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Savvy Communication: Writing Like a Pro

Nothing can make you look less professional than a poorly written letter or email. Learn how to do it right.
by

Sarah Meinel

on 17 April 2013

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Transcript of Savvy Communication: Writing Like a Pro

Savvy Communication in the Workplace Writing Like a Pro(fessional) Steps in the Writing
Process It's important to recognize that writing is a process.

There are steps one must take during the writing process in order to produce a polished, professional product, no matter what the medium of communication is (email, letter, fax, etc). This is what happens when you skip the steps of the writing process: 1. DRAFTING A. List important points or write them free-style

B. Reread and continue adding content until your main points are covered. 2. Revision A. Content
B. Style/Tone
C. Structure
D. Format 3. Edit / Proofread A. Correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting.
B. Double-check information such as dates, recipients, deadlines, etc.
C. Improve the quality of sentences and overall readability. GENERAL REMINDERS Fonts & Formatting Keep it simple and clean.
No colors,
Curlicues,
Fancy fonts,
Flashing graphics,
or Unrelated graphics. What are the industry standards? Slow Down... Read one last time before sending. Double-check:
Formatting,
Recipients,
Font,
Hyperlinks,
Tone Rule of thumb #2:
Defer to the recipient Your writing style will vary depending on
recipient AND content Consider whether your email is helpful to them: Remember that emails & letters offer no
sense of meaning beyond the
language and tone that are used;
there is no body language or
social cue to help the recipient
understand your meaning. Be careful to communicate your thoughts
as clearly and objectively as you can. Make decisions very thoughtfully about the best
way to communicate your points Be Savvy 1. Write full sentences.
2. Use punctuation
3. Utilize paragraph breaks and white space. Ah, the elusive professional email!
What to do? What not to do? EMAILS SUBJECTS One subject per email 2. If there is a separate subject that arises, make a note that you will be sending a separate email. If the subject changes, change the subject line
accordingly. Email subjects can be tricky. You need to send an email to a colleague to request a training on the intersection of substance abuse and domestic violence. What will your subject line say? As you correspond about the training, you realize that you also need ask the same colleague about a committee meeting that you missed. What do you do now? SUBJECT LINES Tell the recipient what to expect and how to
prioritize his/her inbox Do not send emails without subject lines. You want to try to capture the main subject/purpose of the email in a few words or less. HMMMM... NAVIGATION Lead with your purpose. 1. Start by indicating WHY your are writing: What is the subject of the email and what is your purpose? WHO 1. Acknowledge any CC's and why you have included them.
2. If you add someone the recipient does not know, introduce them.
3. If you add a new recipient to an existing thread, indicate that you have included them and why.
-Remember! If you include a new recipient, that person will also need direction regarding what to the with the thread, possibly a summary of the issues in the thread, and why you are including them. What and Why? ATTACHMENTS 1. If you attach a document, refer to it in the email when it is relevant.
2. Include hyperlinks where appropriate, in the text or below it with a reference to the link in the text.
3. Inform recipients of what to do with attachments and links, and by when. DEADLINES 5. Be sure to indicate what the next steps will be once the deadline has passed. -A specific action that needs to take place outside
of the email, such as a document review. SET DEADLINES FOR: MAKE AN IMPACT WITH CLEAR,
EFFECTIVE LAYOUTS Do not overwhelm the recipient! 1. Keep everything within one screen.
-Attach a separate doc. if needed
2. Create a bullet-point list for itemized info.
3. Use paragraphs breaks--one main point per paragraph. White space helps a reader. Emails are not content holders.
They are communication vessels. NEXT STEPS/CALL TO ACTION What now? Tell the recipient what to expect from you: If you included a task assignment, restate the assignment and what you will do once their step is completed, and by when. Make Suggestions: If you are reviewing a problem, suggest options for responding to it, and indicate any factors in those options--pros and cons--that you have already thought through. Tell them what you need from them: Do you simply need approval for the recommendation you have made? Are you looking for additional options? Are you seeking information in order to make a decision? Do you need to schedule a meeting? In addition to tasks you may need the recipient to complete be clear about any other purposes for the email. FORMATTING Content is not the only important part of writing a professional email; the way it is formatted reflects polish, attention to detail, and sophistication. SALUTATION (HI !) Formal Emails: 1. Good morning/afternoon,
2. Greetings,
3. Dear...
-Ms. (default for women)
-Mr.
-Dr.
-Jan Smith (if gender is unclear) Casual Emails 1. Hello Jane,
2. Hi Jane, -First name basis
-Keep it simple--No need for formal salutations
-When in doubt, ask if you can use the recipient's first name.
"May I call you Jane?" -Keep things formal and use titles when appropriate.
-Includes cover letters and emails in which you are contacting someone for the first time. Email Signatures Your email signature can reflect who you are as a professional, but it needs to be low key.
Professional is the key word here. Contents of a professional email signature:
1. First and Last Name (and credentials)
2. Position Title
3. Agency or Company Name
4. Your direct company phone number
5. Your direct company email address
6. Any other content you wish to include, such as links to company or project websites. Formatting Your Signature 1. Use simple fonts. 2. No flashy graphics or animations. 3. Images should be work-related and company appropriate. Signing Off While it should always be professional, your sign-off also shows your personality.

Always choose a sign-off that is genuine to you; in other words, don't sign-off in a way that is out of character for YOU. Best, All best, Best of luck, Best Wishes, Cheers, Regards, As always, Thanks much, Thanks again, Thanks for your time, Thanks for your consideration, Sincerely, Take Care, Stay in touch, Until next time, Soon, etc Don't forget to error check! Start by getting your ideas down.
You can reorganize later. Rework the writing from the macro level.
Now is the time to organize. Rework the writing from the micro level:
clarify, correct, improve, polish. The way you format your writing should follow guidelines set by your field and your employer. The more formal the situation, the more thorough you need to be. But in most cases the following apply: Be Thorough: One thing that is ALWAYS true about a professional communication is that it is polished and courteous. If you aren't sure how to say something yet, draft it out and then come back to it later.
This is especially true if the conversation is in any way tense or uncomfortable. Being an effective professional communicator means being aware of the limitations of the form you are writing in. Communicate in a way that works for them. Seek first to understand, then be understood. Have you provided enough info?
Have you given a deadline?
Have you indicated what you need, specifically?
Have you offered suggestions?
Are you equally committed to their agenda as to your own? remember: To keep emails organized and readable: -Email reply (if a response is necessary). -Responses to surveys or a list of options. 1. Try to include a deadline for all expected replies and responses that aren't immediately obvious. 2. Include deadlines for urgent needs, but make them as reasonable as possible. 3. BE SPECIFIC! You cannot assume everyone's interpretation of vague language such as ASAP and "soon" is the same. Provide dates and even times and; 4. Be clear not only about WHEN you need a reply but also what TYPE of reply--do you need a yes or no answer? General input? etc. While hard copy letters require a similar approach to formal emails, they do have some unique rules of their own. PROFESSIONAL LETTERS Knowing how to format a diplomatic email or letter isn't quite enough--a spelling or grammar error can entirely undermine your credibility, and a choppy or poorly written sentence can be easily misconstrued or viewed as ineffective. It's the Little Things For this reason, building strong skills in structure, grammar, and mechanics is ultimately one of the most important things you can do for your professional development. Common Grammar Errors Even those of us with a strong sense of language or style can easily make grammar errors. SENTENCES While major grammar errors are not common in the professional setting, sentence errors are--particularly sentences that are not complete or are constructed awkwardly. FULL SENTENCES Emails and letters should generally include full sentences and not fragments. Fragments are usually missing a main verb or a main subject. Often, this is just a period being used instead of a comma. EXAMPLES: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/620/1/ U Hungry? Whatever you do, do not use text lingo in a professional email or letter. With a few exceptions in casual situations (such as LOL), this is almost NEVER appropriate. When in doubt, spell it out! SENTENCE APPROACH How do I write an effective sentence? PREPOSITIONS Strong sentences do not end in prepositions, unless they are questions. Prepositions include: For, In, On, By, To, At, Etc A preposition is a locator in time and place; it describes the relationship between other words. There are 150 prepositions in the English Language. For a full list, try this: http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm WAIT! Here's the secret (Shhh!):
You don't have to be a naturally gifted writer to write well, in any setting. Writing is a learnable skill and a set of tools. Reading and writing regularly are the best ways to improve. Ready? There's no need to wave the white flag.
This doesn't have to be complicated (promise!). That's it! "I've Never been a good writer! I give up!" ACTIVE SENTENCES Sentences can be written in an active or a passive voice. Active sentences begin with the subject and an action verb. Passive sentences begin with a direct object. Harry handled the finances. The finances were handled by Harry. http://www.towson.edu/ows/activepass.htm SENTENCE VARIETY Vary the length of your sentences so that they do not sound choppy. To do this, simply use varied punctuation to create complex sentences: Commas
Semi-Colons
Colons
Dashes & Parentheses COMMAS Generally, commas separate two independent clauses (i.e. they could stand alone), which are connected by a conjunction (and, or, but, for, yet, nor, so). There are other technical uses, but this rule of thumb is best: Read the sentence aloud. Where you pause naturally, insert a comma. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/ Consider: Can two related sentences be merged into one? SEMI-COLONS COLONS DASHES & PARENTHESES Semi-colons separate two independent clauses without a conjunction; however, conjunctive adverbs may be used (however, therefore, consequently, nevertheless, thus, etc). Consider: Why use a semi-colon instead of a comma? If two sentences are connected in meaning, you can separate them with a semi-colon instead of a period. Rule of thumb: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/04/ Colons have very specific technical functions: lists, quotations, appositives (i.e. clarifying term), and related ideas that you want to emphasize. They are sort of like an extension. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/colon.htm Clauses following colons are generally not independent, and should not be preceded by a conjunction. Consider: When should I use a colon instead of a semi-colon or comma? Although there are slight (technical) differences between dashes and parentheses, they are relatively interchangeable--and can add a great deal of flexibility to your sentences. Rule of thumb: Use dashes and/or parentheses when you want to set off or emphasize content. Consider: When would you use a dash vs. a parentheses? Writing is really comprised of two separate functions: 1. STYLE: Language, voice/tone, command/authority, sentence quality 2. MECHANICS: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage FIRST THINGS FIRST Let's start with sentences. Let's review the most common errors: 1. Apostrophe Error
2. Pronoun Error
3. Verb Agreement Apostrophe Error Apostrophes are used to show possession. Also use apostrophe in contractions: It's
Can't
Won't
Didn't
etc. Pronoun Error Pronouns refer to a noun (antecedent) or take the place of a noun. The noun and pronoun must agree in number, person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and case. Here's how you get to Oz! Omission works when you have two pronouns (i.e. she and I) or a noun and a pronoun (the otter and I) The cloth works for both she and I. Try: The cloth works for I. Oops! Correct: The cloth works for me. This is the technical part (feel free to ignore):
Pronouns come in 3 cases:
1. Objective (object of the sentence)
2. Subjective (subject of the sentence)
3. Posessive (expresses ownership)
want more info?
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/595/02/ Example: Addition works when you have a comparison.
Simply finish the sentence: He is taller than me (am tall). Oops! Correct: He is taller than I (am tall). See? Easy peasy! Ok, this is going to seem really scary, but just follow the yellow brick road... SUBJECT/VERB Singular subjects need singular verbs, and plural subjects need plural verbs. INDEFINITE PRONOUNS Anyone, Everyone, Someone, No one, Nobody = always singular All, Some, None = singular or plural depending on what it refers to Some of the beads (are or is?) missing
Some of the water (are or is?) gone Note that this means you must also consider pronoun agreement: singular = he or she, not they or their Everyone has eaten his or her snack. The honest truth about subject/verb agreement is that it is tricky.
It is simple in theory, but the English language muddles it all up.
There is one shortcut that is worth a try. Here's how it goes: Actually, let's stop there. Find your subject; circle it. Underline the verb. Is the subject singular or plural? And what
about the verb? Correct any errors. This is just about verb tense, which
is determined by number. “Doctor Doofus, who needs a new phone message, and Nurse Nincompoop, his fiancée, are eloping tonight.” Example: Plural subject: Doctor Doofus and Nurse Nincompoop Verb: are eloping Correct! http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/subject-verb-agreement.aspx What does it mean to write like a professional? What are some basic rules and tricks? And what is at stake? Writing clearly and effectively is one of the most important skills a professional can hone. Conflict, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and burned bridges are all casualties of poorly written emails and letters. Written communication involves a set of skills that can be learned: Diplomacy & Style Steps in the writing process Formatting & Standards Grammar and usage Rule of thumb #1: Seek Clarity PARAGRAPHING Just like you need to pay attention to sentences, you also need to consider the overall structure of your email or letter. Paragraphs assist the reader with understanding the purpose of your writing. So how is it done? Rule of thumb: One main idea per paragraph. Keep your ideas and sub-topics grouped together. Consider where you might be able to start a new paragraph based on subject areas. The space between paragraphs is called "white space". It is very helpful to readers. TINY TIPS AND RESOURCES After all, writing well is about
the little things! RANDOM TIPS Know the difference between affect and effect: Affect acts upon, and effect is the result. When you use neither, also use nor. Use articles freely: the, an, and a. For consecutive items referring to the same article, repeat the article anyway. i.e. I gave him the box of licorice and the box of sugar candies. Use "an" before words that begin with VOWEL SOUNDS. Place a comma before the final item in a list. Who vs. Whom: if it can be replaced with "him". use whom. If you are struggling or would simply like more resources... RESOURCES Books, tutors, and courses are available. Use them! Try Grammar Girl's guides--keep one at your desk! Bookmark helpful resources such as: Grammar Girl Online (includes podcasts and quick tips and tricks:

Purdue OWL

The Oatmeal (comics!) i.e. means "that is"; e.g. means "for
example"; etc. means "and so on". HOORAY! You now have all of the information you need to become a savvy written communicator. Simply practice and write with awareness.
Go forth and conquer! http://theoatmeal.com/comics/apostrophe
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