The Who and How of Writing Well


Panda bookWho are you writing to and how well do you do it? I’m not prying here; I just want you to think about this question.

Who

Probably the most important aspect of writing is remembering who you are writing to. When I get stuck on the words for a prayer letter, I try to picture a very dear friend and start writing to her. It’s helped the words to flow more naturally.

When it comes to thank you notes and sympathy cards, Mike and I are a team. If I’m stumped for a response to a particular person, he really knows how to put the  right words together. We agree my handwriting’s better, so he does a draft and I write the note and send it. (Tip: Type these special notes into a document to use later to jog your thinking for similar situations.)

If you’re blogging, have an audience in mind. Focus your message  on these folks, not on the whole world. For instance, twice-a-week posts on eQuipping for eMinisty are written for Campus Crusade for Christ staff , but others do read it as well. You might have a blog for your financial partners or an evangelistic blog for a specific demographic.

How

The most time you’re probably spending on writing is through emails. I recommend Tips about Email Usage and Abusage which is a summary of advice from Michael Hyatt.  One of my favorite tips is #12. Some people still write in bold or in ALL CAPS. It comes across like yelling. Just. Don’t. Thanks.

Like it or not, good grammar and spelling are essential for good communication.  If your writing has misspellings, punctuation errors, and typos, the reader may have to backtrack so their mind can interpret what you’re trying to say.  If the writer is careful about spelling and punctuation, then their message shines. (Esample: If you’re righting has errors, the reader may have too backtrack sew there mind can interpret what your trying two say.) You know spell check doesn’t catch everything.

More on How: Resources

Now I’ve lost you. I can hear your groaning. So, let’s make this more fun. I’m sure you’ve heard a version of this story before:

A panda strolls into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, and then draws a gun, firing at the light fixtures.

“Why?” asks the confused clerk, as the panda saunters towards the door. The panda tosses a badly punctuated wildlife manual over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says curtly. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to “Panda” in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation: “Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

The comma changed the entire meaning from the diet of a panda to bizarre behavior for a panda. I recommend a witty book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, for a light-hearted look at grammar issues. Also, you might like to follow Grammar Girl on Facebook or Twitter. She also has a book. Here’s a link to all her articles and podcasts.

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with style books for referencing grammar rules.  Michael Hyatt recommends the online version of Chicago Manual of Style to check your writing .

Campus Crusade for Christ also has the Gospel of Style (GOS), which you should become familiar with (it’s not the same as the branding style guide for Cru fonts and colors). Keep the PDF file handy so you don’t need to look it up continually. In it, you’ll learn to use JESUS film (not Jesus Film) and that Scripture is capitalized while biblical isn’t.

As I re-examined the Gospel of Style for this post, I learned some style preferences for Scripture references, such as:

  • Use Arabic numerals for books that are part of a succession (2 Chronicles, not II Chronicles). One exception: If the book title starts the sentence, spell the word out (“Second Chronicles 7:14 is my favorite verse”). Try to rewrite the sentence to avoid this.
  • Indicate the Bible version either behind the quote or behind the reference (see examples below). Spell out the name of the version on first reference; abbreviate on subsequent references.
    • Behind the quote: “Never be lazy in your work but serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12:11, Living Bible).
    • Behind the reference: As Jesus asked in John 5:6 (LB), “Would you like to get well?”

Your Voice

It takes time to write well.  You might be a gifted writer or you may need a trusted friend or a spouse who is willing to edit for you. Either way, the world needs to hear your voice: the way you express yourself, your perspectives, and even your personality. These can come across in your writing. Just as you connect with some writers and will read almost any topic they want to present, your readers will look forward to hearing from you.

You might do everything right and then you write something like “Throw grandpa down the stairs, his shoes.” (It’s funny to us, but proper syntax in Newfoundland, apparently.) You didn’t intend for grandpa to be black-and-blue at the foot of the stairs! Dust yourself off, laugh at your mistake, and (if you’re so lucky as to post this on a blog) go in and fix it for your next reader.

Have you invited your friends?

<< First  (in series posts)  Next (in communication posts) >

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Visit the Table of Contents for the You-Can-Too series posts. This post is the first in the communication series.  Keep following the series for posts on databases, communication, websites, and social media.

Related articles: 

Source: The image of Lynne Truss’ bestseller was taken from Amazon.com.

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