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Why does writing matter in remote work? — Tim Casasola

http://www.timcasasola.com/blog/writing

timcasasola.com

Why does writing matter in remote work? — Tim Casasola
Writing something for an audience is a way of making you consult representatives of that audience before publishing. What will marketing think? Will sales people be able to sell? Whether you consider those perspectives before or not does not change that they will react. This isn’t “buy-in” or “heads-up” but actually consulting the real stakeholders of a decision.

If one person puts their thoughts together and shares it with a team, this helps the rest of the team put their thoughts together. Give others a thing to react to. Or else your team may not examine the full breadth of a problem.

How to write better

If writing’s not your jam, now’s time to get better. Here are some tips that have helped me.

Get to the point faster.

When you send someone a long presentation, document, or message, here’s what they care about: “What’s your point?” Do your reader a solid and answer this question early in your message. They’ll thank you.

Write to someone who has no idea what you do.

Anyone who has zero context about what you’re working on and reads what you write should immediately understand what you’re trying to convey. There’s a neat trick that helps: write to someone who has no idea what you do. I choose my mom. She should be able to read an article of mine online and get the gist.

Spell out your acronyms.

Even if your client or boss uses acronyms, always spell them out. “Create, read, update, and delete” levels the playing field. “CRUD” does not.

Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em.

Whenever I write a presentation, I default to this format: 

  1. Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em

  2. Tell ’em

  3. Tell ’em what you just told ‘em

  4. Tell ’em what happens next

For example: 

  • “I’m going to share you three options on how we could move forward. I’d love to know which option you prefer and why.” (Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em

  • “Here are our three options.” (Tell ‘em)

  • “The three options we went over were A, B, and C.” (Tell ’em what you just told ‘em

  • “Given we chose option B, here are our next steps.” (Tell ’em what happens next)

This structure works so well for presentations because it makes your message easy to follow. Try it.

Use active voice, not passive voice.

“Our developers prefer Option B.” > “Option B is preferred by our developers.”

Passive voice plagues business communication. Don’t add to the plague. Use active voice. 

Fewer commas. More periods. 

I love complex ideas. But complex ideas always morph into long, rambling, verbose sentences, with lots of commas (and lots of parentheses). I’m working on this.

Gary Provost, author of Make Every Word Count, put it well:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. 
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.

~

Great writing makes remote work better. It saves time, reduces meetings, removes extrovert bias, and invites other perspectives.

You don’t need to write articles to be a better writer. Let every Slack message, email, and text be vehicles for you to improve.

If you work remotely, let writing be your friend.

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Key Ideas

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Communication In a Remote Setup: The Importance of Writing

Communication In a Remote Setup: The Importance of Writing

Writing is increasingly important now as remote work has gone mainstream.

Be it Email, Slack, or Notion, all remote work is communicated with the help of writing. Writing helps save time by summarizing points in black and white to facilitate asynchronous communication, something of a mainstay in global organizations.

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Meetings Should Be The Last Resort

Five people in a room sitting for a one-hour meeting are spending a total of five hours of productive time. Real-time communication, physical or virtual meetings can be avoided most of the time.

Meetings should be the last resort, and writing comes to the rescue. Most meetings can be avoided by asynchronous communication on Slack, but if the threads are too long, and the decision is not in sight, it’s a signal that a meeting is required.

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Remote Work: Extrovert Bias

Many extroverts had a gala time in physical meetings, as their social interactions and energy kept them at the centre of attention. The quiet introverts, who might be great at implementing the ideas bounced on the table, were sidelined.

Remote work and the focus on the written word is the introvert's revenge, as now the scales are balanced towards merit and real results.

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Written Communication: Take Your Time And Think Clearly

People can take time to examine the problem or issue, and provide their input, something which isn’t possible in meetings.

Writing forces individuals and teams to think clearly and participate in a productive discussion. Writing also invites people to rectify mistakes, and point out gaps in the idea. Added opinions, suggestions and corrections are a good thing for the project or the main idea.

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Slack It: How To Write Better At Work

  1. Get to the point quickly.
  2. Write as if explaining to a newbie or someone who doesn’t know what you do.
  3. If you are using acronyms, spell them out.
  4. Focus on the key idea at all times, from start to finish. Also add a summary and next action point to move forward.
  5. Provide options to invite engagement, like by using a poll.
  6. Do not use a passive voice.
  7. Shorter sentences work extremely well, but can turn monotonous. Use varied sentence lengths, but keep the format simple.
  8. No rambling.

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Accessible Language

  • Use of caps lock, emojis, italics and tildes (~) to make your language flowery, fun and human is a great idea for remote working. You can also use memes and gif images, provided they are not offensive to anyone.
  • Robot speak is not a good way to freely collaborate with your remote peers. Use simple words, and keep it on the casual side, skipping the inaccessible and stilted language. You can also opt for contractions like writing isn’t instead of is not.

Be Clear And Concise

  • Do not obscure your message by words that are there to decorate the sentence and make it sound wordy while camouflaging what you mean.
  • Make good use of qualifiers ("I think, In my opinion") while not coming across as a perpetually confused person. Don’t use qualifiers while making a strong point.
  • While writing documentation, it is prudent to avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Use complete words and sentences. Shortcuts and acronyms block any actual communication, acting as roadblocks. On the same lines, avoid cliches, idioms and any idiotic sounding phrase that catches the ear well but doesn’t really do any good to anyone.
  • Remote working is often on a global scale, and certain expressions will not be understood by some participants, or worse, will be misunderstood.
  • Your words and tone should be tailored according to your audience. The words are different when you are writing to a client, and when you are in a small group chat with your peers. More people in chat also means adopting a polished, professional tone.

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The value of solid writing skills

  • Being a good writer helps you stand out from the crowd.
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Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

"Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing.

The “5 Ws + H” method

... for establishing what and how you will write:

  • Who: Who is my audience?
  • What: What do they need to know?
  • When: When does this apply, when did this happen, or when do they need to know it by?
  • Where: Where is this happening?
  • Why: Why do they need this information?
  • How: How should they use this information?

Letters Of Complaint

Be polite. The person who gets your letter will seldom be the one who wronged you. And is unlikely to pass it on to the desired recipient if you are insulting and raging.

Make plain...

Letters To Friends

Always remember that your job, writing to a friend, is to entertain. That can mean revelling in the odd pratfall. So, don’t just write about the mundane and pleasant things, try to give them the whole picture and make them feel something.

Letters Of Condolence

  • You are extending respect and friendship. Write quickly, and preferably by hand.
  • You’ll want to calibrate what you write to your relationship both with the recipient and with the deceased. Make it personal.
  • If you knew the deceased well, sharing a couple of warm memories will let the recipient feel there’s a shared bond.
  • If you didn’t know the deceased, you can make respectful reference to what you knew of them.
  • Use tact. Don’t tell the recipient how they should be feeling.
  • If you’re finding it hard to know what to say, you can acknowledge that; but don’t harp on it.
  • Avoid operatic, or competitive, expressions of grief.
  • Acknowledge, but don’t belabour, the grief and pain they feel.
  • Focus on the individual excellence of the deceased rather than the consequences of the loss itself.
  • Be tactful of their religion even if you don’t believe in it.