Saturday, April 01, 2017

Financial Management Network Talk on Time Management

I had the great pleasure of being a featured speaker on the Financial Management Network (FMN) for an April 2017 talk, "Time Management: Are You Masterful?

For three decades, FMN has been viewed monthly by as many as 44,000 corporate financial executives, who rely on the network's expert commentators to keep them up to date with recent developments affecting their profession. Here is how FMN describes the event:

To most people in a business environment, it seems as if there is never enough time in the day. Yet, since we all get the same 24 hours, why is it that some people achieve so much more with their time than others do? The answer, according to well-known author, instructor and coach Phil Vassallo, lies in masterful time management. In this segment, he shows you how to shift your focus from “activities” to “results,” in order to work smarter rather than harder.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Am I Supposed to Know What That Means?

A little bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way for business and technical writers. Are you unsure of what some of these terms mean?

  • adze (from carpentry)
  • anaphylaxis (from medicine)
  • capias mittimus (from law)
  • consist (from railroad)
  • critical path method (from project management)
  • metacognition (from education)
  • phenotype (from biology)
  • recidivism (from corrections)

If you don't know them all, and even if you do, remember to define your technical terms for unfamiliar readers the next time you write.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tips from Fiction Writers

Whether you are a serious novelist, dramatist, poet, journalist, memoirist, or business writer, you will find the Twenty Writing Tips from Fiction Authors helpful. Suggestions like "Read everything you can lay your hands on" and "Protect the time and space in which you write" are timeless, inspirational, and practical.   

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How to Get to My Webinars

Since I often get the question about where my webinars are available online, I have decided to share some of those key places:
Other webinar sites are available for the asking.

What's a MOOC?

Coursera and EdX, premier sites of practical massive open online courses (MOOCs), offer several helpful full-semester writing courses. If you want to sharpen your writing skills conveniently and inexpensively, you can start here:



Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Courage (or Insanity) of Using Active Voice

Auditors can be in a tricky position when auditing the very people who pay them. We often hear that active voice is better than passive. But which of these sentences would you choose when writing to a client you are auditing?
Active: The CFO directs Accounts Payable to withhold vendor checks until 30 days past the due date.
Passive: Vendor checks are withheld until 30 days past the due date.
Of course, the active version is clearer because it indicates the guilty party, but you might want to choose the more diplomatic passive version in this case—unless you want your check to be withheld until 60 days past the due date. 

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Focus Your Purpose, Part 2: Make It One Sentence

Regardless of its length, a business message should have only one purpose. This means we do not want to split our purpose among different sentences. Here is an example of an unfocused purpose:
This document describes the protocol for Procedure X. It also ensure operational safety and efficiency.
The writer seems to believe the messages has a dual purpose, to describe a protocol and to achieve two operational benefits. But the benefits are actually the result of following the protocol. The purpose would have been more focused if he had written one of these sentences:
This protocol for Procedure X ensures operational safety and efficiency.
To ensure operational safety and efficiency, follow this protocol for Procedure X.
Follow this protocol for Procedure X to ensure operational safety and efficiency. 
Building on the previous WORDS ON THE LINE post, the idea is start the message with the purpose, and to assert it in one sentence.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Focus Your Purpose, Part 1: Start with the Most Important Point

Look at this typical inspection report from a project manager to a contractor:
Our inspection of the construction site detected three performance deficiencies:
  • The work area was not secured from public access.
  • The workers are not wearing proper personal protective equipment.
  • The supervisor was not on site during the work.
Please correct these problems by tomorrow morning. 
When I ask experts in this field to highlight the most important word in the message, they unanimously agree it is correct. Then why not start there:
Please correct three performance deficiencies at the construction site that our inspection detected:
  • securing the work area from public access
  • requiring workers to wear proper personal protective equipment
  • deploying an on-site supervisor during the work

We will reinspect the premises tomorrow morning to ensure your compliance.
I explain that their standard method (the first draft) is perfectly logicalchronological. But the contractor's job is to correct deficiencies, so inspectors should think hierarchically, beginning with the most important point. That's what we mean by getting to the point: starting not what we think, but our reader's think, is the most important point.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Overusing "I"? Think Again

It is recommended that the compressor be replaced for production to be increased and maintenance reduced.
That kind of sentence is a good example of bad writing: 4 passive verbs (is recommended, be replaced, to be increased, and reduced) in 16 words where an active voice sentence of 10 words will do: 

We recommend compressor replacement to increase production and reduce maintenance.
This blog has reflected plenty on voice: in a ten-part series, in a general discussion of style, and in a post about plain language, so I won't repeat those points here, other than to say active is usually more clear, concise, and fluent than passive. 

Technical writers often object to this point, arguing that they need to use passive voice to avoid using personal pronouns like I, we, you, he, and she, and they

I will counter this lame excuse by recommending they rewrite the sentence in one of these two ways:
  1. Quality Assurance recommends compressor replacement to increase production and reduce maintenance.
  2. Replacing the compressor will increase production and reduce maintenance.  
The 11-word first draft credits the group making the recommendation without drawing attention to one individual; the 9-word second draft completely depersonalizes the message while still making the point. Both sentences use active voice.

So, yes, consider whether you're overusing personal pronouns, but don't necessarily revert to passive voice.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

700th Post for WORDS ON THE LINE: Thank you, Mr. Edison

On January 4, 2005, I posted my first blog entry. Now, 700 posts and 4,268 days later, WORDS ON THE LINE continues as a resource for effective writing at home, school, or work. 

After 11-plus years of reporting new ideas while maintaining a writing consulting business, developing my own creative work, and loving my family, I must agree with the Thomas Edison aphorism, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration." I do not pretend that this blog is a work of genius, but I do say that it's all about the work. 

Three other Edison quotes come to mind:

  • "We don't know a millionth of 1 percent about anything." True, and the quicker we believe that, the harder we will work.
  • "Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits." Indeed, don't just sit there; keep learning and applying what you've learned. The benefits will surely follow.
  • "I never did a day's work in my life; it was all fun." With a mindset that writing is playing with words, writers will never work a day in their life. I admit I struggle with writing, but it's a struggle I enjoy.