Write for Business - Blog

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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    Tactics, Tweeting, and Business Writing

    Tuesday, May 07, 2013

    In On War, Carl von Clausewitz, a professional Prussian soldier, divided military activities into strategy and tactics.  Strategy involves the general goals of an operation; tactics are the details for getting there. For soldiering, a set of basic skills is also assumed: polishing boots, marching in formation, caring for weapons, and so on.

    Business writing can similarly be divided into strategy, tactics, and basic skills. Much of what UpWrite Press shares on this blog and in our newsletters is strategic: using an AIDA approach for persuasive writing, for example. We also often share basic skills in grammar, punctuation, and correct word use.  

    Today I’d like to focus on a tactical issue: using Twitter to develop effective sentence style.

    Why Twitter? It’s because of that 140-character limit. Writing within such constraints forces us to carefully weigh every word, every phrase. (Note, I originally wrote that as “forces us to consider every word, every phrase, very carefully”—nine wasted characters.)  With practice, that conciseness becomes habit—if not during a first draft, certainly when editing.

    • For best practice, write your “Tweets” (Twitter messages) in full words, without online abbreviations like “L8R” (“later”).
    • It’s also best to leave enough characters for a “Retweet.” For example, UpWrite Press Tweets are usually 127 characters or less, to leave room for the 13 characters in “RT @UpWrite: ” (including the space after the colon).
    • Finally, if your Tweet includes a hyperlink, try to place that in the middle of the message, where it’s less likely to get cut off if multiple people Retweet your message.

    A well-crafted Tweet can pack a lot of punch in a short line of text. Practice at Tweeting can improve our writing clarity and editing speed for other business documents. That alone makes it worthwhile. Given that it also promotes your brand presence, if you aren’t Tweeting, it may be time to start.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo from Wikimedia Commons

    Rambling in Writing

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Rambling is fun sometimes. It can be relaxing to spend a day ambling aimlessly over hill and dale. But when you let your writing ramble, you risk losing the reader - and business. Here are some ways to avoid rambling sentences that confuse or bore.

    • Read your own writing. When you finish writing a piece, read it yourself - preferably out loud. If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, the sentence is probably too long.
    • Count the words. Yes, we mean actually count them. First scan the piece, and if you spy a sentence that is more than two lines long, count the words. If you have more than 20 words in a sentence, shorten it.
    • Divide and conquer. As you read each sentence, ask yourself what the main point is. Each sentence should contain only one main point, and if you find more than one, divide the sentence accordingly.
    • Chuck the conjunctions. If you have a plethora of conjunctions in a sentence, divide it. This includes coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but) and subordinating conjunctions (because, although, when, and so on). Be wary, too, of relative pronouns such as who, which, and that. These introduce clauses that can bloat a sentence if you're not careful.
    • Pare down the phrases. Is your sentence a maze of commas separating a multitude of modifying phrases? Such intricacy may earn points in a literary contest, but in business writing your goal is to be clear and to the point. Cut, divide, and eliminate extraneous material to make each sentence clean and easily understandable.

    You can learn more about sentences beginning on page 152 in in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace, just one of the many helpful business-writing materials from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

    Working Out Strong Sentences

    Thursday, May 06, 2010

    Want your writing to not only present information but also make it sing (and sell)? Then strengthen your sentences. If they engage your reader, and keep your reader engaged, you can be assured your message will get across. Here are some tips for strengthening your sentences by varying their construction.

    • Vary sentence length. Use short, punchy sentences to grab your reader's attention or make a quick point, while letting longer, more complex sentences carry the meat of your message.
    • Vary sentence openings. Avoid the plain old "subject-verb" habit and enhance impact and interest by using modifying words, phrases, or clauses to open your sentences.
    • Vary sentence types. Make your point with declarative sentences, but pique the reader's interest with questions, commands, and conditional statements. On occasion, pepper in a few fragments and exclamatory sentences to add impact.
    • Vary sentence arrangements. Place your main point at different places within the sentence. Beginning with the main point gives it direct importance, while ending with it allows you to build up to it. Or, if you would rather cushion or elaborate the point, surround it with modifiers, tucking it somewhere in the middle of the sentence.

    They say variety is the spice of life, and it can certainly invigorate your writing.

    You can learn more about creating sentences beginning on page 255 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace, just one of the many helpful business-writing materials from UpWrite Press.

    - Joyce Lee

    "Pitching" Sentences

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Writer James K. Kilpatrick says that writers need to "stay in pitch" when developing a piece of writing. Here's what he means: Suppose you are upset about an insurance invoice you've received, and, in a letter to the insurance company, you clearly state your displeasure in the first few sentences. To stay in pitch, the rest of your sentences should maintain that same level of intensity.

    Writing Fast
    Interestingly, the intensity of your writing is directly related to the length and pace of your sentences. To be assertive, you should write short, direct sentences that move your reader along at a steady clip: no hemming or hawing; no interesting little asides; no long, airy thoughts. Just hit hard, one point after another. Note the pace of the sentences in this passage expressing a basic complaint:

    This letter addresses a problem with purchase order #07-1201. Copies of the original PO plus two invoices are enclosed. Here is the sequence of events concerning this PO.

    • I faxed the original purchase order on December 16, 2008.
    • I then spoke with Kim in customer service on January 7.
    • Then I re-sent the PO, which had been lost.
    • I received a partial shipment on January 17. You back ordered the remaining items.
    • On January 25, I then received a complete shipment (invoice 0151511). I contacted Kim, and she cancelled the back-ordered items.

    I am returning the partial order by UPS. Please credit our account for the following:…

    Discussion: All of the sentences are short and to the point. No sentence, in fact, is more than nine words in length. The direct, fast-paced sentences reflect the nature of the communication: a no-nonsense response to an order mix-up - with a clear undertone of frustration.

    Slowing Down
    When you want to be more reflective and thoughtful, you can slow things down by using sentences that are longer and more loosely connected. Looser sentences lead quite naturally to proposing or considering rather than asserting, exploring rather than obtaining. Note the pace of the sentences in this passage:

    As you know, we will be moving to our new location on August 18, and we have scheduled an open house for September 1. To help visitors at that event learn what Felton Engineering does, I plan to set up displays showing samples of your unique heater designs and interesting product applications.

    As you pack for the move, please help me by identifying products that would interest visitors, and look for blueprints, sketches, and small models that illustrate these products. Please remember that visitors may understand commercial applications more easily than technical military or aerospace designs.…

    Discussion: All of the sentences are long, stringing together a number of ideas. The longest sentence is 28 words in length; the shortest one is 16 words. These longer, slower-paced sentences reflect the nature of the communication: a request asking coworkers to consider and to explore possibilities.

    Now You Try
    Here are two writing scenarios for you to consider, one requiring fast-paced sentences and one requiring slower sentences. (You decide which type of sentences to use for each scenario.) Afterward, discuss your writing with a coworker.

    • Write a memo to a supervisor, manager, or coworker, expressing your concern about a new policy or a particular action.
    • Write a letter to an in-house planning committee, sharing your thoughts about new products or directions to consider in the future.

    A Final Thought: First and foremost, your sentences must be clear and smooth reading, but they should also be constructed to reflect the nature or purpose of your writing, meaning that their pace should match your intended pitch. (As you can see, I'm reflecting here, thus the longer, looser sentence.)