Writing Efficiently Is An Art, Not Rocket Science

 

Writing efficiently is a concept that sometimes seems unachievable. We write, and then we edit. And then our bosses comment and edit. Then we rewrite. Then our boss comments and edits again. This can go round and round, especially when multiple stakeholders have a say in the final document that is released.

The question becomes, how do we minimize everyone’s time invested in writing a quality document that achieves the desired result?

It’s not rocket science. It’s an art. And it all hinges on planning.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the more time we spend up front planning, the less time it will take to create the desired final document. As Mark Twain says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Here are my top 5 techniques and strategies for writing efficiently:

1. Know your purpose

Why are you writing this particular document? What are you trying to achieve? Try writing the purpose of your report in 140 characters or less. The clearer you are on your purpose, the more efficient you will be when you write. Because everything you include should support that purpose, no more and no less.

2. Know your reader

Who will read the report? What information do they need from you to do their jobs better, make a decision, or approve your recommendation? Understanding what your reader needs means you don’t have to include what they don’t need.

3. Plan the content

Start with your template. What are the sections you need to include, and what is the main point(s) for each section? If you’re old school like me, scribble your notes on a pad of paper or use small cards, one for each main point. If you prefer using technology, use your tablet to draw a diagram of concepts or some other program to record your ideas – without starting to write the full document.

4. Cut, cut, cut

Forget about writing everything you know about the topic, or everything you did to come to your conclusions and recommendation. Granted, sometimes this is necessary, e.g. in a research report, but most business documents are not research reports. Include only what you need to support your conclusions and recommendations. That means facts, figures and surrounding context. You’re not writing a book; you’re writing with a specific purpose.

5. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes

As you finish up with your document, think back to your planning stage. What do your readers need from this document? Read the report as if you are your reader, whether it’s your boss or five other people in the organization. Would you need all of the information included in the report? Many times we feel like we must include all of the extra information because it shows the amount of effort we put into the research, it shows how well we understand the topic, and sometimes, that it justifies our being on the payroll. My response to that? Leave it out.

The end result

By spending up-front time planning what should be in the document, you’ll end up writing less. This means less writing time, and less editing time when you send it to your boss or other stakeholders for their input.

Over time, you’ll see your report writing efficiency increase. It’s like exercising and creating muscle memory. The more you practice these efficiency techniques, the faster you’ll get, and the more time savings you’ll realize. Your reports will be short, clear and concise. And your readers will thank you.

We all have our own techniques and strategies for writing efficiently. What are yours? Share them in the comments below. Because by sharing, we create more value for those around us who have the same interests and needs.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

International Audit Report Writing Workshop

international-audit-report-writing

September 25 & 26, 2017, in Frankfurt, Germany

A two-day workshop where participants will learn audit report writing best practices and will apply these tools, techniques and strategies to write stakeholder-focused, action-oriented audit reports that achieve better results.

See more information

A small shift in learning philosophy can increase your ultimate success

Recently, I asked one of my clients how often they present. The answer: twice a year, maybe. My client was referring to how often they stand in front of a roomful of people with a slide presentation behind them. Hmmm… Really? Is that all?

I would like to broaden the definition of ‘presenting’ to any time we have to speak to someone and persuade them to take action, support a project, sign a contract, give up the old way for the new way of doing something, etc. With slides or without slides behind us.

That means you are presenting every day: in meetings, on telephone calls, on video calls, in elevators or sometimes, even in a bathroom. (A wee anecdote comes to mind about convincing a female Head of IT of the importance of certain system functionality while we were washing our hands at the same time – she was really hard to tie down for a meeting!)

What does it take to be successful if we use the new definition of presenting?

  • Topic expertise
  • Well thought-out arguments and logic
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Confidence
  • Excellent communication skills: questioning, listening, negotiating, speaking, influencing, etc.

Yes indeed, the same skills you need when you present with slides behind you twice a year. That’s why it’s so important to work on improving our ‘presentation’ skills every day, not just in spurts twice a year to get us ready for the official presentation to a roomful of people.

I can imagine the moans and groans now: I don’t have time to worry about my communication skills every day! Of course I am emotionally intelligent – that’s just a buzzword anyway! I’m right brained so naturally, I’m logical!

I believe there is always something we can learn from others at meetings, in presentations and on calls. The learning might be acquiring new information and knowledge. It might also be learning communication strategy and techniques.

We can learn what NOT to do by watching or listening to others. (You know what I’m talking about. Remember that time you were sitting in a meeting, watching and listening, and then something went wrong. You thought “Note to self: Don’t ever … “)

Or we can learn what TO do by watching or listening to presenting ‘greats’, from skilled colleagues to Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr.

Here are 10 ways you can learn and improve your communication skills every day without much effort:

  1. Ask for feedback from someone you trust to be honest with you after a business interaction.
  2. Assess the outcome you got from a business interaction against the outcome you wanted, taking into account mood and tone at the conclusion of the interaction.
  3. Sign up for internal seminars on communication strategy and techniques – they are often less expensive than external seminars.
  4. Read/listen to online resources like LinkedIn, podcasts, etc., on your ride to/from work.
  5. Organize a brown-bag lunch series at work to share expertise and experience.
  6. Read a non-fiction book for 30 minutes a day. (I’ve just started The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.)
  7. Do something you’re scared of every day, like making that call you have been avoiding or calling someone and sharing with them how you can help them be more successful.
  8. Join Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills. (I’m the Vice President of Education at the Heidelberg International Toastmasters Club at the time of writing – I highly recommend Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills within a safe community.)
  9. Call someone in your network to catch up: ask questions, listen to answers, share insights, offer help and share successes.
  10. Consistently ask for and volunteer for opportunities where you have to speak in front of others, whether it’s one person, three people or 60 people.

Learn by listening. Learn by watching. Learn by doing. If you consciously build this philosophy into your life, you’ll improve your communication skills and your success before you know it.

And number 11: Find a communication skills trainer or coach. We’re here to help.

Wishing you every success in your journey to excellent communication skills and success.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

The ABCs You Were Never Taught at School

  • A scientist who loves research but hates presenting his results to management because speaking in public is out of his comfort zone.
  • An American project manager living in Germany who has realized the hard way that working internationally means that shifts in style, tone and language are required when communicating across cultures.
  • An auditor struggling during international audit missions because he is perceived as being very direct and sometimes demanding, putting off audit clients and even causing escalations.

These are three of the people I met at a recent networking event, where attendees were asked about the challenges they face in their professional lives. Every story I heard was unique, but there was a common thread: A gap in communication competence and comfort.

So while it was a great networking event, I felt there was something missing from the discussion: WHY are these successful international professionals experiencing these challenges?

What’s missing might be those things most of us never learned at school. I call them the ABCs of communication success: Assertiveness, Behaviour and Competence. So let’s get back to the basics:

A: Assertiveness

Being assertive means you are confident in expressing your thoughts and ideas while respecting those of others. You can stand up for yourself without being aggressive. It’s the best way to communicate to ensure your messages are heard and acted on.

If you are overly passive, people may use you as a doormat if you aren’t careful. You might take on too much work or not give your opinion in a meeting… and your opinion might just be the voice of reason that carries a great idea forward.

The good news: You CAN learn to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive.

B: Behaviour

Your behaviour, or your response to someone else’s behaviour, can make or break your success. There’s good news here, too: You are free to CHOOSE your behaviour, and you are free to choose how you REACT to someone else’s behaviour.

Helping others, avoiding overly emotional reactions, and avoiding overtly competitive behaviour when it’s not appropriate in the situation – these will help you communicate effectively. Doing the opposite can prevent you from being successful.

C: Competence

When I was at university, there wasn’t any guidance on HOW to communicate well. And I never knew what I was missing until I started working in the real world.

Writing an action-oriented report, delivering a dynamic presentation, facilitating meetings, motivating a team to success – these are all skills we need to master. And if you’re like me, a little practice goes along way.

A Strategy to Strengthen Your Communication Skills

If you are not sure why your messages aren’t being appreciated or acted on, or why you are constantly having issues with clients and colleagues, it’s time to find out.

  1. Make your own observations about where YOU feel you aren’t succeeding or communicating well.
  2. Ask for feedback from your boss, colleagues, clients and other business associates.
  3. Analyze all of the feedback together, looking for patterns, repeated observations or common situations.
  4. Prioritize the communication skills you want to tackle first, so you get further, faster.
  5. Identify resources to help you fill the gap, including books, workshops, and finding a mentor.
  6. Take advantage of every opportunity to practice: Volunteer to run meetings, ask to lead a project group, offer to give the monthly departmental presentation, write the next report due to the Board, etc.
  7. Keep a journal of communication goals, successes and challenges. Track what works, what doesn’t, and write down your ideas of how to change it next time.

The scientist, the project manager and the auditor are all educated, intelligent and considered successful by their peers. By identifying their communication skills gaps and executing a plan to fill them, they can reach their ultimate potential. And you can, too!

Which of these ABCs do you need to work on? Let me know in the comments below.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication