A guest post on writing by Carla D. Bass, Colonel, USAF (Ret)
|The Challenge: Every author, fiction or nonfiction, is constrained by two factors: time and space — the reader’s time (measured in seconds) and physical space in which to present your message. Advantage goes to writers who best leverage both.|
My battle cry: “Powerful writing changes lives!” I’ve seen it… I’ve done it… throughout my thirty years in the U.S. Air Force and another ten in the federal government writing products sent to the White House and Congress.
Persuasive writing opens doors to opportunity that would otherwise remain closed. You could be the most qualified candidate. but if the competition is better at making a case, you lose. Promotions, internships, scholarships, competitive opportunities — in each case, a well-crafted, hard-hitting message often tips the balance between success and failure.
Powerful writing is also the lifeblood for successful organizations. It is requisite to build public support for an issue; attract talented job applicants; market products and services; win a grant; and defend or expand resources, such as R&D and other technical projects. Unless you present a robust, compelling story, translating technical terms into commonly understood language, the nod goes to someone else.
The Problem: Writing with focused precision is rarely taught today. Employers are frustrated at the necessity to rewrite email composed by staff because it is unsuitable and harmful to their business’s image.
On the flip side, employees are often flummoxed when required to provide input to their performance reviews in the allocated 1,000 spaces, or are tasked to compose a concise, compelling business presentation. They simply never learned to leverage that time and space.
The Solution: Make each word count and every second of the reader’s time play to your advantage. How? Apply these strategies and Word Sculpting tools found in my book, Write to Influence!
- Know the audience: Determine its needs; level of expertise; background with the subject; and preferred, professional terminology
- Outline your message: Chart the course from beginning to the desired conclusion
- Frame the message: Write to questions it should answer, then anticipate and respond to additional questions
- Fortify your message: Include facts and detail that convey impact and provide the reader a mental yardstick, as exemplified below from a resume:
Before: Managed a team of subject matter experts studying the continued viability of an aging logistics system and provided recommendations to the CEO.
After: Managed a 9-person team in a 5-week study of the viability of the company’s aging logistics system. Made 6 recommendations; CEO accepted them all; saved $850 K annually.
1. Banish bureaucratic blather – Strive for precision and clarity
Before: His test is tomorrow, and that is where his focus needs to be.
After: He should focus on tomorrow’s test.
Before: The company has begun a program that provides Antivirus software for personal home use at no cost to its employees. The free subscription provides proactive security for home personal computers (PC) and MACs by working to prevent malicious attacks and keep users safe while they surf, search, and download files online. The software also automatically updates itself so that protection is never out of date. [65 words/406 spaces]
After: The company provides employees free, self-updating, antivirus software for use while surfing and downloading files at home.
2. Edit, revise, and proofread!
Each is a distinctive step. Poor performance loses the reader no matter how compelling the message.
Three of my ten Word Sculpting tools are demonstrated below. Apply them to hone your product.
#1 – Useless Words: Identify, Chisel, Discard. This is the most fundamental of the 10 tools.
Before: The reason that I’m writing this sentence is to provide you with an exercise in which it is possible for you to identify and discard each and every word that is useless.
After: This is an exercise to discard useless words.
#2 — Don’t Hog Space. Condensing words is one of three ways not to hog space.
day-to-day = daily|
at the present time = now
with great care = carefully
on the other hand = alternatively
in the near future = soon
on a national basis = nationally
#3. Verbs Are Your Friends: Rely on Them. Authors often shy from a simple, direct verb, preferring to bury it in bureaucratic blather. Imagine a hard-boiled egg… really, imagine one. Now, concentrate on the yolk. THAT is the verb. Surrounding text ubiquitous in contemporary writing is the excess egg white — expunge it.
extend an invitation = invite|
conduct an inspection = inspect
have a discussion = discuss
give the ability to = enable
make certain = ensure
is dependent upon = depends on
doesn’t have = lacks
create a draft = draft
would much rather = prefer
Writing powerfully is a life skill, plain and simple, and one I delight in teaching others, from professionals in the workplace to kids in high school. Leveraging your own written word really does open doors to opportunity. My advice to students in college and graduate school is, “You spend years and significant funds developing expertise in your chosen field. Spend a small fraction of that time to strengthen your writing skills and become more effective — and competitive — in that chosen endeavor!”
Carla Bass has told you about herself in her post, so there is no need for a separate bio. It needs noting, though, that she is offering a free, autographed copy of her book to one randomly chosen commenter. She will post it to you, wherever you live.
Deadline for comments is 14th May. If you live in America, you can comment before May 14. 😉