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Effective Writing AUA 2008 James Craig Project Manager Faculty of Engineering The University of Leed


Illegally-parked vehicles may be clamped or removed. ... industry that would see this solution as the thin edge of the inevitable wedge' ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Effective Writing AUA 2008 James Craig Project Manager Faculty of Engineering The University of Leed

Effective Writing AUA 2008 James Craig Project
Manager Faculty of Engineering The University of
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No subject should be too difficult to
communicate to an ordinary, well-educated
person Jacob Bronowski (1908 to 1974)
Outline 1. Introduction 2. Spelling and
Grammar 3. Punctuation 4. Style 5. Email and
memos 6. Letter writing 7. Reports
1. Introduction
It is said that 93 of communication is
non-verbal. Business writing is totally
non-verbal! This means that the sense of what is
being communicated must reside solely in the ink
on the page.
Poor communication by managers is consistently
cited as the number one management shortcoming.
Poor business writing wastes peoples time and
leads to poor decision-making.
By contrast, good writing can be a joy to read.
It can make an otherwise potentially boring
subject come alive.
Good managers know how to communicate and stand a
better chance of making their organisations
Fundamental principles applicable to all business
writing- Thorough planning Correct
grammar Knowing your audience (readership) Knowing
the purpose Striking the right tone Revising and
This session is not about- 1. Creative writing
as such (some creativity in business writing is
helpful but not creative in the sense of great
literature) 2. Legal writing which has its own
set of conventions 3. Expert-to-expert - use of
accepted jargon academic writing etc or
4. Departmental shorthand again, jargon/
abbreviations etc known to a set of individuals
within an organisational unit or particular
2. Spelling and Grammar
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HW Fowler (1858 to 1933) A Dictionary of Modern
English Usage First published 1926 Considered by
many to be the definitive guide to modern English
Spelling… No excuse for bad spelling! Use a
dictionary if in doubt. Be cautious about using
MS spell- checker, however. Know its
Ask a friend or colleague to read through your
draft first, if your document is particularly
important. (In fact, reading a draft document to
a colleague out loud in the office, is a great
way of finding errors)
Grammar- Nouns verbs pronouns adjectives
etc…. Understand the parts of speech. Understand
the meaning of, for example Phrase - a group
of words which acts as a noun, adjective or
adverb Clause a group of words containing a
finite verb active/ passive distinction
A transitive verbs takes an object An
intransitive verb does not! Shall-will
should-would-could can-may-might etc
Well worth reading- Michael Temple Grammar
Book Blackwell Bookshops only 1.00 only!
Sir Ernest Gowers et al The Complete Plain
Words Publ David R Godine (hardback) Penguin
Some terrible mistakes - or are they so terrible
after all? (a) Beginning a sentence with a
conjunction (eg but or and although)…..
But, my dear Watson, the criminal obviously wore
expensive boots or he would not have taken such
pains to scrape them clean. Make it a rule to
consider whether your conjunction would repose
more naturally within the previous sentence or
would lose in useful emphasis by being demoted
from its position at the head of a new
sentence. Source Washington State University
(b) Split infinitives (does it really matter that
Whilst WoS Web of Science data are generally
of good quality, …. (and this is in line with our
established practice to always invite
institutions to validate data that will be used
in funding)….. HEFCE Consultation document
ref 2007/34 - Research Excellence Framework -
paragraph 38
(c) Ending a sentence with a preposition
Does your ear not tell you where the preposition
goes best? Do not use a preposition to end a
sentence with or do not use a preposition with
which to end a sentence.
3. Punctuation
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Correct punctuation is very important. Incorrect
punctuation can change the whole meaning of a
sentence. The award-winning book Eats, Shoots
and Leaves (Lynne Truss) is sub-titled The Zero
Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
Punctuation is a courtesy designed to help
readers to understand a story without
stumbling A national newspaper, quoted by Lynne
Truss in Eats, Shoots and Leaves, p7
Dear Jack, I want a man who knows what love is
all about. You are generous, kind thoughtful.
People who are not like you admit to being
useless and inferior. You have ruined me for
other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings
whatsoever when we are apart. I can be forever
happy - will you let me be yours? Jill
Dear Jack, I want a man who knows what love is.
All about you are generous, kind thoughtful
people, who are not like you. Admit to being
useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For
other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings
whatsoever. When we are apart I can be forever
happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Jill
Girls Stuff found in www.cyclestore.co.uk -
online bike shop. - Girls stuff what? Cyclists
only (his only what?) Adult Learners
Week Lynne Truss lists eight correct uses of the
An FE College in the north of Englandseeking to
appeal to a prosperous residential area. Large,
costly advertisement in a local newspaper Come
and see our students work
No parking allowed except in a designated area
contrary to byelaw 14 traffic signs, causing
obstructions and parking. Copies are available
in the booking office for your reference. Sign
at Shipley Railway Station, West Yorkshire
Please park in a designated area only. Vehicle
clamping and removal are in operation. Northern
Rail Byelaw 14. Copies are available in the
Ticket Office
4. Style
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Do not say a little in many words, but a great
deal in a few - Pythagoras
Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should
endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted
by more showy qualities, to be direct, simple,
brief, vigorous and lucid…..
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should
contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no
unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a
drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a
machine no unnecessary parts William Strunk,
Jnr (1869 to 1946)
Northern Rail Byelaw 14 states The owner of the
motor vehicle, bicycle or other conveyance shall
be liable to an Operator or an authorised person
for the costs incurred in clamping, removing and
storing it provided that there is in that area a
notice advising that any vehicle parked contrary
to these Byelaws may be clamped, removed and
stored by an Operator or authorised person and
that the costs incurred by an Operator, or an
authorised person for this may be recovered from
the vehicles owner. Byelaw (14)(4)(iii)
In other words Illegally-parked vehicles may be
clamped or removed. The vehicles owner will not
be required to pay for recovery where no warning
sign exists.
(a) Try to use short sentences but not solely
short sentences. Many people write as they
speak. Aim for a mixture of short and
medium-sized sentences. Avoid long sentences
and certainly avoid long sentences which are not
punctuated by semi-colons or colons.
There is an intermediate solution, however one
that is technologically feasible, economically
reasonable, environmentally beneficial and, I
suspect, more socially acceptable, although the
foot-dragging feebleness of politicians would
undoubtedly be the main stumbling block and their
inaction would be backed by a powerful motor
industry that would see this solution as the thin
edge of the inevitable wedge. John Whitmore
Daily Telegraph Motoring Supplement, 1st March
There is an intermediate solution, however one
that is technologically feasible, economically
reasonable, environmentally beneficial and, I
suspect, more socially acceptable. However, the
foot-dragging feebleness of politicians would
undoubtedly be the main stumbling block. Their
inaction is likely to be backed by a powerful
motor industry envisaging this solution as the
thin edge of the wedge. John Whitmore
Daily Telegraph Motoring Supplement, 1st March
2008 - modified
(b) Continuing with the theme of sentence length,
avoid parentheses wherever possible. A
parenthesis may be a comma, dash or bracket.
Avoid sentences such as Copies of the minutes
of the sub-committee (eleven have already been
circulated to the externally-elected
representatives), will be made available at the
beginning of the next meeting.
It is not always appropriate to end a sentence
with a bracketed statement (such as this one).
Try writing sentences containing a comma or
semi-colon instead, such as this one.
Parentheses enable the writer to dodge the
trouble of arranging his thoughts properly but
he does so at the expense of the reader,
especially if the thought that he has
spatch-cocked it into the sentence is an abrupt
break in it, or a long one, or both Ernest
Gowers The Complete Plain Words
(c) Remove obsolete words! Many of these sound
natural in normal speech, but clutter up written
sentences- I am writing… I write… Basically
true True. (If the truth is qualified in some
way, proceed to explain why in a subsequent
sentence). To arrange a mutually convenient
time To arrange a time. (The words mutually
and convenient are both unnecessary, since if
the time is neither mutual nor convenient, it is
no use anyway).
At this point in time Now Right at the moment
Now At a later stage Later Right of Way
Priority Prior to Before (The word prior is
unnecessary and slightly unwieldy here, although
it has legitimate uses in other contexts) Make an
appointment to Appoint On a part-time basis
Part-time Proposition Plan or Project At its
meeting on 4th April 2007, the Property Committee
decided to…. The Property Committee on 4th
April 2007….
More phrases to avoid- To be perfectly honest
- sounds insincere, and may highlight simmering
negative conflict Needless to say so why say
it? Enclosed herewith or please find enclosed
unnecessary formality. Instead, write I
enclose As you are aware no need to state
the obvious! Please be advised again,
unnecessary formality. You are about to advise
them, so just do it! Please complete and
return the same to this office (referring to a
form just mentioned). Please complete and
return it to this office.
Incidentally a noise without meaning
(Gowers) Avoid! Particular intrudes as an
unnecessary reinforcement of a demonstrative
pronoun. Avoid! Padding generally avoid!
It is appreciated that It will be noted
that At the end of the day
(d) Avoid get and got. These are lazy words!
There is always a more precise word you can use,
eg obtain seek calculate collate purchase
borrow arrive negotiate establish build
secure fetch position.
(e) Avoid clichés. A cliché may be defined as a
phrase whose aptness in a particular context when
it was first invented has won it such a
popularity that it has become hackneyed, and is
used without thought in contexts where it is no
longer apt. Ernest Gowers The Complete
Plain Words
(f) Avoid business jargon- Across the piece Air
it out Agreeance Alpha geek Betamaxed Deskjockey
Hunker-down McJob Maxed out Spokesweasel SWAG Updr
Avoid- Across the piece - affecting the whole
organisation Air it out - discuss an issue
openly Agreeance - fancy way of saying agree
Alpha geek - IT Director Betamaxed - product
overtaken by an inferior but well- marketed
alternative Deskjockey office
worker Hunker-down - prepare for difficult
business challenges ahead McJob - demeaning or
low-ranking position Maxed out - too busy to take
on any extra work Spokesweasel - a public
relations agent SWAG - scientific wild-assed
guess Updrain analyse what is really happening
(g) Try to use the active voice rather than the
passive voice. HEFCE granted the
University a special green mobility incentive
award of 2.3m rather than The University
was granted a special green mobility incentive
award of 2.3m by HEFCE
Avoid over-long paragraphs. Short sentences
short paragraphs Every paragraph is a unit of
thought, not of length. Every paragraph must be
homogeneous in subject matter, and sequential in
treatment of it. Ernest Gowers Complete Plain
5. Email and memos
You must know- 1. your subject 2. your reason
for writing and 3. your reader Bear these three
in mind throughout.
For those of us who remember what life was like
before the invention of email (!), try and regard
an internal email message as a memo. Regard an
external email as a letter.
Email should always be written in proper
sentences and paragraphs. Avoid texting
style. Can be less formal than reports/
external letters in appropriate circumstances,
but avoid making too informal if the content is
official and could re-bound. Follow your
organisations IT code of conduct for (do you
know what that is?)
6. Letter Writing
You must know- 1. your subject 2. your reason
for writing and 3. your reader Bear these three
in mind throughout.
You wont get a second chance to make a first
impression its clichéd, but true. Before
even writing, ask yourself the following- Does
the reader know me? What do I wish to
accomplish? Do I need the reader to take action
and if so, what? Have I suggested a course of
action? Is there enough background? How would I
feel if such a letter were to arrive on my desk/
on my doorstep at home?
Greeting Body Closing Make the purpose of
your letter abundantly clear at the outset. Lead
paragraph, buttressed by subsequent, back-up
text. This is accurate and not cluttered by
emotive language etc. Always be human.
Tactful courteous helpful sympathetic etc
Clear simple brief polite human (as discussed
above) Request letters refine your
diplomatic skills do not be insincere or
impatient do be honest about your reason for
writing do be brief avoid the hard sell
avoid sounding too confident do not flatter do
not patronise do thank the recipient for their
time and attention
7. Reports
You must know- 1. your subject 2. your reason
for writing and 3. your reader Bear these three
in mind throughout.
A clear pattern. Follow your house-style. Very
brief (page or two of A4 with appendices if need
be even for the most complex of
issues) (1) Executive Summary (2) Introduction
(background/ history) (3) Body of the report
(analysis) (4) Conclusion and recommendations at
the end
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Sir Ron Dearing
Former Chairman and Chief Executive of the Post
Office One side of A4 only
A template for report writing- (a) Define the
purpose (b) Gather the research material (c)
Analyse the findings (d) Sketch an outline
report (e) Write the Introduction Body
Conclusion (f) Write the Executive Summary -
which will go at the head of the report (g)
Append source material (h) Publish!
Researching and presenting the material Essay-wri
ting techniques Mind maps (Tony
Buzan) http//www.buzanworld.com/ Identify the
few key issues, and work the material around
those. Simple and logical. Identify evidence,
pros/ cons/
Number all paragraphs. Set out all options very
clearly, especially towards the end
(a)…(b)…(c)…etc. Cite sources always write a
clear, concise recommendation or recommendations
at the end of the report if any kind of decision
is sought. (If the author of the report is
unable to provide a recommendation, list the pros
and cons of each option (a)…(b)…(c)…etc.
Avoid appending complete previous reports.
Develop the art of summarising a report in a
short paragraph or less. People dont read
complete reports especially if previously
circulated in full and considered at an earlier
Minutes Minutes range in style from a set of
bullet points identifying action points, to a
complete history of what was said, eg Hansard.
An effective report with recommendations or
option analysis (see above) will increase the
chance of a good decision and, hence, a
well-drafted minute. Use the recommendations in
the report to draft the minute if the report
has been well-written and the meeting
Styles vary, but in general, effective minutes
are- Uniquely numbered Concise Written in the
past tense Devoid of named individuals views
Centred on the decision (again, linkage with a
well-drafted report in the first
place!) Self-contained (brief summary of the
report that gave rise to the discussion rather
than a blow-by-blow chronological account of what
was said) how will someone view the minutes in
40 years time?
Other hints- Use as much functionality in MS
Word as you can. Dont take the spelling or
grammar tools too seriously, though. Type the
numbers 1 to 10 in full Always leave two spaces
between sentences. Keep it simple Times New
Roman or Arial, 10 or 12 font size. Black text
and white background in email messages (although
visually-impaired and/or dyslexic people often
prefer a coloured backround). Remember to remove
the amendment history if emailing out a Word
References- A good dictionary (OUP, Collins or
Chambers 1,000 pp plus) - and use it. A good
thesaurus HW Gower A Dictionary of Modern
English Useage
Lynne Truss Eats, Shoots Leaves Profile
Books, 2004 Sir Ernest Gowers The Complete
Plain Words Penguin Third edition, 1987 Gary
Kranz Communicating Effectively Collins,
2007 Michael Temple Grammar Book Blackwell
only 1.00 and worth every penny!
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