Saturday, March 25, 2006

Writing Skills

Ooh Yeoh is a good friend of mine, and a long time journalist in the industry. He wrote on his blog earlier today about his delivering a talk on "making journalism articles interesting" to secondary schools students held at the HELP University College. I read the key points raised and I thought that these points aren't just limited in its good use for journalism, but also for any kind of writing (besides self indulgent journals :)).

And I thought it was especially useful for new graduates submitting application forms and writing an answer to certain questions posed by the employers, as well as scholarship seekers who are writing to stand out from the crowd.
a) Never write for yourself. Write for your readers. And you can be sure they don't want to read self-indulgent shit. Want to navel-gaze? Go start a blog or even better still, a diary.
Remember why you are writing the short essay for - whether its to impress the employers or the scholarship committees. Neither of them would have placed the questions there on the application forms just to make your life difficult or even worse, to make their own lives miserable to reading unintelligible stuff.

Very often, when I read some of the write ups given by prospective employees, those that at least had half sensible grammars and understood the questions, I still ended up with a "hmmmph... so?". Well, so think about what you are writing and read what you wrote. If you are an employer, are they going to impressed and excited to meet you? Or are just like one of the hundreds of degree clones.
b) Always assume two things, that your readers: i) don't know, and ii) don't care about the subject you are writing about. This forces you to provide sufficient info, and write in an interesting way. Far too many writers do the opposite. They assume their readers know and care about what they are writing about.
Yes, one of the biggest mistakes made even by fairly senior people in large organisations is the failure to provide context.

I'll tell a little story about one of my valued employees. This guy is a top performer for my company as a consultant. His next logical career step was to be made a project manager. However, I delayed his "promotion" for 6 months to a year for only a single reason. He was a great organiser. He understood business issues and is able to relate back to technological capabilities. He understood complicated technical concepts extremely well. I was however, always fearful of putting him in front of the client's senior management. The reason is he doesn't put what these people hear and understand into context.

When you go into a room and begin using commonly used acronyms in our industry like BRS (business requirement study), UAT (user acceptance test), SIRs (system investigation requests) or for that matter, alien-sounding techincal terminology like "J2EE", "Hibernate", "Struts" and "Spring" standards without proper context or introductions, these top management business users will be absolutely lost. To be a great communicator, one needs to be able to discern the type of listeners and readers in front of you and from there, make the necessary context edits to make your good essay or speech become a great one.

Oooh... by the way this consultant of mine made the leap to be a project manager in the largest oil and gas company in the world. Ouch! :)
c) Have a single, clear message and stick to it throughout the article. Everything you write in that article should reinforce that message. Many articles have no message at all, leaving you wondering what they're all about.
Yes, you really don't have much space to write your little essays about "citing an instance where your leadership skills shone through" or "how can you make a difference in this position". I must say that although most candidates gave single sentence answers, many others who made it to a paragraph for one reason or other somehow managed or tried to squeeze 10 different thoughts into it. See this post for an example.

What Oon advised is absolutely spot on. You don't have to 10 different poorly articulated reasons to impress or convince the employer or scholarship committee. You just need 1 or maybe 2 good, well elaborated and contextualised reasons to impress.

Well, there you go. More tips for you to be on your way to getting shortlisted for your job interview or for your scholarship application. For that matter, these tips will probably apply to all careers which will involve some form of writing whether for reporting, sales or analysis.

For other tips and tricks, check out here and here.


Anonymous said...

As long as you don't enroll on the Charles Sturt University programs as all they want is your money more of it non stop.

Anonymous said...

.... that at least had half sensible grammars and understood the questions, I still....

there is no such word as grammars