Writing Without an Audience in Mind

Write without keeping your audience in mind, and you will alienate readers right away. Writing requires that you exhibit “soft skill,” which is a combination of skills related to communication style, understanding of language and conventions, personal habits and social adeptness. Disregard these skills, and your audience will know you are churlish.

The U.S. Department of Labor considers soft skill application so critical enough for workplace success that they have produced a curriculum called “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills—Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” The learning activities focus on six soft skills: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism. However, one of the most important skills professionals need today is the ability to communicate clearly, effectively and professionally with readers. Anything less is rude.

My homeowners’ association wins the Broad Nib Creek Studio Fatal Flaw in Writing Prize of the Year (2014) for their attempt at either humor or self-aggrandizement.

Where I live, burning brush is a big deal. It seems there’s always a considerable amount to clear, and the easiest way to take care of the piles of it is to burn it. But naturally there are plenty of rules around the burning of brush, as there should be. Physical and property safety are priorities, and it’s the landowner’s responsibility to ensure that surrounding landowners and their property are also safe.

Before I can even think about lighting a brush pile, I have to consider whether or not there is a burn ban, the time of day,  wind and temperature, location of the burn, additional water sources for emergency flare-ups, and whether I can be near the fire from first flame to last ember. The property-owner’s manual also informs me this regarding outdoor burning: “Burning shall not be conducted during periods of actual predicted low-level atmospheric temperature inversions.”

Really? Convolution makes for a poor writing strategy and even poorer communication, particularly when writing about safety expectations. There is a time and a place for wit, and the manual isn’t a good place for wit, especially if that is the one and only attempt at it. I know; I had time to read the whole thing while keeping the burn pile in sight and mind.

Writers should do the same for their readers: keep good communication in sight and mind.

How to Present Yourself Unprofessionally in Business Email

Writing a business email?

Why bother with writing convention and trying to convince your readers that you are a literate communicator when you really never learned the soft skills of communication anyway? Or maybe you learned them but don’t feel like using them. For the sake of your own convenience, you are happy enough to type whatever, however you want, slopping through the writing, thinking, “Well, I’ll just add let me know if you need clarification at the end of your message. If they get it, good. If not, they can ask.”

Your email makes an impression as soon as the recipient opens it up. If the reader even gets to the end, further clarification should not be necessary if you communicated well enough in the first place.

Here are five disrespectful strategies guaranteed to alienate your audience and diminish your communication capacity – and respect — as a business professional.

1.  Write in all caps.

IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT YOUR NAILS ARE TOO LONG, YOUR CARPAL TUNNEL IS ACTING UP AGAIN, YOUR SHIFT KEY IS STUCK, IT’S QUICKER. Writing in all caps is yelling. Always. It’s also lazy, rude, difficult to read and disrespectful. Buy voice-activated software, get an ergonomic keyboard, find your nail clippers.

2.  Use text language in a professional email.

OMG, plz 4get 2 use txting language n email, LOL.

You are not twelve years old; you are a professional. I will not take your email seriously, but I will laugh at it. And then I will delete it.

3.  Put emoticons in a professional email.

Again, be the professional, not the twelve year old. Adults have an average vocabulary of 20,000 words. It’s not too much to insist that you use some of them instead of tiny smileys and frownies. If all else fails, try the dictionary and thesaurus.

4.  Put apostrophes next to every “s” at the end of the word.

Plurals need only an “s;” possessives need the apostrophe before the “s.”

Unless the rabbits (plural) own something, leave out the apostrophe. Leave it out in 1980s, CDs, DVDs, too.

5.  Keep’em confused: mix up homonyms.

Its/it’s, they’re/their/there, hear/here . . . you get the picture. You were also supposed to learn this in school. You definitely need to get it right at work.

These are my pet peeves in professional writing. There is a time and place for CAPS as emphasis, playing with texting language, and inserting emoticons; play with language, stretch the rules and see what bounces back to you. But play in your personal writing, in your own social media, in poetry and fiction writing. Don’t present yourself as a representative of your company if you can’t communicate like a professional.

I stand firm about apostrophes and homonyms in any writing.