Friday, January 6, 2012

Effective Business Writing Uses Simple Language

We've been advised all our lives to write simply. Avoid the passive voice.  Use active, descriptive language, and vary the length of our sentences. We all know this is good advice, and yet we tend to ignore it. As a result, our writing often seems formal or stiff. Maybe the desire to impress others causes us to get lost in the language rather than focus on the message.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why Executives Can’t Write

Executives achieve their positions, in part, because they’ve developed several very valuable talents and skills. It’s rare that effective writing is among those skills. Why would most executives disagree with that statement? Perhaps, because they think of writing as  an innate attribute, like being smart, rather than as a learned skill. There’s an old saying that, if we all communicated as well as we thought we did, there wouldn’t be any need for lawyers. While lawyers might find value in confusing documents, executives should not.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Three Steps to Creating More Powerful Presentations

You’ve been asked to give a presentation to your department. Your mind is racing. What do you do first? If you immediately go to your computer and open MS PowerPoint to begin brainstorming, you’ve chosen the least effective path to success. Instead, the answers to three distinct questions will start you toward creating a great presentation. Take the time, first, to decide the goals of your presentation. Next, identify your audience and determine their needs. Finally, choose the most appropriate way to communicate your message.

What is your goal?
Perhaps you need to inform your audience about some important matter that impacts their work, like the timeline of a new project. Do you need to persuade

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Right and Wrong Way to Use Tooltips

The wrong way to use tooltips
I recently visited the web site of a large corporation whose stores I sometimes visit. I was looking for—what else?—information. The site, which will remain nameless here, uses the HTML TITLE attribute to display tooltips for each of its menu entries. As far as it goes, that is commendable.

Tooltip repeats link text
As you can see, however, the tooltip for the top-level menu item does two things that detract from the visitor's experience:
  • First, the tooltip merely repeats the text from the visible link. This adds nothing to the visitor's understanding of the underlying link. Why would you pop up a box to tell me what I already see on the page?
  • Second, the TITLE attribute displays the popup text just below where the cursor is placed when you mouse over the linked text. So, the tooltip obscures

Friday, December 9, 2011

Technical writing tips for nontechnical writers

In business, almost all writing is technical in nature and is written to be either persuasive or informative; perhaps both. Technical writers live in this world, and they develop a skill set over time that enables them to be very good at this sort of writing. But, people whose responsibility is in other areas of their organization, not focused on writing, may not be aware of these same writing tools. Yet, they still need to persuade and inform.

Following are a few techniques the average business writer can use

Useful tips for editing your own writing

We all tend to see the errors in other people's writing without a problem. But it's much harder to edit our own work. This is partly because, as we read our own writing, we are actually rewriting it in our minds as we read. Our focus is on meaning more than on the actual words. So, we really don't see the the words that we have written like we would those of another writer, so common errors slip past us.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Friend Becomes a Citizen

On Friday, November 4, 2011, I drove to the home of my friend, Rathnaa, in Rogers, Arkansas. She had asked me to accompany her to her Naturalization Oath Ceremony 70 miles south, in Fort Smith. For a number of reasons, I was thrilled to go with her.

Over the five or so years I've known Rathnaa, we never talked much about her citizenship. At some point, I became aware that she lived here on a work visa. About a year ago, she started talking about becoming a citizen.