Thursday, June 6, 2013

Writing for work and fun...

Here's another legacy post from my Goodreads blog.

Writing improves the more you practice, but the type of writing and the approach you must take to write effectively varies.  Writing blog posts is much different than writing a novel, and writing training materials is much different than technical writing.  Here are a few tips I've come up with through trial, error and research.

January 26, 2013

Today, I decided to write about the various types of writing I do, including creative writing, of course. Here's the breakdown, in order of highest to lowest volume.

1. Business writing (emails, memos, standard operating procedures, etc.)

2. Instructional Writing (training materials, eLearning Courses, lesson plans)

3. Creative Writing (stories)

4. Social Writing (blogs, essays, and reviews)

As you can see, the majority of the writing I do falls into the Business and Instructional Writing categories (my day job), but I spend a great deal of time at home on the Creative and Social Writing.

Because each type of writing requires a significantly different approach, I will go over each one briefly:

Business writing:
Focus: Be short, sweet, and to the point.
Purposes: To convey information, to persuade others, to provide instructions, and to record information
Prewriting: For business writing, I typically use outlining, free-writing, and the occasional brainstorm or mind-map when the topic is complex or the outline eludes me.
Downside: You're typically writing for an audience that has limited time and doesn't really want to read what you've wrote. You'll lose your reader if you add too many details or present information with too many words. Personally, I tend to explain/describe too much and have to sweep through my business documents to cull the fluff out of them.

Instructional writing:
Focus: Be accurate, informative/demonstrative, concise, and interesting.
Purposes: To inform, to transfer skills/knowledge, to influence attitudes/behaviors, and to entertain (up to a point, of course).
Prewriting: Typically, I use mind-mapping and outlining when I design training materials, but the trick to a good training outline is to remember the purpose for the training. What better way to define the purpose than to start with SMART objectives. I won't go into objectives just now because I could devote an entire post to the topic. Next, I determine whether the training must focus on teaching knowledge vs. teaching a skill, because that determines the order in which information is presented. To teach a topic (knowledge), it is best to begin with the simple and build your way up to the complex. To teach a task (skill), it is best to go in the order that a person is expected to perform the activities. Once I have objectives and a content outline (in the right order), then I fill in all the details. Seem like a lot of work? You bet it is, but taking a structured approach, like ADDIE, helps. Check out this ISU College of Education writup on the ADDIE method: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.
Downside: You're writing to change a person's knowledge, skills and attitudes (or behavior), but it is extremely easy to give too much information or to go on tangents. If your efforts to focus the training on the topic at hand fail, you're likely to confuse the audience or emphasize things they don't need to know. Another important thing you may overlook is gaining buy-in. If you're teaching adults, and you don't convince them why they should care about what you're teaching, you'll lose their attention (and you may even turn them against you).

Creative writing:
Focus: Be entertaining, show/don't tell, make sense (even when writing fiction), and draw the reader into the story.
Purposes: To entertain, to explore ideas, to convince, and to invoke emotion/empathy/sympathy.
Prewriting: My favorite methods are mind-mapping, drawing, and free-writing. For more information, check out my earlier post, Time to get Writing!
Downside: Like other types of writing, having a plan is vital, and if you don’t have one, your writing will suffer. For creative writing, this plan can incorporate the plot, character arcs, or any other number of elements. Whether you start with a plan or develop it as you write, consistency is key. Editing, rewriting and second opinions can help you determine whether your story has hit the mark you intended it to hit.

Social writing:
Focus: Be entertaining, true, concise, and friendly (or unfriendly, depending on your goal).
Purposes: To share opinions/experiences/information, to meet/connect with/stay in touch with others, and to fulfill a need for social interaction.
Prewriting: It depends. I doubt many people pre-write for tweets, Facebook posts, or message board posts, but I definitely put some thought and planning into blog posts and book reviews.
Downside: Social networks are fun and often friendly, but it's easy to forget that everyone can see what you've wrote, and it's likely to stay on the web forever. I recommending giving a second and third look to everything you plan to share with the world. Consider the possible reactions of your boss (or future bosses), your friends, your family, and even your enemies. If what you're writing is inflammatory, insulting, or just in bad taste, you might want to abort the post. Finally, due to the ease of sharing and posting online, don't forget the importance of accuracy. Wiki's are a good example of where information can go astray to the detriment of any who take them at face value. Check out this classic clip from the Colbert Report (The Word-Wikiality), which is both amusing and disturbing at the same time.
Published on January 26, 2013 12:57Tags: business-writing, creative-writing, instructional-writing, social-writing, tips, types-of-writing