Why business writing is so difficult

“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.

Institute of Directors masterclass on: The written word – creating effective content

Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt will be speaking at the Institute of Directors’ June 2015 Members Masterclass on “The written word – creating effective content”.

IOD building

The written word is one of the key ways we communicate with others. Whether we’re telling or selling, it’s important we get our message across. Unfortunately, many people find writing time consuming, and it can often be difficult to get started on a new document.

In this session, we’ll look at some of the most effective techniques for creating the types of content created in today’s business world. You’ll discover some of the approaches used by professional technical communicators, copywriters and report writers.

Some of the issues we’ll look at include:

  • Clarity and persuasiveness
  • Getting started and organising your thoughts
  • How to structure documents
  • Getting to the point and being concise

This session is ideal for managers, engineers and other professionals interested in effective approaches to communicating more clearly and effectively in writing.

The IoD invites IoD Members and non-members to share their expertise and knowledge with other members. It will be held at 116 Pall Mall, London, on the 2nd June (18:00 – 21:00).

See:

The written word – creating effective content.

New case study – Creating an operations manual for a medical service provider

You’ll find a new case study on the Cherryleaf website, regarding a project we carried out for Affidea.

Affidea Group BV is a company that offers premium diagnostic imaging, cancer detection and cancer treatment services. It focuses on delivering prompt, thorough diagnoses and high quality treatments by working only with state-of-the-art technology and experienced medical professionals.

AffideaAffidea operates a network of Diagnostic and Cancer Treatment Centres in 14 countries across Europe. The company employs over 3,000 professionals, of which more than 750 are medical doctors.

Affidea required us to produce a so called “Blue Book” of company operations. Some of the material for the Blue Book already existed and had been documented; other material had not been documented. The existing material had been written by non-native English speakers and/or non technical authors, because of this there was a lack of consistency to the existing documentation. The information required for the new material was largely not documented anywhere and subject matter experts (SMEs) were based throughout Europe.

The project involved re-designing/writing existing content, interviewing SMEs in order to get the information required for new content, putting together new content and finally assembling all the information into the Blue Book.

For the full case study, see:

We’re looking for someone to take our Technical Author induction online training course, free of charge

We’re looking for someone to take our Technical Author induction online training course, free of charge, in exchange for doing something that will help us develop future versions of the course.

This course was one of the first we developed, and, at that time, we didn’t use formal scripts in the creation process. In the next 18 months, we’re planning to re-record the course videos and revise some (approximately 5-10%) of the content. Having a script for the course will help.

So, in exchange for taking the course for free, we’d like that person to write a transcription for us of what the presenter is saying (which you’ll send to us). The document can be in .txt or Word format. You’ll benefit from having taken this couse, and having taken great notes for yourself as well!

Contact us if you’re interested in doing this.

UPDATE: We’ve found someone. Thanks to everyone who replied.

Advanced technical writing techniques training: Next classroom course (and potential online course)

Do let us know if you’d be interested in us scheduling another public course for our Trends in Technical Communication – Advanced technical writing techniques course. We need just a couple more people for us to schedule a course date for June. Do let us know if you’d be interested in attending this course.

Interested in an online version of the course?

For writers based outside of the UK, we’re also considering offering this course in a “live and online” format over the Web. Using Google+ Hangouts, the course would be spread over a number of days, rather than delivered as a full day’s worth of training. The price of the course would be the same. The first course would be limited to just 5 or 6 delegates. Do let us know if you’d be interested in attending this course.

About the course

In this course, you’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create.

Using examples of Help pages from a number of applications (including from vendors such as Apple, Facebook, Google, HTC and Mozilla), you’ll learn how to spot where these techniques have been used, and you’ll have the opportunity to practise these in the workshop.

Do let us know if you’d be interested in attending this course.

Announcement: April date for the Advanced Technical Writing Techniques course

You’ll find we’ve added a new training course date on our Web site for our Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

It will be held on Monday 22th April.
Continue reading

Extra date for Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques

You’ll find we’ve added a new training course date on our Web site for our Trends in Technical Communication Workshop – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques.

It will be held on Monday 25th February.

The January course sold out within ten days, so it’s wise to book early.

If you’ve read the technical writing blogs and magazines, you’ll have noticed a growing interest in new approaches to technical communication – asking whether all of the tried-and-tested writing methods from past decades still make sense today.

In this course, you’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create. The course has been designed to be independent of any particular authoring tool, and to work in both a structured and unstructured authoring environment.
Continue reading

The future of technical documentation is more about psychology than technology

In the quest to offer better forms of user assistance, most experts in the technical communications profession propose technological solutions: using XML, intelligent and adaptive content etc. to present essentially the same type of guidance as has been provided for the past 20 years.

We believe there has been a change in the relationship between people and technology, and there needs to be a corresponding change in the relationship between people and the user documentation.

In the past, a lot of technology was unfamiliar, idiosyncratic, expensive and complex; users often became anxious when they used a product. As technology has become part of everyone’s daily lives (particularly Web and mobile applications), people’s relationship with a great deal of technology has changed.

As a consequence, for some types of products and for some types of documents, the traditional approach for technical writing is no longer appropriate.

This means Technical Authors need a better understanding of this relationship – the psychology of users – and understand how they can relate and communicate to users in context.

We are not suggesting that the traditional approach to technical writing should go away completely. We’re also not arguing against technology such as XML and DITA – these are vehicles for delivering content. We’ll still be writing user documentation for scientific equipment and financial systems in the traditional way, as these types of products fit the traditional model. However, even the documentation for these types of products can benefit from the inclusion of some psychological techniques.

Web sites such as voiceandtone.com indicate some of the changes that we are likely to see in technical documentation, but we disagree with some of the approaches suggested on this site for some types of documents, and we feel this site only scratches the surface.

There is evidence from randomised control trials that these new approaches work, although we recommend you carry out your own testing to double check it works for your users.

So having come to be belief that Technical Authors need to incorporate some new techniques into their documentation, what should happen next? One approach is to engage Cherryleaf to provide advice or write documents. In addition, you’re able to discover these techniques through our new advanced technical writing training course. However, the starting point is to recognize the change in the relationship between users and many products, and to recognize the need to change the approach to technical writing so that it’s appropriate to the situation.

The question is, do you agree?