The Manager's Pocket Guide to Effective Writing

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Written communication is prevalent at most levels of business, but especially at the managerial level. Your writing may be grammatically and logically sound, but is it effective? Is it conveying your message with the concision and accuracy that makes you an effective writer? Whether you're a manager in charge of a group of writers, or a person interested in just improving his or her writing skills, The Manager's Pocket Guide to Effective Writing will help you write better using easy, practical, how-to steps that will guide you towards more effective writing, which will, in turn, allow you to make a better impression on others.

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Chapter 1: Selecting

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THE MANAGER’S POCKET GUIDE

TO EFFECTIVE WRITING

WHO?

First, who is your audience? Targeting and profiling your audience helps you select an appropriate topic and writing style. For example, when you write to your boss about a new office policy, you may be much more formal than when you write to your staff about that same policy.

The way you write will likely be determined by the person(s) for whom it is intended. If you think a critical eye will read your writing, you will need to write with formal precision. Consider the police officer who writes a report that a defense attorney will scrutinize later: the audience will be more than critical, they will be adversarial, actively seeking flaws. Thus, police writing must remain cold and factual—it should leave nothing to interpretation.

Writing to any critical audience, even an adversarial one, is difficult, but you can easily accomplish it by using a process of dilution. Don’t direct early drafts to the boss or the defense attorney; rather, direct them to a sympathetic associate or a friend. After you get some preliminary reactions, you can tighten and improve your draft through revising and editing. We’ll talk in depth about how to do this in later chapters.

 

Chapter 2 : Exploring

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EXPLORING

You’ve answered the important selecting questions and begun to write, even though your paper remains sketchy. Now what do you do?

You need to explore what you’ve selected. Like selecting, Exploring is a pre-writing exercise, designed primarily to make you think. Remember, writing is thinking on paper. Therefore, including a step in your writing process that allows for thinking is critical to good writing. This chapter examines how you collect and store information, as well as how to connect it.

COLLECTING

First, consider how much information you’ve collected over the years. If you are 25 years old, you’ve collected information for at least 25 years.

You have read, talked, touched, tasted, smelled, heard, and seen a lot, piling up experiences and storing this information deep within your brain. All these bits of information may not readily surface in your conscious brain, but they do float somewhere in that great reservoir: your subconscious.

For the sake of illustration, think of your brain as an iceberg, with only its tip jutting above the surface of the water. Below the

 

Chapter 3 : Fastwriting

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FASTWRITING

All writers face a critical point in the writing process after they have mentally explored a topic: physically beginning to write. Writers will sometimes do just about anything to avoid writing, from cleaning out briefcases and desktop drawers to sharpening pencils and rereading an article. And even when they do get started, you can hear the untimely crumple of paper and the snap of pencils as writer’s block strikes—the unmistakable ogre of hesitation and anxiety rears itself precisely at this point during the writing process.

But never fear. There are several ways around the blocks in your path to writing. Here’s the story of how one doctoral student solved his problems with writer’s block. He had to finish his dissertation by a particular date or be forever a member of the ABD (“all but dissertation”) Club, a club populated by doctoral students who complete all the course work for the degree but do not get over their writer’s block in time to finish the final project.

This particular student was at a standstill, and it was a major stall. He went to a psychologist who, after hearing the student’s

 

Chapter 4 :Surveying

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SURVEYING

By now the worst is over. You’ve checked any incipient writer’s block by getting your first words down on paper. You’ve already come a long way! You’ve selected a topic, explored it in your mind, and scrawled what you know about it.

That’s more than most people do. Most just talk about what they’re going to write. How many times have you heard people say, “Someday I’m going to write a book”? And how many even get close to starting? Until you commit something to paper and actually begin the writing process, nothing will happen—least of all a book manuscript. So, congratulations for getting farther than most. But what now? What do you do with your scores of discursive phrases, lists, and sentences?

The next step in the writing process is called surveying. Surveying requires just what it says: examining what you’ve written to find out what you know about the topic in order to learn what works, and to discover new connections.

Let’s say you’ve just freewritten ten pages proposing that your company merge with XYZ

 

Chapter 5 : Hunting

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HUNTING

In the previous chapter on surveying, you discovered what you do and do not know about your writing topic. Now you must take the time to close your knowledge gaps—to go hunting. If you were to ask someone where to go for information, what do you think most people, particularly students, would say? If you guessed the library or the company files, you’re right, but they’re wrong! You’re right because that is what most students would say, but they’re wrong because that’s not the quickest way to begin the process of hunting for information.

In this chapter you will learn the hunting process: the way you can fill in gaps with information that will support your overall ideas.

Specifically, you’ll learn how to gather information from interviews, how to develop a thesis statement, where to find sources, how to

“interview” a book or periodical, and how to take notes using notecards or notesheets.

INTERVIEWING OTHERS

By far the most overlooked, yet most helpful source of information is other people. In a sense, the process of hunting—whether for a

 

Chapter 6 : Writing

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WRITING

Early in the writing process you did some writing, remember? You freewrote or freespoke—fastwriting techniques that help you get your ideas on paper quickly—to find out what you knew about your topic. Well, now you’re going to do it all over again, only this time with the benefit of some notes on what you learned from others about the topic. This step of the writing process integrates what you know already with the information you’ve learned while hunting. In this chapter you’ll learn how to organize your notes, how to use your preliminary outline, how to refine your thesis, and how to write freely with new information.

ORGANIZING YOUR NOTES

In the Hunting step you tested the waters of opinion and knowledge: you found out what others had to say about your topic. No doubt you’ve accumulated a pile of notecards or notesheets for your efforts. So now what? Well, now you need to sort out the information so you can use it wisely in a draft.

Begin by reading each of your slug lines and placing each card in a specific pile. Remember that key-word list you made, that

 

Chapter 7: Revising

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THE MANAGER’S POCKET GUIDE

TO EFFECTIVE WRITING

SCANNING THE DRAFT

The first revising activity for writing effective paragraphs is to scan your entire draft quickly and look for related ideas. You’ll find that in early freewriting you scatter your ideas more than in the latter stages of writing. This phenomenon is easily explained.

In the beginning, your mind has trouble focusing; thus, your thoughts start, stop, and shift. But once you get started, your thinking and, consequently, your writing seem to settle down into more logical grooves. Some professors tell their students to tear off the first page of their papers before turning in the remaining pages to them. These instructors have discovered that the first page is usually full of unnecessary writing, and they see little sense in reading it.

So, review your draft. A lettering system of

A, B, C, D or a numbering system of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 will help you label similar ideas in your draft.

Remember to put apples with apples and oranges with oranges. This first revising step is macroscopic: you want to get an overall logical grouping of ideas.

 

Chapter 8 : Rewriting

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REWRITING

Buildings, automobiles, and virtually all objects have some type of structure to give them form.

Written documents are no different. Certain structural conventions, if followed, give any document the form it needs to stand on its own.

Any well-constructed document contains three major structural elements: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. This chapter will explore all three elements in detail, as well as show how they become the overall structure of any organized piece of writing.

Regardless of what you write, this format—introduction, body, conclusion—provides a basic structure. For example, a memo, though short, contains an introduction (usually the reference or purpose line) that states the thesis of the memorandum. This thesis or controlling topical sentence gives the reader the direction and scope of the memorandum. Longer memorandum reports are also commonly found in business and government. These reports usually contain a summary or executive summary paragraph right in the beginning, before the details. Longer reports, ranging from 20 to 50 pages, have an

 

Chapter 9 : Testing

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THE MANAGER’S POCKET GUIDE

TO EFFECTIVE WRITING

THE WRITER-BROKER

CONCEPT

People often envision a writer as someone who writes in a vacuum. They see a hermit-like figure huddled in a corner with a pen and stack of yellow legal pads—a solitary figure who interacts only with a piece of paper. Wrong! Writers come in all sizes, shapes, and personalities. And their methods of writing are just as diverse. Sure, writers go through much of the writing process alone. But writing, in fact, is not a solitary process for many, especially when they seek trial reactions from test readers. You need to adopt a writer-broker arrangement.

Writer-brokers function like all other brokers: they coordinate. Brokers bring things together, and most importantly, brokers shoulder the responsibility. Though writer-brokers can delegate any number of functions, in the end they must make the decisions—call the tough shots. So, while writers might ask for the opinions and advice of others, they choose to take or not take that advice. And when advice from others conflicts with your own ideas, decision making can be tough.

 

Chapter 10 : Ending

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ENDING

The time has come for you to finalize your piece of writing. If you’ve followed the process, you’ve spent considerable time with your writing, and by now you need to invest only enough time for some final editing and proofing. Some simple strategies can help you clean up your writing, and this chapter lists a number of them for you. As you get more experienced, you’ll develop your own editing and proofing strategies. But in the meantime, here are some that will get you started.

ALLOW TIME

Before you do a final reading, let your writing sit for as long as you can. This will help give you a much more objective eye. After you’ve been away from a piece of writing for a period of time, you’ll be surprised at how objectively you can edit your own work.

READ YOUR WRITING

ALOUD

To help you self-edit, always read your writing out loud. Wherever you falter during the reading, place a check mark or wavy line and continue reading. Don’t stop. Then, once you’ve finished the reading, go back to the

 

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