Welcome to the February edition of Business writing ideas.
After 11 days leave, I am feeling refreshed and ready to start the working year (the first few weeks of January felt like a continuation of 2012 so 1 February is unofficially the start of 2013 for me!)
While I was away, I attended a community meeting for bushfires in the area. I was impressed at how the CFA and police were communicating with the town even though it was not under immediate threat. It was interesting to hear how many communication channels are available for fire notices – and the recommendation to use more than one in case one fails.
Do you have any backup plans in your business? Whether it is protecting everything from bushfire and floods, or just having options in case your website goes down or your phone stops working, having some contingencies in place is a wise move.
Late last year I added a plugin to my blog which automates backups for me – saving the files on my server, computer and/or in Dropbox. One less thing for me to remember to do!
Use your words wisely and have a great 2013,
Recent blog posts you may find useful:
You can write great client letters
Reviewing the usefulness of old content links
Checking meaning is important
A drop of honey in your writing works
Translation and transcription styles
Do you need to hire an expert?
Honesty in your blog comments
Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
— Miguel Angel Ruis
Fix or replace?
By Tash Hughes of Word
When something isn’t quite working in your business, do you automatically try fixing it rather than considering replacement?
Personally, I don’t like throwing things out too quickly – I hate that it is cheaper to buy a new item instead of replacing a simple part for instance. But there is a time and place for replacements, too.
Let’s take a communications example – Michelle’s website. Michelle started her business in 2008 and had a designer develop a lovely, fresh looking website for her. Over time, the content has changed a bit, some new sections were needed so the menu items have been juggled around, social media widgets and links have been added, and the header was changed to include the phone number on every page.
Now Michelle wants her site to be mobile friendly. She could have two separate sites (one standard and one mobile) but has decided to make her main site mobile suitable (and changes in technology mean the need for distinct sites is decreasing).
What would you do? Just add various fixes to her existing site, or get a designer to recreate her site with mobile friendly features included?
Doing fixes could be less disruptive – make a change here and there is less noticeable than revamping the entire site – and probably quicker and cheaper.
Creating a new site is a major project but it means everything will work well together and provides an opportunity to objectively look at the site and establish a useful navigation plan.
In Michelle’s case, I am helping her make some quick fixes to give us time to plan out a site upgrade.
I think it is worth considering replacements and upgrades in business – there comes a point when too many fixes make a tool hard work and inefficient which somewhat defeats the purpose of having that tool.
Whether itís a business book or something to relax with, not paying for delivery is great!
Explain acronyms and abbreviations
By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions
An effective message is easy for the reader to understand.
The key point is that the reader has to understand it, not the writer. So we need to try hard to write for our intended audience, which means explaining things that may be very obvious to you.
For example, any accountant in Australia will understand ‘Your BAS is due at the ATO by 28 February’ but will the new business people you are writing to know what it means?
Best practice is to write out an acronym in full words the first time you use it in a piece of writing, adding the acronym in brackets afterwards. You can then use the acronym for the rest of that piece – even if they have forgotten what it means, they can refer back to the start. This applies for all audiences.
So our example above would become ‘Your Business Activity Statement (BAS) is due at the Australian Tax Office (ATO) by 28 February.’
Abbreviations, on the other hand, may be acceptable if you are writing to a specific audience. For instance, when writing instructions to designers, I often write about ‘the second para needs to swap with para four’ as I know they understand para is short for paragraph.
I would not write ‘para’ in an article aimed at people learning to write well. If I was writing to a group of writers with some experience, I might choose to write ‘each paragraph (or para for short) needs to cover one idea’..
Theory has its place, but an example often makes learning something much easier. In many areas, an example of a mistake or poor quality is an even more effective teacher than examples of the correct technique so here is such an example to learn from…
Reading about a drug prescribed to a relative, I came across a website dedicated to that drug and found numerous issues on the home page. This really worries me – not just because the company appears unprofessional (and their attention to detail is crucial – no one wants ‘good enough’ doses) but because this is an important topic and clear communication is essential.
Surely a drug company can afford to get their website written properly – or at least pay for someone to proof read it?
Here is one simple example of poor communication (compared to examples of poor word use such as ‘before the drug is scribbled…’) with a changed drug name.
It is good not to get pregnant while taking OurDrug. In case you get pregnant, inform your doctor immediately…
Although these sentences are short, they contain unnecessary words that make them harder to understand. In fiction, writing things in unusual ways an add interest and flavour to the story – in business and medical communication, clarity is much more important.
Looking at the first sentence alone, we read it as:
It is good – ok this is what I should do, remember this - not to get pregnant – I should get pregnant? Oh, not to get pregnant. Ok, so getting pregnant is not good - while taking OurDrug.
As soon as I read ‘it is good’ I am expecting an instruction to follow, rather than something to avoid, so it confuses me to twist my thinking around.
As for the second sentence, what am I meant to inform my doctor about just in case I get pregnant (and remember I may well be a man reading this, and most people reading about this drug will be thinking of older patients)? Do they mean inform my doctor if I actually get pregnant or that I hoping to be pregnant?
‘In case’ means preparing against an event so I carry my umbrella in case it rains and leave home early in case traffic slows me down.
Avoid getting pregnant while taking OurDrug. If you do get pregnant, inform your doctor immediately.
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