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Tips for making writing easier: Part 5: quick editing for organization: ordering points by importance and using headings and lists can transform chatty prose into a useful business-oriented piece.

In the last column, we showed you how to save time and effort by following a systematic once-through editing sequence that moves from the large picture down to the details. Now let's look more closely at the first part of this sequence: editing for organization. Done right, this can be a quick process that not only makes your message more accessible but also cuts down on the need for later style editing.

THE BIG TOUCHES

Your first task is to find or add your main message and move it to the front. Often, you can find that message buried at the end of your piece. Next, make sure your major points are arranged in order of their importance to the reader. If not, take the blocks and rearrange them. Then apply the same principles again to each block (section and paragraph): main message first, details or backup arranged in order of importance.

BENEFITING FROM HEADINGS AND LISTS

In freewriting your piece, you may have become chatty, with wordy sentences and long paragraphs. Even in a two-page memo, adding headings and breaking text into lists can make your piece concise and businesslike. Most of all, it lets you steer the reader's process of skipping in such a way that no important parts of your message will be lost.

Readers tend to skip from the beginning of one unit to the next. Therefore, if each unit starts with its main message, your key points will hit home. Headings and lists further improve this by creating many small units that trip up "skippers."

Here is an example that illustrates these editing techniques. Suppose your team has evaluated the cost and effectiveness of two safety training methods (1) traditional classroom lecture and (2) a "quiz game. show" approach using video based on real company facilities and equipment. Two comparable groups were involved in a year-long test: Group A was trained only with Method 1 (traditional), Group 2 only with Method 2 (quiz game). Your freewritten draft report includes the following two paragraphs:
 Safety incidents in group B were 62% lower than in
 group A. "Safety can be fun" was a recurring theme in
 group B, whereas group A tended to regard safety as a
 "drag." However preparation was viewed as more
 demanding of time and creativity. The increase in
 preparation time was estimated, on average, as 250%.
 On the other band, many respondents reported significant
 side benefits from the preparation. Notably, their
 own attitude toward providing safety training
 improved. Finding volunteers to deliver the training
 was easier than in group A. Team spirit and cohesiveness
 of work groups improved. Fewer formal complaints
 were filed by both supervisors and subordinates,
 indicating less tension. In sum, Method 2 proved
 far superior in effectiveness and also attitude, though
 more costly.

 Evalution of benefits vs. costs is intrinsically a
 qualitative matter. However, the evaluation team
 believes the greater cost is clearly outweighed by the
 benefits, especially the drastic reduction in safety incidents.
 We therefore recommend using the "quiz game
 show" approach throughout the company.


Moving trait messages to the front and introducing headings and lists makes the information more accessible even for notorious skippers:
 Method 2 proved far superior in effectiveness and also
 attitude, though more costly. Since improved safety
 was the highest priority of this project, we recommend
 using this method for all routine safety training.


BENEFITS OF METHOD 2 (QUIZ GAME APPROACH)

* Safety incidents in group B were 62% lower than in group A.

* "Safety can be fun" was a recurring theme in group B, whereas group A tended to regard safety as a "drag."

* Employees' attitudes toward providing safety training improved.

* Finding volunteers to deliver the training was easier than in Group A.

* Team spirit and cohesiveness of groups improved.

* Fewer formal complaints were filed by both supervisors and subordinates, indicating less tension.

COSTS OF METHOD 2

* Overall, preparation was viewed as extremely demanding of time and creativity.

* The increase in preparation time was estimated, on average, as 250%.

Cheryl and Peter Reimold have been leaching communication skills to engineers, scientists, and businesspeople for 20 years. Their firm, PERC Communications (telephone +1 914-725-1024, e-mail perccom@aol.com), offers businesses consulting and writing services, as well as customized in-house courses on writing, presentation skills, and on-the-job communication skills. Visit their web site at www.allaboutcommunication.com.
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Title Annotation:The Language of Business
Author:Reimold, Peter
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:720
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