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Five Hats of Highly Ineffective Writers
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

Most business people are very clear on the types of documents they like to read: they want documents that are brief and written in an easy-to-read style and they want documents that get to the point quickly, state the purpose in the beginning, and request specific action.

Today's readers also know what they don't want: dull, boring pieces that have no visual appeal and "sound" as if they were written by a robot. They don't want to have to get out their dictionaries to check the meaning of a word. Nor do they want to sort through long, repetitious paragraphs to find the "meat" of the message.

However, most readers forget this when they write. They wear one hat for reading and another for writing. That's why many business people write documents, they wouldn't want to read.

Here are some of the hats business writers sport:

The Mortarboard

The mortarboard is an academic hat usually seen at graduation ceremonies. People who wear this hat like to impress others with their literary eloquence. They use long sentences, formal phrases, and wrap up their messages in detailed paragraphs. You may have trouble following their thoughts, but you know their grammar is impeccable (although outdated). They also practice sesquipedalism -- using long words.

The Bowler

The bowler is a 19th century derby hat. And that's where these writers belong -- in another century. They rely on clichés to deliver their messages. (Clichés are words and phrases refreshing 50 years ago but lacking in sparkle and sincerity today.) These are the writers who open their letters with such lines as "Please find enclosed" or "I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of ..." and end with a stale phrase, such as "Please don't hesitate to contact me."

The Pith Helmet

The pith helmet is a hard hat used for protection when taking long, difficult journeys. Following writers who wear pith helmets can be confusing. You enter into a stream of consciousness - theirs - and try to follow them as they ramble on and on and on until you gasp for breath. You know if you stay with them, you may learn something valuable, but the journey is difficult. These writers avoid punctuation and short sentences. Some of their sentences even double back on themselves.

"At this point in time, it is important that we note that sales are not as high now as they were in the past and this cannot be stressed enough as we enter the fourth quarter."

The Periwig

While technically this is not a hat, it is a head covering - a wig popular from the 17th to 19th centuries. Normally, writers who wear periwigs are lawyers, although others may adopt this style. These writers use a pompous tone, as well as outdated expressions. They prefer to write numbers two different ways - to ensure they are understood. Their goal is to baffle rather than inform. "In view of the aforementioned circumstances, please find enclosed herewith ten (10) copies of the latest ruling for your perusal and possible furtherance."

The Baseball Cap

The baseball cap is a modern hat, sometimes worn backwards. Although writing styles are not as formal as they once were, it is possible to be too informal. The baseball cap wearers do not see the importance of good grammar or punctuation. Their documents are riddled with unexplained acronyms, spelling errors, incomplete sentences and half-baked thoughts. "With regards to my TRG visit to your site last week with John Brown and myself." They believe writing today should be casual; they don't equate well crafted documents with a professional image.

None of these hats are appropriate for today's business place. What type of hat do you wear when you write?

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