If you want to make a good impression, you need to make sure that your documents are polished and professional, with every element right where readers expect it. Think about how you prepare for a job interview. You wear specific kinds of clothes. You carry specific accessories, depending upon your field. You make sure that you look polished, not wrinkly. Everything is exactly right and just as the interviewer expects it. Nothing is missing.
By analogy, the documents that you write need to have the same polished, professional appearance. Everything needs to be in its place, just were the reader expects it. Nothing is missing. As you work on your Genre Analysis Report, review the components that make up the front and back matter for your report in this University of Minnesota video (4m35s):
Note: This video has closed captioning, so it does not need a transcript.
Most people don’t want to receive bad news. Likewise, unless we’re talking about the Wicked Witch of the West, Voldemort, or Darth Vader, most people are uncomfortable when they have to give someone bad news. Continuing our focus on correspondence this week, today’s #FridayFact explains how to write a bad new message that gets the point across without alienating the reader.
Typically, bad news messages begin with some kind of “buffer” that cushions the negative information. This indirect approach allows you to break the news gently to your reader. There are times, however, when a more direct approach is appropriate, such as in an emergency situation or when the bad news is expected.
How to Organize a Paper: The Indirect Method (for Writing Bad News) includes a chart that outlines when to use an indirect approach to giving your readers bad news and when to use a more direct approach. The chart on the webpage tells you what to include in your message, whether it is direct or indirect. You’ll also find explanations of the information to provide in the different sections of your bad news message.
Email is critical to the work of over half of the workers surveyed by the Pew Research Center on Technology’s Impact on Workers. The bar graph on the right shows that 61% of workers said that email was “very important” to their work.
Why is this fact important for technical writing? The better you are at writing emails, the better you are likely to do in the workplace. As more businesses and organizations skip paper-based communication and turn to email, you will find that you spend a great deal of time reading, writing, and responding to email messages in the workplace. With email such an important part of the work that people do, learning the strategies that ensure your messages get read and accomplish their goals is crucial.
To improve your email savvy, consider these tips on writing the subject for your email messages. If you want your email message to be read, you need a subject line that gives readers a short description of the contents in a way that piques their interest in the topic. When a subject line doesn’t, it’s possible that people will just skip on to something else in their inboxes that is interesting or has a clear purpose.
So how do you make sure you have strong subject lines? Here are ten tips (you may have noticed that I have a thing about tens):
Be sure you have a subject line in the first place. Email without a subject grabs no one’s attention.
Think about your audience and purpose. Your subject should summarize your purpose in a way that the audience will understand.
Keep it short, since only the first few words are going to show up in the receiver’s inbox. Stick to 50 characters or less.
Put the most important words at the beginning. If your subject line does get cut off, you want to be sure the words that matter are visible. Additionally, people skimming down their inboxes look at the beginning of the subject, not the ends.
Be specific. “Upcoming Trip” leaves the reader wondering whose trip and to where. “Your Upcoming Trip to NYC” is much clearer.
Avoid all caps. Nobody likes all caps.
Use emoji sparingly. If you aren’t sure that your recipient will know what the emoji means, don’t use it.
Make the subject unique. If that subject could be added to nearly anyone’s message, try again. For instance, “A Question for You” could go on any email that asks the recipient a question. “Question About New Invoice System” tells the recipient exactly what to expect in the message.
Think of your subject line like a headline for a news story. Make it click-worthy (but avoid misleading subjects that seem more like clickbait).
Use title case, capitalizing every important word. Never use all lower-case, since it looks unpolished and less professional.
At some point, you are going to face a challenge that threatens your progress on a project in the workplace. No matter how hard you work, it’s bound to happen. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes someone else is to blame. Regardless of who is responsible, the important question is how you will respond. You have to decide what you can do that will preserve your (or the company’s) reputation while still satisfying the needs and requirements of your client.
That is where today’s #FridayFact comes in: The best strategy is to let people know of problems immediately. I don’t mean call the stakeholders in a panic, of course. Meet with your team or your manager, and figure out how to handle the situation.
As soon as you have a plan, let your stakeholders know. Tell them what happened, why it happened (if pertinent), and what you are going to do. Don’t blame anyone. That doesn’t help. Focus on how you will do your best to get the project in as close to the deadline as possible.
Sometimes you need your stakeholders to help with the solution. Perhaps they will need to approve a new supply or a different design. In those cases, you meet with your team to figure out the alternatives and their strengths and weaknesses. Once you have the options figured out, contact the stakeholders with the information, giving them a recommendation for the best choice.
To avoid being accused of spreading untrue information, be a fact checker. When you write a document in the workplace, your first task is to compose the document; but before you send that project out to your readers, you need to do some fact checking to verify the ideas.
You know all about fact checking from the news. Fact checking isn’t just for political speeches however. In the same way that you will doublecheck your calculations in a budget, you need to confirm the facts and sources that you include in your report.
You already know that your job application materials should be error free. Misspell words, misname the university, or mistype the date? Your application will likely be rejected immediately. What you may not realize is that even a small error in other documents you write in the workplace can decrease your credibility.
Why does error-free writing matter? Lennox Morrison explains:
The humble typo not only has the power to make us appear less intelligent than we are. Poor spelling can also create confusion, a loss of clarity and meaning and in extreme cases it can cost millions in missed sales and job opportunities. It has the potential to wreck customer relationships and even ruin your chance of finding love online.
So the lesson here? Be sure that you proofread your writing carefully before sending it out to coworkers or clients. Even a typo in a Tweet can cause trouble. After all, you don’t want to make the covfefe error of your workplace. At the best, you may only be laughed at. At worst, well, let’s not think about that. Instead, double and triple check your writing every time!
We’ve looked at some videos that describe how headings contribute to a document. We’ve had posts on Information-Rich Signposts and Reader-Friendly Proposals. Today’s #FridayFact continues that theme with a resource that demonstrate how specific, informative headings increase readability.
This resource from the University of Minnesota shows the differences between generic category headings, descriptive headings, and informative headings. As you examine the three kinds of headings, think about how you can apply this fact to your proposal.
Use the arrows in the upper left corner of the PDF toolbar to move from one page to another.
If you want a positive response to your proposal, be up front with the key information. Don’t keep your readers in suspense, waiting for the details.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Don’t Make Your Innovation Proposal into a Hitchcock Movie” explains that readers don’t like to wait for the details in a proposal. Suspense works well, the author Scott Anthony argues, for movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho, but proposal readers want the key information right way. Anthony explains, “You simply cannot leave them waiting and wondering about what you want to do and what you need.”
Just as yesterday’s #InfographicInspiration suggested, audience awareness can make or break your proposal. Your document has to give readers what they want and need. “The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing,” according to Harvard Business Review’s Tucker Max, is that your document “has to be about the reader, not about you.” Read the article for three questions that will help you make sure you meet your reader’s expectations.
We all rely on grammar and style checkers to help us find the small errors in our writing. Anyone who has had autocorrect go wrong, however, knows that grammar and spell checkers are not necessarily accurate. Sometimes (as in the case of the unicorn-riding police officer) these tools can change our messages to say things we never intended.
In the same way that you must double-check the changes that autocorrect suggests, you have to pay attention to the grammar and style tools that are available in your word processors. Read the Slate.com article Microsoft Word’s Grammar and Style Tools Will Make Your Writing Worse for lots of examples of how Word can suggest changes that will confuse your readers.
Finally, as long as you are still at Virginia Tech, remember that you have free access to the Lynda.com course Grammar Foundations (below). You can look up any grammar questions you have there.
Note: This video has closed captioning, so it does not need a transcript. The screenshot of autocorrect DOES need a text-based transcript however. See the Optional Accessibility Transcript Activity for more details.
This week, I have been sharing information to help you polish the content and design of your Analysis project. Today, I am continuing that theme with my #FridayFact: Tables can be boring. If you do not work on document design, tables are often a visual jumble of words and numbers. Same goes for spreadsheets, but we won’t talk about them in this course.
Back to tables, with so much information jammed into columns and rows, the information can become hard to read. If it’s hard to differentiate between the rows of information, readers can easily lose track of where they are in a table. When the column headings scroll out of view, readers may not recall the information every column contains.
To help you solve the challenge of boring tables, I have these articles you can read and apply to your Analysis project:
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