Does your team fall into this common writing trap?
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…
Never miss another deadline because of writing blockages
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…
What Mr. Bean and Yoga Have Taught Me About Writing
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…
The useless fantasy that makes writing tougher than it needs to be
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…
"Do you make these mistakes in English?"
Fear can act as a persuasive motivator—especially the fear of seeming inept or ignorant. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the headline “Do you make these mistakes in English?” frightened more than 150,000 Americans into buying a correspondence course to improve their language skills. The ad for the course is widely considered one of the greatest pieces of copy writing of all time.
As a writing coach, however, I cringe every time I see a new version of the famous headline. So many blog posts and magazine …
Managers need to unlearn their writing skills so they can teach others
About seven years ago, I suddenly stopped cooking. One day I just realized that my usual round of chores felt somehow lighter, as if a heavy knapsack I’d been carrying a long time had gradually slipped off my shoulders.
I remember when this happened because at the time my daughter was just starting to get interested in cooking. And because I was no longer cooking, I had a hard time helping her learn how to fend for herself in the kitchen.
For years, I’d thought of “cooking” as a scientific pro…
Great ideas start with great conversation
Although I’ve been in the business world for many years, I still refer to myself as a “recovering academic.” I feel I'll never quite leave the halls of the ivory tower behind me because I still have to fight daily against the urge to complexify, not simplify, language and ideas.
I also have to remind myself frequently that writing isn't the only tool for promoting deep thinking. That’s not easy to do because I came of age in the era of an educational movement called Writing Across the Curriculu…
Avoid these eight ways you could be sabotaging your technical proposals
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 da…
Are you afraid of your own writing voice?
When you invite an improv actor into your communications class, you have to be ready for anything. Thank goodness, my class was alone in the basement of the business school that evening.
I'd asked my actor friend, Chris, to give my students some coaching to help with oral presentations. We started with a few vocal warmup exercises and some practice with delivery stance. So far, so tame. And then, Chris asked everyone in the room to stand up and project their voice--not at public speaking volume…
Get rid of the writing distractions in your open office
Is there any worse place to write than a modern office? Open-concept offices may create the illusion of team togetherness, but they're so noisy and distracting that it may be easier to concentrate in a subway station.
Researchers are finally validating the complaints open-office employees have been making for years. Working without privacy and quiet undercuts productivity by up to 15%, increases physical and emotional stress, and correlates with high rates of absenteeism. (For a startling summ…
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