Monthly Archives: June 2012

Business Writing for Beginners

Business writing doesn’t exactly stir the soul, does it?

We bloggers love to wallow in poetry and fiction, but out there in real life, most writing is conducted in a cubicle. And grudgingly so. Lots of employees have to report on or otherwise document business activities or research findings, but few enjoy it.

I believe many people dread writing because they don’t know how to turn something dull and confusing into something readable. A single blog post can’t teach someone to write well but, if your pain at work is writing, the tips below can help.

Oh. If your other pain at work is your boss, let me know. I bust knee-caps for $50 and make people disappear for $200.

Legal disclaimer: The preceding two sentences are intended for comic relief. I would never make someone’s boss disappear for less than $500.

On to the business-writing shenanigans!

*****

 Here’s what you need to get started:

1. Fingers for typing (or a plastic bird-beak mask so you can peck the keys)

2. Something to say

3. Relevant data to fill up the body of the report, which no one is going to read.

I can’t help with the first thing, but, for real, don’t start writing until you know what you want to say.

Let’s pretend your company decided to try powering its truck fleet with dry macaroni noodles instead of gasoline and your boss asked you to submit a report on why this endeavor didn’t (or, you know, did) work. When scanning that request, you’ll note the word “why.”

That’s it! Your report will state why it was stupid to pour macaroni noodles into your trucks’ gas tanks. Sometimes “what” and “how” can be useful starting points as well, depending on the report. “When” is for losers.

*****

Here’s what you do next:

1. Wish you had time to write an outline, which you don’t, because your boss only gave you eight minutes.

2. Organize your thoughts before you write, or you’ll write gibberish. Since you‘re making a point, you should state it right away. Don’t say all your trucks are blue in the opening line. Save that for the part you end up deleting because it doesn’t matter.

3. After you make your big statement, support it with data of descending importance, chronology, or whatever your template requires. If your company’s report structure hasn’t been formalized, just get the important information to the reader as soon as possible. For example, macaroni noodles clogging up the fuel injectors is more important than your drivers complaining about a shortage of macaroni-noodle refueling stations.

*****

What belongs in a report (A.K.A. What makes the report good):

1. A logical sequence of statements that support the central point.

2. Tight, clean sentences with appropriate language for the reader. For example, if the report is intended for your CEO, who has never ever once lifted the hood of a car, don’t talk about torque, displacement, and bore stroke. However, if you are explaining to your technical crew why macaroni noodles are bad for truck engines, prepare to be laughed at.

3. Words that matter and nothing else. When trained, professional writers say, “Take out every word that does not add meaning,” they are talking about your report.

Notice how short that list is? Good writing is simple.

*****

What does not go into a report (A.K.A. What makes the report bad):

1. Irrelevant information. Sometimes you go to the trouble to gather data, such as walking out to the back lot and noting that all your broken trucks are blue. It hurts to think you wasted your time, so you stick that in the report. My advice: Leave it out and just consider your newly acquired knowledge to be “personal growth.”

2. Inflated language. People are people, not “individuals.” Macaroni noodles are macaroni noodles, not “pasta-derived fuelstuff.” Inflated language does not make the writer sound smart. It makes the writer sound like she wants people to think she’s smart.

3. Flowery language. Business writing is about facts. Fact: “World-class Truck Operation and Navigation Specialists with a passion for only the highest quality freight-transportation experience” are also known as “truck drivers.”

4. Contractions. “Don’t” is ok in a blog post about business writing, but do not use it in a business report. Hehe. See what I just did?

5. This atrocity that makes me cringe. For God’s sake, please don’t say “In conclusion” or “In summation” at the beginning of a conclusion or summary. **Shudders**

6. Clichés. Self-starters with good oral and written communication skills don’t use clichés.

7. I could go on, but you have enough to think about.

Next time, I’ll do a bad versus good example.

Peace out!

Advertisements

Fiction’s Dead Zone: 10,000 Words

Anyone who has clicked my fiction tab and explored the contents within might believe my thing is flash.

Not so. I do flash fiction because I want to be read. The easiest way to show your stuff is online, and flash fiction fits that forum best.

People don’t often have the patience to read long stories on a computer monitor. I certainly don’t. I enjoy losing myself in a 400-page novel… when it’s ink on paper, not pixels on an LCD screen. If an online short story or blog post I’m reading runs past 2000 words, I probably won’t make it to the end.

Magazine publication has more cachet, and, despite distribution that’s obviously limited compared to Web publishing, you’re more likely to find purposeful readers there. That’s the preferred destination for stories between 2000 and 8000 words.

Ah, but then you encounter That Which Lies Between the short story and the novella: The 10,000 word cliff. I’ve fallen off that cliff a bunch of times. Few publishers are found at the bottom, but unwanted 35-page bundles abound.

I bring it up because I’m revising a piece I wrote this week that’s currently at 9,809 words, and I need an eventual home for it. I can ax another 50 or 60 of my children, perhaps, but my fiction is sparse already. I’m not big on description and poetic imagery. I do action and snappy dialog and just enough detail to be evocative. The piece in question has enough plot and action to become a novella… If I want it to. I kinda like it the way it is, though, as I do with many of my other “too long” stories.  

So is there hope for a guy whose tail… er, tale dangles in fiction’s Dead Zone?

 

Something about my writing has been bugging me.