Tag Archives: business writing

Writing in a Corporate Environment

superman typing

We are lucky. As writers, we have many avenues for expressing ourselves. For example, we could start a blog post with a long, boring list of poetry types and fiction genres and so on, which is probably where you thought I was going with this third sentence. Please slap me if I ever get that boring and predictable.

Nay. I assume you’ve already heard of Haiku and will now move on to the steak and potatoes.

Being a bestselling novelist is the top of the pops for writing cachet. Successful screenplays will get you more free cocaine and hookers, but the average consumer is unlikely to know who wrote the latest Transformers script. They certainly know who Stephen King and Dan Brown are.

For most of us in the real world, getting noticed for our work, much less getting paid, is a challenge. Going into journalism is perhaps the most obvious path to writing for money and getting your name in lights (if people’s laptop screens count as “lights”). Unless you have been living on an island and thought the Panama invasion was still going on, you know that staff journalists are an endangered species and that most bylined writers are freelancers now. This is great for everybody. The news and entertainment organizations don’t have to pay health benefits and can grind you up like old newspaper in a shredder, and you… Okay. Maybe it’s just good for them.

However, the least glamorous, most anonymous and unheralded writing you can do is corporate writing. It’s also the steadiest paycheck.

Corporate writing doesn’t earn you a byline. Chances are, the reader will never know your name. You write training manuals and reports and summaries and evaluations and proposals and other documents read by other people in other office buildings. No one cares about your personal expression. Your writing voice is The Company.

Then, every two weeks, they hand you a check. And you go, “Yeah, boy,” because now you can pay rent and stock up on cupcakes and buy stuff you don’t need on Amazon.

If you’re thinking of taking your writing skills to the corporate world but need more 411, here are some pros and cons:

Pro: Duh. I already told you: paycheck. And you don’t convince anyone to let you write for money. They give you stuff to write.

Con: They give you stuff nobody else wants to or can write.

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Con: You know how sometimes you just don’t feel like writing ‘cause you’re tired and not in the mood? Guess what. Deadlines don’t care about your mood, and neither does your boss. You gotta suck it up and write for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or they’ll find someone else.

Pro: You learn to meet deadlines. There’s no procrastination when a client needs a report by 2 p.m. and you got the assignment at 1 p.m. You’ll end up managing your personal writing time better, too.

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Con: Sometimes you hit The Wall, and I don’t mean that quasi-religious song by Kansas (it’s on their Leftoverture album). I mean, sometimes your work is repetitious in ways you can’t imagine if you’ve never done cubicle writing. Like last year when I had to write about 85 unique evaluations based on 85 nearly identical data sets in one week. My desk still has the indentation where I smacked my forehead into it around report #60.

Pro: You learn discipline. You power through, and you feel like a professional knowing that lesser humans would have cracked.

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Pro: Everyone thinks you’re smart. Unlike math experts who don’t get to show off their number skills very often in conversation, writers have opportunities to strut their stuff every day. During a recent meeting, I fumbled in search of a word, and a co-worker from another department was so happy. She said she feels nervous speaking in front of us and was glad to know we have our inarticulate moments too.

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Pro: You are often surrounded by like-minded people who can’t find a damn agent, either. Misery loves company?

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Pro: You learn new writing skills, like composing the dull-sounding stuff I described above. Hey, you can do something you couldn’t do before!

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Con: After staring at a monitor all day, the last thing you want to do at home is stare some more.

Pro: I have no pro. Trying to get motivated after work writing all day is my biggest struggle, only ever overcome through discipline and inconsistent bouts of inspiration. Then again, I haven’t tried the cocaine-and-hookers route yet.

 

Talk to me!

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I Hear Voices. Writing Voices!

opera singer

All writing is good writing.

No, not that drivel other people grind out like so much alphabet sausage. I’m talking about your stuff. All your writing is good.

Good for you, that is, like spinach. Even the stuff you didn’t want to write. All those application essays for college, the apology e-mails at work,  the gangster novel you were duped into co-authoring with “52Pickup,” that guy you met on the online-poker site (who, you found out, was also bluffing about his writing talent). Think of it as cross-training, when you work different muscle groups in different ways so you are ready for any fitness challenge.

[I’m assuming that’s what happens to people who exercise]

We bloggers talk often talk about finding one’s “writing voice,” a concept that can be challenging for beginning writers. I even wrote a post on the subject back in the early days of Clawing at the Keys, which you can enjoy or mock right here if you missed it the first time.

If you’ve been kicking around the writing scene for a while, though, you already have your voice and don’t think much about it. The next challenge becomes finding your other writing voices. Like all the “people” manufactured by your multiple-personality disorder, you have other voices, not just the awesome one you show off in your stories and on your blog.

I bring this up because of a mildly humorous comment I left on my pal Shelina’s blog, A Writer Inspired, yesterday. Every April she posts thirty writing challenges in thirty days, and yesterday’s challenge was to rewrite an existing passage or story from one’s own oeuvre using a different writing voice from usual. Earlier, at work, I had finished writing an ad-hoc software-training guide, which of course reads much drier than the stuff I post here, and I jokingly asked her if that counted as fulfilling the challenge (she said yes).

But then I got to thinking about it, and I realized I kind of enjoyed writing the guide. I’ve compose plenty of training material, but this project was far more of the “From the sidebar, select McFly. You will be redirected to the Flux Capacitor page (see fig. 2.1)” variety, which is new for me. When I read the document back for revision, darn it if it didn’t sound like a real technical guide. Of course, it is real, but I was happy to have captured that voice exactly on my first attempt.

singing catWhere did I find my inner software-guide voice? It didn’t come from writing speculative fiction.

Looking back, I think of the surveys I created for research courses I took in college. My papers on medieval architecture. The press releases I had to write for my Public Relations Management class, that 3.5-hour-long beast that ran from 6:30 to 10:00 every Tuesday night throughout my final spring semester.

Even farther back, filling all those high-school English journals. The report on the history of Maryland I had to write and present in fourth grade (I puked during the presentation. Sorry Maryland. Nothing personal).

I’m not sure how those writing experiences conspired to help me come up with polished technical instructions, but I do know I have many distinct writing voices that can be applied in an array of scenarios. I admit I was not excited, at the time, about those writing assignments in college and primary school. Yet here they are, paying back the investment time and again.

So next time you’re slogging through some drab writing project or alphabet-sausage assignment when you’d rather be hammering out the third draft of your novel or weaving a soul-touching tapestry in poem, remember that your writing is still being served.

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How about you? What other kinds of writing do you do? Do you consider yourself a versatile writer?


Expedient does not mean “fast”

In my editing travels I have come across this error far more often than you’d believe. Indeed, I find “expedient” used incorrectly with greater frequency than I find it used correctly.

For the record, expedient means advantageous or advisable.

I surmise that, because the word is similar in spelling to “expedite,” people sometimes conflate the two. Also, the second syllable sounds like speed. It’s as if the word gods set a bear trap for us. What did we ever do to offend them? Other than mangle the language all day, that is.

Some example of incorrect and correct usage of “Expedient.”

kirk

Incorrect:

Captain Kirk seduced the green alien woman in an expedient manner, having beamed down to her planet only minutes earlier.

Correct:

It would be expedient for the green alien woman to get tested for an STD after spending the night with Captain Kirk, a noted lothario.

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Incorrect:

Usain Bolt ran the 100-meter dash expediently.

Correct:

If you intend to run the 100-meter dash against Usain Bolt, it is expedient to practice as often as possible. Nevertheless, you are going to lose.

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Incorrect:

Republicans and Democrats worked together and passed the anti-Godzilla legislation in an expedient fashion.

Correct:

It was politically expedient for Republicans and Democrats to work together on an anti-Godzilla bill, what with the massive beast closing in on Los Angeles.

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Incorrect (though, in its wrongness, still true):

When you write expediently, you run the risk of making silly mistakes.

Correct:

If you think “expediently” means “quickly,” it is expedient for you to buy a dictionary.

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Today’s theme song is Faster than the Speed of Light by Swedish hard-rock guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen, whose fingers sure are speedy. Vocals by the great Joe Lynn Turner of Rainbow. They don’t make rock singers like that anymore.


When Grammar and Political Correctness Collide

I see a lot of corporate documents every week, and the writing contained therein could keep me supplied with blog topics for the next year (assuming the chronic eye rolling doesn’t do me in first). Inflated language, random capitalization, buffer verbs, redundancy, awkward syntax, dangling modifiers, and parallel-construction problems abound, and each of those deserves a separate post.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565Today I shall discuss a truly cringe-inducing trend: Using nouns as verbs and adjectives. For example, let’s look at the word “partner.” We can all agree it’s a noun that refers to someone who takes an equal share of responsibility with someone else in an effort to accomplish a shared goal. Not all partners have the same significance in one’s life, but they are always nouns.

In college, you may have had a temporary partner in your “Japanese Superhero TV Shows Masquerading as American Productions 101” course. She created the Power Rangers charts and diagrams, while you researched and presented the various iterations (your thesis being that Dino Thunder was the best). Later, you might have a life partner who shares your bank account and helps you screw up the children you are raising together.

It has lately become acceptable to use “partner” as a verb, such as, “Jacob Marley partnered with Scrooge to form Bain Capital.” I’m not a big fan of this usage, but it comes in handy when I’m writing someone’s bio and already used “collaborated” and “worked with.”

It’s the adjective version that gets my cringe machine firing. “Our company seeks a partnering manager who is willing to work alongside and support the communications team in producing awful writing.”

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to this atrocity: Using “architect” as a verb.

That’s what I said. Architect is now being used as a verb in place of “design and implement.” For example, “The successful candidate will be called upon to architect a more efficient and streamlined production process.”

If you aren’t cringing by now, we can’t be friends.

The good news is that my job permits me to change these beastly little nuisances. Bless my employer for entrusting me to make those decisions many hundreds of times a day.

Ah, but the world always finds a new way to needle you, doesn’t it? It is no longer politically correct to use the adjective “female” when describing a human being. We must now use the word “woman” in its place, though the rules of English unequivocally state that the latter term is a noun.

Examples:

“There are not enough women directors in Hollywood.”

“Car-repair customers are more trusting of a woman mechanic.”

“We have not yet had a woman president, though we’ve had plenty of men presidents.”

Am I to understand that the biological descriptors use to differentiate between humans with two X chromosomes and humans with an X and a Y chromosome are degrading and oppressive? So much so that we mangle the language and wedge nouns in the place of adjectives?

Let’s take it to the extreme and see what we get:

“All embryos are inherently woman, but the release of testosterone at a certain stages induces the formation of man genitalia in some fetuses.”

“The woman alligator cares for her hatchlings while the man alligator has moved on to search for another mate.”

“To install your fiber optic cable, insert than man end into the corresponding woman receptacle on your surround-sound amplifier.”

How about it, folks? Am I an insensitive clod for caring more about grammar than about making sure crybabies don’t get offended by phantom insults?

Hmmm. I suppose that question wasn’t framed with the utmost neutrality, was it? Perhaps I’m just hopelessly operating from a male perspective. Er, a man perspective.

power rangers


Writing Tip # 72 – “As Such” does not mean “Therefore”

Greetings readers, writers, and orangutans with internet.

I see this one a lot in news articles, non-fiction books, and corporate documents … People using “as such” in place of Therefore, Thus, or As a result. That’s not what it means.

Example of such misuse from a fictional sports article:

“Luigi McGregor leads the National League with 73 home runs this season. As such, he is due for a substantial raise on his current salary of six bucks an hour.”

The problem with this construction is that the first sentence explains what Luigi did, not what he is.

“As such” is another way of saying, “Since he is that thing I just described.” Therefore, the imaginary writer of the above sports article is telling us that Luigi is either the National League, 73 home runs, or a baseball season. I guess it’s our choice.

To use “as such” correctly, the writer would have to say this:

“Luigi McGregor is the National League leader with 73 home runs this season. As such, he is due for a substantial raise on his current salary of six bucks an hour.”

Here, Luigi is described as the home run leader in the NL. In other words, my topic (Luigi) is a thing (NL home run leader). As such a thing, he is due for a raise.

More examples:

Bruce Springsteen is one of the most popular recording artists in America. As such, he should easily be able to sell out Giants Stadium.

Godzilla is a 200-foot-tall monster that spits atomic fire and tramples cities. As such, he has a hard time meeting women.

“Therefore” would have been acceptable in all these instances as well, but it is not interchangeable with “As such.” The latter only works when a topic is described as a thing, be it one of America’s most popular recording artists or a 200-foot tall monster.

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Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll explain how to wash your basement with a live goldfish.


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!

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!