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Build the Foundation First: Three Writing Basics

After reviewing hundreds of writing samples from workshops in 2011, three writing basics stand out as necessary to make writing positive and clear.

Test your daily writing for these:

1. Positive wording:  Attitude, attitude, attitude.  Doesn’t it make a big difference? We all enjoy working with people who come at a problem with a constructive approach—those who take time to consider all possible solutions.  These people’s attitudes are reflected in their language:

  • “We could look at it one of two ways.”
  • “I have another idea for how to approach that.”
  • “Have you tried this process?”
  • “Let’s adapt that procedure to this situation.”
  • “Let’s contact Jane for her ideas on that. She’s an expert in this area.”
  • “Here’s what we can do going forward.”
  • “How can we make this right?”
  • “We can fix that!”
  • “Have you considered this option?”

2. Logical organization:  With every message you send, follow a format that works for you, or take a minute to consider this question:

How could I organize this message in such a way that it achieves R&R—Readability, thus Retention?

Try the PAPER format for much of your writing:

Purpose for writing

Action you plan to take or want the reader to take

Particulars—Why, who, what, when, where, how, how much, and so what?

Evidence—Information, often in the form of an appendix or attachment, that backs up your conclusions

Request for response (next step?)

3. Clear wording:  Reread your messages aloud to check for clarity. Don’t edit as you go, but circle or highlight awkward sentences, transitions, and phrases.  When finished, go back for your rewrite.

When saying each word, you will also notice tone, missing words, and misspelled words. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman and many other professional writers find reading aloud their best editing technique.

Apply these three items as the foundation for your writing, and then build upon them throughout 2012.