This chapter brought to you by Sybil Priebe and parts of a Wikibook (found in footnotes).
Basic Assumptions and Potential Complications1
Before you begin to learn about a subject, it is natural to make assumptions about it. It is important not to act on these assumptions unless you can prove that they are correct. One assumption you might have is that you do not need this course, but you would be incorrect.
EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE VS. PRACTICAL PURPOSE
When you are at school, your teachers expect you to show that you are learning. In order to best demonstrate that, you prepare reports, papers, projects and take exams. Few teachers will give you the benefit of the doubt that you know something without proving it. This is why writing in school serves an educational purpose. You are expected to write about everything you know, and if you leave something out, your teacher is going to assume that you don’t know it.
However, writing something at work serves a completely different purpose. Your readers are coworkers and clientele who don’t know as much as you do about the things you are writing about and look to your writing as a guide. This is called writing for a practical purpose. Because your readers are trying to reach their own practical goals, they expect your writing to be clear, concise, and to the point. By including essential information only, you are helping your readers find out what they need without getting frustrated, bored, or overwhelmed.
WRITING FOR WORK VS. WRITING FOR SCHOOL
The main assumption that most people have about writing on the job or at a workplace is that it is like writing for a class: You start with a thesis, perfect it, build structural sentences, eliminate first person viewpoint, add an intro, body, and conclusion, and so on. What isn’t taught in some schools is that writing memos, proposals, business letters, and instructions is different than writing an academic essay. When writing at work, you do not build up to your main point – you get to it immediately. Your boss isn’t grading you on how well you wrote your business memo, they’re looking for pertinent information without filler and ‘fluff’. So, here’s one reason you need the class: You need practice writing in various genres.
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PEOPLE
Writing in school is often much more direct than writing for a business. When you write a paper, you typically only have one communicative relationship: The one between you and your professor. Since this is the only social situation you encounter with your assignment, you don’t experience as much of a variety of relationships as you do with (technical) writing. When you look at your writing at work, you realize that you are connecting with many different people. There is the relationship between employee and employer, between supplier and customer, and between coworkers. You may often be competing with other people, or you may be working alongside them on a project. And now here’s another reason for this required course: Practice writing to various audiences.
Many schools are starting to encourage writing in groups to get a sense of the teamwork that you will experience in the workplace. Collaboration at the office is common; even if you aren’t part of a team, you might still consult coworkers and readers. You may also submit drafts that are constantly being revised. This might be a goal in this English course: Practice writing in a team.
CHANGE AND CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY
Another assumption you may have about writing is that it almost never changes. But if you look at how we write and where we write – in a technological space filled with email and text messages – you may realize that because technology is always changing, how to write to/with others will always be changing. That is why before you can become a successful writer, you must learn about your organization’s style and about the social and political factors of your writing.
Technology is huge in writing because many writers are responsible for creating guides, instructions, policies and procedures, training materials, and so on. Since we have entered a digital age, we are becoming more dependent on machines to assist us and the variety of these machines changes every month. Since one of the main goals for writing is to anticipate any questions or problems that arise, it can be very difficult for a writer to adjust to shifting tastes.
Writing is not a constant. Each company has its own way of promoting itself, from a liberal and casual style to a conservative and formal style. You will need to adjust your writing based on how the company wants you to represent it.
REDOS IN THE WORLD OF ACADEMIA
Try to remember that when you write a report in the workplace, that memo can be changed after it is sent. This gives you the option to resubmit almost anything if you don’t think you did a good job with the first submission. This option is rarely offered in school – typically, once you submit a paper, there are no redos. Your professor may ignore your efforts. Your boss, on the other hand, will probably expect revisions. Resubmission is important in business because business is always changing. The lesson here is that not only do you need practice writing in various genres, but one should learn how to revise, too.
One of the major assumptions that many people who begin writing have is that the standard for their company in their city or on their campus is the standard that should be in use all around the world. In fact, this is a huge mistake to make. Even if these assumptions are unconscious, they are still insulting. Writing things that are short and sweet may not seem professional, but keep in mind that you are writing for a select audience who is looking for familiar words and doesn’t have the patience to appreciate your grasp on the English language.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing for a different audience than you’re used to is to never assume anything. If you reread something from another perspective and think, “Maybe my audience wouldn’t get this,” it’s probably true.
Writers should never think that their writing does not need to be edited. By learning to edit your own writing, you are conceding that it is not perfect. By doing this, you prove that you are trying to make the audience understand your message.
Guidelines for Creating Your Own Voice2
How does one mesh their unique style of language with professionalism? Most teachers of writing would appreciate any number of combinations of individuality and technicality. And in the workplace, you observe the stylistic convention of your profession and your employer’s organization, while simultaneously expressing your individuality, make reading easy for your audience and impacting them while they are reading.
Consider the following guidelines in light of the way they will affect your readers’ view of your communication’s individuality, usability/technicality, and persuasiveness. Based on what readers see, they draw conclusions about you and your attitudes that can enhance or distract from the persuasiveness of your communications. Your ability to craft and control your voice is essential to your success at writing.
GUIDELINE 1: FIND OUT WHAT IS EXPECTED
An effective voice is one that matches your reader’s sense of what is appropriate. However, you have the option to choose who your audience is by topic, word choice, and formality. You have to have a tone and style that is pertinent to your readers. The voice needs to be clear as to who it is directed towards.
How formal do my readers think my writing should be?
A formal style of writing uses correct word usage, sentence structure, formal phrasing, and appropriate language. Always be conscious of who your audience is when determining your writing style. There are many instances to use a formal language. Speeches, services, eulogy, and papers. These are good examples of how no matter the age of the audience, a formal document may work best. Some examples when one would use informal language would be writing letter to friends or in your journal.
Sometimes informal writing may seem more sincere since it sends more emotions.
How much “distance” do my readers expect me to establish between them?
In personal style, you appear close to your readers because you use personal pronouns and address readers directly. How conversational the piece is may also convey this message. In an impersonal style you distance yourself from your readers by avoiding personal pronouns and by talking about yourself and your readers in the third person. The style you choose depends on the purpose of the writing and the audience.
Factors that influence the readers’ expectations about style:
- Your professional relationship with the readers.
- Your purpose.
- Your subject.
- Your personality.
- Customs in your employers’ organization.
- Customs in your field, profession, or discipline.
GUIDELINE 2: CONSIDER THE ROLES YOUR VOICE CREATES FOR YOUR READERS AND YOURSELF
When you choose the voice with which you will address your readers, you define a role for yourself. As a manager of a department, you could adopt the voice of a stern taskmaster or an open-minded leader. The voice you choose also implies a role for your readers. Their response to the role given to them can significantly influence your communication’s overall effectiveness. If you choose the voice of a leader who respects your readers, they will probably accept their role as a valued colleague. If you choose the voice of a superior, they may resent their implied role as error-prone inferiors and resist the substance of your message.
By using the appropriate voice in your communications, you can increase your ability to elicit the attitudes and actions you want to inspire.
This is known as the: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” idea.
GUIDELINE 3: HOW YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD YOUR SUBJECT WILL AFFECT YOUR READERS
In addition to communicating attitudes about yourself and your readers, your voice communicates an attitude toward your subject. Feelings are contagious. If you write about your subject enthusiastically, your readers may catch and exhibit your enthusiasm. If you seem indifferent, they may adopt the same attitude. Make sure you believe what you say or pretend like you believe it. If you talk down to people or belittle them, you will lose their loyalty and willingness to follow your lead. If you use a pretentious voice when writing to superiors, you will probably make them angry because they may feel that you are undermining their authority.
GUIDELINE 4: SAY THINGS IN YOUR OWN WORDS
No matter what style of voice you choose, be sure to retain your own thoughts in your writing. This can be achieved even in formal writing. When you are using a formal style, the objective is not to silence your own voice; it’s to let your style sound like you, writing in a formal situation.
To check whether you are using your own voice, try reading your drafts aloud. Where the phrasing seems awkward or the words are difficult for you to speak, you may have adopted someone else’s voice. Reading your drafts aloud will also help you spot other problems with voice, such as sarcasm or condescension.
GUIDELINE 5: ADAPT YOUR VOICE TO YOUR READERS’ CULTURAL BACKGROUND
In the United States and Europe, employees often use an informal voice and address their readers by their first names. In Japan, writers commonly use a formal style and address their readers by their titles and last names. If a U.S. writer used a familiar, informal voice in a letter, memo, or e-mail, Japanese readers might feel that the writer has not properly respected them. On the other hand, Japanese writers may seem distant and difficult to relate to if they use the formality that is common in their own cultures when writing to U.S. readers. In either case, if the readers judge that the writer hasn’t taken the trouble to learn about or doesn’t care about their culture they may be offended. Directness is another aspect of voice. When writing to people in other cultures, try to learn and use the voice that is customary there. If possible, ask for advice from people who are from your reader’s culture or who are knowledgeable about it.
GUIDELINE 6: ETHICS GUIDELINE – AVOID STEREOTYPES
Stereotypes are very deeply embedded in many cultures. Most of us are prone to use them occasionally especially when conversing informally. As a result, when we use more colloquial and conversational language to develop our distinctive voice for our workplace writing, we may inadvertently employ stereotypes. Unfortunately, even inadvertent uses of stereotypes have serious consequences for individuals and groups. People who are viewed in terms of stereotypes lose their ability to be treated as individual human beings. If they belong to a group that is unfavorably stereotyped, they may find it nearly impossible to get others to take their talents, ideas and feelings seriously. The range of groups disadvantaged by stereotyping is quite extensive. People can be stereotyped because of their race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, weight, physical handicap, occupation and ethnicity. In some workplaces, manual laborers, union members, clerical workers, and others are the victims of stereotyping by people in white-collar positions.
There is absolutely no tolerance for stereotypes in professional writing. Anything you write will be worthless to most audiences if you include any type of stereotypes. Using stereotypes, even accidentally, will seriously damage your reputation with your readers and may even cause your professional relationship to end. So, be very aware of any stereotypes that may exist especially when writing cross-culturally.
FAQ When Thinking About Audience3
- Who is the actual audience for this text and how do you know?
- Who is the invoked audience for the text and where do you see evidence for this in the text?
- What knowledge, beliefs, and positions does the audience bring to the subject?
- What does the audience know or not know about the subject?
- What does the audience need or expect from the writer and text?
- When, where, and how will the audience encounter the text and how has the text—and its content—responded to this?
- What roles or personas (e.g., insider/outsider or expert/novice) does the writer create for the audience? Where are these personas presented in the text and why?
- How should/has the audience influenced the development of the text?
- What is your voice?
- What is your cultural background?
- What stereotypes do you fall into?
1 "Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Assumptions." Wikibooks, The Free Textbook Project. 2 Nov 2017, 15:49 UTC. 10 Oct 2019, 18:04 . Licensed CC-BY-SA.
2 "Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Author/Style." Wikibooks, The Free Textbook Project. 8 May 2017, 01:04 UTC. 10 Oct 2019, 17:39 . Licensed CC-BY-SA.
3 Questions taken from a longer piece by: Jory, Justin. “A Word About Audience.” Open English at Salt Lake Community College. 01 Aug 2016. https://openenglishatslcc.pressbooks...pter/audience/ Open English @ SLCC by SLCC English Department is licensed under CC-BY-NC, except where otherwise noted.