Enterprise Software

Get a better result with your workplace writing

Writing is a crucial means of communication in the workplace. Make every email and document deliver the business impact you want by honing effective writing skills.

Today's blog is brought to you by a Guest Contributor, Suvarna Bhat.

In the workplace, writing is a crucial means of communication. On a daily basis, professionals write emails, memos, reports and proposals either to persuade the reader to take an action or to convince the reader to accept a viewpoint. To write business documents, which are persuasive, professionals must possess effective writing skills.

A report from National Commission on Writing states, "A survey of 120 major American corporations employing nearly 8 million people concludes that in today's workplace writing is a ‘threshold skill' for hiring and promotion among salaried (i.e., professional) employees. Survey results indicate that writing is a ticket to professional opportunity." Writing: A Ticket to Work...Or a Ticket Out.

In that case, are our professionals equipped to write effective workplace documents? What is usually taught in our schools is pure semantics. Is that knowledge sufficient enough to craft documents which can persuade or convince an audience? Maybe, yes for expository essays, but no for workplace documents! They need more than that.

Workplace documents must have a clear purpose and be written for a specific audience. The purpose of these documents is to effectuate an action from the audience. Therefore, professionals must explore the available means of persuasion and this needs knowledge of invention strategies. The organization principle, in arranging the supporting ideas, must be appropriate to the purpose and the audience. If the writing style is clear and concise, the document becomes easy to read.

Sentence variety and emphasis makes the document impressive. Write in a style that emphasizes your offering. Tell your client, "Our products are robust." Avoid negative connotation by writing, "Our products do not crash on fault." Workplace documents must have a positive note and be courteous. Adopting the right business tone develops customer confidence. You can assure your customer by saying, "We ensure you timely delivery of goods through our collaborative marketing network." and not saying, "We will try our best to deliver goods on time."

Every single workplace document has an intended business impact. Any degree of miscommunication can translate into business loss. Even a badly written strategy can result in loss of working hours and rework. So why not train our professionals in effective writing skills and experience the business benefits?

63 comments
Suvarna Bhatt
Suvarna Bhatt

I feel it?s time to steer clear of all cross fires. To begin with...thanks to all for your overwhelming readership. Fortunate are the ones who RESPONDED! Ones not so, as always, found trivialities to stray away with. To close off...the message of the article is my conviction and I stand by it.

Gonzalo34
Gonzalo34

I can relate with what the editor did on letting someone else to be in charge of the blog. In my work, customers sometimes get spoiled to your own level of service ?especially if it?s good, so you?d find yourself 'trapped' doing some jobs. Any attempts of hiring someone else for that position, will be quickly noticed by customers, more likely complaining than cheering, which are a stressful situation for both manager and newcomer, and definitely a factor in your business growth. I appreciate the new blog contributor for effectively putting us on the reader side. Now I can clearly see how much effort readers should put on abstract thinking when text grammar doesn?t help. Thanks.

anilp1
anilp1

I am embarrassed because the writer is from India like me, but did not have the article proof read: "Get a better result with your workplace writing" is incorrect. It should instead be "Get better results..." 'You can assure your customer by saying, ?We ensure you timely delivery of goods through our collaborative marketing network.? and not saying, ?We will try our best to deliver goods on time.?' This goes against all norms of good writing. It is better to be direct and simple as in the second sentence.

techrepublic
techrepublic

This article was like a plate of boiled rice with a stone for garnish. It's all filler, says writing is important but no tips on improving it. The only flavour was the word "effectuate" which I found as unpalatable as a rock.

rtillotson
rtillotson

Prentice Hall's "Get A Grip On Grammar: Language Skills for Today's Business World" by Corporate Classrooms. I still refer to this three-ring binder manual even though I've been freelancing magazine articles and creating technical documents for over 30 years.

KOvergaard
KOvergaard

You are so right! I need to change and get more help to make me a better writer. Thank you

Gonzalo34
Gonzalo34

I have to read and write tech datasheets almost in a weekly basis, so I feel qualified to give an opinion. Though these are more aimed to hardware customers, it may likely share some principles with the IT scenario. IMO, a good tech paper must appeal to both business and technical audiences at the same time. This means keeping a reasonable balance between ?selling? and ?describing? the product. By ?selling?, I mean giving a concise and comprehensive list of features and advantages, usually with a simple and self-explanatory block diagram or flowchart, so most customers will know at first glance it this is what they need, hopefully before finishing the first page. By ?describing?, I?ll try to give technical details in a more neutral, analytic way. The audience reaching this part of the document would be likely engineers passing the first page filter, so it?s time to ?open the car?s hood? and give a thorough description of all details, avoiding use of links to other documents, to save some reader?s time if they?ve got a hard copy (i.e. pasting some FAQs instead of a link to the page, etc.)

Reuben99
Reuben99

Writing skills need to be very effective especially in an office where English may be your second language. I suspect the English taught outside the country is like the Spanish I learned in the U.S. Once I got to Spain they all laughed.

Osric_of_O
Osric_of_O

Sorry. Instant fail on THIS member of the intended audience even if everything else you said made sense.

nmoorecsd
nmoorecsd

Avoid usa / american words use proper english as in England. Avoid TLAs AND FLAs. Avoid management / techno speak and words like LEVERAGE. Just state in basic words your message. Easy innit!

derekedw
derekedw

The worst example in this article is: ?We ensure you timely delivery of goods through our collaborative marketing network.? What's a "collaborative marketing network"? Why not say, "We will ensure that you receive your deliveries on time."? It's simple, clear, and concise. This is a great lesson that was reinforced by the book "Why Business People Speak Like Idiots". I bought it from Audible.com. -D

kawilcox
kawilcox

I have witnessed the continued decline of proper language usage throuhout our daily lives. Without changing the focus of our educational system, media presentations, and daily discourse, there is little hope for our language. Better yet, why not just make it mandatory for every employee to take an Effective Business Writing class???

kjohnson
kjohnson

While we're on the subject of technical writing, may I recommend also that writers should try to include pictures and diagrams with their text? The biggest increase in the readability of your document is the one that you get by adding pictures and drawings to it.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But the execution lacks. This article reads like a document written by Marketing for the sales staff. Why all the buzzwords? "Effectuate an action?" Really? What was wrong with "cause the desired outcome"? Why not use simple [u]meaningful[/u] words and phrases? The most egregious example is not only confusing but almost contradictory. [i]Tell your client, "Our products are robust." Avoid negative connotation by writing, "Our products do not crash on fault." [/i] So which is it? Sometimes the negative cannot be avoided. In this case, the author's attempt to avoid negative connotation created reader confusion. Why not write "Avoid negative connotation by telling your client, "Our products are robust," instead of "Our products do not crash on fault."? And all those simple sentences! [i]Sentence variety and emphasis makes the document impressive[/i] achieves high irony. [i]In toto[/i], a good bad example. etu

Laura Silvero
Laura Silvero

And in addition to training our professionals in effective writing skills, a comprehensive course in electronic etiquette should be included! Seems like many do not grasp the meaning of an email list, or at the very least, the differences, and reasons for using cc and Bcc.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

"Is that knowledge sufficient enough to craft documents which can persuade or convince an audience? Maybe, yes for expository essays, but no for workplace documents! They need more than that." I have worked for several different employers - in Federal government, for non-profits, and for commercial employers. And my writing style morphed in each environment. Even in IT writing, you are writing for non-IT folks as well - decision-makers, customers, etc. - and your writing style should be in harmony with others in the company to be effective. Not sure teaching this in school is going to really work all that well. The article had sweeping generalities and nothing you could really put to good use.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

At work, IE is forced on us, and I can't read this article with my current browser (I have checked IE 7 and 8. Here are the two errors: Webpage error details User Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.648; InfoPath.2; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; MS-RTC LM 8) Timestamp: Fri, 19 Mar 2010 09:56:35 UTC Message: 'cid' is undefined Line: 300 Char: 3 Code: 0 URI: http://i.techrepublic.com.com/js/main.js Message: Object doesn't support this property or method Line: 256 Char: 82 Code: 0 URI: http://i.zdnet.com/js/mootools.js Webpage error details User Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.30; .NET CLR 3.0.04506.648; InfoPath.2; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; MS-RTC LM 8) Timestamp: Fri, 19 Mar 2010 09:57:43 UTC Message: 'cid' is undefined Line: 300 Char: 3 Code: 0 URI: http://i.techrepublic.com.com/js/main.js Message: Object doesn't support this property or method Line: 256 Char: 82 Code: 0 URI: http://i.zdnet.com/js/mootools.js Firefox displays the article quite well.

ff95
ff95

Quick poll. Would you: a) Be impressed b) Sigh and move on c) Stop reading right there?

anicesteak
anicesteak

but there were opportunities for improvements: ...effectuate... ...saying, ?We ensure you timely delivery of goods through our collaborative marketing network.?...

santeewelding
santeewelding

It's one of them, [i]res[/i], things. You have to get past it in order for analysis of the more sublime.

kjohnson
kjohnson

That's probably because people only speak Spanish in a particular area of Spain. In other parts of Spain, they speak Galician, Catalan and Basque.

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

The Spanish taught in the US is closer to the Spanish spoken in Mexico, not Spain. There are radical differences between the two (or so I was informed by a Spaniard while I was stationed in Germany).

jimmanis
jimmanis

Pretentious. Unfortunately, they undermine the argument, which is otherwise so worthy. Take the time to learn the difference between "effect" and "affect." The press has a responsibility to help educate its intended audience.

wburr
wburr

RE: Post 35 Avoid usa / american words use proper english as in England. Most experts in communication agree that your primary goal is to communicate to your audience. Therefore, you analyze the audience. If I'm writing to a group in Ames, Iowa or Reno, Nevada, writing in American english is absolutely the correct thing to do. If I need to, I can hire an interpreter to explain it to the Brits. That comment about "proper english as in England" is pretentious and arrogant - write to your audience wherever they may be.

kjohnson
kjohnson

Why not just make it mandatory for every employee to take an Effective Business Writing class? Because writing is a skilled job. You can't expect everyone in the company to be able to do it. When you need to have a document written, have a technical writer do it.

kjohnson
kjohnson

No, it doesn't. This is one of many differences between writing for practical purposes and what they taught you to do in English lessons. The rule is: Write simple sentences. Short, direct, no passives, no subordinate clauses if possible. Another rule: call the same object by the same name consistently. If it's a switch on page 1, it had better not be a lever or a toggle on page 2. If you give different names to the same object, you will confuse your reader. And another rule: Revise your writing. If it's a long piece of writing, make someone else revise it as well.

kjohnson
kjohnson

It's nothing to do with negative connotation really. The reason you write "This garment is fireproof" rather than "This garment does not catch fire" is to disambiguate it. It is easier to misunderstand a negative sentence. If it doesn't catch fire, does it explode? Smoulder? Melt into a black liquid and give off choking poisonous fumes?

Ed.Pilling
Ed.Pilling

Here is what I have seen in my career. For one company as a network analyst I have written in depth proposals. Writing is one of my strengths. Now in the majority of companies I have applied for as a network person I have gotten luke warm to uninterested when I show them my white papers. The over all vast majority of those jobs do not require writing. To make it worse most of the networking people I have found do not like to read and despise writing. Also I have found quite a few people in other departments who can not write a coherent memo or email. I have since changed careers and I am now a computer auditor. When I show prospective companies my white papers, they sit up and take notice. Writing is the core of auditing. When I am writing what I try to avoid is using very large or esoteric words.

Jalapeno Bob
Jalapeno Bob

I have been reading the papers written by my daughter's classmates - she is a senior in high school. As a group, they cannot organize a simple paper, write coherent paragraphs to support their thesis statement and frequently cannot write three grammatically correct sentences in a row! If our future co-workers do not learn the art of writing in high school, where will they learn it? "Bone-head," that is, remedial, English in college? Where is our public school tax money going?

kjohnson
kjohnson

Schools don't teach technical writing. They tell the kids that creativity is all, that spelling doesn't really matter all that much, and these days they teach no grammar at all. Teachers praise children for writing "poetry," which is usually semi-literate, inconsequential babble. Teachers do not set exercises in writing instructions or describing complicated artefacts. If you take a job that involves writing, the first thing you have to do is forget what they taught you at school.

kristopher.lee
kristopher.lee

C - anybody who claims their marketing is the reason for success to a customer (Investors are a different story) is one to run away from. means lots of promises, no delivery.

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

It says nothing substantive; just weasel words.

kjohnson
kjohnson

"With our partners, we deliver consignments on time for you."

Kesmoco
Kesmoco

My 'BS' detector would be going beserk

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

"Spanish" is what's spoken in the New World, whereas in Spain the principle language is Castilian. (And be sure you say that with a lisp! ;^)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Back in the day, if you wanted to send a letter to a client, you would draft up what you wanted to say and take it to the typing pool. There, your letter would be edited for spelling, typed up, and submitted to your supervisor/manager for signature (unless you were authorized to sign it yourself). The process usually took a day or so, and several eyes looked at what you wrote. Today, you draft an email in five minutes and send it with a click. Out it goes, warts and all. And the English language bleeds a little more as you tell your readers they need to exorcise their laptop batteries.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

"Short, direct, no passives, and no subordinate clauses" is all well and good, but the endless parade of subject-verb-object sentences the author presented becomes just as irritating just as rapidly as trying to interpret a series of 50-word sentences. I wrote training materials for four years in the USAF. We were taught to write short, direct, sentences. We also learned to vary our sentence style at random intervals. Why? Technical material is already dry enough; there's no need to make it deadly.

rcstan
rcstan

Your lack of knowledge of punctuation stands out, not your writing skill, per se. Commas and hyphens are missing in several places within your post.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Were you thinking of Arti Johnson when you wrote this?

B.H.
B.H.

I say that since your post is so perfectly flawed, it has to be. Kudos on that.

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

Your detector would go off--so would mine. Therefore, if *we* were the intended audience, that wording would be a writer's misstep. Immediately my inner voice would say, "That's not technical--why not?? What's he hiding?" So right away I would think they were trying to do a snow job on me, and what they said after that, I wouldn't hear. But...I'm an engineer. If a business or marketing executive were the intended audience, strange as it might seem to us, they might well be favorably impressed. As an engineer, I might find that to be a defect in the exec, because he didn't detect that the writer is hiding something! But the salesman would have made his point to *his* audience: The Executive.

kjohnson
kjohnson

> Press, journals, blogs, internet lists, > radio, TV, ... how do most of us keep our > education up to date? Books?

b.adger
b.adger

Press, journals, blogs, internet lists, radio, TV, ... how do most of us keep our education up to date?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If that's not it, why do we even have the press?

jimmanis
jimmanis

Try putting some bait on that hook.

b.adger
b.adger

Syntax and punctuation should come naturally. We should take time to re-read and re-read until the message flows smoothly. In the original blog post, why use ", which" when " that" is more like natural speech. Even MS Word's grammar checker approves " that" without a preceding comma.

kjohnson
kjohnson

Even after you correct the punctuation, it's still two cliches stacked nose to tail. Maybe this writer has something to say, but what is it?

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

There is indeed a real technique (in the truest sense) to written English. Very few understand or can effectively use proper syntax and punctuation, for example. Even in the original blog post, there is a place where a comma was sorely needed, to separate two words where otherwise the first could be taken to be modifying the second. The scariest part is that it's in the quote from the National Commission on Writing's report! I refer specifically to "workplace writing" in "...in today's workplace writing is a 'threshold skill' ". This absolutely should have been "...in today's workplace, writing is a 'threshold skill'..." etc. Now, THAT is scary! -Dw