October 2008
Writing eTips UpWrite Press

“A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.”

—W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938

“Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.”

—From the movie Finding Forrester

Word Pair of the Month: preventive, preventative

Fooled you this month! Actually, these words mean the same thing: “something that stops a disease from taking hold.” Although “preventive” is the preferred form, either is acceptable.

Either word may be used as an adjective, as in preventive medicine or a preventative inoculation. Either may also be used as a noun, as in This vaccination is a preventative, or It’s a preventive against the flu.

   

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Get the latest insights into writing from our staff writers. As you may know, we’ve been publishing podcast entries on our blog for nearly two years now. Recently we began adding personal entries from our staff writers, revealing their unique perspectives on business writing. To learn more, visit our blog.

October Writer’s Forum Question:

Were you prepared for the amount or type of writing you do for your job? If so, where did you get the training or experience to handle the writing workload? If you were surprised by or unprepared for the amount of writing you do, how did you cope? What kind of preparation do you wish you had received?

A lot of people entering the business world wish they’d paid a little more attention in high school English class. They’re surprised to find out how much real life depends on the written word. Here are some of the responses we received to October’s question.

Ronnette Radican had this to say:

Was I ever prepared for the amount or type of writing I do for my job? The answer is yes. Knowing the facts and the purpose of what I need to write always helps me to get the job done.

Where did I get my training? School. I went back just to study writing after I had gotten my bachelor’s degree. There is always room for improvement. I also like to read and listen to people speak, especially those people I would like to emulate—people of integrity who do not say or write things just for the sake of publicity.

Was I ever surprised by or unprepared for the amount of writing I do? Sure I was. Was I scared? No, because I love challenges. That’s what drives me to do better. I don’t always know everything, but I work hard to find out what I need to know—“knowledge” is power.

Finally, to answer the last question, I think your Web site is great, and I wish I had had you guys as my professors in school. It is not too late though. We have kids around us who need help, and that’s where we need to focus ourselves—helping others to be good writers and speakers with overall integrity.

Melissa Scott, a Business/Marketing/IT Consultant for the Nevada Department of Education sent this response:

No, I was not prepared for the amount of writing that’s required in my job. I need to do a variety of types of writing—from newsletter articles and press releases to grants and daily email communication. To prepare for this, I had only one required technical writing class in college before email became the main mode of office communication. Generally speaking, I think we all need training to write clear and concise messages that communicate without unintended bias or emotion.

Anjilla Hart, a political science major from Bowie, Maryland, was excited to snag a government assistant job right out of college. Then reality hit:

Suddenly I was responsible for tons of written materials. My boss assumed because I had graduated college that I was a solid writer. Wrong! My first major piece was full of errors in punctuation and grammar. Fortunately, she didn’t fire me, but she was firm and informed me I’d better shape up fast. I went right to the bookstore and picked up a style manual, dictionary, thesaurus, and—really—a copy of the Writers, Inc. handbook, which I remembered from high school. And then I used those books! As a result, I kept my job, and I was even promoted a year later. After a while I got my own assistant, and the first thing I did was give her the same pile of writing books.

Michael Kawatski, of Toledo, Ohio, credits his writing ability for his success at work.

I always liked to write, and I worked hard at it, first in high school and then in tech school where I studied to become a nurse. My clearly written charts and reports were noticed by the doctors I worked with, and that was part of the reason they recommended that the clinic reimburse my tuition so I could get my BA in nursing. Now I manage the nursing staff of our affiliate hospital. I also work with the corporate marketing department to create clear, reader-friendly patient brochures and other information pieces. I really enjoy my work, and I think my ability to write had a lot to do with my rising from the ranks at the clinic.

Finally, we have a bittersweet story from Heidi Frist, who learned the hard way that writing well is important to every career choice.

I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get a job. I wrote a killer résumé and had a dynamite portfolio, but I could never snag an interview. Finally, a friend offered to help and looked over my application materials. She informed me that my cover letter was awful. I sounded like a real melon-head. My sentences were awkward, and many were incomplete. Worse, although I used spell-check, a lot of words were used incorrectly. I am a graphic designer, and I never thought writing would be important. It turns out that I need good writing skills just to get in the door to show my portfolio.

Thanks to everyone who responded. It seems that good writing can be important no matter what your career path. Hey, we knew it all along.

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Coming in November

When to Write a Formal Business Letter

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eTips is a publication of UpWrite Press, Inc., P.O. Box 460, Burlington, Wisconsin 53105. Copyright © 2008,
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