If you want to make a good impression, you need to make sure that your documents are polished and professional, with every element right where readers expect it. Think about how you prepare for a job interview. You wear specific kinds of clothes. You carry specific accessories, depending upon your field. You make sure that you look polished, not wrinkly. Everything is exactly right and just as the interviewer expects it. Nothing is missing.
If you need help polishing your work, check out how to Make Your Boring Documents Look Professional in 5 Easy Steps, from The Visual Communication Guy. His post demonstrates easy changes you can make to jazz up your documents.
This week, the daily posts focus on correspondence in general. You will find posts that apply to letters, memos, and email messages—all of which you write in the workplace. Since none of the course projects focuses on correspondence, these posts will cover this important topic.
Most people don’t want to receive bad news. Likewise, unless we’re talking about the Wicked Witch of the West, Voldemort, or Darth Vader, most people are uncomfortable when they have to give someone bad news. Continuing our focus on correspondence this week, today’s #FridayFact explains how to write a bad new message that gets the point across without alienating the reader.
Typically, bad news messages begin with some kind of “buffer” that cushions the negative information. This indirect approach allows you to break the news gently to your reader. There are times, however, when a more direct approach is appropriate, such as in an emergency situation or when the bad news is expected.
How to Organize a Paper: The Indirect Method (for Writing Bad News) includes a chart that outlines when to use an indirect approach to giving your readers bad news and when to use a more direct approach. The chart on the webpage tells you what to include in your message, whether it is direct or indirect. You’ll also find explanations of the information to provide in the different sections of your bad news message.
This week, I am sharing resources that will help you with your resumes, cover letters, and other job application materials, based on a request included in the midterm evaluations you submitted.
With yesterday’s infographic on robot readers, you might think that an online presence on LinkedIn will give you have you need in the job market. No such luck. You need LinkedIn AND a resume to succeed.
The Harvard Business Review’s “Do You Need a Résumé in the LinkedIn Era?” explains, “When you are actually applying for a job, however, neither LinkedIn nor a professional landing page can replace the résumé. A strong résumé is still the gateway to an interview….”
Read more in the Harvard Business Review’ post, where you will also find tips on ways to use LinkedIn and personal websites.
Image credit: Linkedin Chocolates by Nan Palmero on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
At some point, you are going to face a challenge that threatens your progress on a project in the workplace. No matter how hard you work, it’s bound to happen. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes someone else is to blame.
Regardless of who is responsible, the important question is how you will respond. You have to decide what you can do that will preserve your (and/or the company’s) reputation while still satisfying the needs and requirements of your client.
That is where today’s #FridayFact comes in: The best strategy is to let people know of problems immediately. I don’t mean call the stakeholders in a panic, of course. Meet with your team or your manager, and figure out how to handle the situation.
As soon as you have a plan, let your stakeholders know. Tell them what happened, why it happened (if pertinent), and what you are going to do. Don’t blame anyone. That doesn’t help. Focus on how you will do your best to get the project in as close to the deadline as possible.
Sometimes you need your stakeholders to help with the solution. Perhaps they will need to approve a new supply or a different design. In those cases, you meet with your team to figure out the alternatives and their strengths and weaknesses. Once you have the options figured out, contact the stakeholders with the information, giving them a recommendation for the best choice.
In addition to my suggestions, check out The Muse’s suggestions for What to Do When You Know You’re Going to Miss a Deadline.
P.S. Anyone other than me bugged by the gender representation in that infographic? Notice that it’s all men, except for the suggestion that deals with cleaning. Grr.
Note: This infographic has a transcript.
To avoid being accused of spreading untrue information, be a fact checker. When you write a document in the workplace, your first task is to compose the document; but before you send that project out to your readers, you need to do some fact checking to verify the ideas.
You know all about fact checking from the news. Fact checking isn’t just for political speeches however. In the same way that you will doublecheck your calculations in a budget, you need to confirm the facts and sources that you include in your report.
Read more about the importance of fact checking in the Medium post Three Important Reasons Why You Need to Fact Check Your Content, and then follow up by reading Five Tips for Fact Checking Your Content! Pay particular attention to Tip #3, which will result in different answers for every career field.
If you’d like to add a comment, focus on Tip #3, which will result in different answers for every career field. Tell us “what counts as a legitimate source” in your field, and why you believe it is legitimate. What about it makes it reliable?
There are lots of misconceptions about how writing works. I bet everyone in this course has had teachers who followed different rules for the same situation.
Formatting was always different from one teacher to the next when I was in college. One teacher would want the page numbers in the upper right corner. Another would want the page numbers center bottom. Still another would want your last name at the bottom left and the page number at bottom right.
When it came to writing, one teacher insisted on a formal outline before you began a first draft. Another said the best way to write was to just start freewriting. Yet another teacher wanted brainstorming or cluster maps.
Who’s right about all these things? Who decides on the rules that we follow? Monique Dufour and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson suggest
Think of good writing as the thoughtful use of an evolving repertoire, rather than adherence to a static list of commandments. In order to become a skillful writer, one discovers and experiments with a range of techniques. A writer draws upon this repertoire to meet the needs of the project, the ideas at hand, and the rhetorical situation. (p. 123)
It turns out all those very specific techniques that people believe are “the only way” to write are just another bad idea about writing. Dufour and Ahern-Dodson explain why in their piece “Good Writers Always Follow My Rules” in the online textbook Bad Ideas About Writing (2017).
Read through Dufour and Ahern-Dodson’s chapter and/or browse some of the other topics covered in Bad Ideas About Writing. All of the pieces are short, four to five page on average.
Once you have looked at the variety of bad ideas about writing in general, consider leaving a comment that explains a bad idea about technical writing that you have witnessed in your experience in your field. Your comment should explain the idea and why it’s a bad idea. You can include details about your experience as well, but you do NOT need to write a whole entry like those in Bad Ideas About Writing.
We’ve looked at some videos that describe how headings contribute to a document. We’ve had posts on Information-Rich Signposts and Reader-Friendly Proposals. Today’s #FridayFact continues that theme with a resource that demonstrate how specific, informative headings increase readability.
This resource from the University of Minnesota shows the differences between generic category headings, descriptive headings, and informative headings. As you examine the three kinds of headings, think about how you can apply this fact to your proposal.
Use the arrows in the upper left corner of the PDF toolbar to move from one page to another.
If you want a positive response to your proposal, be up front with the key information. Don’t keep your readers in suspense, waiting for the details.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Don’t Make Your Innovation Proposal into a Hitchcock Movie” explains that readers don’t like to wait for the details in a proposal. Suspense works well for movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho, author Scott Anthony argues, but proposal readers want the key information right way. Anthony explains, “You simply cannot leave them waiting and wondering about what you want to do and what you need.”
As is the case with all writing, audience awareness can make or break your proposal. Your document has to give readers what they want and need. “The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing,” according to Harvard Business Review’s Tucker Max, is that your document “has to be about the reader, not about you.” Read the article for three questions that will help you make sure you meet your reader’s expectations.
Photo credit: The Psycho House by Steve on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license
We all rely on grammar and style checkers to help us find the small errors in our writing. Anyone who has had autocorrect go wrong, however, knows that grammar and spell checkers are not necessarily accurate. Sometimes (as in the case of the unicorn-riding police officer in the image on the right) these tools can change our messages to say things we never intended.
In the same way that you must double-check the changes that autocorrect suggests, you have to pay attention to the grammar and style tools that are available in your word processors. Read the Slate.com article Microsoft Word’s Grammar and Style Tools Will Make Your Writing Worse for lots of examples of how Word can suggest changes that will confuse your readers.
Finally, as long as you are still at Virginia Tech, remember that you have free access to the Lynda.com course Grammar Foundations (below). You can look up any grammar questions you have there.
Note: This video has closed captioning, so it does not need a transcript.
This week, I have been sharing information to help you polish the content and design of your Analysis project. Today, I am continuing that theme with my #FridayFact: Tables can be boring. If you do not work on document design, tables are often a visual jumble of words and numbers. Same goes for spreadsheets, but we won’t talk about them in this course.
Back to tables, with so much information jammed into columns and rows, the information can become hard to read. If it’s hard to differentiate between the rows of information, readers can easily lose track of where they are in a table. When the column headings scroll out of view, readers may not recall the information every column contains.
To help you solve the challenge of boring tables, I have these articles you can read and apply to your Analysis project:
There are a lot of ads on these pages. I use a browser extension that hides all the ads. I never see them at all. If the ads bother you, you might try one of the blockers too. I’m using Adblock in the Chrome browser.
Photo credit: Old French Table by French Finds on Flickr, used under a CC-BY license.