Write More Effectively (Part 1 of 2)

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • How do I improve my writing?
  • What tools can I use to improve my writing?
  • How will I know when my writing is better?

This cast teaches how to improve your writing quickly.

Most managers who want to get promoted don't think that being a good writer matters. But what about email, or reviews? Haven't you read things that you had to read and re-read? THAT is bad writing.

Managers must be good writers. If you can't be "good", you must at least know how to avoid poor writing. Too many managers try to solve this problem with big words, or complex sentences, thinking it makes them sound smart. That's the WRONG way! In fact, Churchill may have said it best: "short words are best, and the old words, when short, are best of all."

In this cast, we share a simple but POWERFUL tool for improving your writing NOW. It can work for everyone, even our international members. It won't make you John D. MacDonald, but it will make you better TODAY.

SEVENTEEN.


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Hi Mark and Mike, I just finished

Hi Mark and Mike,

I just finished listening to the first part of this cast and I left with a question about the possibly harsh e-mail. I do believe the e-mail sounded harsh, especially for the high I such as myself. Could this e-mail be fixed in one of two ways which would sound less harsh? The first way would be to start the e-mail with a hook in the first sentence and the topic in the second sentence. Doing this not only engages the reader, adding to the drama, but also starts off the e-mail in a more approachable voice. See the example below.

I went to a meeting today about budgeting in the upcoming review process. We need to start reducing expenses. (Continue with rest of e-mail)

The second possible solution would to say exactly the same words but punctuate them differently. By using compound sentences and dependent clauses, the voice in the e-mail sounds more human which would take the harshness away.

I am not used to managerial style writing which could be why I had such a kneejerk reaction to the e-mail. Any guidance you would have on either of those two possible solutions to the harshness would be appreciated. I'm completely open to the idea that I am completely off base.

Thank You,
Alex

Alex- The email sounded harsh

Alex-

The email sounded harsh because you have been reading writing that isn't clear, and attempts to gussy itself up by adding drama and vocabulary when in fact CLARITY is what is called for.

What is the value of drama here? I think work is already dramatic enough, and when most people refer to drama at work, it's pejoratively.

You're not off base...you're just not used to clear writing.

Mark

Holy Mackerel!! I have preached this

Holy Mackerel!! I have preached this podcast subject a hundred times--though not as well as you Mike and Mark.

Make your point quickly and clearly. USE THE ACTIVE VOICE!! (people look at me like I have two heads when I say "active voice"). God and Webster gave it to us for a reason. We want to know who did what to whom when and where?? Get in, get out, get heard.

Bless you both. I cannot wait for part two. Thanks, Trent

Thanks for your quick reply Mark. I

Thanks for your quick reply Mark. I believe my greatest challenge will be moving from literary style writing to a more clear business style writing. Expressing ideas is the first priority and the e-mail or letter needs to reflect that.

I remember last year I had to remove every form of 'to be' from an essay. Getting rid of that ugly verb makes a world of difference in writing!

Thanks again,
Alex

Hi All I haven't listened to the

Hi All

I haven't listened to the podcast yet but this is one of my pet topics. I encourage everyone to read "The Elements Of Style" by Strunk and White. It won't take long - it's like a pamphlet. It's so clear and concise and says it all in a short amount of time.

It'll change your life. Guaranteed.

Cheers
Mark

[...] Manager Tools podcast: Write More

[...] Manager Tools podcast: Write More Effectively. [...]

Hi All, I have found another

Hi All,

I have found another podcast, that may be beneficial, for listeners whom this subject resonates.

I have not listened to the MT podcast in its entirety yet. But, the podcast I recommend is Grammer Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. The podcasts are only 5 minutes long, and they address individual topics quickly and effectively i.e. who vs. whom.

I would love to hear someone's opinion on their accuracy and/or relevance to business writing.

Best,

MBS

Hi again, I just finished the cast

Hi again,

I just finished the cast and I certainly owe a thank you note to my 8th English teacher. I can't believe I have found a use for knowing all the helping verbs by heart!

Be am is are was were been,
have has had,
do does did,
can could shall should will would,
may might must

It only took me 8 years to appreciate this lesson, but its never to late for a thank you!

Although, considering he also taught my father in High-school, even paddling him once, I only hope he's still around to receive my gratitude.

If he is not, I find Harriet Beecher Stowe's view on death quite appropriate.

"The biggest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."

Kind of depressing, but it is a great reminder for me to be thankful of all those who have helped me get to where i am.

The Gramar Girl podcast is very good

The Gramar Girl podcast is very good and the most recent episode was on, of all things, the active versus the passive voice. The active voice is almost always the best choice. The passive voice is not gramatically incorrect, it just sounds weak.

Great podcast as usual gentlemen - keep up the great work!

Thanks for the kind words,

Thanks for the kind words, folks!

Mark

In addition to "The Elements of Style",

In addition to "The Elements of Style", I must also plug "Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace" by Joseph M. Williams, which is almost as short. The first tells you to "omit needless words"; the second helps you figure out which words are needless.

Has anyone read the Minto Pyramid book

Has anyone read the Minto Pyramid book that Mark & Mike recommended. I did and it's very good.

P.S. Has anyone figured out what the seventeed means yet? I tried number of lines, number of commons, number of words used to state the BLUFF but to no avail.

Got you thinking, does it? All in

Got you thinking, does it?

All in good time, my friend! ;-)

Mike

I just couldn't wait. I discovered that

I just couldn't wait. I discovered that "seventeen" is the clarity index. I admit I cheated and found it in the Army guid to effective writing; I couldn't figure it out on my own. It looks very useful--thanks for sharing!

Nigel

P.S. 17 is amazing considering the target is 30. Kudos.

P.P.S. It takes more time to write with clarity. I am presently writing year-end performance reviews (March YE) and it takes me about 4-5 hours per person--can that be right?!

Nigel- Well, thanks, I

Nigel-

Well, thanks, I guess.

Don't think that 17 is "better" than 30, though. I wrote it that way to show that we could be a LOT more brief and direct and folks find it FINE.

Mark

Great advice... I do have one caveat on

Great advice... I do have one caveat on passive vs. active voice, though: sometimes, passive voice is cleaner or more precise.

Example:

The client chose our solution.

vs.

Our solution was chosen.

The second sentence, in my opinion, puts the emphasis on the solution, while the first puts it on the client.

Another example is when the actor is unknown:

Yesterday, somebody left the doors unlocked.

vs.

Yesterday, the doors were left unlocked.

Great cast! I'm looking forward to the

Great cast! I'm looking forward to the next. Is there, perhaps, a future podcast on persuasive writing?

I hope so.

Writing is one of those things everyone thinks they can do, but like speaking and listening, few actually do it well.

While were on the topic of writing: Mark, write the book!

Best wishes,
Greg

Greg- No offense, but I announced in

Greg-

No offense, but I announced in December the book was written. Working with publishers now.

Mark

Jennifer I hope you don't mind me

Jennifer

I hope you don't mind me sharing my reaction to your comment.

In your 1st example I think you're relying on an implication: "Our solution was chosen ... by the client". Gramatically it may be passive, but it seems to me that you've just reordered the words to capture the implication and save a word. Personally I don't hear the different emphasis you describe: I think that just depends how you say/read it.

Your 2nd example: "Yesterday, somebody left the doors unlocked" tells me that the speaker probably doesn't know or chose not to say who left the doors unlocked. Your passive statement just doesnt tell me so much: maybe they do know and would tell me, so I have to ask.

So I'm sorry, I don't see more clarity or precision in either of your examples.

Personally I dislike the passive voice: it makes me ask for more information and wonder why the subject is being obfuscated.

Steve

ALL: The Minto Pyramid book that you

ALL:

The Minto Pyramid book that you recommend is a good read. It too teaches a similar structure for writing and speaking. Overall, it gives a little more foundation to how to "think" within this structure as well.

Great work on these casts!
JOE

Can I say the most important thing to

Can I say the most important thing to learn is just to actually write?! Too many engineers I work with don't write at all. They don't write white papers, reports, status reports, heck they don't even like writing requirements! I make my employees write. But as my former boss has said, "I don't care if it's in crayon, just write it down!"

I happy to hear the book is done. I've

I happy to hear the book is done. I've been skipping around in the podcasts and must not have listened to the December cast. Do you have a title?

Greg - Mark's Book: I came across this

Greg - Mark's Book: I came across this in another thread. The book is called "The Effective Manager" It's not out yet.

No infomation whther it is pop-up or comes with a free cuddly toy.

I like the passive voice. It has a

I like the passive voice. It has a place in diplomacy and diplomacy has a place in business.

The active voice depends on a subject, verb and noun: John walked the dog. Ian wrote a bad report. John calculated the ROI incorrectly. In every instance, we name somebody.

How should we express a sentence where we don't want to name the subject: either because the offense is bad and brevity does not permit explanation of the circumstances; or because we don't know for sure who dunnit?

Thanks Mark & Mike: your podcasts alone justify my iPod purchase.

Excellent series of podcasts! One

Excellent series of podcasts!

One related topic I'd love to hear about in the future is how to write letters of recommendation. I can't imagine a single manager who wouldn't have to write at least one during her career. Also, how would she write a letter for her peer instead of a subordinate?

JBIRD- No, that wasn't it, and

JBIRD-

No, that wasn't it, and hopefully by now you've figured it out.

Nevertheless, I did go to the site you referenced, and FREAKED OUT when I posited the question to a friend and they answered with 17. WOW it was cool.

Mark

I just finished listening to these

I just finished listening to these casts. Thanks a bunch. I try hard to write effectively, but I'm not very good at teaching others. Your podcast, as usual, zeroes in on the easiest ways to write better. Thanks so much!

Am is are was were be being been do

Am is are was were be being been do does did has have had may might must can could shall should will would are the helping verbs

[...] Part One

[...] Part One [...]

M&M, I just wanted to deliver some

M&M,

I just wanted to deliver some well-earned appreciation.

In a recent podcast ("your resume sucks") you pointed out that the original resume cast was the most popular. I must confess that I am disappointed to hear that. These two podcasts, bar none, are my favorite. I have my staff listen to them. I work in a technical area (predictive modeling) and live by the following rule:

"If your work is not communicated, it is as if it was not done.
If it is not communicated well, it is as if it was not communicated well."
(J. G. Fellow, 2008)

Many of the folks who come into my group have little experience communicating effectively. Your podcast promises practical methods and measurable results. It delivers practical methdods and measurable results.

Thanks for continuing to deliver,
JG

Tag Suggestions

I love this cast and was looking for it to recommend to someone. I think it would help to add it to the e-mail tag. Also, consider adding a writing tag.

Thanks,
Mike