High Impact sentence style. We also invited you to use these techniques to rewrite seven of the original sentences - the Low Impact ones.

In blog 2, we explained the difference between a High Impact sentence and a Low Impact sentence. We showed you how to create High Impact sentences by using a simple sentence structure that we call Actor, Action, Acted-upon.

To start you down the right path, we provided these two rewrites for the first of the seven sentences.

1. The implementation of the program for employee development will be carried out in three stages.

  • We will implement the employee development program in three stages.
  • Human Resources will implement the employee development program in three stages.

We gave you a Tip: Low Impact sentences often have no “actor”. Feel free to invent an actor for your High Impact rewrites - like we did above. 

Then we challenged YOU to rewrite the remaining six sentences that you see below. How did you do? Did you follow the “Actor, Action, Acted-upon” format? Compare your rewrites to our rewrites below. You will find two possible rewrites for each sentence. And, you probably came up with some other High Impact versions. In each example, we underlined the sentence core that contains an actor, an action and most times an acted-upon.

2. It is apparent that evidence existing in the financial report indicates that a $1,000 shortage has gone unnoticed each week for the past month.

  • Obviously according to the monthly financial report, the analyst did not notice that we were short $1,000 for four weeks.
  • The financial report provides evidence that we did not see a $1,000 shortage that existed every week for the past month.

3. The wishes of management concerning the types of courses that should be included in the program were determined by means of personal interviews.

  • By interviewing the managers personally, we determined the types of courses they want in the program.
  • We interviewed the managers to determine what courses they want us to include in the program.  

4. The single most pressing and consistent need expressed by a significant majority of the managers was that an upgrading of the technical skills of their subordinates was required.

  • Most managers indicated that they have one pressing need. Their subordinates must upgrade their technical skills.
  • According to 85% of the managers, they urgently need us to upgrade their team’s technical skills.

5. It is anticipated that an annual training rate of 100 employees will be achieved by the time the program is fully operational.

  • We anticipate a training rate of 100 employees per year by the time the program is fully operational.
  • When the program is fully operational, we expect 100 employees to attend every year.

6. The total effectiveness of the program will be dependent upon the promptness with which managers submit their replies.

  • To be effective, the program requires managers to submit their replies promptly.
  • If managers submit their replies promptly, the program will be more effective.

7. Because of the way the housing is designed, the whole unit would have to be replaced if the shaft wore out.

  • Because of the housing design, we would have to replace the whole unit if the shaft wore out.
  • If the shaft wore out, the mechanic would have to replace the whole unit because of the way the supplier designed the housing.  

If you followed IWCC’s “Actor, Action, Acted-upon” format, your rewrites probably look similar to ours. You will notice that all our actors in the sentence rewrites above are concrete nouns that name people or things. And, all our verbs are active rather than passive.

As long as you used an actor and avoided passive verbs, you created a High Impact rewrite. Congratulations!

Posted: March 7, 2013 at 02:50 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
What Clear Writing Looks Like - Part Two

In our business writing workshops, we teach people to write in a High Impact sentence style. In part one of this three-part series, we asked you to assess ten sentences and identify the sentences you would ask the writer to rewrite. Three of those sentences met our criteria for a High Impact sentence style: 1, 3 and 8.

In part two of this series, we invite you to re-write the other seven sentences. First though, let’s define High Impact sentence style.

What’s the difference?
As the term implies, High Impact sentences are clearer and easier to read than Low Impact sentences. You create a High Impact sentence by following a simple sentence structure we call the Actor, Action, Acted-upon format. Here is an example:

  • The accountant submitted the forms to the government.
    (accountant is the actor, submitted is the action, forms is the acted-upon)

Any of you who have taken an IWCC writing workshop know that High Impact does not mean simplistic. Look how we can make our sentence more complex, while we maintain the clear core above.

  • To meet the deadline, the seasoned accountant electronically submitted the tax forms to the government last week.

At the heart of every sentence is a core. In school you may have learned that a sentence core contains a subject, a verb and usually an object. IWCC uses the terms actor, action, acted-upon because they create a visual image. They can also help you include the most important information where it helps your reader the most – in the sentence core.  

Below are three versions of a sentence. Watch what happens to the relationship between the actor, the action and the acted-upon as we move from a clear High Impact version to a passive version and finally to a Low Impact version. Let’s use the sentence we looked at earlier. In each version, you will see that we bolded and underlined the core.

  1. To meet the deadline, the seasoned accountant electronically submitted the tax forms to the government last week.

  2. To meet the deadline, the tax forms were submitted electronically by the seasoned accountant to the government last week.

  3. To meet the deadline, submission of the tax forms to the government was completed electronically last week by the seasoned accountant.

Here are the cores separated from the rest of their sentence:

  1. accountant submitted forms
  2. forms were submitted
  3. submission was completed

Sentence #1 is the High Impact version. This writer followed the Actor, Action, Acted-upon format in the core. Would you agree that it conveys the clearest picture for us as readers? You can visualize the accountant submitting the forms, can’t you?

Sentence #2 is the passive version. This writer used a passive verb in the core and exiled our “actor” to a prepositional phrase hidden within the sentence.

Sentence #3 is the Low Impact version. This writer used a passive verb in the core, exiled our “actor” even further away to the end of the sentence and turned our perfectly clear action into a vague noun – “submission”.

Are all three sentences grammatically correct? You bet they are! However correct grammar does not guarantee a sentence structure that is clear, easy to read and uses plain language. Our High Impact sentence #1 created a clear relationship between the actor, action and acted-upon. The passive sentence #2 dented that relationship a little. And then, the Low Impact sentence #3 destroyed that relationship.

Your turn now…

Of the ten sentences you assessed in the first blog of this series, we invite you to rewrite the seven Low Impact ones below. Use the Actor, Action, Acted-upon format to write High Impact versions. We have underlined the core of each sentence to highlight the Low Impact style.

To start you down the right path, we have provided two rewrites for the first sentence.

1. The implementation of the program for employee development will be carried out in three stages.

  • We will implement the employee development program in three stages.
  • Human Resources will implement the employee development program in three stages.

Tip: Low Impact sentences often have no “actor”. Feel free to invent an actor for your High Impact rewrite - like we did.

You do the rest…

2. It is apparent that evidence existing in the financial report indicates that a $1,000 shortage has gone unnoticed each week for the past month.

3. The wishes of management concerning the types of courses that should be included in the program were determined by means of personal interviews.

4.    The single most pressing and consistent need expressed by a significant majority of the managers was that an upgrading of the technical skills of their subordinates was required.

5.    It is anticipated that an annual training rate of 100 employees will be achieved by the time the program is fully operational.

6.    The total effectiveness of the program will be dependent upon the promptness with which managers submit their replies.

7.    Because of the way the housing is designed, the whole unit would have to be replaced if the shaft wore out.

In our final blog of this three-part series, we will share our High Impact rewrites. Don’t follow the yellow brick road to meet us on March 7, follow the “Actor, Action Acted-upon” format! See you there.

Posted: February 21, 2013 at 02:28 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
What Clear Writing Looks Like - Part One

Do you know what clear writing looks like? Do you know when a sentence needs to be rewritten in plain language? In this three-part series on “what clear writing looks like”, we want to give you an opportunity to test your editing skills.

At IWCC, clients and writing-workshop participants often ask us to assess writing style. We teach participants that style falls into two categories:

  • High Impact style – concise, to-the-point, plain language that is easy-to- understand
  • Low Impact style – vague, puzzling language that is confusing and difficult to understand

We thought you might like a chance to assess some sentences. Complete the task below to give it a try.

Your Task – Demonstrate your ability to perceive and evaluate style differences – what’s clear High Impact style and what’s Low Impact style.

Your Instructions – You are giving feedback to business writers in your organization. Follow the link to our survey "Giving Feedback to Business Writers". Read each sentence in the survey and indicate whether you think the sentence needs work or whether you think it is written in a clear, plain-language style.

Giving Feedback to Business Writers Survey

In our next blog, we will review your choices. Join us on February 21 for part two of this series.

Posted: February 7, 2013 at 09:11 AM
By: IWCC Training
(1) Comment/s | Categories: Writing Best Practices
No excuses about your communication skills – not this year!

We make New Year’s resolutions about things we feel are important…losing weight, exercising, saving money, planning effectively, etc. What about communication? In order to accomplish anything, we have to be good communicators. Have you made resolutions about that? Maybe you should. Here are some ideas to get you started. First, an overriding vow:

”I vow to stop taking communication for granted and give it the respect it deserves. I will no longer make excuses that I don’t have time to apply the techniques that I know will help my readers, my listeners and me – no matter how busy I am.”

“I will stop” Resolutions…
Here are three habits you might want to stop in 2013:

  • I will stop frivolously sending e-mail without thought or planning.
  • I will stop thinking about what I want to tell my readers/listeners and consider what they need.
  • I will stop using “Any Questions?” as a close for my presentations.

“I will start” Resolutions…
You may resolve to establish some good communication habits in 2013. Below are some ideas for writing e-mail, delivering presentations and leading meetings.

Goals for Improving Your E-mail Communications
Here are some good habits for writing e-mail that you might consider adopting:

  • Taking a few moments to plan each e-mail before sending
  • Thinking about what your readers need to know (not what you want to tell them)
  • Using more descriptive subject lines
  • Including a statement telling your reader about the topic and how urgently you need a response
  • Checking that you have used a professional and constructive tone

Goals for Improving Your Presentations
Presentations give you opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge and establish your credibility. To polish your presentation skills, you might consider:

  • Taking care to keep your words, voice and tone and body language in sync so they are all sending the same message
  • Planning questions ahead of time to ensure you involve your audience
  • Listening respectfully and actively to others - even when you don’t agree with them

Goals for Better Meetings
As meetings are such time-consuming events, you might also consider sprucing up some of your meeting habits. As a good leader, make an agreement with yourself to:

  • Only have meetings when a meeting is the best way to accomplish the task at hand
  • Send out an agenda ahead of the meeting and ensure all attendees are clear about the objective
  • Stick to the agenda and pre-announced meeting start and stop times

Let’s make 2013 the year of clear communication. You know what you need to do to improve your communications at work. So stop procrastinating and do it! Or stop doing it!

Posted: January 10, 2013 at 12:16 PM
By: IWCC Training
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Meeting Skills Series Presentation Skills Series Writing Best Practices

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