Posts Tagged 'writing'

How to Write an Effective Conclusion in Three Somewhat Easy Steps

grantproposal

Imagine the following scenario and ask yourself: how many times have I been in this position?  It’s almost midnight, the night before your term paper is due, and you’re stressing over the last minute details.  All the information organized in a logical way?  Check.  Correct spelling and punctuation?  Check.  Sources cited properly?  Check.  Then you realize…“oh no, I still haven’t written the conclusion!”

Raise your hand if that sentence has passed through your head at one point or another, because let’s face it, writing a conclusion is a pain in the neck.  Whether it’s a short paper for class or your first proposal after starting work at a new company, the conclusion is always the section of the paper that you put off writing for as long as possible.  Seriously, how are you supposed to sum up, say, your 200-page dissertation in just a few paragraphs?

Here’s how.

1) Ask the question, “so what?”

so what

Your conclusion shouldn’t ask and answer the question, “what is this?”  Hopefully, the rest of your paper has already done that.  Rather, ask the question “so what?” meaning ask yourself, “why is this information important and why should anybody care?”  This is particularly effective if you’re a technical writer finishing up a document; you’ve just spent x amount of pages describing your product, but it won’t do much good if the audience is still unsure about buying it.  Use this as a chance to make them sure.

Use the Socratic Method when thinking of how to form your ending statements.  Play out a little dialogue in your head between yourself and the potential reader.  If the reader asks why your argument is relevant, have a definitive answer ready and waiting.  If the reader picks out a flaw in that argument, find a way to back it up.  Remember, your conclusion is your last chance to make the audience realize why your points are valid.  Make it count!

2) Restate your thesis.

conclusion cartoon

This is where things can get tricky.  First of all, reiterate your thesis, but don’t say exactly the same thing you did in your introduction.  Find a way to rephrase the original statement, including some examples previously used in the paper.  Synthesize your main points and show how they form a cohesive argument – explain why everything fits together.  Think of your paper as a jigsaw puzzle and your conclusion is the final piece that anchors the rest of them.  In doing so, you are able to not only sum up your points without being redundant, but also show your audience that you care enough about your argument to give it a good ending and not take the lazy, copy-and-paste-the-original-thesis approach.

3) Connect the topic to broader themes

This is a good way to get your audience involved in the discussion.  Ask a question about your topic and then propose a solution, apply the information to something else of relevance.  For instance, if you’re writing an analysis on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then give examples of how that novel has influenced others in contemporary American literature.  Likewise, if you’re writing a scientific paper, then elaborate on how the discoveries made could impact future studies.  Make your audience think about how your argument connects with others like it, and in doing so, potentially discover the topic for your next paper.

And there you have it, folks: three steps for how to write an effective conclusion.  It’s one of the hardest and most nerve-wracking things to write, especially if you’re a proposal writer and any part of the given proposal could determine whether or not your company gets the bid.  So bear these tips in mind the next time you sit down at your desk at midnight the night before the assignment is due.  Because to your teachers, the idea of a weak conclusion is totally and completely…

inconceivable

For more information, visit http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/conclusions/

Thanks for reading!

Erin S. O’Reilly

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Proofing in a pinch

Are you stressed out because you have a document or project due soon and you were not allocated enough time for proofreading? So now you are under a time crunch, right? Luckily for you, I have a solution to your problem. This quick fix will help you correct some of the most common mistakes found in technical writing. Think of this blog post as you would SparkNotes; as an analogy of sorts: SparkNotes is to a novel as “Proofing in a pinch” is to proofreading. This guide is an immensely abbreviated version of proofreading, but these few easy steps will undoubtedly come to your rescue the next time you find yourself with too little time to do too much correcting.

Step 1. Spelling

With all of the awesome spellcheck tools, who can mess this up, right? However, one of the most overlooked spelling mistakes I have seen during my several years of experience of document writing and editing is incorrectly spelling or improperly referring to the company’s name. Writers often overlook this because we are too preoccupied with the main content of the document, refusing to properly recognize the most important detail—the company. The following cases are where spellcheck might become a hindrance rather than a benefit.

Example

The Law Office of J. Shay Golden wants Margaret, a technical communicator, to draft a brief. Margaret drafts the brief within one week and hand-delivers it to the partner at the firm.

  • Case 1

Margaret referred to the firm as “The Law Office of J. Shea Golden” throughout the brief. Unfortunately, Margaret relied on the spellcheck tools, which accepted both “Shay” and “Shea” as correct spellings.

  • Case 2

Margaret referred to the firm as “The Law Firm of J. Shay Golden” throughout the brief.

Unfortunately, the spellcheck tools are not equipped to check for consistency and correctness when referring to the employer’s company’s name.

Imagine the embarrassment Margaret faced when the mistake was brought to her attention. Always, always go through your document and double-check the spelling and accuracy of the company’s name. This should be the first step in your prompt proofing process.

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(Photo credit: Grammarly; http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2014/please-stop-making-this-mistake-thank-you/)

Step 2. Punctuation

Contractions. Rule of thumb—never use them. These are those words we use to simplify our language in conversation and informal writing, such as can’twe’re, and should’ve. The simple solution to checking for contractions in a document is to scan each page for an apostrophe [‘]. When you find one, the first thing to do is to determine if it is being used to form a contraction or a possessive. If it is a contraction, remove it and extend the contraction into the subject and the verb. (Fun fact of the day: the apostrophe is used in a contraction to indicate the omission of a letter, or letters, in one of the words.) If it is a possessive—leave the apostrophe alone. It is supposed to be there. However, if you are using an apostrophe in a word that should be pluralized then you need to review your rules here: http://www.grammar.cl/Notes/Plural_Nouns.htm

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(Photo credit: Grammarly; https://www.facebook.com/grammarly)

Periods and Commas. Always scan through your document and make sure that these are used correctly. The last thing you want to do is submit a document with a mistake so elementary as a missing period or a comma. To check for absent periods, quickly scan through each sentence and check that it begins with a capitalized word and ends with a period (be sure to double check the more complicated sentences that contain those tricky semi-colons). As for commas, they can make all the difference in the world, so they might require a bit more attention at the word-level during proofing. Therefore, you can review grammatical rules here in case you are a bit rusty: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/

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(Photo credit: whisper down the write alley; http://whisperdownthewritealley.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/punctuation-matters-commas-save-lives/)

Step 3. Figures, Tables, and Headings

I mentioned consistency before. This is especially important when it comes to this next topic: figures, tables, and headings. As always, you should follow the company’s style guide and preferences (hopefully, these would have been consulted before the writing began), but because you are caught in a pinch for editing, trust the writer and simply go through the document and ensure that all figures, tables, and headings conform to the same format.

Conclusion

Technical writing and editing is a very intricate process that requires much time and effort. It also requires great attention to detail. But when time is of the essence, following these rules will undeniably ensure your work does not contain those pesky, embarrassing mistakes that all professional writers make, yet hope to avoid.

Thanks for reading!

Kala Burson

Journalism, Tech Comm, and the Skills in Between

As a broadcast news major in undergrad, I never thought I’d be in a technical communication program. But if there’s one thing you learn about Huntsville, Alabama: The technology field is a major industry here in the Rocket City, and the more technical skills you possess, the more marketable you are in this town. But with a degree in broadcast journalism, the most I knew about technical communication was how to communicate and operate a video camera….Or so I thought. But as a technical communication student, I’m learning that I have more skills that translate to technical communication than I thought.

If you too are a journalist attempting to break into the field, identify what skills you possess, and how to apply them to technical communication. Here are some overlapping skills that both journalists and technical communicators have, according to a blog post by Scott Nesbitt entitled: “Tech Writing and Journalism: Yes, There are Parallels” on the DMN Communications blog.

Writing.

writing

According Nesbitt, “Writing is a key factor in technical communication and journalism. You don’t need to be a great stylist to be an effective technical writer or journalist, though. You need to be able to write clearly and write tightly.”

Basically, write concisely. If you’re an editorial journalist who writes for print media, this may be a little bit of an adjustment. But if you’ve ever written for television news, this is right up your alley. Use the simplest form of words to make your audience understand. Assume that no one knows what you are talking about unless you explain it to them because in most cases, they really won’t understand.

Interviewing.

interviewing

This is a skill you probably didn’t even know you would need as a technical communicator. But interviewing can play a just as big, if not bigger, role in technical communication as writing can. As Nesbitt puts it, “ …you need to know how to ask the right questions, and not be afraid to ask dumb ones. On top of that, you’ll need to know how to gently draw answers out of reluctant interviewees and to spot tangents that are worth following during an interview.”

As a technical writer, you will have to interview the technical professionals in your organization, so that the information that you are distributing to the user is correct and most efficient. You won’t know this information if you don’t ask the technical professional. And you have to be sure that the questions you’re asking will provide the information that users need to know.

Researching.

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Journalists are known for finding the information we need to obtain, whether it’s handed to them on a silver platter by very cooperative forces, or if they have to dig around and investigate for themselves. According to Nesbitt, researching “ can take many forms: looking at design documents, reading up on subjects like virtualization, or even going over documentation for products that are similar to the ones we’re writing about.

All in all, transitioning from journalism to being technical communication student hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. Sure there are some aspects of it that I never would’ve probably seen in news, such as learning computer programming, or learning the inner workings of an engineering firm, but all in all, it has been smooth sailing… so far.

-NiCarla Friend


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