Why Getting An 'F' For Your Writing Is A Good Thing

Remember when getting an F for your writing was the worst thing that could happen to you? Turns out, it’s not so bad anymore. Actually, it’s a good thing. 

Today we are busy, busier than we have ever been and this has taken a toll on our reading habits. We tend to scan more, picking out lines and words here and there.

According to the Nielsen Eyetracking Study, we read in the shape of the letter F. We read most of the first paragraph, go down, read a bit of the middle paragraph, and then glance down again keeping to the right of the page. You can read more about it here: 8 Powerful Takeaways from Eye Tracking Studies  

This should help you decide where to put your most important information. We are often told that your first sentence should be the most important and the first paragraph the most important paragraph. If you consider the f-shaped reading pattern it makes sense. 

Look at these heat maps:

How can you change your writing to create the F? 

  1. Use the Inverted Pyramid. This is an old journalistic tool. Start with the conclusion and then add the explanations. The most important information must go first. This will also help you with SEO. Read The One Essential Email Trick Every Business Writer Should Know
  2. Write in Plain Language. Shorten your sentences, simplify your word choice and reduce sentence length. This will aide scanning. Read Why You Need To Write In Plain Language
  3. Make sure you have lots of white space. White space is a design principle; the absence of text draws your eye to the text. It does not overwhelm the reader. Read Why You Need White Space When You Write (And 5 Ways To Create It)

Good luck and I hope you get an F. 

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

January 2017 - Course Timetable

Course

Description

Jan ‘17

Feb ‘17

March ‘17

Writers Write

How to write a book

 

4,11,18,25

4,11,18,25

Writers Write

How to write a book

 

20-23

27-30

The Plain Language Programme

Advanced business writing

 

7-8

 

Blogging and Social Media Course

Write for the web

28-29

14-15

14-15

Short Cuts

How to write a short story

 

 12

kids etc.

How to write for children

 

 

 19


Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

The Next 5 Months In Writing

Course

Description

Nov ‘16

Dec ‘16

Jan ‘17

Feb ‘17

March ‘17

Writers Write

How to write a book

5,12,19,26

 

 

4,11,18,25

4.11.18,25

Writers Write

How to write a book

7-10

5-8

 

20-23

27-30

The Plain Language Programme

Advanced business writing

15-16

 

 

7-8

 

Blogging and Social Media Course

Write for the web

22-23

 

28-29

14-15

14-15

Short Cuts

How to write a short story


 

 

 12


kids etc.

How to write for children

27

 

 

 

 19

Email news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

Gift Vouchers

Are you looking for a life-changing gift for a relative, friend, or work colleague who wants to write? Why not buy a gift voucher for one of our writing courses? Click here to find out how it works.

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Why You Should Not Use Nominalisations When You Write


According to About Grammar, a nominalisation is a word formation in which a verb (or other part of speech) is used as (or transformed into) a noun. It is also called nouning. For example, 'argument' is a nominalisation of 'argue'. They are often used in academic and corporate writing.

The endings of nominalisations vary, but most of them end in one of these: 
-ion 
-tion 
-ment 
-ity 
-ty 
-ness
Here are some examples:


Why are they bad for your writing? 

A nominalisation is a type of abstract noun. An abstract noun denotes an idea, quality, emotion, or state. It is something that is not concrete. It takes the power away from the original verb.

When we write in plain language, we try to avoid nominalisations, because they make sentences unclear. If we use them, we have to use more words in our sentences. They drain the life out of our writing.  

In fact, nominalisations are often used in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) to induce a light trance. 'If we use lots of nominalisations together, the mind is not sure exactly what is being said and so it drifts off and gets distracted...' (source


When they are used instead of verbs, it sounds as if nothing is happening in the sentence. Here are some examples:
The distribution of the resources was set for inclusion in the discussion
is weaker than
We discussed how we would distribute the resources. 

The results from the gathering of the data were used for the formulation of questions.
is weaker than
We gathered data to formulate questions.

The implementation of the method allowed for the stoppage of waste. 
is weaker than
The team implemented the method to stop the waste.
If you want people to pay attention to your writing, do not use too many nominalisations.

Resource: Purdue OWL

If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

6 Ways To Shorten Your Sentences And Improve Your Writing

Long sentences can be dangerous. When our sentences are too long, we tend to lapse into the passive voice and we risk making tense and punctuation mistakes. 

Run-on sentences also distract the writer and the reader. We tend to veer off course and forget the purpose of our communications. They also force the reader to work harder. 

Six ways to trim the fat

  1. Use readability statistics. Activate this on your computer and it’ll do the counting for you. Remember you want to work with an average number of words. It is also important to vary the length of your sentences.  [Read: Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics]

  2. Count the commas. If you are not listing items, and your sentence has more than three commas, you should consider splitting the sentence. 

  3. Cut unnecessary conjunctions. Conjunctions join sentences. Find them and decide if you can remove them and make two sentences instead of one. 

  4. One thought per paragraph. We tend to read the first sentence in a paragraph and then we scan the rest of the paragraph. If you introduce second and third points later in the same paragraph, your reader may miss them. 

  5. Remove redundant words. We add words that don’t add value. If you can remove a word from the sentence and it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence you don’t need the word. [Read 19 Examples of Redundancy]

  6. Reduce your word count. Challenge yourself to cut 1/4 of the words. This will force you to evaluate each word. Do not cut crucial information, though. Make sure you have answered the 5Ws and H. 

You will be able to structure your message if you plan your communication. The Inverted pyramid will help you decide what needs to go first. Think about what you want to say and what you want your reader to do after reading the message.  

Happy pruning. 

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

10 Ways To Be Brief But Not Abrupt When You Write Emails

You know those days when you get home from work and your partner asks you what you did that day and all you can say is ‘I answered emails’? Email takes up a lot of our time. We spend all day in our inboxes. We reply and send and ask. 

It makes sense that shorter emails are more effective, but if we cut too much we run the risk of alienating our reader, because we can come across as abrupt. 

Here are 10 ways to keep it short, but professional

1.     Use a greeting.

Often when we rush, we leave out the greeting. Make sure to always include one. Words like ‘Hello’ or ‘Dear’ are good to use. 'Hi' isn’t the best for business, but it also depends on how formal or informal your company communications are.

2.     State the reason for writing as soon as possible.

We tend to start with clichés like 'I hope this email finds you well'. We can do this, but we should try to avoid doing it. We want to state the reason for writing as soon as possible. We may think adding a phrase like this makes us sound polite, but when we read clichés our brains shut down a little bit. We don’t want your reader shutting down. 

3.     Write in full sentences and use pronouns.

We tend to leave out pronouns and write in incomplete sentences. This makes our messages abrupt. Don't do it.

4.     Find the positive.

This is an art. Always try to turn the negative into the positive. Avoid negative words. Words starting with 'un-' and 'non-' aren’t ideal. Re-examine those words and try to replace them.

5.     Proper spelling and grammar.

Use a UK spellcheck and we suggest that you read your email aloud. Paying attention to our spelling and grammar is a sign of respect and professionalism.  

6.     Use contractions. 

Contractions soften your tone, so use them if you need to do this.

7.     Beware of capital letters.

Capital letters are the written equivalent of shouting, so avoid typing in CAPS.

8.     Avoid using colour to highlight.

Computer screens are calibrated differently, and what might be a nice grey colour on your screen is invisible on your reader’s screen. Also, we don’t all have colour printers. Use bold instead. Avoid using red type; people do not enjoy red words.

9.     Reference a future contact.

This is where we can make up for leaving out “I hope this email finds you well”, but try to make it original. Try “I look forward to receiving, meeting, seeing…” It makes your email positive.

10.  Call to action with instructions.

Anything we write should inform, entertain, or persuade. If you can do all three, you rock. Most business emails inform or persuade. Make sure you are clear about what you want the reader to do after reading your message.

Example 1:
Jane

See attached document. Feedback required asap.
Terms non-negotiable.

Charles
Example 2:
Hello Jane

I’ve attached the document as requested.

Please reply to this email with your comments by Tuesday, 24 October 2016. The terms are fixed.

I look forward to receiving your feedback.

Kind regards
Charles

Emails are delicate. The average employee receives about 50 of them a day, if we spend just five minutes with each email we’ll spend about four hours in our inbox. So remember, to keep it short, but keep it sweet.  

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Why You Need White Space When You Write (And 5 Ways To Create It)


We all suffer from information overload. It’s often called information fatigue. We need our information to be as easy to read as possible, because we are exposed to so much of it on a daily basis. 

Whether you are a creative writer or a business writer you will have heard about white space. We come across this advice again and again: Make sure you have enough white space. 

But what does 'white space' mean? 

White space is a design principle. Simply, the absence of text draws your eye to the text. It literally refers to the amount of space around and between the words.  

It is about creating text that is inviting to the reader. When your text forms a solid block it overwhelms your reader. The reader is negative about it, before they even begin to read. 

Think about textbooks. They generally have long paragraphs, with long sentences. There is very little white space. Below is an image of George Orwell’s 1984. It is a good example of a book with very little white space, and even though it’s one of the more readable classics, you still have to work hard.


We should use white space because
  • it makes it easier for us to read.
  • it draws the reader’s attention to the text.
  • it is uncluttered and calming. 
Five ways to create white space: 
  1. Use lists. When you list items it makes it scannable. If you have more than three points it is better to number your items instead of using bullets. Try not to use more than 3-5 bullets.  
  2. Increase line spacing. If it is possible increase your line spacing on your documents. A good average is 1.5. Remember to refer to the company style guide before you do this. 
  3. Shorten your sentences. Long sentences form solid blocks. You should vary the length of your sentences. 
  4. Break up paragraphs. Reconsider your paragraphs and try to discuss only one point per paragraph. 
  5. Avoid justifying your documents. People are passionate about justifying their documents, but it makes it harder to read and proofread. Most professional documents have been typeset and your average computer doesn’t typset very well. It creates rivulets (diagonal spaces) between the words, uneven spaces in sentences and solid blocks of text.
White space is about letting your writing and your reader breathe.

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. Why You Need To Write In Plain Language
  2. From Passive Voice To Active Voice - How To Spot It & How To Change It
  3. September Writing Prompts

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    Why You Need To Write In Plain Language

    Plain language is writing that everyone can understand. You are only able to write this way if you understand exactly what it is that you want to say. Don’t think you are ‘dumbing it down’. You are communicating in a clear, simple manner. 

    If you read last week’s post, you’ll remember I wrote that we have 11 official languages in South Africa. This makes our use of plain language even more important. 


    What are the advantages of plain language:
    1. There is no ambiguity.
    2. It is faster to read.
    3. It is faster to write. 
    Plain language guidelines:
    1. Simplify your word choice.
    2. Shorten your sentences.
    3. Shorten paragraphs.
    4. Use the active voice.
    5. Use pronouns.
    6. Use lists.
    How to use readability statistics

    Microsoft Word has a free tool that measures the readability of your document. There are many free online tools that you can use as well. [Read Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics] The Microsoft tool calculates the number of characters per word, the numbers of words per sentence as well as the number of sentences per paragraph. At the end you will be given a passivity percentage, a grade level, and a readability percentage. Ideally you want your grade to be around 7, your readability to be above 70% and your passive voice below 10%. 


    How do you achieve this reading?  

    Averages to strive for:
    1. Word choice: If you use simple words, there will be no confusion about the meaning of the word. Strive for, on average, 4 characters per word. Remember you will use many short words such as ‘is’ and ‘a’ as well as many 6 or 8 character words to achieve this average. However, you should avoid very long words.  
    2. Sentence length: If you keep your sentences short you will find it easier to remain in the active voice. You will be able to avoid tense and punctuation mistakes. Try to use sentences that have an average of 9-13 words. Remember, it’s an average. You will use five word sentences, and you will use twenty word sentences, but when you start writing 34 or 45 word sentences you should cut them.   
    3. Paragraph length: Simple words and short sentences will help you to keep your paragraphs short. Short paragraphs help to create white space. If you keep your paragraphs between 3-5 lines or sentences, you will be able to place the emphasis on the correct information. Your first sentence should be the most the important sentence and you should keep it down to one thought or point per paragraph. 
    Plan your messages

    By planning your messages, you will be able focus your communication. If your messages are succinct and clear you will be an effective communicator. Consider your reader. Ask this question before you start writing: What do you want the reader to do after reading your message? This will help you decide what information to include.

    We’ll talk about reader habits and the importance of white space next week. 

    If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

    1. August Writing Prompts
    2. What Writers Can Learn From The Coolest Podcasts On The Web
    3. World-Building For Every Genre: The Ultimate Setting Checklist

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      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      From Passive Voice To Active Voice - How To Spot It & How To Change It


      We live in a country that has 11 official languages. There is a good chance that either the writer or the reader of any given document is a second language English speaker. This makes the use of Plain Language even more valuable.

      The advantages of being bilingual, or even multilingual, are endless. Your brain actually works differently, but it does mean you have to work hard to use the correct grammar.  

      Plain language guidelines encourage the use of active voice, simpler words, and shorter sentences and paragraphs. 

      You need to simplify your message, and you can only do that if you understand exactly what you want to say. There is no room for ambiguity with plain language. 

      Plain language is almost the opposite of academic writing and that is where the challenge lies. You are so used to writing and reading in this style that it makes passive voice hard to spot. Remember that it is the word order you want to change. 

      Subject-Verb-Object = Active  
      The CEO made the announcement. 

      Object-Verb-Subject = Passive 
      The announcement was made by the CEO. 

      Object-Verb = Passive 
      The announcement was made. 

      How to change passive voice to active voice: 
      1. Check sentence length. The longer your sentences are, the more likely you are to lapse into the passive voice. Reduce your sentence length. Split them, if necessary.
      2. Identify the subject. Who is the doer in the sentence? The subject should be first. Simply ask: who does what?
      3. Identify the verb. It’ll help you to identify the subject.
      4. Identify the object. If the sentence is passive the object will be first.
      5. Rewrite to follow the subject-verb-object order.
      6. What if there is no subject? At times, we do not know who did what. If there is no subject you might have to leave the sentence in the passive voice, but try to figure out who is responsible.   
      Exercise: Change these sentences into the active voice.
      The report was written by Mr Jones. 
      ACTIVE: Mr Jones wrote the report. 

      The annual results were released by the auditors on the 23rd of June and the board was relieved when the markets rallied and the share price increased. 
      ACTIVE: The auditors released the annual results on the 23rd of June. The markets rallied and the share price increased, much to the relief of the board. 

      The line managers were instructed by the CEO to re-evaluate the evacuation protocols of the factory. 
      ACTIVE: The CEO instructed the line managers to re-evaluate the evacuation protocols of the factory. 

      The Hemingway App will help to identify passive voice . You can also use readability statistics in Microsoft Word. 

      If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

       by Mia Botha

      If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

      1. August Writing Prompts
      2. What Writers Can Learn From The Coolest Podcasts On The Web
      3. World-Building For Every Genre: The Ultimate Setting Checklist

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        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

        25 Email Etiquette Tips For Professional People


        We send emails to place orders, answer questions, ask questions, inform, entertain, and promote.

        If a client’s first impression of a company is a written one, make sure it is good. The way we answer our telephone, the way we conduct ourselves in a meeting, and the way we write sends a message.

        If you work for a company and there is a style guide in place, you should familiarise yourself with its email guidelines.

        25 Email Etiquette Guidelines
        1. Keep separate email accounts for separate uses. Leave your work email address for work. Keep another for personal use.
        2. Check communications daily. Set aside time to do this. It is a good idea to do this three times in your working day. Respond to all your mails so that they do not pile up in your inbox.
        3. Follow general etiquette. Email is the same as a phone call. It is personal. You should be polite and reasonable – even if you are angry. If you are so angry that you cannot be polite, it is a good idea to wait. Avoid sending emotional emails.
        4. Explain acronyms. If you use an abbreviation, you should give an explanation. [Read 7 Rules for Acronyms]
        5. Avoid emoticons. It is tempting to :D <grin> at the recipient, but it is preferable to write that you are glad that everything worked well.
        6. Be consistent. Do not use ‘land’, ‘arrive’ and ‘log-on’ just for variety. They have different meanings and you will confuse your readers.
        7. Avoid caps lock. DO NOT WRITE THE ENTIRE DOCUMENT IN UPPERCASE – it is rude. It is the equivalent of shouting. It is also not as easy to read as it looks.
        8. Avoid !!! Terry Pratchett wrote that multiple exclamation marks are a ‘sure sign of a diseased mind’. Using too many makes them ineffective anyway.
        9. Clients are not your friends. Do not forward jokes, poems, warnings, and chain letters to clients. They will delete them, and feel that you have crossed a line. 
        10. Avoid profanity. Swearing is never an option. Profanity always looks worse when it is in writing.
        11. Email is immediate. Reply to emails as soon as possible. The rule is to try to reply on the same day.
        12. Answer all the questions asked. Anticipate questions, and answer those as well. Keep outgoing emails down to one or two questions. If you receive the same queries, keep a copy of the usual response in your drafts folder. Use it when you reply.
        13. Reply to all? If there is more than one recipient, decide if the reply must be sent to them as well.
        14. To: Check email addresses. You may have used the incorrect one and sent the wrong information to the wrong person. This is harmless if it is our dad, embarrassing if it is our boss, and lethal if it is another customer.
        15. CC: CC means carbon copy. For multiple recipients who know each other, use the TO field for the main person, and the CC field for the other interested parties.
        16. BCC: BCC means blind carbon copy. For an email that is going to people with a common purpose, for example, all the delegates in a class, use the BCC field. This ensures that everybody receives the message and that their email addresses remain private.
        17. Use good subject lines. A clear subject line indicates the reason for the email and it prevents our email being deleted as spam. Our emails will be blocked or end up in the junk file if we use a random selection of acronyms, numbers and provocative words.
        18. Greetings. Emails are not as formal as a letter, but ‘Yo’ and ‘Hey’ are not appropriate. A little respect goes a long way. We should use the recipient’s name or surname, and make sure we spell it correctly. Example: Dear Susan or Dear Miss Jones
        19. Check it. Take time to edit an email. If the recipient is querying an earlier email, delete the irrelevant parts. Then focus on their question.
        20. The closing line. This should leave a favourable impression. Example: Please let me know if you need anything else.
        21. Salutations. Use an appropriate salutation. We recommend ‘Kind regards’.
        22. Signing off. It is polite to include your name at the end of the email. The reader can see your title, if applicable, and the correct spelling of your name.
        23. Apply good writing practices. Standard grammar and spelling rules apply to emails. Set up your email to use a spellchecker. Check grammar and style. [Read 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails]
        24. Attachments. If you are sending an attachment, make sure you attach it. Remember that most servers block images, links and zip files. Most companies block attachments over 1MB, unless otherwise specified. Keep the attachment size as small as possible, and only send if necessary.
        25. Keep it simple. Never underestimate the power of simplicity. The best emails are clear - without colours, background pictures, BOLD, italics, and underlining.

        If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. Please email  news@writerswrite.co.za  for details.

           by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

          © Amanda Patterson

           If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:
          1. What Is A Style Guide And Why Do I Need One?
          2. 27 Blogging Tips To Grow Your Business
          3. 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails

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          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.