Writing in the business world can be difficult. We have to write Web pages, proposals, emails, policies and procedures and, perhaps, adverts. It can be hard to get going, and create something that’s clear and to the point. Here are some tips to help you get over these difficulties.
It’s not your fault
Let’s start by saying it’s not your fault if you find business writing difficult, because most of us are not taught how to do it at school. At school, we learn how to write stories and how to argue a case. That usually involves building to a big conclusion at the end.
“Everyone is taught to write at school, so surely everyone can write in business?”
Although the quotation above would seem to make sense, the reality is that many people find it hard to write in a business context. They struggle to write clearly, and it can take them ages to produce a piece of content.
It’s not their fault. What we’re taught at school is how to write narratives, that is stories or articles. We’re also taught to argue a case – to use rhetoric to build to a conclusion. We’re taught writing to persuade and writing to entertain.
In the world of business, we often need different forms of writing. We’re often writing to inform or writing to instruct.
In these situations, people want to know what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and get on with their jobs. They want the important information at the beginning, rather than the end. They want to scan and hunt for the information relevant to them, rather than always having to read everything from beginning to end.
Many people haven’t been taught how to write to inform or to instruct, and that’s why many people find business writing so difficult.
It might seem like we’ve been quiet recently, but that’s partly because we’ve been working on an academic project that we hope to be announcing towards the end of the year.
As a spin-off from this project, we’re developing new training courses in technical communication. These courses are at a more advanced level than our basic/intermediate courses, and they include more references to academic research.
If you are considering any on-site training for your technical communications team, we can now offer these topics:
What is technical communication?
The business case for technical communication
History of technical writing standards
Usability and user centred design
Project planning and its effect on writing documentation
Researching and scoping documentation
Information design and content organisation
Writing the topics – overview
Presenting different types of information
Index, search and metadata
Single sourcing and reusing content
Researching technical communication – where to go
Governance and maintenance
What skills does a technical communicator need?
Content strategy and technical communication
Trends in technical communication
Publishing and delivering information
Managing the documentation project
We may develop online courses for some of these topics in the future as well.
We thought it would be useful to reflect on our plans for topics and courses in technical communications. In the past, some of the best suggestions have come from customers and prospects; it’s great to pick up useful ideas from others.
Today, you’ll find classroom or elearning training courses in:
Our current thinking is to offer more topics around managing and planning technical documentation projects. In the past, we’ve offered an course on estimating projects. We also know managing project time is another important topic. Perhaps there are other topics that would fit under this category?
There’s also the issue of which courses should be online (recorded) courses, and which ones should be classroom-based (live) courses. Delegates say really like the two training venues we use in central London (we struck gold there), but online courses enable people to take a course pretty much anywhere and at any time.
We had a discussion last week about a potential partnership that involves Cherryleaf’s courseware (and our trainers). It prompted us to take stock of the all courseware we can offer today. Below are some of the items on the list:
Approximately 50% of a Technical Author’s day is spent writing. However, when Technical Publications teams look for efficiencies, they tend to focus on the 50% of time spent on non-writing activities, such as researching, reviewing and planning. They assume the content itself cannot be written more quickly. To an extent, they are right, as the querty qwerty keyboard is not an optimal layout.
We’ve been going through a process of transcribing our early e-learning modules, in order to have scripts upon which we can base future course updates. As part of this project, we’ve been using a free application called Plover to help us write the content. With Plover, you have the potential to create content (in Word, RoboHelp, Flare, Oxygen XML etc) at up to 225 words per minute (wpm).
Plover is based on chorded typing. You press more than one key at a time to create words. Chorded typing isn’t new – for example, it was demonstrated in Douglas Engelbart’s famous “The mother of all demos“.
Below is a five minute lightning talk on Plover and some of the emerging hardware:
So far, in my case, I’ve been able to double my typing speed. Realistically, those of us participating in this project at Cherryleaf aim to get to 180 words per minute. The reason for this is that most people speak at 160-180 wpm. At that speed, you are able to transcribe subject matter experts in real time – which means there’s no need to record an interview and then type it up at a later date.
There is a learning curve to this method, but it is based on over 100 years of theory and practice. It is tremendous fun – a bit like learning to use a querty qwerty keyboard for the first time.