Professional Writing: The Planning Process

GM Planning Process

You probably heard about this concept way back in elementary school and your educators continued to drill it into your head all the way through high school and perhaps even college. For professional writing specifically, planning what you are going to write about and how you are going to write and deliver that message should almost be second nature to you by now. But how many of you honestly take the precious time out that you are allotted to write documents to just sit there and do nothing but plan? It might even sound like ineffective time management to you if you are confident in your ability to write up a flawless document on the first try. However, it cannot be overstated the amount of mistakes that can be prevented if you just devote a little bit of time toward planning (and proofreading). Planning is not only recommended, it is absolutely vital for conveying an effective message. Contrary to the opinion some writers have of planning being a waste of time, the planning process actually conserves creative energy and saves time for both the writer and the reader.  During the planning process, it is expected that the writer analyzes the situation, gathers information, selects the right medium, and organizes the information effectively.  These steps of the planning process are key to delivering a message with meaning and direction.

Planning effectively means planning thoughtfully and carefully. Always take the time to understand your reader’s needs, gather up the information that you need to satisfy those needs, and deliver that information in the best way possible.  That is, if your information is best assimilated or digested on a certain social network or by a certain medium, then choose the most effective way of communicating with your readers. Planning not only makes your writing go more quickly and smoothly, but it can certainly spare yourself or your company from embarrassing mistakes.

Analyzing the situation can aid you in determining the general purpose of your message (i.e. inform, persuade, collaborate). Once the general purpose is chosen, the specific purpose must be identified.  Furthermore, the purpose should be tested before going any further (i.e. will anything change after your message is composed, is the purpose realistic, is the time right, and is it acceptable to the organization).  If the answer to any of the questions is unfavorable, the planning process already saved time in scrapping a message that would otherwise have been futile. Developing an audience profile, that is to analyze the audience sufficiently enough to determine their needs and expectations, is also important in communicating effectively.

Gathering information required to provide the reader with the information they need to be informed, persuaded, or called to collaborate is also done during planning. Gathering information helps to uncover audience needs, find your focus, and present factual supporting evidence for whatever argument may present itself. However, it is of utmost importance to ensure the information gathered is accurate, ethical, and pertinent.

The selection of the right medium is important in appealing to certain audiences and each choice has advantages and disadvantages to be considered. Media choices include oral media (i.e. face to face), written (i.e. memos, letters, reports), visual media (PowerPoint presentations, videos, etc.), and electronic media (emails, social networks, etc.).

Organizing wandering thoughts and scattered ideas into a comprehensible and moving message is also essential in the planning process. Organization can mean the difference between your audience receiving your intended message and it failing to reach them completely. Thus, it is very important to take the time organize effectively so that the reader can understand the message, accept the message, and save time. Planning ensures adequate time to develop ideas thoroughly and get your message across in a way that is clear, concise, polite, and meaningful in meeting the reader’s needs. Without planning, you are unable to analyze your audience sufficiently and determine the goals of your message or even to gather important information needed to answer your audience’s questions.

Since this is such a well-known topic, we didn’t want to drone on futilely. However, we hope that we were able to highlight the importance of the planning process to you and provide you with sufficient reasoning to begin planning before your write (if you aren’t already an avid participant)!

What does your writing process look like? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!

Business Communications: Are You Flatlining?

GM Business Communications Flatlining

 

You may be a really good writer. You might even be a really good speaker. But are you a good communicator? It is so easy to get lost in all the noise of today’s world. So, make sure that you are heard and that your intended message is conveyed appropriately and effectively. Business communications is not only about what you say, but how you say it and even what you don’t say at all. For your convenience, we have compiled super condensed tidbits of information to help improve your communication skills around the office, across the web, and on good ol’ fashioned paper.

  • Maintain the “you” attitude when providing constructive feedback. You might be afraid to give any sort of negative feedback to anyone because of how it may be received. However, feedback is a necessity in improving everything from customer service to the product itself that is being sold. In fact, you can (and should) provide feedback in a way that doesn’t sound negative and actually motivates the recipient. Constructive feedback, supported with that “you” attitude approach that we talked about last week, is much more appreciated and serves to persuade the receiver into action in a positive manner. The “you” attitude and constructive feedback are actually tools that enhance business communication and productivity.  In both instances, the focus should not be what the receiver can do for you but what you can do for them and what you can do to help them achieve their goals. That is, by using the “you” attitude, you outline their needs and how you can fulfill them. For example, in providing constructive feedback to an employee, you wouldn’t merely say “I don’t understand”, you want to say “your presentation can be more effective if you clarify the steps you are going to take to achieve the goal in mind”. Thus, you are helping them to improve. In any circumstance, do not forget to be polite, understanding, specific, and emotionally intelligent. More importantly, make sure that you are careful to say exactly what you mean so that your message is not misinterpreted.
  • Effectively communicate non-verbally in an online environment. Non-verbal communication is very important in depicting and deciphering the mood of the intended message.  While face-to-face contact has the advantage of always being able to see someone’s facial expression, gesture, posture, vocal characteristics, personal appearance, touch, time, and space (giving many more opportunities to translate a message), the online environment also provides tools to convey non-verbal communication. One common tool used to simulate face-to-face conversation is the use of a webcam. In this instance, all aforementioned non-verbal communication categories would resume normally, just as it would occur during a face-to-face interaction. If a webcam is not present, another tool commonly used is “emoticons” in emails or chat sessions and can signal if a person meant something in a certain way.  For example, if you feel that your intended message may be misinterpreted, you can easily add a smiley face to convey your good intentions. Emoticons are the internet’s way of providing the ability to analyze facial expression when you would otherwise be “left in the dark”. Besides emoticons, certain keyboard buttons are available to help you get your message across. Take “caps lock”, for example.  A simple button pressed and PEOPLE ASSUME YOU ARE YELLING AT THEM. Or consider the use of italics to emphasize certain key words so that you don’t lose the focus on them (note: both caps lock and italics can be considered signals of vocal characteristics).  The use of time is another non-verbal action in an online environment. For instance, if you take a long time to email/instant message someone back, you send the unspoken/unwritten message that you are too busy to talk to them or that they are not important to you at that time. Conversely, if you spend an entire chat conversation responding very quickly to someone you like and then your crush says something like, “I love you”, for the first time…and you take a…long…time…to…respond. Are you not showing how you feel, without saying anything at all? Ironically, it is even what you aren’t saying that is now sending a message! Additionally, let us not forget the power of punctuation! Like the exclamation point used in the previous sentence conveyed excitement, didn’t it? Or how about now that you are being questioned? You get the point.  That being said, it is important to learn how to use nonverbal communication effectively, whether you are planning to converse face-to-face or via internet.
  • Analyze your writing habits. Writing habits dictate how your message is received. Like most people, your writing habits probably consist of both some good habits and some bad. A good habit to adopt is to maintain standards of etiquette by being thoughtful and careful not to offend anyone. Sometimes this can seem impossible but you can at least minimize potentially damaging messages. This thoughtfulness is comparable to using bias-free language, another important concept to utilize. Another good writing habit is to frequently utilize transitions because it lets the reader know the direction your message is headed. Interestingly, using humor in your writing can be considered a “bad” habit because it can confuse or offend the reader, as well as it may draw attention away from your intended message. Also, refrain from using passive voice, rather than active. Likewise, it is bad practice to use “hyperbole” (i.e., I have a million things left to do) and “idioms” (i.e., I didn’t come in to work because I am as sick as a dog) because they can both really impede your intended message, thus it is best to avoid them completely.

Even if your communication skills are a self-admitted work in progress, many errors can be avoided through applying the aforementioned concepts along with careful planning and proofreading, which we will talk about next time!

What do you feel is the most difficult part about communicating in a business environment? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!

How to Write and Communicate Professionally: The Basics

 

GM How to Write and Communicate Resized

Regardless of how much you have already learned about writing, it is our opinion that writing skills can always continue to evolve and improve. So, we hope to help transform your professional writing habits and guide you in a successful endeavor to make your writing skills that much better and you that much more successful. Here are a few things to remember that will help you write and communicate more professionally whether you are writing to your boss, your colleagues, or your potential consumer audience.

Know your audience. Before you even begin formulating writing plans, figure out who it is that you are going to be writing to or communicating with. That is, make sure that you are using your time effectively by speaking only to your target audience so that your words aren’t falling on deaf ears. Ask yourself, what are your audience’s potential likes, dislikes, or biases? What is their likely demographics? What are their needs? Do they need something from you or do you need something from them?

Write only what is necessary. There is a difference between writing academically and writing in a business environment. For example, you could have been in the top of your class for your writing skills but communicate very poorly with your colleagues. You can see how different the two writing styles look if you were to merely read an essay and then examine the layout and content of a resume. With an essay, there are usually a surplus of descriptive or “filler” words and information, while a resume usually contains more straightforward factual statements. Additionally, if you aren’t writing to any single person in your business communications, then you must attempt to write from a multi-perspective standpoint. The difference is that while you know your academic audience (usually your professor), your business audience might be more of a mystery to you. Moreover, with academic writing, there is a tendency to write a lot more information than is necessary and that being an acceptable practice. In business communications, however, the reader is usually pressed for time and does not have time to read any extra information that is not pertinent to them.  In short, provide your recipient with need-to-know information and nothing more.

Be clear and concise. Some people may think that if they write even more than they need to then they will save time in the long-run from having to continue answering questions that could have already been addressed initially. However, the problem in over-clarifying lies in the chance that you may lose the attention of your receiver before you even get your intended message across. So, if you are someone who battles with answering a lot of questions about what you have written, you will save a lot of time by writing more effectively through providing clarification in fewer words. Some good practices to ensure effective communication would be to read your writing aloud to yourself to make sure that you convey only important information, as well as, ensure that what you wrote sounds good (as if spoken in a conversation). Another tip would be to read what you wrote to someone who has no knowledge on the subject at hand, in order to make sure that they are able to follow, comprehend, and even learn from your message.

Adopt the “you” attitude. If you fail to adopt the “you” attitude writing approach, you are going to lose the attention of the individual reading your document. Just as in a casual conversation, are you truly going to care about what someone is saying if all they are doing is talking about themselves? We don’t think so! You want someone to ask you about YOUR interests, or at least start a conversation about a mutual interest. In business writing that is what has to be taken into consideration in order to captivate the reader. Ask yourself, what does the READER want to hear about? What will THEY get out of spending the time to read your email? Remember, what is important to you might not necessarily be important to your reader. You should treat your business communications as if you want to start a personal relationship with the reader. You don’t want to fill your conversation with “filler” talk or “fluff” and you also don’t want to say anything that isn’t factual or is misleading.  Your audience wants to be cared about, respected, and understood. In order to fulfill their needs, you must put yourself in the reader’s position and ask what information would you like included if you were the reader. You hear the saying, “It’s not always about YOU”, but isn’t it?

Decode the message you’re sending.  You must not only be aware of the message you are sending, but also about how it is going to be received.  As a writer and thus a speaker, you must familiarize yourself with the cultural diversity of your audience.  In order to understand and respect your readers, you must educate yourself about the culture you are appealing to and how your message will be received from their perspective. Question yourself on whether or not any of the words you are using may mean something different in their primary language, or even if shaking with a certain hand is considered a sign of disrespect in their homeland. If you do not learn about the language and customs of your audience’s cultures, you run the risk of offending and doing great damage to your relationship with your reader. The efforts you put into learning everything you can about different cultures, speaking clearly, listening effectively, and so on are skills that can positively transform the way you communicate.  Diversity can create a team unmatched in a competitive business environment and you are sure to encounter diversity wherever you plan to work. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself on as many different cultures as possible so that you don’t end up looking stupid speaking “Spanglish”. If you don’t have a specific audience, write with a sense of multiculturalism and then analyze what you have written and determine whether or not it can be interpreted any other way than what you intend.

We cannot stress how important it is to master successful communication, so we hope you are now eager and interested in learning more techniques on how to write and communicate professionally. 

 

Do you have another important concept for writing more professionally? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!