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UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Why MBA-Bound Johnny Can’t Think

    Friday, June 28, 2013

    “I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.”

    ― Flannery O'Connor

    In “Why MBA-bound Johnny can’t write,” Michael Skapinker reports about an MBA professor forced by his dean to drop a weekly writing exercise from his classes. Students objected so strongly to writing a one-page weekly memo that the dean conceded.

    Their reasoning? According to Skapinker, “The students said that in business today they did not need to know how to write. ‘E-mails and tweets are the medium of exchange. So,’ they argued, ‘the constant back-and-forth gives one an opportunity to correct misunderstandings caused by unclear thinking and writing.’”

    I’m stunned at that rationale. Business leaders report regularly that unclear thinking and writing cost money. The bigger an organization, the more time-consuming and costly that miscommunication becomes. Writing skills save money by communicating accurately. They also help focus thinking—as both the Flannery O’Connor quotation above and the students themselves indicate.

    I’m even more stunned that a business-school dean seems ignorant of this need for clear communication. For students to dictate—through the dean—what their professor will teach to prepare them for business, seems to me the very definition of backward.

    On the other hand, it may help to explain why the value of an MBA continues to erode.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by Keith Williamson

    Avoid Email Pitfalls

    Tuesday, February 26, 2013

    Email has become the communication standard in business. It’s a fast, inexpensive way to keep connected. Yet email can also pose hazards, ranging from merely embarrassing to outright catastrophic.

    Here are four critical things to remember in your own use of email:

    • Email is not private. Many companies have employees sign an agreement that email will be subject to viewing by the management. Even your wireless devices are not necessarily exempt, as Wi-Fi can also be monitored. Sound like “electronic surveillance”? It’s actually just “risk management,” an important part of modern business.
    • Email is forever. As news stories often remind us, off-color or inappropriate emails can return to haunt a person. Emails sent or received on your company computer may be archived and could resurface later. Even if you use a cloud service, your messages can become subject to public scrutiny.
    • Email can be used as evidence. The judicial system has accepted email as proper evidence in such cases of libel, defamation, and even poor practice habits. It’s entirely possible for a “joke” sent in an email to fall into the wrong hands and be construed as harassment. Such allegations can reflect badly on an entire business.
    • Email can be infected. Just like mutating flu strains, new and more dangerous computer viruses are popping up every day. Unless you diligently keep up with the latest anti-virus software, your business computers can be attacked and your vital information and records corrupted or destroyed. And spam often carries infected attachments that may not be recognized by your anti-virus software. So be careful what you open.

    Other “hazards” of email may be less severe, but they’re still worth noting:

    • Missing or misleading subject lines: A good subject line provides a precise indication of the message content. Not only does this help convince the receiver to open the message in the first place, it also makes finding that message again later much easier.
    • Unproofed copy: Sloppy writing suggests a lack of concern about details. That’s not a good impression to convey with your message. Don’t let the speed and ease of email tempt you to click “Send” before rereading for typographical errors and other problems.
    • Incomplete information: Although email is fast, that speed can be undermined by a back-and-forth exchange to answer questions or clear up misconceptions. When writing, make your original message as clear and complete as possible before sending. When receiving, read the message thoroughly before writing back with questions. A little care on both ends can avoid time wasted in an exchange of further emails. 
    • The wrong tone: It’s difficult to convey emotion in writing—especially in email, which is often written and read more quickly than other text. Studies show that while most writers think they’ve done a good job of expressing a feeling, and most readers think they’ve done a good job of interpreting it, the actual percentage of understanding is abysmally low. So it’s generally best to reserve email for factual communication, and to use phone, voice chat, or video chat for other messages. If you must convey a potentially emotional message in writing, write a draft, let it sit, revise it, and ask someone else to read it and comment, before you send a final draft.

    Despite predictions that email is dying, supplanted by text messaging and voice or video chat, it remains a powerful tool in the business world. And like any tool, it performs best when used expertly. May your own use of email reflect well upon you.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by infrogmation