There is no denying the ascension of the visual in communications of all sorts today. Take a look at any random sample of non-technical documents and you will see evidence everywhere. Even in technical and business communication, visuals claim a prominent if not central role. In a recent podcast episode of Teaching Writing, I examine the range and function of visual information in documents.
What does that mean for you as a writer? First, you need to notice the visual elements in the document types you create. How much of a visual component is there? What kinds of visuals are typically inserted? It is important to remember that the visual component includes photos, graphs, graphics, illustrations, tables, maps, and even headings. Online documents--or documents primarily shared digitally--no longer cost more to create or print, so writers typically have a wide range of colours available to them. So in addition to the obvious visual component writers need to think about which colours to use for text, lines, backgrounds, and headings.
An efficient way to deal with all of these choices and requirements is to use templates, either ones associated with the software you are using or ones prepared by your organization. These templates often have colour choices and typefaces pre-selected for you. Many word processing applications provide templates for typical documents that you can work from. Use them.
But in your writing at work, notice the kinds of visual information that your documents typically include. Beyond that, focus on the work or the function of those visuals. Why are they there? Are they primarily decorative? Do they contribute to branding? Do they provide evidence or information that duplicates what is said in the text? Do they elaborate on what the text is able to say? Do they reinforce the text and make the point more vividly?
Once you have a sense of what the function of each visual is, you will have a greater understanding of the kinds of visual information readers expect to see in your documents. You might also see opportunities for including more visual information, and that, in turn, might make your writing more effective.
There is one more potential spinoff: if you develop some skill at translating textual information into visual information, you will be able to create much more interesting slides for your presentation.
For more information on how to incorporate visual information in documents, check out my technical communication textbook, a Strategic Guide to Technical Communication, and visit my website at wecanwrite.ca
At the start of a recent workshop, I asked graduate student supervisors what they most wanted to know. While the answers are of interest to supervisors, graduate students might gain some insight from listening in. Research labs function as small development units, so there may be value in listening to the answers if you are a supervisor of a non-academic unit at a large organization.
In this episode of my Teaching Writing podcast, I provide an edited version of my answers. Here are the questions:
Q1: Efficiency. How can you get your co-workers writing better, faster. I've had success in the past working one-on-one with people who, at the start of our relationship, were having trouble producing texts that their supervisors liked. We had success by studying models of good writing drawn (often) from the supervisor's written work.
2. Feedback. Providing good feedback takes time and is not particularly efficient. More importantly, research suggests that the person providing the feedback is the one who is doing most of the learning. So if you are providing great feedback to your employees, you are learning a lot about their writing but they aren't learning nearly as much as you are.
Solution: structure opportunities for co-workers to comment on each other's work. Reward those who provide constructive, insightful suggestions.
3. Non-native speakers. Non-native speakers vary widely in their ability to write in English. Some are fantastic and indistinguishable from native speakers. Others will require a lot of help.
For sentence-level help, I would take the second group--those who need help--and insist that they use a grammar editor before submitting documents for review. Google docs have several add-ons, and programs such as Grammarly can be structured to work with browsers as well as various word processors. This will help those writers produce standard English, but it won't help with the larger concerns about how to structure a document appropriately. For that, you'll need to do what has been covered in the first question above.
More than anything, you need to start with a new student or employee by getting a sample of their writing and identifying what they need to work on to improve. Then you need to put together a plan for helping them improve. Maybe that means $35 for a grammar checker; maybe that means having co-workers review their writing; maybe that means creating models of good writing with notes to explain why they are good. But the key is having a plan.
To find out more, visit wecanwrite.ca or email me at email@example.com for advise or suggestions.
Recent research into online peer feedback shows that people who give feedback to others on what that person has written benefits the person giving the feedback more than the person receiving it. This isn't typically what people expect: they will pay for feedback on their writing and then revise it. That will solve the immediate problem with that specific piece of writing, and if that solves your current problem, great!
To improve as a writer in the long term, however, you need to go beyond receiving feedback. You need to learn to "read as a writer": find texts similar to the one you are trying to create, and then analyze them to find out how they are put together. If you then try to explain (to yourself, if you do not know the author of the text you are analyzing) to the person who wrote the text how you see the text working (or not working!), then you've taken the next step.
Over time, you ability to see opportunities for revising your own work will improve. It helps if there is some standard or criteria for your text. We can help do an initial analysis to identify the features of your target texts, and we can also help you improve your ability to comment on other writer's texts in ways that are productive for you and them.