In case you haven’t noticed my blog’s tag line, it reads: “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” Today’s post is dedicated to those who may not love to write but their job requires them to do so. I realize that most of my readers are professional writers, but we all know non-professional writers who wish someone else could do their writing for them!

I chose to interview a friend and client of mine, Ignatius (Iggy) Nelson, who fits this description perfectly. Iggy has worked his way up the corporate ladder and has recently discovered how integral writing is to his everyday job. So much so, that if he hadn’t taken matters into his own hands and received training in the area of writing, he probably would not be where he is today.  Let’s hear from Iggy and how he overcame his writing challenges:

1. Tell us a little about your background and how you got into your present industry and job?

I began my career with the City of Palo Alto as a water treatment specialist in 1986. I was in charge of taking water samples and filling out paperwork for processing the samples. In order to advance, I took a lot of classes on water treatment and operating various equipment. My big break came in 2000 when I was selected as a Water Services Manager for another Bay Area city. I was selected for my present job after completing an all-day assessment and am now a Water Superintendent.

2. When you first got started, how much and what kind of writing were you
required to do on a regular basis?


In the beginning there wasn’t much writing at all. Most of my time was spent out in the field. I basically had forms and paperwork to fill out but no real writing.

3. How much and what kind of writing are you required to do now on a regular
basis?

Currently I am responsible for 9 employees and oversee a budget of $5 million. I am continually writing memos and reports as well as other forms of internal communications. I’m also responsible for writing extensive reports and memos to the city council. When I first took on this position, the most stressful part about my job was the writing.
4. Would you have been able to move into the management positions you’ve held if you weren’t willing to write or weren’t successful at writing?
I may have been able to get into management, but it would’ve been a struggle to do well in my positions without being able to write. In my field it’s a big transition going from operations, where you’re doing field work to sitting at a computer all day e-mailing information, preparing performance reviews, and writing reports.

5. Did you ever think starting out that your job one day would require so much
writing?

It really never occurred to me that I would need writing skills if I wanted to advance into management. The writing was certainly more than I expected. Little did I know that my current job, because of the higher salary, would require even more writing. Looking back I should have been concerned about learning to write and not have procrastinated at doing so. I had no idea that someday writing would be a big part of my work.

6. What have you done to help yourself in the area of professional writing?

In 2002 I decided to take a basic writing class at a community college. The first time I took the class I flunked it! But I kept going and didn’t quit. Last year I took a class from the University of Phoenix called Effective Written Communications. Recently I took another class entitled Business Communications.

7. In general, what do you see with your peers and those supervising you when it comes to business writing skills? Do you think most people have prepared themselves for the amount of writing they have to do?

Most of my peers are not at all prepared for business writing. My level of management does not require a college degree or any formal educational training. My supervisors typically have engineering degrees, and they can write pretty well. But most of those in my line of work have not prepared for the future when it comes to business writing.

8. How could you convince someone starting out in a non-writing field that
they will need to be prepared for gaining business communication skills?

I would simply share my story and tell how learning to write has helped me throughout my career. For someone like myself that spent most of his years working out in the field, writing was not a big deal. I never gave it much thought that someday I would need business writing skills. I am convinced that you must have good writing skills to advance in life. My biggest regret is that I didn’t take those writing classes earlier, before I got promoted into management.

Thank you, Iggy, for sharing your story with us. I know there are many other stories out there just like yours. If any of you have a similar “Iggy” story to share, please do so. I think sometimes as writers we take for granted that this is something we can do and don’t really put much thought into it.

But more and more, writing is a major part of nearly any job, especially as that job advances into a managerial capacity. To stay competitive, employees need to know how to write. Often, companies won’t do much to help these employees, so they are forced to do what Iggy did and take it upon themselves to get the necessary training.

I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and ideas that may help others in this area.

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Whether you’re writing a book, an article, or business correspondence, your title plays an important  role. To be effective, titles should:

• project your work’s image (humorous, educational, personal story)

• state your work’s purpose (if even in a roundabout way)

• grab your audience’s attention as quickly as possible

If you’re writing a book, especially non-fiction, it’s helpful to check other titles already published on your topic. How did publishers approach the subject in titling? Direct, catchy, with subtitles?

For non-fiction and even some business writing, the following are effective phrases to include in your titles:

• numbers

• qualifiers (most, best, greatest)

• “How to…”

• “Keys to,” “tips for,” “success”  (think “10 Keys to Successful Weight Loss”)

• “simple,” “easy,” “quick”

For fiction, you’re more interested in trying to create mood and tone with your titles. Match your genre, be it mystery, historical fiction, or sci-fi. Your title could also play off your main character in some way, especially if you’re writing a series.

Take time to title your work appropriately. Make sure it reflects what you’ve written and that it will make someone pull it off the shelf in a bookstore or off their cluttered desk at work to read it. Just keep in mind that if you’re working with an editor, she will probably end up changing it anyway!

One comment I’ve had about my blog since starting it just a couple of months ago is how the subscriber enjoys that it’s for writers who “have” to write as well as for those who do it for the sheer enjoyment of it. If you’ve noticed my tag line, it reads, “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” Consider this post a rescue post.

More and more, as companies cut back on their work force and try to do more with less, people who never had to write on their jobs are now finding that they have to. And for those who have been promoted into management positions, they suddenly find themselves staring down deadlines for reports, company memos, and executive-level communications on a regular basis.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of time. How do you now make time for the on-the-job writing that’s required of you and still squeeze all your “normal” work functions in? Here are a few tips that may help:

• Just as I always encourage the at-home novelists, block off your writing time. This is obviously harder at work, when you have meetings to get to and fires to put out, but as best as you can, schedule in an hour a day (more if you need to) where you do nothing but write. It’s a lot easier to write effectively and efficiently for a continuous period of time than to keep having to start back up after you’ve been interrupted with other tasks.

Capitalize on downtime. This could take the form of commute time, lunch time, or while you’re waiting on others to arrive for a meeting. Begin looking for opportunities to write, or at least, jot down ideas related to what you need to write. Always be prepared to write, as you never know when the perfect opening statement for your sales letter may hit you.

Work with your supervisors to carve out the time needed for your writing projects. Be realistic as you discuss with them how long it takes to properly prepare a sales report or write a compelling letter to a potential client. Review the process and time line with them and see what kind of daily time you can negotiate into your schedule strictly for writing.

Train others to help you. With some correspondence, you can almost use a template and simply change the names and dates involved. For such documents, construct an appropriate original and then train someone else to tweak the writing to fit the situation at hand. You will have to review it, of course, before it goes out, but at least it will save you some valuable writing time.

Take writing classes. This may not seem like a good solution for saving time, but in the long run it will. The more you learn about how to write properly, the easier writing will come to you, and therefore, the less time it will take you to write effectively. Writing classes are available at community colleges, through workforce seminars, and online. Choose those that are specific to your needs so you can zero in on trouble spots. You might even be able to talk your company into picking up the tab! I’m hoping to have some online writing courses available through this blog during 2010, so keep your eyes open for that!

Don’t forget to stop back next Monday, January 25, for Part 2 of Monica Cane’s guest blog post.

In case you happened to miss my blog tagline, it is: “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” This post is one of those “rescue” moments.

I know of many people who have been forced into writing on their jobs for one reason or another. Sure, many of us love expressing our thoughts on paper (or computer) and going to great lengths to find the perfect word to say what we mean, but there are just as many others who didn’t plan on actually having to write for a living–and hate it!

I’m thinking of engineers, business owners, health care professionals–you name it–who started out not having to write a word during their daily jobs, but because of promotions or maybe company cutbacks, they are now expected to handle various forms of corporate correspondence. This post is for you!

Today, let’s tackle the company memo. Writing a memo sounds easy enough, right? Just write a quick letter to your customers, employees, or boss. But make sure you say exactly what you mean, don’t offend anyone in the process, and say it quickly but thoroughly. On top of that, you need to sound like you really know what you’re talking about. Maybe this is why memo writing causes so much anxiety!

For today’s purposes, let’s look at 5 must-have characteristics of any memo you write:

1. Memos must be brief. Memos by definition are “short notes designating something to be remembered.” Memos should ideally be less than one page. Otherwise, call it something else. To accomplish this, don’t use unnecessary words (adjectives and adverbs can typically be eliminated), watch out for redundancy and repetition (hope you caught that!), and write in succinct sentences, using bullets where applicable. Read over your memo several times, and trim back as much wordiness as you can.

2. Memo must have effective formatting. In your memo you should always state your most important points first. Don’t “bury your lead” (as journalists love to say) somewhere deep in the heart of your memo. If it’s key to your message, be sure your reader won’t miss it. Also, set off any important points you have by using bullets or by bolding key phrases.

3. Memos must be precise. Avoid ramblings, tangents, and vague statements that don’t really mean anything. Leave all that to the politicians. (Unless, of course, you are a politician, then you can ignore this point.) The goal of your memo is to cut to the chase, say what you need to say in as few words as possible, then get out. Make sure every sentence or bullet has a precise meaning and isn’t just a waste of words.This is especially true when you are making directives or requests of your readers. Be certain that your words are conveying exactly what you want them to do and that there’s no chance of them misinterpreting what you want.

4. Memos should be simple. Again, leave the big words for the politicians (or professors) and don’t try to impress anyone with how well you can use a dictionary. Say whatever you have to say as simply as you can with common language. It has been said that when we write (unless we’re writing to a specific technical audience), we  should aim for a 5th or 6th grade reading level. That doesn’t, however,  give you license to use words like “dude” and “whatever!”.

5.  Memos should not use sexist language. Some companies are more sensitive about this than others, so you have to gauge where your company lies on the “politically correctness” scale. But, for the most part, make sure your memos don’t always talk about “hes” and never any “shes” or make any reference whatsoever to inequality between the sexes one way or another. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the things some people write! Just look over your memo before you send it out, and make sure you haven’t written anything that could be inferred the wrong way and that you’ve given both sexes equal time.

There is much more that can be said about memo writing (believe it or not!). If you need more pointers I suggest checking out the following books:

Get to the Point! by Elizabeth Danziger; 135 Tips for Writing Successful Business Documents by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts; Write First-Class Business Correspondence by Sue Baugh; and The Elements of Business Writing by Gary Blake and Robert Bly. All of these authors have many other books covering various business writing topics that are worth looking into.

Happy memo writing!