Monday, April 16, 2007
T-Shirt or Stuffed Shirt Writing
Well, this is how consultant Dianna Booher describes two styles of writing - at the opposite ends of the spectrum - in her very worthwhile email offering: Communication Tip of the Month.
As we know, different people have different ways of expressing themselves with words. "Stuffed shirt writing" refers to the ultra-formal, stilted, impersonal and stuffy way some folk prefer to write, while the "T-shirt" style is just the opposite: very personal, warm, chatty, and often more than a little bit too informal.
Dianna points out that the "stuffed shirt" variety is as easy to recognize as it is difficult to define: those who use it "bury their ideas in passive verbs. They select weak sentence beginnings and bury key actions...they drape their ideas in trite, verbose, statements."
The other extreme are writers "who send email that could pass for a T-shirt slogan"!
These people, says Dianna, "use aggressive words and no tact...They ramble on and on, without sorting out the main ideas and details from the irrelevant. They misspell, omit punctuation, and write incomplete thoughts, leaving clarity as the reader's problem."
She offers a pointed and instructive sample of each style. No prizes for guessing which is which!
Example OneIt can easily be seen that when large volumes of gas are metered and when variations in the gas temperatures become commonplace, the resulting circumstance will be a loss of revenue if corrective action is not taken.
Example TwoLarge volumes of METERED gas-big problem-in about two months we're gonna lose our shirt unless somebody gets off their duff and okays something.
Two sentences, two distinct choices of words and phrases, both purporting to say the same thing. Is either choice music to your ears? I think not.
'Business Casual'Diana aptly observes: "Like our work clothes today, the preferred writing style has become business casual. And just as the business casual dress code has some people stumped, so has the business casual writing style."
And just in case you count yourself among the stumped, she translates the above examples into the "business casual"-or in plainer language, simple and direct-writing style for you. Yes, it's really as simple as this:
As we meter large volumes of gas, variations in gas temperature will result in lost revenues unless we take corrective action.
Bottom line: in business writing, this is the only acceptable style. T-shirt messages really do belong in the shopping mall, certainly not on your documents. As for stuffed shirts, do they really belong anywhere?
Dianna's tip was extracted from her book E-Writing, available here.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Secrets of Well-written College Assignments
The University of Maryland's Professor Linda Coleman, former director of the Freshman Writing Program at the University, offers some very handy writing tips to enable any student to turn out top-notch term papers, essays and assignments. Here are some of them:
1. Read the assignment sheet carefully and follow instructions. You'd be surprised how often students make mistakes because they think they remember what was on the assignment sheet. Read any additional material your teacher gives you.
2. Break the task into segments and assign a "date for completion" to each segment. For a paper, this is likely to include topic selection, initial planning, initial research (if research is required), follow-up research, multiple drafts and a final proofreading. Put these in your personal organizer. (If you don't have one, get one.)
- Allow time for major editing and revision, including at least a couple of drafts, before the final draft. (You will almost never hand in a first draft.)
- Allow time for a final proofreading before the paper is handed in. A surprising number of papers lose points because of sloppy final proofreading.
- Save your work often, and save it to more than one location: not just your hard drive, but also a CD, zip disk, flash drive, external drive, etc.
- From time to time, email your work to yourself. That way, if your computer crashes, you'll have a copy of a recent draft available in cyberspace.
- Don't expect to print your paper the day it's due. Make sure you have a back-up plan in case your printer doesn't work, and leave yourself plenty of time to put it into action.
5. Whenever you sit down to work on a paper, take a few minutes to look at the comments your teacher made on your previous work. Few things are less fun than revisiting work you've already done, but those comments are designed to help you improve your work on the next paper. List two or three things you want to do better in the paper you are working on now and check the list frequently.
6. Write to your audience, not to yourself. Whether you have a constructed audience or are writing a paper for the teacher, adjust your writing style and content to your reader(s), taking into account what they already know and believe and what you want them to conclude from your paper.
7. Try these techniques for editing and revision:
- For the rhetorical effect of the paper: when you've finished a draft, list the three or four most significant things you wanted to get across. Then re-read the paper and decide whether you in fact did get those points across.
- For paragraph coherence: try reading each paragraph by itself, starting from the end of the paper. In the margin beside each paragraph, write in one sentence what the paragraph is about. (If you start to run out of space, you probably have an incoherent paragraph.) Check to see whether your topic sentence matches what you have written in the margin. Possibly, what you've written in the margin would make a better topic sentence.
- For detail: read your paper, or sections of it, aloud. Reading aloud helps you catch errors or gaps that silent reading often lets you slide over.
8. Revise, revise, revise. And then do a final proofreading to make sure everything is perfect.
Now it's up to you! Happy writing, and look forward to the great grades you richly deserve!