Writing at work

Have you ever been in the situation where you just suddenly forgot whether you should use affect or effect or how to spell accommodation? This happens to me quite a lot, especially at work, and I find it really helpful to have a few good writing books and blogs to refer to when the need arises.

As I may have mentioned before, one of my favourites is Writing at Work  by Neil James from the Plain English Foundation. It’s an excellent reference book and sits on my desk within easy reach, next to the dictionary.

My favourite blog is Grammar Girl (Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing) which can answer just about any grammar question you may have, and also has a list of the top mistakes that people make. It’s really useful, easy to understand and often funny.

Future Perfect is the website of a company which offers writing services but also has a heap of free resources including grammar quizzes (don’t we just love quizzes) and good advice about writing, punctuation and proofreading.

These are three of my favourites. Check them out and start improving your writing today. Let me know what you think and if you have any personal favourites.

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What should you be reading to improve your writing skills?

Plain English Handbook
Plain English Handbook (Photo credit: arellis49)

If you want to improve your writing skills then the first thing you need to do is write. And then write some more. This is the advice that you usually get from writing books and I agree that the best way to hone your skills is to practise as much as you can. Sadly, you can’t really avoid the fact that you need to work hard to be good at something. But you also need to get feedback on your writing and it’s not usually helpful to get feedback from friends and relatives. They are either too harsh or too kind. They never tell you what is wrong with your work or how you can improve your writing, but perhaps they dont know exactly what is needed. This is where writing books come in. They probably aren’t a substitute for a really good writing teacher but they can help you a lot.

It’s hard to nominate my favourite writing book. I have quite a few and like my children, I love them equally, so I will have to give you a small list of my favourites. My number one is probably Paula Rocque’s book called ‘On writing Well‘. This is a great little book which gives plenty of practical advice. Paula covers topics such as cutting wordiness and using the right word.

My second favourite (for the great technical advice) is by an Australian called Neil James. Neil is the head of the Plain English Foundation and has written a great book called ‘Writing at work” which is a terribly useful and surprisingly readable book. By that I mean that the book not only gives good technical advice but is full of interesting information.

My third pick is Brilliant Copywriting  which will help you write persuasively. I found this book to be funny, entertaining and helpful. If you are writing to persuade (and aren’t we all doing that in some shape or form) then this book will help you craft your message. There’s lots of good advice and the book itself is very enjoyable to read.

So these are my picks for today. I hope you find this useful, but if you disagree or have other books to recommend, feel free to comment.

How to write like a journalist

Most of us have a tendency to warm to our theme as we write. We usually start off with a few introductory sentences (like this) in which we explain why it is that we are writing about this particular topic, and what you might gain from reading what we have written.

A typical workplace report has an introduction that lets you know who the report is for and what it will cover. It often has an executive summary so that the busy executive doesn’t have to read through the whole document. (I often wonder why I should bother writing the rest of the report. I could be writing any old rubbish and be fairly confident that only the most persistent readers will make it to the end).

This is not necessarily the best way to write. Next time you have to write a report or a presentation, I suggest you try using the pyramid writing style.

Pyramid writing involves putting your essential message first and is the opposite of traditional writing. Most people are busy and will decide in the first few sentences whether or not they can be bothered to keep reading what you have written. This paragraph would be first if I were using the pyramid writing style.

The best part is that you don’t need to leave any information out; you just put it in a different order:

  1. Essential message first
  2. Supporting information
  3. History (or background) if needed.

This will keep all your readers happy because they can read the beginning to get the message, or the whole thing to get all the details.  It will also force you to know what your main point is before you start writing. This is of course how journalists write all the time. You might think it encourages laziness, but once you have engaged your readers with your key message, they are more likely to be interested in the supporting information.

Why not try this next time you are asked to write a report, an email or a presentation?

How to write like a journalist