My NEW online course Technical Report & Business Writing

elearning bannerAnnouncing the launch of my new online training course Technical Report and Business Writing with ICE Training (The Institution of Civil Engineers).

This course is designed for those who need to turn their technical knowledge and expertise into business documents, including reports, proposals, instruction manuals and even minutes. It covers every part of the writing process, from planning your document and analysing your audience to editing and proofreading.

What’s included?
Eight 35-minute audio-visual modules
Downloadable workbooks and exercises, including real-life examples and case studies
A digital certificate – available for download on completion

This course equates to 300 minutes or 5 hours of CPD activity.

Fee: £199 – Book the course.

Are you an ICE Member? Ask about your exclusive discount.

For company license for multiple users within your organisation, email or call +44 (0)20 7665 2457.

Classroom and in-company delivery options are also available.

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Latest blog posts

penlogowebcompressed2Click on the image for latest blog posts on my sister site, Better Writing Tips.

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Cut the jargon

Councillor Graham Cox speaks out against jargonThanks to Councillor Graham Cox of Brighton and Hove City Council for his 4 Feb blog post against jargon, entitled ‘Who writes this stuff?’

He highlighted the following passage in a committee paper:

In September 2013, the CCG Local Member Group approved the strategic proposal to develop an Integrated Diabetes Care model, which would deliver a seamless diabetes care pathway led by multidisciplinary teams delivering integrated, patient focused care, delivering national evidence-based and cost-effective standards to deliver improved outcomes.

‘This is probably worthy, but I’m not sure what it means and it must put people off,’ he wrote.

I agree. And in my job I see this kind of writing a lot, especially in the public sector. It’s partly because we are encouraged to write a certain way at school and college – a style that is generally more formal and jargon-friendly than the modern workplace needs or wants. Many people who can express their ideas very clearly and concisely in speech tie themselves up in knots when asked to commit them to paper.

It’s also workplace culture. Employees are terrified that their writing will lack the necessary gravitas if they use simpler words. ‘My clients/customers/managers are different from other readers,’ is a common objection. ‘They expect me to write like this.’

So thank you, Councillor Cox, for clarifying. I can use this in my training courses as evidence that even councillors breathe the same air that we do. They don’t have time for gobbledegook.

According to The Argus on 8 Feb, a spokesman for the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) reworked the offending paragraph as follows:

In September 2013, the clinical commissioning group’s Local Member Group; a group of GPs, nurses, managers and patients who represent the city’s GP practices, agreed to develop a new and improved diabetes service in the city.

This would be led by a team of health professionals, including doctors, nurses, dieticians, to make sure as patients move between services that those services share information, work together and feel joined up.

With these changes services in the city will be designed with the patients’ best interests at heart, will meet national standards, be the best value for money and improve the health of people living with diabetes in Brighton and Hove.

‘We hope that makes it a bit easier to understand,’ he said.

What do you think of jargon in the workplace? Do you prefer it? Do you think that your readers expect it?

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Business email can seriously damage your health

Business Email can damage your healthRecent research from Kingston Business School has identified seven ‘deadly sins’ of business email that can damage your mental health.

Occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell carried out research on 28 employees across different organisations. Her report identified the following habits as causes of high employee stress:

1. Ping pong – constant emails back and forth  creating long chains
2. Emailing out of hours
3. Emailing while in the company of other people
4. Ignoring emails completely
5. Requesting read receipts
6. Responding immediately to an email alert
7. Automated replies.

“This research reminds us that, even though we think we are using strategies for dealing with our email at work, many of them can be detrimental to other goals and the people we work with,” said Dr Russell.

The report was presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference. Read the full article here.

Some of these practices damage the sender, others the receiver. What is interesting is that it is not just a matter of email etiquette – these bad habits really do have an impact on our stress levels. We can unwittingly harm ourselves and our colleagues.

Do you recognise any (or indeed all) of these practices in your workplace? If so, try forwarding the article to your colleagues – a little awareness of  how not to abuse business email can make a big difference!

Bye for now



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Finding ideas for your business blog content

Free sources of blog content ideasIf you manage a business blog, you’ll know how challenging it is to come up with ideas for quality blog content.

There are hundreds of content services, plug-ins and applications out there, but here are some of my favourite (and free) tools.

1. Google alerts

Set up Google alerts for your keywords to find web pages, news and blogs as they are published. I set mine to email me a summary of the best results once a week so they don’t clog up my inbox.

As well as inspiration for articles on the ‘hot’ topics in your niche, this is also a good way to find guest blogging opportunities.

2. LinkedIn

LinkedIn newsfeed for blog content inspirationI led a session on LinkedIn profiles recently (see my related post: 5 tips for writing a better LinkedIn profile) and it made me realise just how valuable this professional networking site is becoming as a marketing resource.

Join selected groups in your niche and discover what they’re talking about. You can just passively watch group discussions for potential blog topics – known as ‘social listening’. Or join the conversation to establish yourself as an expert and influencer in your field.

Also, try using the advanced search functionality to find and follow companies and individuals under specific, relevant topics – ‘writing’ for example, or ‘customer service’. What are they talking about? Do they have publications or videos you can refer your readers to?

LinkedIn also recommends topic-specific news channels and influencers to follow – a good source of ‘real-time’ trending content.

To save time, customise your newsfeed to show only the updates you are interested in. On your home page, click on the ‘All Updates’ tab on the top right corner of your news feed, and select ‘Customize’.

3. Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest for blog content ideasUbersuggest is a free keyword search tool that finds hundreds of ‘long-tail’ variations. So a search for ‘writing+a’ returns ‘writing a cover letter’, ‘writing a business plan’’, ‘writing a resignation letter’ and so on.

There are ten suggestions for each letter of the alphabet and the numbers 1-9. No indication of search volumes, but a good source of inspiration.

4. Q&A sites

Q&A sites inspire blog content ideasQuestion and Answer sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora help you find the questions (and answers) that people in your niche are discussing.

For example, if I type ‘business writing’ into Quora I see questions relating to executive summaries and proposals. I can turn these into a series of ‘How to…’ blog posts.

You can add value by summarising the top-rated answers in a well-written blog post – an easier format for readers to engage with.

5. Site analytics

Web analytics such as Google Analytics (free) usually include content statistics, such as most popular pages and search queries. Google shows you the exact search queries visitors typed into the search box when they found you. Some of these may surprise you. Keep an eye out for questions that you haven’t answered in your blog post.

Also check which of your posts are being shared most often on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Build on these to maximize your exposure in social media.

There are many other ways to source quality blog content. To find out more, plus loads of practical advice about content marketing, check out my blogging for business course (ideal for organisations) or one-to-one coaching (suitable for both organisations and individuals).


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5 quotes to improve your writing at work

Writing at Work QuotesWriting at work requires a different skill set to writing academic essays or fiction. Here are five of my favourite quotes, from writers and business leaders, to help you get your point across more effectively.

1. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere – Lee Iacocca

Many of us who were schooled during the 1970s and 1980s didn’t learn English grammar formally. The liberal education policies of the time stressed that what you wrote was more important than how you wrote it.

I think this was a mistake.

I meet many brilliant, educated people who struggle to reach their potential at work because they lack confidence in their writing. This is bad news for them and their employers, resulting in a huge waste of talent.

The good news is that it is never too late to invest in your written communication skills. In fact, doing so will pay dividends throughout your career.

2. Writing is an art. But when it is writing to inform it comes close to being a science – Robert Gunning

You don’t have to be a Dickens or a Bronte to write well at work.

Business writing and technical writing are skills that can be learned. And there are now software tools that can help you polish your grammar and style as well.

3. Writing comes more easily if you have something to say – Sholem Asch

Know what you want to say before you start writing. Use Mindmapping and Word Outline to structure your document with headings and subheadings.

Once you’ve got a structure in place, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to fill in the text.

4. You know, everybody’s ignorant, just on different subjects – Will Rogers

Most work documents have multiple readers, with different functional, cultural and educational backgrounds. Don’t assume they all know, or care, as much about the subject as you do.

What are their priorities? What do they know already? What do they need to know?

5. Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them – John Ruskin

Keep it simple and concise. Enough said!

To find out how to improve your writing at work, see my business writing courses (ideal for organisations) or one-to-one coaching (suitable for both organisations and individuals).


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Managing email – Ferrari limits group emails

Ferrari managing emailManaging email in the workplace is not easy. But few organisations have taken such drastic measures as Ferrari.

The Italian car manufacturer announced earlier this month that its employees would only be allowed to send internal emails to a maximum of three people.

A spokesman said that sending irrelevant emails is “one of the main causes of time wastage and inefficiency in the average working day in business.” The move is also meant to encourage “more efficient and direct communication.”

I agree that the majority of organisations would benefit from a more disciplined approach to managing email. Encouraging staff to think about who they are copying, rather than hitting ‘reply-all’ by default, is a good start.

Email is not the only way

Also, ask staff to question whether email is the best form of communication. It rarely is with subjects are that are in any way controversial, for example. A phone call or face-to-face meeting tends to be more effective, and less prone to misunderstandings.

Some people argue that email and SMS texts are now so embedded in our culture that many employees can’t communicate any other way. It is easier to ‘hide’ behind an email than to engage with or confront someone directly.

What do you think? Would your staff’s productivity benefit from a more disciplined approach to managing email? Could you recommend imposing a three-recipient limit in your organisation?


PS If you or your organisation need help with email, visit my website for details of my business writing courses and one-to-one coaching.

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Correct number format in UK business documents

Date number format 11.59pm December 2013Not sure which number format to use in your business document? Don’t worry – you’re in good company. Many people find this confusing, and there is a lot of contradictory advice out there. Remember – consistency is important, so if your company has a style guide, use that. If not, these guidelines will help clarify some of the most common problems:

When to write numbers as words

1. In text, spell out numbers up to and including nine
Please reply within five working days.

2. At the start of a sentence
Nineteen people attended the conference.

3. Approximate amounts
About a hundred people work at the factory.

4. Numbers showing position in a series
We came third in the competition.

When to write numbers as figures

1. In text, use figures for numbers above nine
There are 52 weeks in the year.

2. Dates & times
The meeting is scheduled to start at 11.30 am on 20 July.

3. Units of measurement, even those less than 10
The motorway is 9 miles away.
The selling price is £20.
A 5-year-old could read it.

4. Numbers modifying nouns
Page 72
Module 6

5. When numbers above and below 9 refer to the same subject
The research showed that 7 out of 10 women prefer our brand.

Do you have more questions about which number format to use? If so, write to me in the box below.

Good luck!


PS Do you or your organisation need help with any aspect of business writing? Visit my website for details of my business writing courses and one-to-one coaching.

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How’s your email etiquette?

Email etiquette
I came across the findings of a recent survey by CPP Inc which looked at communication technologies and email etiquette in the workplace.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, email is still regarded as the main cause of confusion. 64% of respondents said that they had sent or received an email that unintentionally caused anger or resentment.

Top gripes from recipients were too many ‘reply alls’, confusing, vague, overlong emails and poor grammar. Email senders cited no replies, misinterpreted messages and brusque replies. Do these sound familiar?

Interestingly CPP also recommends combining Myers Briggs ‘personality awareness’ with email etiquette. Extraverts may benefit from sending fewer emails and being more concise. Introverts are sometimes too brief, missing out important details and pleasantries.

Five quick email etiquette tips

1. Use a meaningful subject line
Help your reader prioritise your message with a useful subject line. Instead of ‘Meeting’ try ‘Agenda for Project Meeting 15 July’

2. Don’t send spam
Instead of hitting ‘reply all’ by default, think about who is in the ‘To’ and ‘CC’ fields. Do they really need to see this?

3. Use a greeting and a sign off
A simple ‘Hello (Name)’ and ‘Kind regards’ sets a professional but friendly tone. You don’t have to worry too much about pleasantries if you include these.

4. Get to the point
Answer the important who, what, when questions in the first two (short) paragraphs. The background and detail can wait, if they’re needed at all.

5. Don’t use emphatic punctuation
ALL CAPS, multiple explanation marks!!!! and emoticons 😉 just confuse readers. Yes, we can see you’re emphasising something. But what?!?!

A little email etiquette can go a long way towards reducing conflict and confusion in the workplace. By respecting the needs of readers there’s a higher chance your emails will be read, understood and acted on.

Good luck!


PS Do you or your organisation need help with email or business writing skills? Click here for details of my business writing courses and one-to-one coaching.

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How to make your report flow

ReportHave you ever read a report that made you feel that you were losing the thread of the argument? Or that you were stuck in the middle of a seemingly random collection of paragraphs?

Writers can easily solve this problem by using appropriate transitions, or link words and phrases, such as firstly, secondly, on the other hand, meanwhile, bearing this in mind, however, finally and in conclusion.

Firstly, transitions show the logical connection between paragraphs and sentences. They guide the reader through the report and give a sense of ‘flow’ – of moving from one stage of the argument to the next.

Secondly, you can use them to break down longer paragraphs. If you have a paragraph over seven lines, try breaking it down into separate, shorter paragraphs, each starting with an appropriate transition. This helps the skimming reader navigate the logic of the report at a glance.

However, don’t go mad. Don’t start every sentence with a transition – develop each stage with another sentence or more so that the reader has time to take in your point.

Finally, you can add transitions at the editing stage. You may decide to reorder your paragraphs to make a more logical structure to your argument. This makes the drafting process easier – you can get on and write your report quickly, and fix the logical flow later .

In conclusion, use appropriate transitions to help your report flow, and guide your reader through your argument. They will be impressed with the apparent clarity of your thinking – whether or not they agree with your conclusions.

Good luck!


PS Do you or your organisation need help with report writing skills? Click here for details of my business writing courses and one-to-one coaching.

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