Monthly Archives: February 2012

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.


3 Tips for Communicating with International Audiences

As long as a company has a website, it must be aware that the content has a chance of being viewed by an international audience. Writing to an international audience is very different from writing to a U.S. audience. Inappropriate use of words and images can lead to confusion and insulted readers. Additionally, when communicating with international audiences in person, you want to be careful to conduct yourself appropriately. Here are some tips that will help you avoid alienating an international audience.

1.      Don’t use long and complicated sentences.  Instead, use short and simple sentences. This is especially important when writing to non-native English speakers. You are writing to help them understand, not to make them think you are smart.

2.      Don’t use slang or humor that only people from the U.S. will understand.  Using slang or humor may make the writing look appealing to you, but it confuses an international audience. Even worse, if the message is misinterpreted it can lead to your audience feeling angry or insulted.

3.      Don’t use inappropriate hand gestures.  Hand gestures are not often used in business situations. However, if you have to use them, use them with great caution. Some simple gestures can be insulting in another culture. The following table from Successful Writing at, written by Philip C. Kolin, lists the different meanings of some common gestures.

Gesture Meaning in the United States Meaning in Other Countries
OK sign
Index finger joined to thumb in a circle
All right; agreement Sexual insult in Brazil, Germany, Russia; sign for zero, worthlessness in France
Thumbs-up A wining gesture; good job; approval Offensive gesture in Muslim countries
Waving or holding out open palm Stop Obscene in Greece – equivalent to throwing garbage at someone
Pointing with the index finger This way; pay attention; turn the page Rude, insulting in Japan and Venezuela; in Saudi Arabia used only for animals, not people
Nodding head up and down Agreement, saying yes Greek version of saying “no”; in China means “I understand,” not “I agree”
Motioning with index finger Signal to “come over here” Insulting in China – instead, extend arm and wave to ask “come over”

5 Basic Rules for Professional Writing

Writing takes practice and discipline. The principles of good writing are relatively simple, but enacting those principles requires time, study, and attention to detail. Listed below are a few steps for you to take in order to become the best writer you can possibly be!

  1. Punctuation.  Pay attention to punctuation, especially the correct use of commas and periods. These punctuation marks can control the flow of your thoughts. If the punctuation marks are in the wrong places, it can make your text more confusing even if the words are clear and concise.
  2. Practice.  You cannot do something well unless you do it regularly. This applies to many things beyond writing. Most professional writers recommend setting aside roughly 30 minutes per day to concentrate on perfecting your writing pieces. Practice makes perfect.
  3. Write Like You Speak.  Strive for simplicity and clarity. This means you should aim to write like you speak, even in a professional tone. This will help the reader understand you better.
  4. Spelling Counts.  Everyone makes an occasional typo in the drafting phase; it’s to be expected. However, spelling errors can be some of the most glaring and embarrassing errors you can make. It’s a good idea to have a peer read through your document for mistakes after you’ve proofread. (Hint: Then proofread again!)
  5. Build Your Vocabulary.  The best way to do this is to read more. Not only does reading increase your vocabulary, but it also helps you learn more. The more you know, the more you can apply to your writing samples.