Why Assessment is the Real Secret to Improving Your Messaging

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A few years ago, a former academic colleague and I were reminiscing about another colleague, who was a mentor to me during my first year of teaching.

Reflecting on our different journeys as writing teachers, Colleague #1 said of Colleague #2, “She always seemed to me rather obsessed with assessment.”

Peacemaker that I am, I smiled at this comment–but internally I did a mental fist pump. 

“You’re darn right!” I thought to myself. “If there’s one thing a writing instructor should be obsessed wi…

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Have you seen the latest knowledge translation movie?

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Until last week, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a KT film. But The Trick (2021) definitely fits that bill. It offers a fascinating, and frightening, glimpse into the pressures that threaten the accurate, ethical communication of scientific research.

The British flick presents one version of the scandal that swirled around the University of East Anglia in 2009. That’s when a hacker (who’s never been identified) leaked emails from the Climactic Research Unit (CRU). Taken out of context a…

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How to overcome binge writing

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Five simple ways to escape the procrastination cycle

“The best way for me to write is under pressure.”

“Procrastination works for me. I can only write if I’m staring down a deadline.”

“There’s no sense even trying to start a document until it’s the eleventh hour–I just can’t focus otherwise.”

I find it odd to hear so many workplace writers turn procrastination into a virtue when, in most other aspects of our life, we treat it as a weakness to resist. The trouble is that procrastinating on a …

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The real reasons technical proposals flop

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Most technical proposals don’t flop because they’re not precise enough about technical matters. They fail because the writers self-sabotage by focusing on themselves rather than on their readers.

 Here are eight common pitfalls to avoid the next time you write a proposal:

1. Showing off your enthusiasm

The pitfall: You write at length about how pleased, honoured, thrilled, excited, and so on you are to have the opportunity to submit a proposal for such an awesome opportunity.

Why it’s damagi…

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Why "think before you write"​ is terrible advice

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In his classic work of cultural theory, Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga begins with an apology for the limitations of his research, saying, "To fill in all the gaps in my knowledge beforehand was out of the question for me. I had to write now, or not at all. And I wanted to write."

My mind often “thinks” in cartoons, and as I read these words, I picture Huizinga dashing out of the library at Leiden University—knocking down a shelf of books in his haste—and making a bee-line for his office like a fo…

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Why America's simplicity prophet bungles simple writing

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“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” That’s the mantra of Henry Thoreau, who in 1845 took to the woods beside Walden Pond (just outside Concord, Massachusetts), to strip his mode of living down to the bare essentials. For two and a half years, he lived in a one-room log cabin he built himself, grew much of his own food, and became a self-appointed prophet of an anti-industrial lifestyle. The book that resulted from this this experiment, Walden, is still an inspiring and challenging read for any…

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Does your team fall into this common writing trap?

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Two heads may be better than one, but they are also less efficient. Teams tend to be great at generating interesting ideas but poor at producing focused, unified documents on a tight timeline.

The big mistake many teams make is assuming that the best way to divide writing work is to assign everyone a section of the document to produce. This approach makes little sense if you compare it with the way teams approach other kinds of projects. 

The quickest way to improve team writing, then, is to b…

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Never miss another deadline because of writing blockages

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You don’t need to see the latest stats on project failure rates to know that most IT and engineering projects don’t meet their initial timelines. One experienced project manager once told me that 75% of technology projects fail to meet the schedule, the budget, or both. 

At the time, I thought she was a pessimist, with maybe a bit of paranoid personality thrown in. But it turns out she wasn’t exaggerating by much. Failure rates for IT projects, documented in various research studies, range from…

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What Mr. Bean and Yoga Have Taught Me About Writing

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Have you seen the Mr. Bean Snickers ads in which Rowan Atkinson plays a ninja in training? If so, then you have some idea of what it’s been like for me to learn yoga over the past few years.

I’m so clumsy that I've never dared to attempt yoga in a live class. Who knows whom I might accidentally kick or roll over while trying to fold myself into some impossible pretzel shape? The corner of my bedroom seems a much safer spot for everyone.

About four years ago, when I first decided to give yoga a…

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The useless fantasy that makes writing tougher than it needs to be

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Imagine you're playing a medieval fantasy game in which your role is not warrior but writer. Rather than trying to find a gem or break a spell, your quest is to create a report.

As you journey toward this goal, you fight a series of monsters with names like Ennui, Self-Torment, and Delay. Your secret weapon against these and other perils is your Muse, a powerful female figure whom you summon by collecting spells for your writer's spell book.

When your muse magically appears, she looks like a c…

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