Comprehensive Public Training Program
Sponsored by the Louisiana State Civil
Professional Writing Skills
Comprehensive Public Training Program (CPTP)
Sponsored by the Louisiana State Civil Service
Office of Human Resource Management
304 Thomas Boyd
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Phone (225) 578-2280
FAX (225) 578-9499
[email protected]
Comprehensive Public Training Program
Professional Writing Skills
This one day course will help participants develop the skills necessary to communicate
effectively in writing. Participants will learn to say what they mean in a clear, concise style.
Through lecture, examples, and practice exercises, participants will gain confidence in their
ability to plan and structure reports, letters, and memos. Correct formatting of various types of
documents will be provided, as well as appropriate style strategies in professional written
communication. Although this course is not intended as a review of grammar and punctuation,
time will be reserved for participants' questions about these subjects.
 Communicates ideas and facts in writing in a clear and organized manner.
 Adjusts style, length and level of written communication to fit the audience and the
 Apply techniques for documenting events to improve productivity.
 Write clear and concise action-oriented letters, memos, and reports.
 Apply grammatical rules to written communication.
 Analyze miscommunication problems that occur in written communication.
Comprehensive Public Training Program
Professional Writing Skills
Writing can be difficult for anyone. Even the most experienced writers sometimes face
difficulties when trying to express thoughts clearly and concisely. This course provides
participants with tools to become more effective writers.
This course may serve as a refresher in business writing for some participants. Other participants
may have never been involved in a formalized business writing course. The tools provided in this
material are intended to serve as a starting point for improving written communication. These
rules can be adapted to fit the needs of all writers, regardless of one’s level of experience and
Individual Activity
What: Warm Up Writing Exercise
Select one of the topics on the last page of the manual. Use this space to write your
sample. You will turn the page into the instructor in order to receive feedback on your
current writing skill.
Personal Writing Inventory
Every individual faces unique challenges when writing. Assessing the strengths and challenges
posed in writing helps to identify how this course can help each participant. Participants can
become more effective writers by focusing on the areas that pose the greatest challenges.
Individual & Small Group Activity
What: Personal Writing Inventory
Individually, identify items that frustrate you in regards to other people’s written
communication and items that you find challenging when writing.
In your small group, discuss your answers. Be prepared to share with the class.
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Professional Writing Skills
Competent written communication requires a basic understanding of the rules of English
grammar and punctuation. Although the focus of this course is not geared towards grammar
and punctuation, this is an opportunity for participants to review their individual skills in order to
better gain understanding of what areas, if any, need to be refined.
Individual & Small Group Activity
What: Grammar Review
Complete the grammar review on the following pages. Additional reference material is
provided in Appendix A. Discuss your answers with your small group.
A. Comma Usage
Directions: Supply missing commas as needed. Circle all changes made.
It is obvious however that you cannot complete the w ork by June 30.
We are therefore p roceeding to cancel the contract.
Marla and I have already signed up for the conference but Mickey
Megan and Jeri ar e still considering the trip.
If the agenda begins at 8:00 a.m. I would like to fly in the night
To receive the greatest discount you must order a minimum of 500
B. Semicolon, Colon, Comma
Directions: Supply missing punctuation and strike out or correct inappropriate punctuation in
the following sentences.
My wife thinks we should relocate to Ohio, I myself prefer to stay
where we are.
We need to resol ve our disagreement within the next five days
otherwise I ’ll take our business to another telecommunications
We have a number of objections to the draft of the contract for
example it fa ils to state by what date you will complete the
The skills model identifies four individual attributes that have an
impact on leaders hip skills and knowledge general cognitive ability
crystalized cognitive ability motivation and personality.
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Professional Writing Skills
I plan to visit sites in the following locations Baton Rouge Louisiana
Jackson Mississippi and Austin Texas.
Each of the training specialists identified the same problem we are
severely understaffed.
C. Plurals
Directions: Supply the correct plural form for each of the following items.
rule of thumb
D. Possession
Directions: Supply the correct possessive form of each of the following items.
Jeremys s hoes
womans pants
departments files
Lillys house
Dons job
E. Hyphens
Directions: Supply the correct form of each of the following items.
Never say die
Twenty six
Ex Supervisor
On the j ob training
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Professional Writing Skills
F. Parallel Construction
Directions: Correct the construction of this sentence so there is parallel construction
Running is time-consuming, expensive, and it makes you tired.
I came, I saw, I conquer.
College courses are exciting, educational, and create innovation.
The lecture was long, a bore, and uninspiring.
I do not like complaining or to be nuisance, but if a person is persecuted, they
should be heard.
All management students are taught the art of communicating, persuasion,
conviction, and motivation.
G. Subject/Verb Agreement
Directions: Select the correct form in parentheses, and circle the right answer.
1. The accounting specialist and the accounting clerk (has, have) received
2. Neither the directors nor the managers (is, are) developing the report.
3. One of the causes for the computer delays (is, are) poor maintenance.
4. Either of the doctors (is, are) willing to take on your case.
5. Everyone (hopes, hope) you will have a successful presentation.
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Professional Writing Skills
H. Pronouns and Other Grammar Problems
Directions: Supply the correct form in parentheses, and circle the right answer.
1. Jeri can make the presentation a lot more effective than (I, me).
2. (Who, Whom) should we invite as the keynote speaker?
3. Every agency has (its, it’s) own policy on promotions and transfers.
4. My supervisor wants Chloe to come with (I, me).
5. Mario is a person (who’s, whose) reputation for fairness is well known.
6. Everyone is planning to go on the trip (accept, except) Dolores.
7. We are glad to have your (presents, presence) at the meeting.
8. Eating too much can (effect, affect) your weight.
9. The (effect, affect) of the frost will be higher fruit prices.
I. Active and Passive Voice
Directions: Rewrite the sentences below in active voice.
1. Action on the bill is being considered by the committee.
2. The book is being read by most of the class.
3. Results will be published in the next issue of the journal.
Comprehensive Public Training Program
Professional Writing Skills
Writers often complain of having a difficult time getting started writing. Sometimes, writers find it
difficult to write a particular section of a document. Writers who experience these setbacks
often refer to this as “writer’s block.” Writing is a complex mental activity that can be difficult;
thus, following a process for writing can help to eliminate some of the confusion associated with
writer’s block.
The Four Step Writing Process
A strategy for becoming a more effective writer is to adopt a writing process. Establishing a
framework for developing a written document serves as a roadmap to follow when writing. It
enables a writer to be more efficient and to ensure that the written material is effective.
1. Organize:
Preparing for writing is a critical step in the writing process. Determining the best way to
prepare is trial and error for each individual; therefore, several strategies are listed below:
Organize work space and tidy up the work area.
Clear your mind of distractions that could hamper your progress.
Gather important reference materials for the document.
Organize thoughts into an outline and mentally prepare to begin writing.
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Professional Writing Skills
2. Plan:
Once organized, the writer is ready to begin planning the written communication. There are
two key aspects of the planning phase for the writer to consider. First, the writer must
determine the purpose of the written communication. Once the purpose is established, the
writer must determine the intended audience.
A. Determine the purpose of the writing.
The purpose of the writing is simply the reason that you are writing. An effective writer
always reflects on the reason why he/she is writing before actually composing a
Writers can become wordy and/or unclear in their communication because they do not
have a clear idea of their own purpose. Determining the main purpose of your writing
will help a writer to express his/her thoughts more clearly.
Individual Activity
What: Determining a Purpose
Choose a topic from the list given to you by your instructor.
Once you have identified your topic, use the additional space in the back of the
manual to write down the purpose of the written communication. This will be the topic
for the final writing sample that you will create in lieu of a test/exam.
B. Determine the Audience
Professional business writing is often used to influence someone’s thoughts or ideas.
Therefore, the way ideas are presented is equally important as the information itself. One
approach to sharing ideas with the audience is to visualize the readers. Remember,
presenting an idea or an argument without considering the audience limits the writer’s
Two important strategies for visualizing the audience include the following:
(1) Define the audience
(2) Understand the needs of the audience
Before beginning, consider to whom the written communication is being directed. The
audience is anyone who will be reading and/or acting upon the information in the
written communication.
Who will be the reader(s) of this written communication?
What type of position does this reader(s) hold?
How much interaction do I have with this reader(s)? (Does he/she know me?)
Do I have a positive relationship with this reader(s)?
Is the reader expecting this communication?
What are the principal concerns and responsibilities of the reader(s)? Is this issue
important to his/her priorities, and, if not, should I ask him/her to delegate the
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Professional Writing Skills
Now that the writer understands who the audience is, he/she must take a deeper look at
how to shape the communication to make it most effective for the chosen audience.
How much time does the reader(s) have to devote to the written communication?
What will the reader(s) use it for?
What is the overall goal of the communication?
How am I trying to influence the reader(s)?
Is the intended written communication perceived as positive or negative?
Individual Activity
What: Identifying the Audience
Refer to the topic you chose in the previous exercise. Using the worksheet provided in
the back of the manual, identify your audience.
3. Compose
If organized and prepared, then it will be much easier for the writer to begin writing the
document. The two prior steps provided good mental exercises; however, this step requires
the writer to become action-oriented and begin writing.
Sometimes writers attempt to write the perfect sentence to begin the document. Perfecting
the introductory sentence can take longer than expected and cause delays. This can lead
the writer to become frustrated, confused, and to lose confidence in his/her writing ability.
One way to avoid this is to accept that writing is rarely perfect in the first draft. Additionally,
a successful writer utilizes a personal strategy for composing the document. Two main
approaches are explained below.
Writing Strategies
Stream of consciousness approach - This involves capturing as much information as
possible without regard for thought organization.
Once all the information is
gathered, then the writer organizes the information in a logical fashion.
Key questions approach - This involves answering six major questions about the topic
of the written communication. The six questions are: Who? What? When? Where?
How? Why?
Note: Not all six questions may be relevant to the writer’s topic.
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Professional Writing Skills
Individual Activity
What: Composing, Part I
Using the selected topic, brainstorm the key points to be included in the written
document. Use the suggested writing strategies listed above as a guideline for
capturing the main points as needed. Space is provided in the back of the manual.
DO NOT organize, edit, or revise your writing at this time.
Determine the Plan of Presentation
A successful writer presents information based upon an anticipated reaction from his/her
audience. Potentially effective, persuasive writing requires that the writer carefully plan the
presentation of his/her writing.
If the writer anticipates that the message may be pleasantly received, then the main
idea of the information would likely be at the beginning of the document.
If the writer anticipates that the audience may not understand the information due to
lack of education on the subject, then the writer may utilize analogies to draw the
audience closer to the message.
Different types of messages require different types of presentation plans. Below are three
approaches to consider when presenting written information.
Deductive – A process of reasoning from general statements to a specific logical
conclusion. An effective deductive argument is one in which the audience accepts
the general statement as true. This compels the audience to logically accept the
writer’s conclusion.
Inductive – A process of reasoning from specific statements to general conclusions. A
persuasive inductive argument is one in which the audience accepts the specific
statements as true. The writer leads the audience to accept the general conclusion
based upon the compelling specific statements.
Analogy – A comparison is drawn between the main idea of the written
communication and something else the reader is familiar with. This approach is used
when the audience lacks basic knowledge of the subject matter.
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Professional Writing Skills
Visual Aids in Reports and Proposals
Visual aids in documents help the audience access information more quickly and efficiently.
Use visual aids to depict information that might require long passages of text to describe.
Tables, graphs, charts, and images are all useful tools in documents, but be very careful to
use only those visual aids that are helpful to the audience and not just decorative.
The best way to ensure that the visual aid placed in the document is appropriate and useful
is to ask the following questions.
1. Is it necessary?
Use only those images that are necessary to clarify or dramatize the message. Avoid
overusing images, because the audience may lose the message in a barrage of images.
While you may want to impress your audience with your amazing computer graphic skills,
resist the urge to put images into your document that do not serve a valid purpose.
2. Is it convenient?
Analyze the message and consider the graphic ways to present the information that
would help the audience grasp the message quicker and easier; however, make sure
the visual aid does not make the audience work harder to get the information. Label all
of your columns and units clearly, and identify all elements. Be sure to include a title that
gives the audience a clear idea of what to expect in the graphic.
Make sure that bars and lines on graphs are easy to read. It may require extra space
between these elements to add clarity to the image and make the image easier to
follow. Place the visual aids within the text that relates to the information so your
audience does not need to search for relative information. Be sure to interpret the
information in the image for the audience, so the audience gets the message that you
are trying to convey.
3. Is it accurate?
Be sure to proofread the visual aids to ensure they are not portraying incorrect
information. Check the numbers and make sure that the images depict the same
numbers that are associated with bars and lines in graphs. Make sure the scales on the
charts are appropriate for the information and they create an accurate picture of
reality. Check the information against the text version of the message to ensure that it is
not presenting conflicting information, and check the source notes to ensure that errors
were not made in transition.
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4. Is it honest?
Make sure the message that is presented is honest and does not present “accurate”
information in a way that gives the audience a false impression. Distorting or over
simplifying numbers, graphs, and charts, while accurate, may create a message that is
not an honest representation of the information. Maintain ethics when presenting
information graphically.
Avoid distorting the information by changing the scale on graphs and charts, and make
sure that you are not omitting any important information that might affect the
audience’s interpretation of the information.
Use of Bullets
Many times in writing, a series of facts will need to be presented. Setting these facts off as
"bullets" will increase the information’s emphasis to the audience since the audience will be
directed to information. A numbered list is also an effective way to highlight key points. In
very short written communiqués (i.e. memos), bullets become an especially useful way of
directing the reader to the key points.
If the bulleted or numbered items wrap onto a second line, be certain the ruler is set
so the second line indents properly. If the ruler is not set properly, the audience
might focus too much on the format of the information rather than on the content of
the information.
If the written communication is more than a one-page memo, beware of overusing bullets.
Every statement in the paper does not deserve the emphasis of a bullet. Overuse of bullets
tends to decrease their effect in future uses. Also, do not use bullets as a substitute for good
paragraph structure.
Bulleted items should be part of a well-constructed paragraph where the facts in the bullets
are related to the logic of your argument. The sentence following the last bullet should tie
the bullets to the argument.
Finally, be sure that all the bullets in a list use the same grammatical construction. Read the
line that introduces the bulleted items with each bullet. Does each bullet read properly with
the introductory statement? There are other formatting techniques for emphasizing key
Bulleted items may be boldfaced, italicized, or underlined. Again, don't overuse these tools,
otherwise the emphasis is lost.
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Professional Writing Skills
Individual Activity
What: Composing, Part II
Using the selected topic, identify which approach(es) would be most effective in
presenting the information. Why? Organize your ideas/points created in the previous
activity and write the document. Space is provided in the back of the manual.
4. Edit/Revise
The writing process is not over until the writer has carefully reviewed his/her writing. Many
writers overlook this final step, and, as a result, their writing quality is compromised. Revising
any written communication gives the writer an opportunity to ensure that his/her writing style
is appropriate for the subject matter.
What is a writer’s style? Style is referred to as the sounds his/her words make on paper; a
writer’s identity, or self-expression.
A writer’s style reveals many things including: the writer’s attitude toward the subject; the
writer’s understanding of the subject matter; and the writer’s biases towards/against the
A writer’s style can be used to refer to many ideas in written communication; however, the
four primary elements of style include the following:
1. Vocabulary – the writer’s choice of words
2. Message clarity – the conciseness of the writer’s message
3. Tone – the writer’s attitude toward the subject
4. Organization – the writer’s flow of thoughts and ideas
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Individual Activity
What: Writing Style Activity
Describe your writing style(s) based on the four key elements. Do you consider your
style(s) to be effective? Why or why not? What, if anything, would you like to change
about your writing style(s)? Use the space provided below.
Message clarity
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Suggestions for Enhancing Style
Typically, writing is a slow process. When the mind travels faster than the fingertips on the
keyboard or a pen in hand, it becomes frustrating and difficult to identify a suitable writing
style. Below are strategies for each element of style that can be used to help the writer
achieve the appropriate writing style.
1. Vocabulary – the writer’s choice of words
 Avoid over using qualifiers – There are words in the English language that may
not enhance the writer’s message. Here are a few words to avoid over using
when writing to make an impact on a reader.
Little (except to indicate size)
 Use appropriate spelling – Misspelled words can distract a reader from the
original message. They can cause the reader to lose confidence in the
writer’s professional capabilities. The audience can also lose interest in the
written communication if he/she does not believe in the writer’s abilities.
 Avoid over-use of adjectives and adverbs – A writer’s success often
depends upon the strength of the written communication. Using more
nouns and verbs in written communication can prevent the writer from
developing a less powerful document. This does not mean that adverbs
and adjectives should be eliminated from business writing. Rather, they
should be used sparingly to enhance the meaning of the material.
Ask the following:
 How strong is the writing?
 Does it send a message of strength and determination?
 Does it send a message of flowery illustrations?
 Write in a way that comes naturally – Writers who are not comfortable with
their choice of words will often consult a thesaurus to find a word that
sounds better. There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve the quality
of one’s written communication. However, when a writer overextends the
use of a thesaurus, this can cause a problem in the writing.
 Do not construct awkward adverbs – In an attempt to describe a situation,
writers sometimes attempt to concoct new words by adding –ly.
2. Message clarity – the conciseness of the writer’s message
 Avoid overwriting – The temptation to add more information to the writing
is always strong. It is a good idea to re-read the writing later and delete
any excess words/phrases/sentences/paragraphs. Refer to the original
purpose of the written communication to ensure the key points support the
purpose of the document. Remember, too much information detracts
from the main point.
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 Avoid overstating an idea or issue – Writing requires the writer to invest
energy into the topic and to share with the audience the significance of
the topic. When a writer overstates the significance of an idea, the
audience is likely to lose confidence in the writer’s ability to objectively
present the information. (Example: This is the most important point.)
3. Tone – the writer’s attitude toward the subject
 Always show respect to the subject and the audience – The writer’s level of
respect towards the subject and his/her audience is directly related to the
audience’s ability to accept the message. Developing a respectful tone
requires that the writer identify his/her own feelings about the subject of
the communication AND the audience.
The writer’s challenge is to write in a way that draws the audience’s
attention to the substance of the writing, rather than to the author’s mood
and/or temper.
 Identify which tone is appropriate (formal or informal) – Determining which
tone is appropriate depends upon the audience. Carefully consider what
tone is suitable. Remember, an informal tone in a professional setting may
lead to inappropriate, ineffective communication. Below are some
strategies to use to achieve the various tones.
Ways to Achieve
a FORMAL tone
Ways to Achieve
an INFORMAL tone
Place the main idea of the communication in
the first and second sentence of the
introductory paragraph.
uncomplicated sentences. More complex
sentences are acceptable in the body of the
written communication.
Conclude the
document with short, precise sentences.
Avoid personal terms like, “I feel/think…”
Use terms such as, “The evidence suggests
Avoid slang phrases. For example, “This is
where the rubber meets the road.”
Begin with a friendly, brief reference to
something that you, the writer, and the
reader have in common
Be polite. Thank the reader at the beginning
if he/she has requested the written
Offer to provide more
information if necessary.
Use personal terms when appropriate. For
example, “I feel our approach was not timely
Refer to past communications with the
reader about the written topic. For example,
“In our conversation early last week…”
Ask for the reader’s advice or feedback. This
shows the reader that you respect his/her
thoughts and feelings.
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4. Organization – the writer’s flow of thoughts and ideas
 Work from a suitable design – Develop a writing process that matches your
individual style and circumstances.
 Revise and rewrite – Revising is a natural and necessary aspect of effective
writing. Do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written.
Whether using a computer or a pen and paper, save both the original and
the revised versions as well. After revising, you may find that the first draft
was the best.
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Individual Activity
Editing for Style
Using the style rating sheet below, rate the document you wrote in the back of the manual.
Style Worksheet
Topic: 1
Elements of Style
1 – Needs
2 – Satisfactory
3 – Outstanding
Explain the reasons for the ratings. What adjustments,
if any, need to be made?
The writer’s choice of
Message Clarity
The conciseness of the
writer’s message
The writer’s attitude
toward the subject
The writer’s flow of
thoughts and ideas
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There are a variety of documents used to convey written communication within state
government. Deciding which one is most appropriate to use can be difficult. Below are
guidelines that may assist the writer when making decisions about the most suitable format
to use.
Business Letters – typically used for internal/external communication; can be used as a
formal or informal document.
Introductory Paragraph
 Establish rapport with the audience and orient the recipient’s mind to the subject.
Substantive Paragraphs
 Provide all information pertinent to the main topic of the letter in a logical and
organized manner.
 Short paragraphs recommended (no more than 4 sentences each)
Closing Paragraph
 Summarize main points of the letter.
 Recommended length of no more than 3 sentences.
 First sentence should contain ‘nutshell’ of the main point
 Last sentence - express interest in gathering feedback from recipient
Business Memoranda – typically used for internal communication; can be used as a formal
or informal document. Use the same message content as a business letter.
Reports – typically used for internal/external communication; used to communication
information, analyze information, and make recommendations for action; can be either
formal or informal.
Formal Report Content
Introductory Material
 Title page - full title; writer’s name, title and department; date of submission
 Letter/Memo - typically clipped to front of the report
 Table of Contents - list of all chapters
 Forward - written introduction by someone other than the author of the report
 Preface - written introduction by the author of the report
 Summary - typically one page synopsis of the report
 Introduction - includes the objectives, scope, methods, relevant background
 Discussion - includes all relevant data, evidence, analyses of the report
 Conclusion - includes summary of key points, recommendations
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Concluding Material
 Appendixes - includes tables, charts, or other data too lengthy to be included in
the body of the report
 Endnotes - includes a collection of footnotes in the report
 Bibliography - includes a list of all sources used to prepare the report
 Glossary - includes a list of terms in the report that are not commonly understood
Informal Report Content
 Contains no separate introductory material. The title page information is placed
at the top of the first page of the report, and the body of the report immediately
 Body of the report same as the formal report format (see above).
 May not contain concluding material. Possible additions to the informal report
include endnotes or bibliography.
Email Correspondence – typically used for internal/external communication; is considered
an informal method of communication. The way that you write your emails indicates your
tone of voice.
 The most important statements should appear in the first paragraph. Follow up
with supporting details.
 Use clear subject lines. This will help the reader decide if they want to read the
email now or later when time permits. Also, change the subject line if you
suddenly change the topic of the message.
 Do not write an email if you are angry. Wait a reasonable amount of time and
always have someone else read over the message before sending it.
Misinterpretations happen very easily.
 Do not use sarcasm. The recipient may not appreciate it.
 Use question marks sparingly.
 Keep it short. Some messages might be better conveyed in person or on the
 Reread every message before sending it.
 Do not forget the attachment, if applicable.
 No message should ever be sent with spelling errors.
Message Content
 Subject line - provide a subject for each message composed
 Same as the business letter message content (see business letter content
mentioned above)
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Anderson, R. & Hinis, H. (2006). The Write Stuff: A Style Manual for Effective Business Writing.
Rockhurst University Education Center, Inc.
DiSalvo, J. (2006). Writing: Business Communication. Retrieved October 5, 2006 from
Hardesty, R.E.
(2000). Technical and Business Writing for Working Professionals.
Harvard Management School (2006). Operations Management Course.
October 5, 2006 from: http://www.greatbrook.com/E135/id26.htm
OWL at Purdue University (2004). Active and Passive Voice. Retrieved, September 23, 2006
from: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_actpass.html
Sabin, W.A. (2001). The Gregg Reference Manual (9th ed.) McGraw-HillCompanies, Inc.
Strunk, W. & White, E.B. (2000). The Elements of Style (4th ed.). Longman Publishers.
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The Comma
1. A comma and a conjunction join two sentences.
a. The report has been issued, and its recommendations have been accepted.
b. The new photocopy machine will save us time, but we have to walk to
another building to get to it.
2. A comma separates an introduction from the main part of a sentence.
a. Since Dr. Jones will be lecturing in London this week, Wednesday’s meeting
has been cancelled.
b. On the other hand, the new vacation schedule is not as bad as we
3. A comma separates information that isn’t part of the main sentence.
a. Louisiana State University, located in Baton Rouge, offers a wide range of
b. The program, because it wasn’t carefully thought out, was difficult to
4. A comma separates elements in a simple series.
a. The flag is red, white, and blue.
i. Notice there is a third comma before and. There are two rules citing the
use of a third comma. These two rules negate one another as one states
to use the third comma and the other states not to use the third comma.
The more complex the sentence, the more important it is to use the third
comma in the series.
5. Commas identify quotations.
a. Mark Twain tells us, “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not
speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can.”
b. “The business of America,” said Calvin Coolidge “is business.”
c. “Tourists are a large portion of the income in many major cities,” Tommy Blue
told the press.
6. Use commas to set off nonessential expressions – words, phrases, and clauses that
are not necessary for the meaning or the structural completeness of the
a. I believe, however, that spending time with friends and family is important.
b. I will, therefore, cancel our contract for services immediately.
7. Use a comma to set off words, phrases, and clauses when they break the flow of
the sentence from subject to verb or object to complement.
a. If tailgating starts at 12:00p.m., I would like to leave home around 8:00a.m.
b. Reading books is important, I believe.
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The Comma Splice
1. The comma splice is two independent sentences joined incorrectly with a
a. Mary mailed the envelope, Jeremy received the letter.
i. The correct sentence would be:
received the letter.
Mary mailed the envelope; John
The Colon
1. Use the colon to announce an important statement, a list of items, or a long
a. Corporation: an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without
individual responsibility.
b. There are three kinds of sleep: good sleep, okay sleep, and no sleep. Which
kind of sleep do you get?
c. George Eliot tells us: “It seems to me we can never give up longing or wishing
while we are alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good.
These are the things we hunger for.”
The Semicolon
1. Use semicolons to link complete thoughts that could stand alone as separate
sentences or to separate items in a series when one or more of the item has a
a. Taking a long test can be hard on the brain; Sharon enjoys the long tests
because they are challenging.
b. I want to visit the following locations: Shannon, Ireland; Germany; London,
England; and Denver, Colorado.
The Hyphen
1. The hyphen is used to join two or more words to create a single unit. Hyphens join
two or more words, but the new word they form usually creates a meaning
different from what the individual words mean by themselves.
a. Hyphenate two or more words functioning as a single unit.
His never-say-die attitude is infectious. (adjective)
His grip was a bone-crusher. (noun)
The muggers pistol-whipped him. (verb)
b. Hyphenate two-word numbers when they are written out.
Twenty-one days from now Elizabeth will be here.
c. Hyphenate words that are combined with the prefixes “ex” and “self.”
The ex-president felt very self-conscious.
d. Hyphenate prefixes like “anti,” “pro,” and “pre” when the first letter of the next
word begins with a capital letter.
She was anti-Establishment, but she was also pro-American.
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e. Hyphenate words when not to do so would cause confusion.
Re-cover (the chair); recover (the wallet)
Re-sign (the contract); resign (from office)
Hyphenate words that are suspended in a sentence.
He will take a two- to four- year leave of absence.
The Apostrophe
1. Use the apostrophe to form the possessive case of a noun.
a. Show possession with an ‘s for singular nouns and an s’ for plural nouns.
Singular Nouns
Plural Nouns
b. Show possession with nouns that form their plural in ways other than by adding
an “s” by adding an ‘s to the plural of the noun.
Singular Nouns
Plural Nouns
c. Show possession of singular nouns ending in “s” by adding an apostrophe or
by adding an ‘s.
Boss’s Car
Boss’ Car
Dress’s Button
Dress’ Button
d. To show possession of plural nouns ending in “s,” add an apostrophe to the
end of the word.
Boys’ Frame
Executives’ Club
Writers’ Network
Bosses’ Decision
e. To form the possessive of pairs of nouns, add ‘s to the second noun in
instances of join possession.
John and Mary’s House
Brother and Sister’s Car
Men and Women’s Pool
Tommy and Jean’s Daughter
Add ‘s to each member of the pair in instances of individual possession.
John’s and Mary’s Computers
Men’s and Women’s Pools
Brother’s and Sister’s Cars
Tommy’s and Jean’s
g. To show possession for group nouns or compound nouns, add ‘s to the end of
the unit.
Groups Nouns
Compound Nouns
Someone Else’s
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h. To show possession for compounds that form their plural by adding “s” to the
first word, add ‘s to the end of the unit.
Writers in Residence’s
Avoid confusion when adding an apostrophe to some plural words.
Jackson received two E’s on his scorecard.
He now has season tickets to the Oakland A’s.
Quotation Marks
1. Quotation marks can be used to emphasize a word or cite an example, but they
have two main functions.
a. To show what someone said.
Cheryl wrote, “I believe that treating everyone as an individual is very
important. That’s how I would want to be treated.”
2. To identify the total of a short story, poem, article, song, chapter in a book, oneact play or any other short piece of writing, titles of longer works – books, plays,
movies, newspapers, and magazine – are commonly italicized or underlined.
a. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” is a wonderful song for singing and
1. When a singular noun ends in y preceded by a consonant, the plural is formed by
changing the y to i and adding es to the singular.
a. Casualty = Casualties
2. The plurals of hyphenated or spaced compounds are formed by pluralizing the
chief element of the compound.
a. Chief of Staff = Chiefs of Staff
3. Singular nouns ending in o preceded by a vowel form their plurals by adding s to
the singular.
a. Ratio = Ratios
4. When the singular form ends in s, x, ch, sh, or z. the plural is formed by adding es
to the singular. Note, when the “ch” sound is a hard “k” sound, you only add an
a. Crutch = Crutches
b. Stomach = Stomachs
5. Many nouns of foreign origin retain their foreign plurals, others have been given
English plurals, and still others have two plurals – an English and a foreign one.
When two plural forms exist, one may be preferred to the other or there may be
differences in meaning that govern the use of each. Consult your dictionary to
be sure of the plural forms and the meanings attached to them.
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Noun-Pronoun Agreement
1. Pronouns, which are substitutes for nouns, have two things in common with nouns:
number (singular or plural) and gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter). What
they don’t have in common is person. All nouns are third person, but some nouns
are first person (“I,” “we”), some are second person (“you”), and some are third
person (“he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” “one,” “some,” “none,” “all,” “everybody,” and
A pronoun in any sentence must agree with the noun it refers to in person,
number, and gender.
a. Person: “The President assigned some salespeople to the project, but she
knew it wouldn’t help.”
i. The neuter pronoun “it” cannot refer to “people.” The correct pronoun is
b. Number: “The testing of the new security devices should be nearing their final
i. The plural pronoun “their” cannot refer to the singular noun “testing.” The
correct pronoun is “its.”
c. Gender: “The old car did her best, but the hill was too much.”
i. The feminine pronoun “her” should not be linked to a neuter noun. The
correct pronoun is “its.”
2. Mismatching nouns and pronouns in person and gender is not a common error,
but mismatching nouns and pronouns in number is a common error. Much of the
involving number has to do with words such as: everybody, everyone, all, none,
some, and each.
a. Everyone, everybody, anybody, and anyone take singular verbs and should
be referred to as singular pronouns.
i. Anybody who wants to enter has to pay his/her fee by Friday.
3. All and some are singular or plural depending on the context in which they
appear. Both words are often followed by “of.” If what comes after the “of” is a
mass or bulk of something, the pronoun is singular.
a. Some of the material lost its color.
i. If what comes after the “of” refers to a number of things or persons, the
pronoun is plural.
b. Some of the agents lost their notebooks.
4. Traditionally, none is singular or plural depending on the context, but the
distinction of singular or plural with certain context is so subtle that either a
singular or plural pronoun would be correct.
a. None of the salespeople was willing to submit his/her report.
b. None of the salespeople were willing to submit their reports.
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5. Each is always singular.
a. Each renewed her dedication to increase job performance.
i. Unless, of course, “each” refers to a group whose members are both male
and female. In this case, the plural noun “they” is acceptable, but the
more grammatically appropriate sentence would be:
b. Each salesperson renewed their dedication to increase sales.
1. A modifier is a word that changes or in some way alters the meaning of another
word. For this reason, modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the
words they modify. To put them somewhere else can cause readers to
understand something different than intended. These modifiers are called
dangling modifiers.
a. The building, old and in disrepair, was purchased for a reasonable price.
Run-On Sentences
1. Sentences must be separated by a period, semicolon, or conjunction (“and” or
“but”). A run-on sentence joins two sentences without placing any punctuation
or conjunction between them.
a. Run-On Sentence: Wallace Stevens was a poet he was also the president of
an insurance company.
i. Correct Sentence: Wallace Stevens was a poet.
president of an insurance company.
He was also the
ii. Correct Sentence: Wallace Stevens was a poet; he was also the president
of an insurance company.
iii. Correct Sentence: Wallace Stevens was a poet, but he was also the
president of an insurance company.
Parallel Construction
1. Parallelism means using the same grammatical structure for all the items in a
sentence that have the same function. Parallelism not only hold sentences
together, it adds emphasis, provides flow, expresses thoughts more clearly, makes
reading more pleasurable, takes up less space, and makes what we say easier to
remember. This is why so many quotations are in parallel forms:
a. I came, I saw, I conquered.
b. A penny saved is a penny earned.
c. Do unto others as you have them do unto you.
2. Faulty parallelism occurs when the second or successive items in a parallel series
do not fit the pattern established by the first item. For example:
a. Eating is time-consuming, expensive, and it makes you fat.
i. The proper construction for this sentence is:
b. Eating is time-consuming, expensive, and fattening
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3. Correct fault parallelism by putting all the related items into the same
grammatical form.
1. Most verbs are written in the present, past, or future tense. Sometimes, however,
writing requires a shift from one tense to another. If, for example, we are
contrasting past action with present action or demanding action in the future
based on what is taking place in the present, we need to shift tenses. Errors occur
when we don’t change the tense of the verb to fit the action we are expressing.
Here’s an example:
a. I asked the manager where I could get a copy of the repot, and he tells me I
will have to see the president.
i. This sentence unnecessarily shifts from the past tense to the present tense
with the word “tells.” The correct way to write this sentence is:
b. I asked the manager where I could get a copy of the report, and he told me I
would have to see the president.
2. Generally speaking, if you begin writing in one tense, stay in that tense. If you
have to change, consider beginning a new paragraph every time you shift
tenses. A new paragraph alerts the reader that a change may be coming, and
a new paragraph helps your reader understand your message more clearly.
1. Capitalization is determined by convention. Unless you have a specific reason for
not doing so, obey the conventions. Here are some guidelines that can help:
a. Capitalize the first word of every sentence.
b. Capitalize the proper names of people, places, and things: Bob, New York,
the White House.
c. Capitalize words derived from proper nouns: American, Edwardian.
d. Capitalize the days of the week: Monday, Tuesday.
e. Capitalize the months of the year: February, March.
Capitalize the names of holidays: Christmas, Labor Day.
g. Capitalize historical documents: Declaration of Independence.
h. Capitalize historical events and ages: Reformation, Industrial Age.
Capitalize common names with place names: Mississippi River, Fifth Avenue.
Capitalize the main words in titles: Moby Dick, The House of Mirth.
k. Capitalize the words “president” and “governor” without a name if they refer
to the President of the United States or the Governor of a state.
Capitalize “vice” when used in front of a name: Vice President Cooper.
m. Capitalize the names of family members when used with a name: Uncle Paul,
Grandma Josephine.
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1. Numbers in writing are governed by convention.
Here are the standard
a. Use the number for numerals above 10 unless the word for that number is
shorter or easier to read than the number itself:
i. There were 14 people at the meeting.
ii. He sold the company for a million dollars.
b. Do not begin a sentence with an Arabic numeral:
i. Six hundred employees work for Acme, Inc.
c. Spell out numbers under 101 when they are used as adjectives:
i. In the early twentieth century, there were fewer four-year colleges.
d. Do not spell out dates or numbers that are part of a series:
i. March 30, 1980
ii. Chapter II
e. Use Arabic numbers with a.m. and p.m. Use o’clock and morning or afternoon
when the number is in script.
i. The meeting went to 7 p.m.
ii. The meeting went to seven in the evening.
iii. The meeting went to seven o’clock in the evening.
When combining numbers under ten and numbers over ten in a sentence, spell
out both numbers.
i. While only four people came to dinner, we have enough food for twenty
or more.
Other Grammar Rules
1. When deciding to use who or whom in your sentence.
Remember this easy
a. Who = He
i. I believe William Faulkner is a wonderful writer, who is dedicated to telling
wonderful stories.
ii. Read the sentence as following: I believe William Faulkner is a wonderful
writer; he is dedicated to telling wonderful stories.
b. Whom = Him
i. Whom would you ask to speak at graduation this year?
ii. Read the sentence as following:
graduation this year?
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2. Do not confuse certain possessive pronouns with contractions and other phrases
that sound like the possessive pronouns.
its (possessive)
it’s (it is OR it has)
their (possessive)
they’re (they are)
theirs (possessive)
there’s (there is OR there has)
your (possessive)
you’re (you are)
3. Do not confuse whose (the possessive form of who) with who’s (a contraction
meaning “who is” or “who has”).
a. Whose shoes are you wearing because they stink?
b. Who’s going to pick up your friend after work?
Either and Neither
1. "Either" and "neither" are both singular adjectives meaning "one or the other of
two." "Neither" of course means "not the first one and not the second one." In
formal writing, we usually use a singular verb because "either" and "neither" signal
that one of the following nouns is the subject, but not both:
a. Either Bill or Bob is going to the conference. (One or the other is going, but not
b. Neither Joan nor Jane likes sushi. (= Joan doesn't like sushi. Jane doesn't like
sushi either!)
2. Notice that we say "either...or" and "neither...nor." In informal English, most people
would say "Neither Joan OR Jane LIKE sushi." That's all right in conversation, but in
formal documents you should prefer the formal usage. Of course we have a
confusing exception to this rule. You can use a plural verb if you have a plural
noun next to the verb:
a. Either Joan or the Kennedy’s are going to the conference.
i. But put the singular noun closer to the verb, and it goes back to singular!
ii. Either the Kennedy’s or Joan is going to the conference.
b. And it's the same with "neither":
i. Neither Jane nor her brothers like sushi.
ii. Neither her brothers nor Jane likes sushi.
3. Of course the verb will be plural if both nouns are plural:
a. Either the Smiths or the Robinsons are meeting us at the station.
b. Neither the Canadians nor the Americans are interested in this problem.
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Active and Passive Voice
1. In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in
the verb; the subject acts.
a. The dog bit the boy.
2. In sentences written in the passive voice, the subject receives the action
expressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon. Sometimes the use of the
passive voice can create awkward sentences. The passive voice is generally
accompanied by the following words: am, is, was, were, are, or been. Also, the
phrase “by the…” after the verb is another hallmark of the passive voice.
a. The boy was bitten by the dog.
3. In most nonscientific writing, active voice is preferable to passive voice.
Sentences in active voice tend to be shorter, clearer, and more direct than those
in the passive voice.
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State of Louisiana
June 14, 2004
Ms. Susan D. Williams
2913 Clearview Avenue
Austin, Texas 76111-4326
Dear Ms. Williams:
We were pleased to receive your letter of application for a position with Stuart Systems. At the moment we do not
have an opening in the Austin area, but we do need a field representative who is based in Lubbock and can cover
the northwestern part of the state. If you would like to be considered for this position, please complete the
enclosed application and return it to me.
I will be attending a conference in Austin next month. I would be delighted to meet with you while I’m in town
and describe the job that is available.
When you return your completed application, please let me know whether you would be free to meet me at 4 p.m.
on Wednesday or Thursday of the first week of July. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely yours,
Ann K. Henderson
National Sales Manager
By Federal Express
cc: Ms. S. Rossmeier
Letter Legend
Letterhead – Agency name, address, phone
number, fax number, etc.
Date Line – Month, day, year letter is typed
Inside Address – Name and address of letter
Salutation – Open greeting
Message – Text of the letter
Complimentary Closing – Parting phrase
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Writer’s Identification – Name, title of the
Reference Initials – initials of the typist
File Name Notation – Indicates where the
document is stored in computer memory
Enclosure Notation – Reminder that letter is
accompanied by an enclosure
Delivery Notification – Indicates a letter has
been sent a special way
Copy Notation – Names of those who will
receive copies of letter
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Jeri Mason, Mickey Duke, Pat Williams
Teri Goodson
July 7, 2014
Conference Invitation
We have just been invited to make a presentation on tax revenues at the annual
convention of the International Tax Institute. The convention will be held on September 2628 at the Mason Ridge Inn in Phoenix, Arizona. I don’t have all the details, but I would like
you to block out these dates on your calendar now to avoid any schedule conflicts later
This invitation represents an excellent opportunity for us to show some of the exciting things
we have done in the past few years, and it could bring us a number of new clients next
year. Let’s give it our best shot.
As soon as I receive more information, I’ll set up a meeting at which we can decide how
best to proceed.
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Writing Exercise – Purpose
Choose one of the following topics to write on for your final writing sample. You will write on
the topic for the remainder of the class.
1. Write a letter to your manager requesting a change in a policy or procedure that impacts
you and your workgroup.
2. Write a letter to your manager requesting something that you need in order to be more
productive in your job (e.g. a new computer, etc.).
3. Write a detailed description of the steps in one of your job duties. The information will be
used to train new employees.
4. Write a letter to upper management that includes your recommendations for improving the
PES system that is currently in place.
5. Describe how your job functions fit into the overall operations of your agency.
Now that you have identified a topic, use the space provided below to write down the
purpose of the written communication. This will be the topic for the final writing sample that
will be created in lieu of a test/exam.
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Writing Exercise – Audience
1) Who is your primary audience?
2) Describe the background of your audience in terms of experience, education, and
familiarity of the subject matter.
3) How can you tailor your writing to meet the needs of the audience?
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Writing Exercise – Composing, Part I
Using the selected topic, brainstorm the key points to be included in the written document.
Use the suggested writing strategies as a guideline for capturing the main points as needed.
Space is provided below.
DO NOT organize, edit, or revise the writing. You will have time to organize, edit, or revise
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Writing Exercise – Composing, Part II
Using your selected topic, organize the ideas/points that you created in the previous
activity to write the document. Space is provided below.
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Warm Up Writing Exercise
Select one of the following topics:
1. Define a technical term that a manager in your agency would know, but unfamiliar to the
public. You should tell the importance of the activity or object that the term describes. This
explanation would be for the public or a new staff member in your office.
2. Write a memo to a person in your agency suggesting a change in the way something is
done. Point out the drawbacks of the present system and the advantages of the proposed
change. Be careful to be tactful so as not to criticize the ones who put the present
procedure in place.
3. Write a brief letter to a person who has written your agency asking for information. It could
be a question about a regulation, about your services, or some other matter pertaining to
your work. Be tactful, brief, and clear.
4. You’ve just received an email/memo from your supervisor asking what writing skills you need
to refine and what you hope to get out of this course. Prepare a response email/memo
back to your supervisor.
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