Technical Writing For Dummies
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Writing well is always its own reward: Effective messages achieve what you want much more often. But writing also can be put to use in personal ways—to catalyze your thinking and problem-solving skills, understand important people in your work life and strategize how to advance toward where you want to be. This article gives you ten ways to build your personal power. Refer to the writing techniques covered throughout Business Writing For Dummies, 3rd Edition to carry out these ideas.

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Use writing to problem-solve

Psychologists say we humans have lazy brains. Deep thinking consumes so much energy that we only undertake it when forced. One result is that when faced with a difficult problem, we try to solve it by instinct, which doesn’t always end well, or we endlessly circle and re-circle around the same ground without finding a way out. Writing enables you to break out of this morass.

Try defining the problem as thoroughly as possible in writing. Sometimes just working through the details clarifies your view of what the trouble is and how it developed. This often paves the way for a solution. Also look to shift your perspective by changing what you say to yourself. Suppose you defined the bottom line of the problem as “the boss doesn’t give me the best opportunities so I’m not learning or moving ahead.” Re-word this as: “How can I show the boss I’m worthy of better opportunities?”

This simple shift channels you to deal with the challenge creatively and moves you away from dwelling on the “why”—as in “why doesn’t the boss appreciate me?”—to practical ways to achieve what matters to you.

Write a “pro” and “con” list

When faced with a tough decision like whether to accept a new job or stay with the one you have, take a piece of paper and split it into two columns vertically. Write “pro” at the top of one column, and “con” at the top of the other. Now list all the factors you can think of that would lead you to say “yes” to the new job, and those that prompt a “no,” filling out each column until you run out of thoughts.

Look at the length of each column: Is one longer than the other? More important, does one column include factors that matter more to you than the others? For example, maybe the new job would bring you to a place you’d like to live, or give you more flexibility in allocating your time, or let you work for a cause you believe in. This simple pro-con strategy gives you perspective and helps clarify which route is best for you.

Handwrite to spark creativity

Neurological studies show that the mechanical nature of handwriting taps into wholly different parts of the brain than typing or using your voice to dictate messages. Writers of fiction and poetry have always known this, and even today, most creative writers draft their new work by hand. Professional writers who use keyboards often rely on handwriting at critical points such as planning out content, beginning a new work or finding a direction when stalled.

Try writing by hand when you have to create a difficult message of any kind, solve a knotty problem or prepare for a challenging situation.

Not coincidentally, making handwritten notes also works best when you’re learning something new. In deciding what to make note of, you process the information. When you keyboard or record the audio, in contrast, your brain does not filter the information or give it perspective. Taking notes by hand amplifies understanding and recall exponentially. Research proves this, too!

Write to take charge of your emotions

The essential message of this article is to plan everything you write in context of your goals, your audience and the content that best connects these two basics. This thinking process will help you analyze tough situations and make decisions even when writing is not involved.

Especially when interacting with other people, rather than giving in to a spontaneous emotion like anger, pause to think: What’s my real goal? What do I really want? Vent my feelings? Get even? Hurt the person who hurt me? If you’d rather fix a glitch in the relationship, ask yourself, what is the better way to address the issue?

Unfortunately, in work situations, losing your temper (or crying) marks you as unprofessional. Another way to prevent yourself from succumbing to a damaging emotion is to write about the emotional event in detail, perhaps in the form of a letter to the person who provoked the feelings. This clears your mind and is safe venting—provided you take care not to send the message.

Remind yourself that practicing controlled, strategic behavior empowers you to keep your cool and equips you to achieve good outcomes and respect.

Take notes about your work

Some of the most efficient managers I’ve known keep a notebook ready at hand to record decisions, requests and work events as they happen. Their ability to leaf back and cite specifics is confounding to everyone else, since our human tendency is to forget or reinterpret a deadline, decision or plan, given a little time, and particularly when forgetting makes life easier. And of course, this record-keeping enables you to refresh your own memory upon need.

Keep a notebook in your desk and jot down outcomes and loose ends during or after meetings, conversations, decision-making and so on. This technique is equally useful for entrepreneurs and independent workers, among others.

Take the meeting notes

A little-recognized fact: Acting as the notetaker at business and office meetings is not a lowly occupation—it spells power. The person who records what happens and writes it up creates the official recap that becomes group memory and guide to action. Some amount of every discussion is open to interpretation, and it’s the notetaker who makes those judgment calls.

Rather than this being a secretarial task, it’s an opportunity to create a perspective on what happened. I’ve rarely seen this questioned—people reviewing the “minutes” typically focus on spelling errors. A bonus: You make yourself the information hub because participants feed you follow-up data, new input, clarifications and more. You become the person who knows more about everything. And you know what they say about knowledge.

Take notes of your anytime ideas

Personal journaling—devoting a certain amount of time every day to writing about what’s happening and what you’re thinking—is a nourishing activity for many creatives. If you’re building a business or a career that profits from inventiveness, try it.

Another easy-to-practice tactic is to carry a mini-notebook for jotting down your ideas and inspirations in real time. Why do our best thoughts materialize when there’s nothing to write with, and/or it’s not convenient to record what we want to remember? Be prepared. The fun way is to use reporter’s notebooks: handy little 4-by-6-inch notepads that fit into a purse or pocket and make you feel like a professional journalist when you whip them out.

Prepare for confrontation

Equip yourself for situations where you’re put on the spot just like the politicians do. Whether it’s a job interview, a questions and answers session with your CEO, or a meeting with your boss to ask for a raise or discuss your performance, prepare by developing talking points.

Brainstorm all the points you can make in your favor. Think each one through, but capsulize it in a line or two, just enough to trigger your memory. Work with the list until you completely assimilate the points and are ready to speak to each as the conversation allows.

Go a step further: Imagine every question you might be asked, especially the ones that keep you up at night. Prepare good answers, and you might even link these up with your talking points. Enlist a friend or colleague to make the process more fun and ensure you don’t gloss over the worrisome areas.

Write a long-range career plan

Applying an analytic frame of mind to your long-range career goals always pays handsomely. In writing, explain where you want to be in six months, a year, two years, five years, ten years or more—you choose the timeframes—and what you want to achieve in each one. Then review each period of time against the one furthest from the present: Are you taking the steps you need to move from one period to the next and to your ultimate goal? Do you see a clear progression, step by step, or do you see gaps in preparing for each forward leap?

This process enables you to see if what you’re doing now puts you on the right track and illuminates how you can move toward your goal. Do you need a certain kind of experience or training? Do you need to connect with certain people or groups, take on particular assignments or find intermediary roles?

Major bonus: You’re better able to recognize opportunities you might otherwise overlook, make better decisions and avoid straying too far off the path. Of course, stay open to adjusting the plan according to a shift in the realities or yourself.

Create profiles of your VIPs

Write in-depth descriptions of your boss, CEO, difficult coworker, collaborator or all of the above. These people are your most significant audiences, and just as you can create a persona for groups you want to engage with, you can thoughtfully analyze the people who most impact your work life.

Scan the characteristics presented in Chapter 2 and create a list of relevant factors, including the person’s management style, communication preferences and approach to decision-making. Is this person partial to ideas, statistics, their impact on people or their own ambitions? Also note their hot buttons, enthusiasms, vulnerabilities, positioning in the organization and biggest worries.

Draw from your notes to write a cohesive portrait. Magically, you will find it easier to assume the person’s perspective. You know how to ask for what you want, score opportunities to shine and improve—even turn around—relationships. You’ll take giant steps toward practicing empathy, a quality that is increasingly valued in the workplace.

Write gratefully

You have probably come across the idea of sending sincere, well-thought-out thank-you letters to people in your present or past life. It’s good advice, especially because the busier and more pressured we feel, the less time we take to express appreciation to people who deserve it. A note of gratitude not only makes the chosen person’s day, but also is treasured forever as proof of value. Such notes stand out because so few are received.

Even more effective is to keep a “gratitude journal,” or add this element to your journal writing if you already keep one. This is the place to write—daily if possible—about things you are thankful for: a favor rendered, an opportunity gained, a special person in your life. Or, how beautiful the sunny sky outside your window looks, how wonderful it is to have a friend who is there for you, an inspiring memory or whatever gives you laughter, solace and support.

Psychologists say that writing in a gratitude journal counterbalances the negativity that often overshadows the good things around us. So, writing can make you happier! It’s great practice in developing your skills, too.

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