Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Art of E-Mail Writing, Part 4

This excerpt from Chapter 4 of The Art of E-Mail Writing offers tips for efficiently organizing e-mail. The Art of E-Mail Writing is available from First Books (www.FirstBooks.com)


CHAPTER 4: STRUCTURE—ORGANIZING YOUR IDEAS

People who write well … know two powerful truths:

1. Creativity without structure is chaos.
2. Structure without creativity is pointless.

Those apologists for feeble expression or weak organization miss the point of quality e-mail writing. They are not writing a provocative Aristotelian treatise or a lurid Kafkaesque novella; they’re simply communicating information to people who need it to perform their jobs effectively. Even great writers have discovered their best structure through the expressiveness of their story line, while other greats have cultivated their style based on the narrative foundation they laid. So if you are of the structure vs. style mindset, forget about it. You’re better off thinking that you cannot be good at one without being good at the other. This chapter offers quick, useful tips for improving your structure, and the next chapter focuses on helpful hints for style.


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Art of E-Mail Writing, Part 3

This excerpt of The Art of E-Mail Writing includes 2 of 21 premises that lay the foundation of the book. They appear in chapter 3, which discusses reader awareness and completeness. The Art of E-Mail Writing is available from First Books (www.FirstBooks.com).


CHAPTER 3: SUPPORT—ADDRESSING THE ISSUES

Premise 12: Some questions are statements. Have you noticed that some questions aren’t questions at all? For instance, if you showed up five minutes late to work, your boss might say, “Do you think that you can get in on time?” In this context, that question sounds like a demand. What if you looked around the office and noticed that no one else was in yet. You might respond,
“Am I late?” You are implying that everyone else is later than you are, so your boss should hold everyone to the same standard, or you are insisting that you are not late relative to everyone else.
Conversely, we don’t always frame our questions as questions:

Premise 13: Some statements are questions. For instance, if someone said to you, “I don’t know how to get onto the highway,” you would assume that you have been asked to provide driving directions. If a child stated, “I’m hungry,” you would hear the question, “Would you give me something to eat?” If an adult made the same statement, you might hear the question, “Where is the company cafeteria or the nearest restaurant?”


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Art of E-Mail Writing, Part 2

This excerpt of The Art of E-Mail Writing focuses on purposefulness in e-mailing. The Art of E-Mail Writing is a 110-page summary of best practices in writing e-mails and managing the e-mail system. It is available from First Books (www.FirstBooks.com).


CHAPTER 2: STATEMENT—GETTING TO THE POINT

Open the message with a clear purpose statement. Do not imply the purpose; state it explicitly. Today many of us write e-mails on the fly in our personal digital assistants (PDAs) during our taxi, bus, train, or plane commute. Or in elevators, restaurants, and coffee bars. Or seconds before or (perish the thought) during meetings. This relatively new method of communication brings a fresh meaning to the expression “you’re all thumbs”! Instead of it meaning that we’re clumsy, it now means that we navigate through our PDAs and write our message with two thumbs instead of ten fingers on the keyboard or one hand on a mouse. This innovation puts even greater pressure on us to get to the point immediately. The assumption is that we all operate in a 24-7 environment.

With this mindset driving us, we cannot waste time by starting with me-focused messages that create ambiguity, apathy, and aimlessness. We need to jumpstart the reader with a you-focused statement. Note the differences in the two drafts below. Which one captures your attention immediately?


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Art of E-Mail Writing, Part 1

The next six postings will feature excerpts from my latest book on writing, The Art of E-Mail Writing, which will be released in September 2007 by First Books (www.FirstBooks.com). Each posting will highlight one of the six book chapters. The Art of E-Mail Writing makes a great companion piece to The Art of On-the-Job Writing by applying the same principles of writing excellence to e-mail.


CHAPTER 1: KNOWING THE E-MAIL CHALLENGE

The assumptions that e-mailers make create many problems for readers. E-mail is easy. E-mail is casual. E-mail is fast. E-mail is responsive. E-mail is fun. True, true, true, true, true. But e-mail is also writing. No doubt, executives and administrative assistants alike recognize that e-mail saves business writers time. The New York Times reported that electronic writing can mean an additional one to two hours of productive time daily. But writing requires a certain precision not always required by speaking. Writing cannot replicate speech. Yet, according to Time magazine, e-mail messages numbered 7.1 billion per day in 1997, and that number skyrocketed to 135.6 billion per day in 2005, with estimates of 280.2 billion per day in 2009!

Sending and receiving numerous e-mails every day, the average employee seems to have a lot to write and read. But what exactly are all those messages saying? Not much, says a Wall Street Journal article citing managers who often claim that only 10 of the 100-plus e-mails they receive daily have a purpose related to their needs or job function.

When we open our e-mail account, we have enormous power. The challenge for us is to balance this privilege with the enormous responsibilities accompanying it. We need to safeguard against the consequences of careless writing, and we must ensure that we are consistently presenting our best selves in our e-mails.


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Know Thy Interviewer!

An employment tip I often give job seekers is to study the employer’s website before the interview. Perhaps twenty years ago, an interviewee could get away with asking the question, “What does your company do?” Today, however, asking such a question is equivalent to committing interview suicide. Interviewers assume that interested job candidates, at the least, would review the company website to digest all relevant public information about the employment opportunity.

I was glad to hear a course participant agree with me based on her own interview experience. Meenakshi Mohan, a Management Analyst at MTV Networks, said that on one of her interviews, the interviewing company expected all applicants to know its goals and initiatives, which are readily available on the company website.

Such an attention to the employer’s objectives, strengths, and challenges tells at least two striking tales about you:

1. You just don’t repeat everything on your résumé but show the employer how your strengths and accomplishments apply to their goals and initiatives.

2. You imply that you are not self-absorbed but client-focused.


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Book Review: The Go-To Book on Style

Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte (Graphics Press, 2006) 308 pp. $16. paper.

If style is your passion, then you must read Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Virginia Tufte, a former Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California, provides an invaluable resource for reflecting on style, especially for those who are professional writers.

While most business and technical writers (I would even say essayists and novelists) eschew a focus on grammar for a more “natural” approach to style, Tufte proves that a deep understanding of grammar empowers writers to achieve greater impact in their prose. In proving her point, she draws from thousands of sentences written by hundreds of renowned writers, most of them from the twentieth century and twenty-first centuries to maintain a fresh look at style. By attacking parts of speech, parts of the sentence, and structural considerations such as parallelism and cohesion, the book plainly details how exceptional authors apply variations of standard sentences—and, in places, break the rules of standard English—to capture a mood, evoke an image, or drive the action.

Reading Tufte’s book reminded me of how I reflect on the director’s role when watching a film: I see only the actors, but I feel the director’s presence. Tufte’s summary introductions and closings to the remarkable passages are succinct enough to let the masters do the talking, yet they are thorough enough to make for lively reading and capture the essential points.

What’s more, a reader is bound to learn something about grammar in a uniquely engaging way, as Tufte describes participial phrases, appositives, adverbial clauses, rhetorical imperatives, and many more grammatical conventions. It’s hard to believe, but she achieves this masterful trick through her diligent attention to a vast range of writing styles—most of which will capture the imagination just for their entertainment value.


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Tips for Better E-Mail, Part 20: Read THE ART OF E-MAIL WRITING!

I conclude this 20-part series of e-mail tips with a recommended book that covers all the points mentioned on this blog and much more: The Art of E-Mail Writing. It makes for a good companion to The Art of On-the-Job Writing because it provides an abbreviate approach to the writing product and writing process. However, it can also stand alone as a readable, entertaining book with plenty of useful tips that you can put to use right away.

The Art of E-Mail Writing will be available from First Books (http://www.firstbooks.com/) late this summer. Happy reading—and e-mailing!


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tips for Better E-Mail, Part 19: Always Be Updating

I've adapted the apropos sales maxim "Always be closing" for this tip: Always be updating:

1. Update your computer. Scheduling computer maintenance tasks at regular, frequent intervals keeps you moving quickly. Consider the following tasks no different from maintaining your teeth or car—with regular checkups:

  • disk cleanup, and defragmenting
  • file compacting
  • virus and spyware updating and scanning

2. Update your lists. Doing so adds value to the impact of your communication. Check your distribution lists for irrelevancies, repetitions, and inconsistencies.

3. Update your entire management system. Just as your computer gets outmoded over time, so does your e-communications management method. If you’re feeling inundated by the barrage of communication you’re sending and receiving, think about what you can do to improve your system.


To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: https://www.firstbooks.com/product_info.php?cPath=14&products_id=144

Coming Soon! The Art of E-Mail Writing by Philip Vassallo, also through First Books: http://www.firstbooks.com/.