Category Archives: General Tips

Where is “Clear and Concise” in Academic Writing?

What’s important in writing? With the short answer to this question being “everything,” it can become difficult for learning writers to focus. In The Business Writer’s Handbook (2008), Gerald Alred, Charles Brusaw, and Walter Oliu write that it is important to keep writing to the point. “Conciseness, coherence and clarity characterize good writing. Make sure readers can follow your writing, and say only what is necessary to communicate your message” (xvii). Focusing on avoiding confusion and excess information makes sense, especially in professional settings.

However, the message students receive in college classes is usually contradictory to this one. Writing assignments are often analytical and must often be a certain number of pages in order for students to receive full credit. Professors expect details and complex thoughts. I have found myself with a good piece of writing that answers the prompt thoroughly, but is a page short of the length requirement on numerous occasions.  Sometimes I have felt as if I am only adding “fluff.”

Despite my negative feelings, there is something to be said for length requirements on school assignments. They help to ensure that students make an effort to write good papers and help to pull out ideas. I am sure that without these page minimums, more subpar essays would get submitted every day.

On the other hand, students are in school in order to eventually get jobs. In the real world, the only requirement for a document is fulfilling its purpose. Professionals do not care if a memo is three pages long or three lines short of three pages. As long as it includes the correct information, is understandable to the reader and is organized neatly, it is a good document.

Since I began taking classes for the Minor in Professional Writing at The Ohio State University, these aspects of my writing have become the focus. I have learned techniques for writing clearly and formatting effectively instead of having to worry about length requirements.  It has been refreshing to feel like I am learning how to right for my future job. In this way and others, classes that are a part of the Minor in Professional Writing prepare students for real world professional writing.

Six Essential Tools No Writer Can Live Without

The Internet is an endless resource for writers, but sometimes it’s hard to find a web site or tool that will be beneficial to you.  To help out, we’ve collected six great online tools for your use.  Each site below is equally unique and fun.  You’ll find yourself wondering how you ever wrote without these incredible tools.

Word Counter – www.wordcounter.com

You know that girl from, like, way back in high school that, like, said the same word, like, all the time? What if there was a tool that could show that girl that she says the same word way too much?  Well it might be too late to help that girl from your high school, but it’s not too late to help yourself. Word Counter is a handy site that picks out your most frequently used words in a body of text.  Just copy and paste your text to the web site and it will handpick the words you use most.  This is also useful to find words that would work best as tags if you plan to post your work on a blog or social networking site.

Grammar Girl –  grammar.quickanddirtytips.com

Not everyone is a grammar nerd, but thankfully the Grammar Girl is one grammar nerd who wants to help us out.  Grammar Girl creator, Mignon Fogarty, is an expert at “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”  The difference between the Grammar Girl and other grammar blogs is this “quick and dirty” aspect.  Most Grammar Girl posts take about two minutes to read, but each post is filled with helpful information and relevant examples.  In addition to grammar, the Grammar Girl posts about word choice, punctuation, and style.  Recent posts on the site include “E-mail or Email?” and “When to Capitalize Seasons”.  Not only can you access these tips through the Grammar Girl web site, but you can also view tips through Twitter and Podcasts.

Grammar Comics on The Oatmeal  –  www.theoatmeal.com/tag/grammar     

Grammar can be a tough subject to tackle.  Make it fun with some grammar comics from The Oatmeal, a web site that uses comics to illustrate basic rules of grammar.  The Oatmeal uses Internet jokes and fun images to make grammar funny and memorable.  Check out “How to Use a Semicolon: The Most Feared Punctuation on Earth” for a highly entertaining grammar lesson featuring a gorilla wearing a party hat.

One Look Reverse Dictionary – www.onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml

For those moments when the word you want is on the tip of your tongue, there’s The One Look Reverse Dictionary.  This web site allows writers to describe an idea and get a list of related ideas and words.  For example, I looked up “science of atoms” and the resulting words varied from “chemistry” to “microphysics” to “periodic table.”  Bookmark this tool to never be at a loss for words again.

Visuwords – www.Visuwords.com

This web site is a tool that creates a word map around a word of your choice.  When you type a word into the search bar, you will get a map of definitions and synonyms among other helpful related words and topics.  The map also differentiates between parts of speech so you can quickly find nouns, adjectives, or verbs.  Visuwords is like a futuristic thesaurus.  Not only can you find words and concepts that are similar to one another, but you can also see a visual interpretation of how these words intertwine.  On the left is a screen shot of the word map for poetry.

Professional Writing OSU Twitter – www.twitter.com/profwritingosu

For more tools, tricks, and tips for writers, check out our Professional Writing twitter.  Each day we post videos, web sites, blog posts, and more to assist students and businesses in their professional writing pursuits.  For all things professional writing, visit www.twitter.com/profwritingosu.

With these six essential web sites, you now have the power to master every aspect of grammar, look up words using phrases and concepts, and figure out which words you use the most when writing (for this blog post our most-used words are “word” and “grammar”).  We hope you find these web sites to be helpful in all your writing pursuits.  Have fun experimenting with each site.  In the comments, send us a link to any of your favorite online tools that we missed.

Get with the program: Evolving with the modern workplace

I can honestly say that the best motivational speech I have heard involved the speaker, Dr. Bernard Franklin, a prominent civic leader and author, yelling at me.

As in directly at me, with his hands waving everywhere.

Why did I like it? Because he broached a subject we, as students, would like to know about but don’t really prepare for – the future workplace.

I e-mailed the good doctor recently and asked him to elaborate on the tips he gave in his speech, and here’s what he had to say.

1. Knowledge of business writing isn’t just a plus anymore – it’s essential.

Remember how important cursive writing sounded in the second grade? How we would use it for the rest of our lives? Well that certainly didn’t pan out in the least, and many students feel that same way when classes cover subjects like writing memos or composing a project outline. Resumes have always been important, and plenty of people know how one mistake can damage an entire resume. However, if you don’t know how to properly address co-workers or business partners through former channels, your superior can’t pick up what’s going on. At that point, don’t expect to be kept on the payroll for too long.

Dr. Franklin added that with the advent of the internet and computers over the past 30 years, business interaction changed entirely, rendering penmanship and typewriting altogether nonessential, and we shouldn’t close ourselves off to the idea that an idea could very well revolutionize communication yet again in the near future.

2. The American workplace is evolving.

The premise of tightly woven networks on an international scale was introduced as early as when Marshal McLuhan asserted that “the globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology” and coined the term “global village.”

Picture a virtual Olympic Village, with American companies making up the American tent and other countries right across the block. Companies are expanding internationally, and although even most large companies only hold satellite locations internationally, Dr. Franklin believes this is only the beginning. We have to be prepared to accept the idea that we may be looking to retire in Brazil, or Russia, or China in the home stretch of the 21st century. As a result of these developments…

3. Companies are looking for more of a global citizen.

Do you have a passport? Are you fluent in a second language? International travel experience and a second language are truly beginning to make a difference when applying for certain occupations, or deciding who gets to design a project or collaborate with an international office. In a world where English holds considerably less influence and international business relations are vital, it’s never a bad idea to look to the outside world for new ideas or potential business ventures.

4. Consider taking classes to keep up with changes in the workplace

Many companies are now offering work exchange programs or the chance to cover fees for foreign language education classes, and Dr. Franklin stresses that we must always look for these opportunities. Marketers now look for people familiar with computer technologies such as Adobe to design project scenarios or help get the ball rolling on commercial ideas.

So here I am, YELLING at you to take advantage of opportunities and get prepare for a world others will not expect! After all, the world is spinning at a rate we cannot even begin to comprehend, and we could use all the help we can get in the attempt to catch up.

What do students REALLY need to know about professional writing?

So, we hear all of this gab about professional writing and how it is something that’s really important…right? But let’s be honest, as students we don’t have much experience with it in the real world. Because of this disconnect, I decided to interview Sarah Steenrod, from the Office of Career Management at The Ohio State University, in order to get the real scoop on being a successful writer in the workplace. What follows are some of the highlights of my conversation with Sarah. As a career management professional, Sarah sees dozens of resumes, cover letters, and other professional writing documents every day, so she really knows what she’s talking about!

Highlight 1: The thank you note

What’s on your list of the most important documents for a student entering the work force to master? Resumes? Yep, that’s one of them. Cover letters? Yep, that’s another one.

But have you ever thought of perfecting the art of a thank you note? No? Not a surprise. Most students understand the importance of resumes and cover letters, but many don’t realize the importance of a thank you note following an interview or a networking situation.

When you write a thank you note, avoid generalizations and be specific. Make sure you address it to the right person and company. According to Sarah, the best thing you can do is include something from your conversation with the person to whom you are writing. That way he or she really remembers who you are and makes a connection. That’s what you want!

Highlight 2: Don’t be sloppy

I asked Sarah about the writing error that she despises the most, and she said “anything that makes your document look like you haven’t put any work into it.” She specifically mentioned some of the most common errors – “their” vs. “there,” spelling errors, and overly casual language in inappropriate contexts – but her overall message was that little mistakes here and there give your reader impression that you are uninterested and sloppy.

Highlight 3: The value of professional e-mail

The aspect of professional writing that Sarah said she has learned about the most after being exposed to the “real world” is the ability to communicate using e-mail. She cautions against “reading too much into e-mails.” Some people are busy and don’t put as much time into the content of their e-mails. This isn’t meant to be rude or mean. It’s just what happens when someone sends an absent-minded e-mail because he or she is busy.

Sarah’s Tips for E-mail:

  • Take the time to read what you write before you send your e-mail. Although e-mail is quick and easy, e-mails should have the same thought put into them as a printed letter.
  • Remember to include things like “please” and “thank you” even though an e-mail may have a casual tone.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS make sure you send an e-mail to the right person! This can be one of the most embarrassing errors that you can make. Laura from the next cubicle over might think it’s hilarious that you dropped your phone in a pitcher of beer at “mug night,” but that story may not have the same effect on your boss when you hit “reply all.” So…just be careful.

Highlight 4: Good readers make good writers

In regards to improving your writing skills, Sarah’s advice is to READ! Reading really improves your writing abilities and opens your mind to different writing styles. Take classes on writing. Take advantage of your university’s writing center. Talk to an advisor. Put thought into your pieces. Have two or three people read your document before you turn it in. And finally, don’t forget to have fun with it!