14 Blogs on Business Writing

Did you know that although today is World Book Day, its proper name is World Book and Copywrite Day?

and We recently gathered together 14 blog posts on assertive communication that we’ve written over the years. This is a similar sort catchall of blog on another topic close to the heart of Sensei: effective business writing.

What is Business Writing?

Words at Work
How does business writing differ from other forms of writing, and what does yours says about your organisation?

Business Writing Guidance

A Lexicon for Business Writers
What are the basic words, phrases and concepts that anyone who writes for business purposes needs to know?

Big Words, Bad Business
Do complex sentences and large words always impress in the corporate world?

Foolish Language, Foolish Thoughts
What advice would the great English novelist George Orwell give a lowly business writer?

5 Steps Toward Professional Copywriting
If you post professional content on the internet, or elsewhere, what do you need to consider?

Business Writing Gone Wrong

The 8 Worst Written Business Phrases of All Time
Which frequently used phrases are the death of good business writing?

The Ten Worst Business Phrases of All Time
Are there clich’s that you should avoid like the plague in all your written and spoken business communications?

Business Grammar

Difference Between There, Their and They ‘re
What are the rules for avoiding this basic grammatical confusion?

Apostrophe Atrophy
What in the (business) world are apostrophes actually good for?

Technical Writing

8 Essential Online Resources for Technical Writers
What is a technical writer and what online resources can help them (and other sorts of business writers) in their work?

How to Work with a Technical Writer
What should you look for in a technical writer and how can your company get the most out of their expert?

Specialist Business Documents

How to Write Tenders
Where do you find tenders and what does tender terminology mean?

Getting a Job in the Recession #4: The Covering Letter
How should you write and format the important covering letter that accompanies your CV?

How to Write Customer Personas
What is a customer persona and why do you need one?

We’re happy to help you with all aspects of your business writing needs. Contact us to find out how.

Words at Work

Did you know that May is Get Caught Reading Month? In honour of this great event, I want to highlight a few helpful business writing trends that impact everyone who writes in this context. I will link each thread to a relevant book review, so that you can read for yourself the vital place of words in the world of work.

Business Writing is Street Fighting

Some systems of martial arts take decades to master. By contrast, street fighting incorporates a few quick techniques that help you save your skin. Likewise, business text isn ‘t academic or literary prose; it is direct, simple, and effective. We tell our clients on Business Writing courses that our writing should emulate good quality (researched, longform and investigative) journalism more than any other style.

Rework: Change the Way You Work Forever captures this spirit. It hacks through to the blunt basics of many aspects in everyday business life, including writing. The authors’ radical suggestion is that we forget formal education, and instead hire employees on the quality of their writing, since it is a sign of clear and customer-directed thinking. And when writing, they say, sound like yourself, not some wannabe lawyer or corporate robot.

Business Writing Reveals Your Soul

It is possible to learn much from the metaphors that business leaders use, whether in speeches, articles or informal conversations. They reveal more about company ‘s culture than any amount of shiny vision or mission statements. John Clancy calls such language The Invisible Powers that show what leaders really believe about their purpose and performance.

In eleven years of business, I ‘ve observed a direct correlation between a business ‘s written content (manuals, blogs, website, marketing material) and its corporate culture. If it is immature and badly thought-out, then…

  • Errors in writing We are careless, we can ‘t do professional, don ‘t expect structure or attention to detail here!
  • Impersonal, formal language We don ‘t connect, we can ‘t improvise, don ‘t expect creativity or empathy here!
  • Clich√©d, jargon-ridden language We are shallow and surface-level, we don ‘t even understand what we ‘re saying, don ‘t expect expertise here!

Business Writing is Epic Business

There are numerous examples of modern brands that derive their name or logo from ancient mythology, such as Nike and Amazon. Business use storytelling methods to understand organisational life, manage conflicts, lead change, motivate staff and influence customers. These techniques are rooted in ancient story structures, made popular by Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth is a great introduction and resource for those whose job it is to write such stories in the twenty-first century.

Each of these trends shows the vital importance of high quality, high impact business writing to business success. We both write for businesses and run Business Writing Programmes. We ‘ll even write you a Style Guide or Tone of Voice document to empower you and equip you to do it yourself. That ‘s how epic we are!

Contact us on 0845 527 0474 or hello@sensei.ie to see if myth meets fact.

Image credit: Pexels

A Lexicon for Business Writers

May is Get Caught Reading Month. We’re focusing our attention on the art of writing for business, something we both do and teach. Here is a list of the words and phrases that anyone who writes for business purposes needs to know. I’ve ordered it alphabetically. Enjoy!

Clichés are overused words and phrases that have lost their impact. Unfortunately, business is rife with them.

A Cloze Test is a way of measuring the readability of a piece of writing. It is sometimes used on business documents.

Consistency is absolutely one of the main features of good business writing. Writing must be consistent in terms of tense (sense of time) and agreement (of verb to noun, singular and plurals). But also, spelling, style, headings, references, layout, capitalisation, abbreviations, use of numerals etc. must be the same thought each document.

Fluency is the psychological ease with which our brains can process information. Fluent business writing favours the small, simple, and straightforward, always.

A fragment is an incomplete sentence, a sentence that can ‘t stand by itself grammatically or make sense when removed from context.

Headings are vital to good structure, as they act as thematic summaries for a collection of paragraphs and as signposts for what lies ahead. They also divide up the material on the page, creating more breaks and white spaces for our eyes, increasing readability. Emotionally, they attract a reader ‘s attention and invite further reading.

Jargon is language that is understood by those within a group but not necessarily by those without. Such language can be technical (technobabble) or cultural (textspeak). In the workplace, it is known as such as corporate jargon or management speak.

The use of metaphor comparing one thing in terms of another adds style to writing if it is used consistently and subtly. Don ‘t confuse with metaphor with alliteration or make the mistake of mixing metaphors within a document. Which metaphors an organisation employs can tell us much about it.

Officialese sometimes called bureaucratese is an official, formal, almost legal way of writing. It tends to favour all that is long, wordy, complex and vague. As such, it is the exact opposite of good business writing, which is professional without sounding soulless.

The term Plain English points to both a style of writing and also a campaign against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information.

Redundancies are added words that add extra to meaning. They can work by repeating the same idea twice (first and foremost, general consensus), by using multiple words when one would do (at a later date, in the event that, with reference to, on the grounds that), or by inserting vague words (very, considerably). Redundancies are a widespread problem in business writing.

A run-on is a sentence in which two ideas ( ‘independent clauses ‘) are joined together without correct punctuation. They should probably be split into two sentences.

Simplicity is the defining feature of effective business writing. That means when possible using short, common words; short sentences with one main concept per sentence, each sentence self-contained; short paragraphs with one theme per paragraph; and simple sentence constructions, which have the key idea near the start.

Many organisations have a Style Guide; all organisations should. It ‘s an approved set of rules and examples for the design and layout of all organisational communications, including how all documents should be written and formatted.

Templates are business writers best friend. They are pre-written document structures that help ensure consistency and professionalism.

A Tone of Voice Document shows how the values and personality of a brand are expressed in how they communicate, including written communications. It will cover writing choices like formal/informal, technical/simple, colloquial/international, and humorous/serious.

In grammar, voice relates to the verb, or doing word, in a sentence. Business writing prefers use of the active voice ( Our business won the tender. ) over the passive voice ( The tender was won by our business. )

Have I left anything out?

Bungle and Zippy Were Right

This week, a friendly colleague sent me links to what he thought might be two new competitors for us. I admit it’s been some time since I did any market research on what the competitors are doing by way of training. So, in a few minutes of waiting for something else to happen online, I thought I’d quickly check them out and put them in the to-do list for perusing later.

Ditch the Dullness

I read the first page and was immediately appalled by the dull language used, the missing commas and the stock photography. It looked like the type of template style site that inhabitants of The Office office might appreciate. “Come on, competitors!” I thought. “Can’t we do better than black and white typical, corporate photography – showing a typical corporate training shot – from a typical, corporate (oooo, that word makes me shiver!) CD purchased online?” And, then, “Isn’t there something more gripping to write about than ‘business strategy’ or ‘people development paradigms’!?” Please.

Recently I’ve been dipping my toes into website design. (And, all the purists may laugh uproariously. :P) Continue reading “Bungle and Zippy Were Right”

The 8 Worst Written Business Phrases of All Time

This is a unprovoked and no-mercy-spared attack on the perceived right of ordinarily sane, everyday individuals (such as middle managers and project co-ordinators) to morph into corporate executives with a mouth full of marble-shaped glass paperweights when they open Microsoft Word or Microsoft Outlook and their fingers first glance the keyboard.

I’ve blogged before about The 10 Worst Business Phrases of All Time. That was about spoken phrases and incidentally, was the fifth most popular blog post here.

This is The 8 Worst ‘Written’ Business Phrases of All Time. Some of these were – no apology – taken directly from letters and emails I have seen. Some were taken from letters that were presented to me, as examples of the fine writing style of someone specifically brought in to spruce up business letters being sent out to customers, by a business right here in Northern Ireland.

Continue reading “The 8 Worst Written Business Phrases of All Time”

Contract Technical Writers versus Employed Technical Writers

You’ve posted an advertisement for a full-time technical writer. The financial advantages seem to make sense. Why hire a contract technical writer at hundreds of pound per day when you can employ a technical writer for one fifth that amount, and get the same amount done?

This is the Crux

An employed technical writer, unless highly skilled and experienced in the field of technical writing, will simply not produce as much for you, at as high a standard, as a contracted technical writer, who had to become adept at learning new stuff quickly, improvising to make the best use of their time when clients delay getting information for them. Experience in technical writing beats financial benefits hands down.

An experienced technical writer will:

  • Have years of experience with clients
  • Have qualifications to illustrate writing skills, in English, languages or (the annoyingly elusive) technical writing courses
  • Be busy and therefore not able to start on Monday (this is a good sign, and one indicator that they’re worth waiting for)
  • Have shining testimonials to vouch for previous clients’ contentment with their work
  • Talk to you about:
    • audience
    • output
    • information architecture
    • single-sourcing
    • benefits
    • time required with developers, PMs and SMEs,
    • how you can contribute to making their output meet your needs
    • be concerned about reducing support and sales guys’ stress over calls about how the product works
    • be aware of current trends

And, remember, Cheap Writers Can be Expensive.

How to Work with a Technical Writer

Having worked as a Technical Writer both for an employer and as a contract consultant, I have a thing or two to say. 😉

What to Look For

  • Select someone with experience writing – there is simply no substitute for this. If they can’t write, you will tear your hair out trying to teach them. Don’t. Often developers and training staff are shoehorned into this role, and in my experience, it is a painful learning curve for all concerned.
  • Select someone with experience writing technical information. Those who have no experience in this area may do a decent job, but it is unlikely that they will do an excellent job. There is a way that technical information is presented that is unique to the field.
  • Ask for samples of previous work, if is is displayed online. Alternatively, ask for samples of non-online work, though you may have to wait for the previous clients’ permission to be allowed access to this, if at all.
  • Remember a TW may call themselves any of the following: Technical Writer; Technical Author; Information Manager; Information Consultant; Business Procedures Writer/Author; Document Architect; or just plain Writer. Avoid writing off CVs you are sent if they do not conform to the title you expect to see.

How to Make Best Use of the Writing Resource

  • As the person responsible for introducing the TW to the team, do not leave out the following key activities:
    • before they get there, send a list of the key people and their responsibilities, including links to any organisation charts and who’s who’s
    • introduce the TW to each one, including developers, support personnel, project managers, as well as (the not frequently consulted but crucial all the same) IT, HR and Accounts staff
  • In addition, send a list of links to project resources, such as document repositories, builds, useful software that can be downloaded and wikis. It it an unmerciful pain for the TW to discover these exist after you’ve cobbled together your own spreadsheets or Favourites lists.
  • As a Project Manager, meet with your technical writer often (weekly) to get a real grip on what they are doing, what progress has been made since last Tuesday and what the blockages are. Otherwise, they may simply be making documents pretty and wasting your money.
  • As Subject Matter Experts (read: Developer), meet with your Technical Writer often (daily), so that the full complexity and wonderfulness of the product you design, build and maintain can be recorded, planned and expressed on paper, through videos or tutorials.

Avoid Assumptions

  • Do not make the mistake of assuming that because someone is a TW, that they know everything about your engine, product, gadget, system, or process. They do not. Take it from me. What they DO know is what you (probably) don’t: how to present it clearly to an audience (that in some cases will not be very technical). It’s a case of conscious incompetence (yours) and conscious competence (theirs).
  • Avoid thinking that a quick introduction to your product is sufficient. The TW will have many questions and may ask them many times, not because they don’t know the answer, but because they want to hear the Developer’s angle, the Tester’s angle, the Product Manager’s angle, the HR person’s angle, the Support guy’s angle, and the End User’s angle. Each role has something to add, and most will definitely not give exactly the same answer. This helps create comprehensive, robust content that answers multiple audiences.

How to Waste the Resource (and Therefore Company Money)

All of the below cause delays, in an environment where deadlines are part of the wallpaper. And, believe me, an uninformed TW simply cannot make up content to put in specifications and guides.

  • Avoid regular meetings
  • Don’t complete interviews (meetings where the TW will want to extract the information from your head!)
  • Avoid completing reviews on time
  • Refuse to take responsibility for approving the final content

That’s it for now, though I may get back on the soapbox at a later date. If you’re a TW, or have worked with one, what are your experiences? Do you have any advice for someone hiring a writer?

And, if you need a Technical Writer, we can supply one. Click to read more about our Technical Writing Services in Ireland.

Image credit: Unsplash

WordCamp Belfast 2016 #WCBelfast

WordCamp is a conference for everyone from WordPress enthusiasts to professional developers. It is designed to promote learning, connect people from across the world and share ideas and success stories.

Even before we got in the door, we knew it was going to be a good day. The atrium’s glass walls revealed a sea of yellow t-shirted welcomers, who swiftly registered us, issued us with lanyard with an attached list of speakers and pointed us in the direction of the freebies. We were then directed upstairs to the main seminar rooms by a friendly and efficient bunch of volunteers. Every time I looked around during the day, there was someone to point me to the next seminar, cup of tea, tray of fruit, shortbread or healthy packed lunch! It really was one of the best-organised conferences I’ve attended, minus the usual suited stuffiness.

Sponsors and Exhibitors

Every good conference has freebies! The freebies ranged from the usual pens and super-useful, branded, cloth shoppers to a high quality moleskin. There were even customised mascot stickers for those keen to recreate the #WapuuOfTheNorth and enter an Amazon voucher competition.

In addition, we left the conference with a suitably geeky, black WordPress t-shirt.

Thanks to the sponsors who I’d guess enabled the organisers to offer the ticket price at much less than it was actually worth. View the list of sponsors.

Speakers

The thing that struck me from the beginning was the amount of both speakers and attendees from places outside Northern Ireland. It was excellent to see so many visitors and I know some stayed over to take advantage of Northern Ireland sights and hospitality.

My favourite talk of the Saturday speakers was @ahmed_khalifa, who spoke on How to Find Endless & Relevant Content Ideas Using Just Google ideas for creating content using little-known Google. Though I’d become aware of these tools years ago, and even taught them as part of a Windows workshop on many occasions, I’d not used them in years. He took what might be quite a dry topic and made it interesting by searching for ridiculous things. The audience was suitably impressed.

@fellyph also impressively spoke with limited notice to fill in for another speaker who was unable to attend, his first seminar in English, From Marketplace to WordPress! It was an excellent story of how he got Marketing and IT to work together on their website content to improve sales.

View the full list of speakers.

I love live-tweeting and following the back channel during conferences and other events. It helps me catch what I may have missed during a talk. And, I really benefit from seeing the perspective of others, who have alternative motivations for tweeting about different things.

View the #WCBelfast tweets, which contain not only attendees’ thoughts on the day and since, but speakers’ links to slides and other resources.


Unfortunately, due to a busy week, my batteries were running low and we were unable to attend the After Party, where attendees were able to sample a specially-brewed, WordCamp Belfast 2016 beer!

Organisers

WordCamp Belfast 2016 was expertly curated and executed by Mark Smallman of MacGraphic, and his efficient team of professionals. Thank-you for a wonderful conference.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use the WordPress application, including setting up pages and blogs, get in touch.

How to Write Tenders

You could say that we have a little form when it comes to writing tenders. We look for them and find them. We read them. We decide whether they’re worth our time. We sift and sift. We prioritise and decide. We add them to our work schedule. We make a writing plan. We consult our bank of tender submission template responses. And, then the real work starts!

Upcoming Blog Posts in the Series

  • Tender Terminology
  • Where to Find Tenders in Ireland

I Need Help to Write Tenders Now!

  • I’ve no idea where to start!
  • I’ve started a tender but can’t seem to finish it!
  • The terminology is driving me crazy. Can you sit down with me and go through answering all my burning questions?
  • I’m stumped on the methodology. What we do seems so obvious, I don’t know how to put the process into words.
  • They’ve not stated a budget. What do I do? How do I price it?
  • My English isn’t the best. It just needs a wee polish.
  • Can you just write the whole darn thing for me?

We can help from searching for tenders, to deciding whether to go for them or not, to making a writing plan, to filling forms, to collating all documentation, to polishing the English, to mentoring you through it, or writing it from start to finish!

Get in touch today.

Image credit: pedrosimoes

Public Sector Tenders Northern Ireland

Do you ever wonder: Where can I find tenders in Northern Ireland (and beyond)? Check our list.

If we’re missed anything out, let us know. Or, get in touch for help with sourcing, planning, writing and winning tenders.

Local Councils

Each council website may have their own Tenders or Opportunities page. Alternatively, they may direct you to a central repository.

http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/local-councils-in-northern-ireland

Contracts Finder

UK government contracts

https://online.contractsfinder.businesslink.gov.uk/?site=1000&lang=en

eSourcing NI

Northern Ireland Public Sector and Regulated Contracting Authorities

https://e-sourcingni.bravosolution.co.uk/web/login.shtml

Scotland

This is a list of tender sources in Scotland.

Public Contracts Scotland

Scottish Local Authorities, NHS Scotland, the Scottish Government, Agencies and NDPBs, Higher and Further Education and Emergency Services Tenders

http://www.publiccontractsscotland.gov.uk

Ireland

This is a list of tender sources in Ireland.

Intertrade Ireland

http://www.intertradeireland.com/tools/tender_opportunities/

Office of Government Procurement

https://irl.eu-supply.com/login.asp?B=ETENDERS_SIMPLE

EU

This is a list of places to find tenders across the EU.

publicTENDERS.net

http://www.publictenders.net

Worldwide

There are only a few central websites for worldwide tenders.

Oppex

Public procurement notices

https://oppex.com

Image credit: davidbolton