Can Do Writing
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Can Do Writing

The Proven Ten-Step System for Fast and Effective Business Writing

Daniel Graham, Judith Graham

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eBook - ePub

Can Do Writing

The Proven Ten-Step System for Fast and Effective Business Writing

Daniel Graham, Judith Graham

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About This Book

A simple, ten-step system for mastering the art of effective, persuasive business or technical writing

"The Grahams' system is the best way to transform data and ideas into meaningful information necessary to make profitable decisions. Their system works every time."
—Steven Laposa, PhD, MBA, Loveland Commercial Endowed Chair in Real Estate, Colorado State University

"The Grahams' straightforward program helps my teams create clear and concise reports, letters, and other documents with minimal effort. I want this program to become the standard for my teams."
—Bill Walter, Senior Vice President, Government and Infrastructure Division, KBR

"The Can Do Writing system made my career! I used it to write a winning business plan and proposal, and now I use it every day for all communications. Can Do Writing provides valuable insights into business and management as well as writing techniques."
—Christian Robey, President, DC Progress

You may be an expert at what you do, but if you can't communicate effectively in writing it may not matter. For scientists, businesspeople, and professionals in fields from engineering to public relations, the art of writing well can be a vital key to professional success.

Luckily, you don't need an English degree to produce top-class writing. If you're one of the millions of people who have to write clear, persuasive, understandable documents for your job, Can Do Writing is for you. Whether you're writing a business plan, a scientific paper, a press release, or anything else, this simple, straightforward guide will show you how to do it quickly, with style and confidence. You'll learn how to:

  • Understand your audience and subject matter
  • Develop a simple, five-part purpose statement to keep you on track

  • Organize your main points into a coherent, sensible order

  • Edit your work for clarity, coherence, organization, and logic

  • Economize your words to craft a concise, powerful document

  • Make your documents easily readable for any audience

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Skillset: Editing
Good prose is like a window pane.
—George Orwell
Good text, like a window pane, is transparent so the reader can clearly see the content. Therefore, good editing makes the text clear. Bad editing obscures the text and the content. When we write for our jobs, any edit intended to display the author’s personal style detracts from the content and is counterproductive.
Edit systematically.You get better results in less time. First, we edit by reviewing the document to ensure the logic. Second, we apply verbal and visual clues to make the logic more obvious to the reader. Then we edit to make the sentences clear, concise, and easy to read.
Compared to analysis and writing, editing is easy. Analysis involves some creative problem solving, and composing involves the hard work of recording points and facts. Editing is more mechanical—a set of logical tests and techniques you apply to your document. You do not need to be a grammar expert to perform these edits. For most of the edits, you need to recognize simple word patterns.
Plan your time and be practical. The editing phase is usually 50 percent of the work. However, some documents deserve a more thorough edit. The use-once-throw-away e-mail does not deserve the same thorough edit as your resume.
You are the best person to edit your document. You did the analysis. Therefore, you know the information your audience needs. If a sentence is unclear, you know best the point or fact you want to communicate. Also, you know best if you can cut a word without changing your meaning.
Edit systematically. Perform the edits in the order we present them. Editing is a multipass activity; focus on one or two techniques per pass. Don’t get fixated on any particular sentence. If you can’t fix the problem quickly, move on. Writing is an earned skill, and you improve with each document. The problem you struggle with today becomes easy in time.
For longer documents, we recommend you edit from paper. Why? First, the word processor lets you see just a small window of your document, like having blinders on.You can’t see problems with consistency. Second, people read about 25 percent faster on paper than they do on screen. For the same reason, people edit about 25 percent faster on paper. For short e-mails, we don’t print, mark copy, and transcribe edits, but for longer documents we do. Typically, if the document exceeds two pages, you edit faster on paper.
Review the Draft for Organization and Logic
Review your draft for its organization and logic to make sure that you do not waste time editing a fatally flawed document. Use these three techniques:
6.1 Test organization by answering three questions.
6.2 Use sentence outlining techniques to improve organization.
6.3 Test logic by answering five questions.
If you followed the analytical steps so far, your document most likely has good organization and logic. Nevertheless, review the draft to make sure. A review requires a quick read through the document and is worth the effort.
Also, you can use the three organization and five logic questions to review other authors’ documents. Because you know the techniques in analysis, you can suggest specific techniques to correct specific errors. With rare exceptions, poorly organized documents have the same cause: The author either skipped or took shortcuts in analysis.
Time spent repairing errors can range from several hours per page to a couple of minutes per page depending on the type of error. Repairing organization errors may require hours per page because you must go back to analysis. You need to use sentence-outlining techniques to carefully extract and analyze the points to determine relevance, put the points in order, and recompose the draft. On the other hand, repairing most logical errors takes little time—minutes per page. Errors in fact involve a few minutes gathering more information.
Review the draft before you edit for coherence or style. Editing a document that has organization or logic problems wastes time and effort.You might spend hours editing your draft for coherence, clarity, economy, and readability and then discover that the points are irrelevant, the facts are wrong, or the organization is unworkable.

6.1 Test Organization by Answering Three Questions.

Ensure that your document presents the information organized in a way that helps the audience. Using a sentence outline practically guarantees that your document has good organization.
If you answer yes to any of these three questions, your document fails the organization test:
1. Do your paragraphs begin with facts?
2. Does the document read like a story?
3. Is the document filled with I, me, and mine?
The organization test is a troubleshooting guide. If you answer no to all the questions, your document is organized—maybe not in the best way, but good enough.
If your paragraphs begin with facts, we are most likely reading your notes from your research. You have what many call a data dump. Your reader rarely wants to read your notes: The door panels are quarter-inch thick stainless steel. Orthogonal, notched, mechanically interlocked stainless steel stiffeners separate the two panels. Autogeneous welds fasten the stiffeners to the panels. The reader needs to know what the series of facts means. The reader wants you to organize your data under your points, either opinion or general truth: Using panels separated with stiffeners makes a watertight door 27 percent lighter than the standard Navy watertight door.
If your document reads like a story, we are most likely reading how you solved the problem or how the information affects you: We received your order for three books.The warehouse checked the inventory. They informed operations that they had only two books left. Operations prepared an order for another printing. Readers rarely want to know how you solve your problems; rather, readers want the information in the order that helps them: Your book order ships in four weeks.
If your document is full of I, me, mine, you lack a sense of audience. You wrote your draft from your point of view—how the circumstances affect you, rather than how the circumstances affect the audience who uses the information in the document. The words I, me, and mine are fine, if balanced with you and yours.
If your document lacks organization, you need to revisit analysis in the next section—“Use Sentence Outlining Techniques to Improve Organization.” If your document passes the organization test, you can skip to the section, “Test Logic by Answering Five Questions.”

6.2 Use Sentence Outlining Techniques to Improve Organization.

If the document lacks organization, go back to sentence outlining. Treat your poorly organized document as research notes. You can select points and facts from the document and reuse them.
Use these five sentence outlining techniques to improve the document’s organization:
1. Pull points from the paragraphs—opinions and general truths—and compose them as short sentences.
2. Write a purpose statement after analyzing audience and purpose.
3. Compare the points against your purpose statement to eliminate irrelevancies and redundancies.
4. Add points you think are missing.
5. Order the points the way the audience wants to see the information.
After you craft a sentence outline, you rewrite the draft.You are lucky if you can use 20 percent of the former draft.
Here are some clues to help you find the points. Look near the end of the paragraph. Many authors list their facts, then conclude with their point. Look for words like Therefore or It should be noted within the paragraph. Authors often instin...

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