I was planning to blog about IBM's Academic Initiatives today, but while doing research I keep being reminded about how important it is to have excellent writing skills.
In the Certification Magazine in the article "Buzzwords your Resume Doesn't Need" I read the following:
Written skills are becoming more and more important for IT professionals to possess, especially as tech workers communicate with others throughout the organization on projects and proposals. But as the old saying goes, show, don’t tell, the hiring manager about your abilities. Demonstrate with your resume and cover letter that you know how to get your ideas across on paper — or on the computer screen — through clear and concise writing and by carefully checking for any typos or grammatical errors before submitting your application materials.
Yesterday I attended a web seminar called "Unwritten Rules: What You Don't Know Can Hurt Your Career" and found that communication is very important in career advancement. Communication in this presentation was largely focused on discussing your expectations with management regarding your career advancement options and expectations, but communication to gain visibility was also a key point. Tell people what you have accomplished and get noticed by writing well.
Then of course Jeff Jonas making the following plea on facebook: "Note to universe: emails over 200 words are very hard to find time to read. Do summarize!"
My favourite was the Macleans article "Do your prof a favour; Write Better!"
A few weeks ago I was invited to be a guest lecturer to a Masters of Computer Science class at York University about how the can improve their writing skills. This is my second time delivering this presentation that was created by Roger Sanders who is also writing a book about the same topic. The presention is entitled "The Art of Technical Writing" and the book will be published this year by MC Press. I don't see a link on the web for this book yet, but will be sure to tell you about it when it is released.
I won't tell you everything that I passed onto the students, but here are a few general guidelines:
1) Go as deep into your TOC or outline as you can... before you begin writing. This will ensure that you have a plan and can help prevent writer's block.
2) Keep your audience in mind when creating the outline and as you write. I guess I should have said "define your audience" first as this is a key step. Don't fall into the trap that what you are writing will appeal to EVERYONE! It won't... and shouldn't.
3) Don't try to impress with a large vocabulary or difficult sentences. Even sophisticated readers like to read concise, well-written sentences rather than complicated words and sentences where they may have to read them twice to get the proper meaning.
4) Vary the size of your sentences. Some long, some short. If you do all the same, it may be boring to read.
5) Avoid the passive voice... stay active. This can be hard to do.
6) Review your own work. Read what you wrote... out loud to yourself, out loud to others, have the computer read it to you... whatever it takes. If you hear the words spoken you can easily spot the parts that are difficult and need revision.
7) I like Roger's recommendation to reveiw your manuscript several times, each time with a specific purpose. For example, read through looking for where you used the passive voice and fix those. Then review again for grammar. Then to make sure lists and headings are parallel. Then to ensure that diagrams and tables are properly labelled. And on and on. It is easier to be consistent if you look for specific problems each time through your manuscript.
8) Be sure that you need to include a diagram or table before including it. I tend to skip diagrams and tables unless it makes it much easier to understand the concepts that are being discussed. I've heard other people admit to skipping them as well. Don't include diagrams and tables as filler.
9) Have someone else (or several other people) review the manuscript for you. When you get feedback... do not take it personally. Your reviewer is NOT critisizing you as a person... but is giving you feedback to improve what you wrote. You don't have to make all the changes that are recommended to you, but do take the feedback seriously. If you don't get feedback at all.. don't assume what you wrote is perfect. It never is! All authors have been shocked to find simple errors in their books even after they were reviewed endlessly by experts.
10) Learn from your mistakes and actively look for ways to improve your writing skill. Writing is a skill and can be learned by paying attention and learning from your mistakes and from others. I strongly encourage you to read Roger's book when it publishes as it will help you in ways that you can't yet imagine.
While I'm on the topic of writing, I should point out that my job is Publishing Program Manager for IBM Information Management. I'm happy to say that I am continuously meeting people who have a desire to write a book. I can help you with that goal if it is one of yours. The first thing you'd want to look at if you are interested in writing a book is this site that gives help on writing a proposal for your book: Proposal Guidelines.
Writing is an important skill for you to have, regardless of your career, so I hope I've helped on some small way to encourage you to continually improve this skill.