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Writing Workshop

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Liz Fem

on 24 May 2014

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Transcript of Writing Workshop


A Truth about Writing
is a communication between you
and the audience,
a balance of cause and effect,
and an enormous series of choices that you make.
Every single choice
has a different effect on the audience.
There's no such thing as bad writing, only ineffective writing.
That's because writing
Either your writing has the effect you want,
or it does not.
Understanding this frees us from the idea of perfect English and "good" writing.

When people are rigidly attached to the idea of "good" writing, they usually don't write as well as they think.

Now we can focus on making the best choices for our audience.
Common audiences
Formal audience:
-expects Edited American English
(newspapers and gov't publications)
-expects neutral, respectful tone
-needs clear, intelligent phrasing
-expects significant revision and editing
Informal business audience
-expects edited American English
-does not expect thorough proofreading or revising
-may not accept vulgarity or over-sharing
-appreciates friendly but respectful tone
-expects some recognition of personal boundaries
Twitter subscribers who might be interested in buying Speed Stick for men
- younger men, usually
- expects humor
- expects Edited American English
(unless for humorous purposes)
- needs brevity, directness
- will not tolerate overt marketing or condescension, unless tongue-in-cheek
- appreciates satire, absurdist humor, irony, puns
- strongly appreciates timely references
Instructors and Professors in the MPS Business of Art and Design program
on assignments:
- expects Edited American English
- expects proofreading, revision
- appreciates creativity
- expects assignment criteria to be met
- needs exceptional clarity
expects acknowledgment of teacher /student hierarchy

in correspondence:
- expects Edited American English
- tolerates less clarity and more casual voice
- still expects teacher/student hierarchy
For an email to a coworker:
hi, just got your message i'm out with a client but am attaching the file.
Effective or not effective?
For a presentation at work:
Today, in an increasingly mobile, tormented and fragmented society, the role and purpose of a company publication is to build a silhouette of pertinence and to make effective contributions toward moderation across a protean spectrum of a corporation's public. The result is good business!
Effective or not effective?
For a tweet about Speed Stick:
Hey Twitter! Speed Stick has a great scent and awesome performance, making it the best choice for your deodorant needs.
Effective or not effective?
For a business plan for the MPS BAD program:

What is my business plan? Perhaps its better to ask what is business? Business has been cognizant since mankind's first civilization. In this fashion, business is the preservation of of our society's strongest core values. A plan, as dictionary.com defines it, is...

Effective or not effective?
Elements of Formal Writing
Many writers either neglect these or don't know how to effectively control them.

How do you want to sound?
Made up of many tiny subtle choices
Has a serious effect on the reader
Audiences respond instinctively
If you can't choose and control your tone, you run the risk of insulting or alienating readers, or even sabotaging your reputation

How do you want to sound?
respectful confident humble dismissive submissive friendly pompous smug furious somber threatening flirty regal snippy excited resentful witty sarcastic
email to a prospective employer
Final thesis for MPS
Cosmo magazine article
responding to comments
on your business's public Facebook page
How to control and change tone
Let's study these samples. Specifically, what has changed?
Thanks for the feedback. It was so helpful to me, and I hope I will improve.
Thank you again for the feedback, which was truly helpful. I look forward to improving this year.
I got your feedback. Thanks. I’ll do better.
I offer my sincerest thanks for the detailed feedback. I can say, most truthfully, that your feedback will help me in myriad ways, unimaginable ways. As much as is possible, I resolve to improve my performance.
So, thanks a lot for the feedback. It might help, actually.
Hey got the feedback, thanks. It’s going to help me out a bunch. This time next year, I’ll be a lot better.
Subtle changes
thanks / thank you / thanks again
I look forward to
so helpful / truly helpful / help me out
do better
I resolve to / I hope I will
actually (in fact, believe it or not)

bunch, a lot
short sentences
long, layered sentences
Without it, there is no point.
Yet it's often sacrificed in the hopes of impressing others.

Avoid writing to impress others.
Write to clarify, to please, to inform,
and you

Writers commonly assume they must choose between two mutually exclusive writing styles:
Childish, simple, clear
Intelligent, complex,
respectable, unclear
Global warming is bad.
We can make it better.
We should recycle.
It is tragically known that global warming represents a unfavorable situation in society. The possibility exists for us to improve the current conditions under which global warming persists.
There is a place where intelligence
and simplicity meet.
That place is called
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo da Vinci

“Any fool can make things bigger, more complex. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.” —Albert Einstein
Clarity is achieved through revision.
Be honest and sincere

Create a focus

Put away the thesaurus
Be truthful to the idea
What are you really trying to say?
The best way to start writing a clear sentence may be to
say your idea out loud

Often our speech is more focused and truthful than our writing, which we fluff up and fuss with until it is barely coherent. Step away from the screen and say it to yourself, or to someone else.
Keep the action clear--preferably human
Some fields prefer passive, inactive, human-less:
The sample was analyzed for traces of creatine.
Create a focus
Every sentence has a
and a
does what.

We add on stuff, but every reader is looking for this
does what.
Get to the point soon, and make the action clear.
Let's try this one from earlier:

The possibility exists for us to improve the current conditions under which global warming persists.

Grammatically the core is "the possibility exists."
How unpleasant and meaningless.

What's this sentence really saying? How can we move the real action front and center?
Put away the thesaurus
Fancy words do not impress people. Also, chances are high that you'll misuse a word, which is a quick and easy way to seem uneducated.
Vocabulary is only useful if it aids in understanding.
If a word doesn't naturally occur to you, it will likely feel forced and pointless.

My design company aims to surfeit
and mollify

to eat or drink to excess, to overindulge
to pacify and soothe

The only time to use a thesaurus is when you are trying to think of a word you know but you can't quite recall it.
Less is better.
Concise writing is crisp, effective, efficient, and engaging.
People want to keep reading it.
Not curt and snippy, but crisp and lively.
The strongest, most precise words.

The opposite of concise writing is wordy, flabby, bloated writing.
Contains extra words for no good reason.
Usually, the writer is trying to sound intelligent.
The opposite
No one likes it.
How to cut
1. Be ruthless
2. Don't get attached
3. Cut nominalizations
4. Replace phrases with words
5. Replace "to be"
6. Replace "it is" and "there are"
7. Scrutinize preposition strings
Refer to handout
Look for models
For tone, clarity, and conciseness, keep an eye out for clear and intelligent writing.
People don't do this enough.
As business professionals, your writing is another facet to manage. It is your intellectual reputation.
Take note of what particular phrases and words work.
I look forward, Truly
Most common word errors
Most common grammar errors
Starting a blind spot list

Common word errors
lose / loose
than / then
affect / effect
utilize / use
it's / its
Refer to the worksheet for more information
less / fewer
i / me
accept / except
who / whom
Blind spot list
We are not professional editors--
and even editors have reference books.
The best we (and editors) can do is to be aware of our weak spots.
Keep a list of your weak spots, and look out for them in your writing.
The goal is to internalize the list.
My list: lightning, across, attendance, calendar
Punctuation weights
: --
. ? !

adds words to sentences
connects whole sentences
separates whole sentences
Punctuation marks have different weights.
Lightweight marks cannot do heavy jobs.
Marks to add on
Wearing a hat,
Mary went outside.
Mary went outside
--more rain
, wearing a hat,
went outside.
Marks to connect sentences
Mary went outside
It was raining.
Mary went outside

it was raining.
Mary went outside.
--to my surprise--
went outside.
Mary went outside
it was raining.
Mary went outside
, and
it was raining.
two sentences and a medium mark--see how versatile the dash is?
Wait--what's a comma doing here?
When combined with a
a comma can connect sentences. Two light elements = heavy
Common problems
Using a comma to connect sentences
Using a semicolons randomly

Using "however" to connect sentences
I see your point, however, I disagree.
"However" is not a conjunction.
Leaving out commas after intro elements
After lunch time started to fly.
Switching between they/you/he/she/one
Not knowing apostrophe rules
“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
Know your audience
Tinker for tone
Aim for truth and simplicity
Cut everything you can
Know your blind spots
Collect good models
Keep writing
Don't aim to impress
Lighter marks let you add flourishes, like words, phrases, and other non-sentence things.
, who is Italian,
went outside.
Use heavier marks.
Imagine you've been asked to write a short
paragraph for a professional trade publication. Write a paragraph or two with your thoughts on this:

How should professionals decide what to do with their appearance (clothes, hair, etc.)? Do these choices matter?

Take 15 minutes to write.
Take ten minutes to revise your paragraph from earlier, keeping in mind:

writing vs. art & design

What are the parallels between the two processes? Are there more similarities or are there more differences?

In 1-2 para. Write for a formal audience. Don't try and make your writing perfect when you write. Get it all out, then focus on revising, tweaking, and editing.

Take 20 minutes to write.
Peer exchange
Give constructive feedback
and perspective.
What phrasing is excellent?
What could be clearer?
How are the verbs?
What could be cut?
Is tone consistent?
But in most fields, including business, readers crave humans, concrete actors with strong, active, understandable verbs.
The completion of the project occurred today by our team.
Our team completed the project.
The outlining of the process was done in the proposal.
The proposal outlined the process.
The response of the client was positive.
The client responded positively.
Despite the critical attention given to the study by the media, which claimed that there was nothing significant in the study, the significance of the study is that managers now need to model good behavior.
The study proved that managers now need to model good behavior, which is significant even though media critics claimed otherwise.
Sample to cut
This is to inform all employees that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated under any circumstances by this organization. Be advised that, in order to clarify the company position on this subject, the attached policy has been developed and provided for your reference. Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Smith if he can be of further assistance or provide you with additional information about this issue.
We will not tolerate sexual harassment. Please read the attached policy. Call Mr. Smith if you have questions.
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