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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

Writing assessment

Also see 15-point quiz (PowerPoint).

How well does your business writing measure up?

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere
 

 

How well does the average business writer write? Well, it probably depends on how you define effective on-the-job writing.

The bottom line is this: Effective writing gets the job done. Or as Mary Munter puts it, “Managerial communication is successful only if you can get your desired response from your audience.’’

But what are the components of effective writing? What are the checkpoints for determining the likelihood of obtaining that “desired response’’?

One approach is to define effective writing according to five categories:

bullet Purpose: Do you deliver a clear, persuasive message to your reader?
bullet Organization: Do you arrange and develop your material in a logical, coherent format?
bullet Support: Do you illustrate your points with relevant examples and accurate, specific, detailed evidence?
bullet Word choice: Do you use language that conveys the desired impression of you and your organization – language that is correct and appropriate to your purpose, audience, and material?
bullet Mechanics: Do you use a suitable document design and effective highlighting, and is your text free of distracting errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

So, how does your writing measure up?

For a quick assessment of your ability in the latter two categories, take this three-part, 15-point test:

1. Circle the appropriate word choice in the following sentences: (a) The list is comprised of/composed of 20 common errors. (b) I’m not looking for compliments/complements. (c) I don’t intend to push the issue further/farther. (d) The last thing I want to do is persuade/convince you that I never make mistakes. (e) Here is the principle/principal point for business writers.

2. Correct six common errors in grammar and spelling in these sentences: (a) The complexity of the problems make this a difficult issue. (b) The Good Writing Press may have to trim their payroll, however, the company is expecting new demand for it’s products. (c) Good communication skills can help managers affect change. (d) Our procedures for following up on delinquent accounts are inconsistent, incomplete, and not reliable.

3. Punctuate the following sentence: “To communicate effectively you must know three things your audience your purpose and your material’’

Here are the correct answers (and I hope you’re not peeking):

1. Word choice: composed of (or comprises, but comprised of is always wrong), compliments, further, convince, and principal (remember: principle is always a noun, never an adjective);

2. Grammar and spelling: lack of subject-verb agreement (should be “The complexity of the problems makes . . . ’’), lack of pronoun-noun agreement (should be singular its in reference to the singular antecedent The Good Writing Press), comma splice (should be a period or a semicolon after payroll), misspelled possessive pronoun (like his and hers, the possessive pronoun its requires no apostrophe; it’s is a contraction of it is), misspelled verb (effect is usually a noun and affect is usually a verb, but effect can be a verb when used to mean “to bring about”; if you crossed out both choices, you get extra credit for being clever), and nonparallel construction (should be inconsistent, incomplete, and unreliable);

3. Punctuation: a comma after effectively (optional but recommended), a colon after things, a comma after audience (and – depending on whether you use the serial comma – after purpose), and a period after material that goes before – not after – the quotation marks.

Now, give yourself one point for each correct choice. In my writing seminars, business writers typically score between 8 and 9. One class of 17 MBA students averaged 10.59. Susan Peterson, my editor at the Star Tribune, scored a perfect 15.

How do you compare?

 

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