Write for Business - Blog

UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Electronic Document - Please Scroll

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    During a visit last weekend, my father offered to send me some John Grisham novels he has finished with. Later, talking with my wife, I remarked that I've reached the point that if something isn't available in ebook or audiobook format, there's not much chance I'll get around to reading it. My bookshelves at home hold scores of books - both fiction and nonfiction - that have sat there for years unread, gathering dust.

    My PDA, on the other hand, has cycled through a couple of books every month for a dozen years now (many of them classics downloaded from Gutenberg.org), and I've taken to listening to audiobooks on the drive to and from work (again often from Gutenberg.org). Recently I picked up a Kindle reader to make those ebooks readable on a larger screen.

    My wife replied, "Oh, I think there will always be some people who want paper books. Don't you?" And I remarked that someone probably said the same thing about clay tablets or scrolls when the first bound books appeared. After all, you can't roll the text in a book with pages the way you can a good old scroll, right? (Now that I think about it, much electronic text is like a scroll in this regard.) In any case, she told me to hush, and I did.

    But of course it's something to think about, especially where business writing is concerned. Consider how much of your daily writing and reading is in electronic form. How many manuals do you now access in PDF format? How does this compare to a year ago? My payroll and banking statements both come as electronic documents now, and I'm happy they're archived online and easily searchable, instead of filling a filing cabinet drawer at my home. By the same token, it's easier to view a Gantt chart onscreen than as a multi-page printout. On the other hand, proofreading seems to remain quicker and more accurate on paper, and I don't think that's just due to habit.

    What's your own take on this subject? Are you happy to see the move to electronic text in business, or does it disturb you? What benefits does the printed word have that electronic text does not, and vice versa? Does the speed of publishing nowadays diminish its value? We'd love to hear your opinions.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by takomabibelot

    To Build a Fire

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    If you've never read Jack London's short story, "To Build a Fire," take a moment to do so now. I'm about to give away the ending, and you should definitely experience the tale beforehand. It's just over 7,000 words, well worth a few minutes of your time.

    Finished? I hope you agree that it's a powerful tale, well told. Interestingly, however, when London originally published the story, he wrote an ending in which the man endures and lives, just as the dog does in this version.

    On the surface, that earlier ending would seem appropriate for a tale about survival. But doesn't the version in which the man gives up just short make the point all the more convincingly? That's the ending that makes you want to keep going yourself, much more than "happily ever after."

    Writing itself is frequently an endurance game. That's especially true of large or difficult projects. Our first time writing a business plan can seem overwhelming. Similarly, composing a bad-news letter to a valued client can seem so painful we just want to delay. In such cases, the path to success is often just a matter of taking the first step and keeping going. Take each step you can see at the moment, and the next one becomes evident. Eventually you're out of the wilderness; you've reached your goal.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by arcticroute.com

    The Lost Sale You Never Saw

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010

    Every day UpWrite Press staff members spend some time trolling the Web for business-writing articles to pass along via Twitter. Few things make us happier than pointing out a helpful article or site. And few things sadden us more than having to bypass something interesting, simply because of a careless use of language that would reflect poorly on our recommendation.

    Today, for example, I came across an announcement for a one-day course intended to help business people write more persuasively, with less stress. It sounds like a great course, except for the page's ungrammatical opening statement:

    For professionals whose grammar and sentence structure are under control, but want better results and responses from their business writing.

    Does that description feel a bit "off"? It's because the verb "want" is left hanging without a subject to match. It can't be "for professionals want" nor "whose want," so we're left with "grammar and sentence structure want," which is grammatically correct but makes no sense. A simple "who" would fix things: "but who want," referring correctly back to "professionals." Without that fix, however, we're left with the unintended irony of grammar and sentence structure that are hardly under control.

    My purpose is not to ridicule. (You'll note that I've not identified the site.) Instead, I merely want to point out a missed opportunity. This instructor will likely never know that someone considered spreading the word about the course, but was turned away by that opening statement.

    In today's competitive business world, careful writing - with editing and proofreading - is sometimes viewed as an unaffordable luxury. But can we afford to have a potential sale walk away, unnoticed, because of a seemingly careless a bit of writing?

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Eastlaketimes

    When Writing is "For the Birds"

    Wednesday, September 01, 2010

    A customer wrote us recently about trouble "getting words down before I forget them." She explained that she finds writing slow and difficult, and that when sentences do begin to come, they fly too quickly to be recorded. So her best thoughts are often forgotten.

    I'm certain that many of us have felt the same way. It's as if those phrases are stray birds leaping into the sky, glimpsed once and then gone. The fact is, however, that stray thoughts can always be recaptured. Even birds have to land sometime. The trick to catching them is to use a net.

    That is to say, the early stages of a writing project are messy. Feathers should fly. Snatch a bird and stuff it in your sack and move on to the next. Later, you can decide how to arrange what you've captured - which ones to put together in which cages, which ones to let go because they don't belong, what order you want to display the cages themselves.

    Usually when people can't get started with a writing project, and then can't keep up once the ideas start coming, it's because they're subconsciously hoping to do it all in one draft. Often, they've come to think of writing as so difficult that they just want to get it over with. But again, even birds have to land sometime. A migration of a thousand miles isn't accomplished in one long swoop but as a series of shorter trips, each growing nearer to the final goal.

    That's my best advice in this case, but what ideas would you offer? Have you experienced a similar situation in your own writing, and if so, how did you overcome it? We'd love to hear your comments.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by mikebaird

    From Dilemma to . . . Dilemonade

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Sociologists say that when someone joins a long-standing community, that person is always viewed as "the newcomer," even decades later. The one exception is the person who remains awhile, goes away, and then comes back to stay. For some reason, the human psyche is designed to view this second person as "an old-timer."

    As a parallel, a bad-news situation in business can actually become good news. It can be used to create a stronger bond between people, if the communication is handled correctly.

    Consider: Which of the following suppliers would you be most comfortable with?

    1. Someone who's Web site and catalog look great, with many glowing testimonials, but with whom you have no experience
    2. Someone you purchased from before, with no problem, but who can be contacted only via an online form
    3. Someone you purchased from before, who once delayed an order due to a materials defect, but who personally phoned and/or e-mailed you immediately to notify, explain, and apologize

    Assuming the problems with hypothetical supplier #3 aren't regular, I'd predict you might feel most comfortable doing business there. That personal phone call or e-mail with its confession of error actually builds trust in a way that perfection cannot, because a perfect record gives no indication of how problems will be handled when they do occur.

    Of course, I'm not suggesting that you go creating problems to solve just to build trust in your business dealings. However, when a problem does arise, you can look at it as an opportunity instead of a disaster. A quick confession, followed by a confident solution, can make you part of a trusted community far more than mere perfection can.

    How does this idea match up with your own experience? Do you have an example of a disaster turned into a gem? We'd love to hear about it. Click to comment below.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by boo_licious