Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thinking about - writing

Oh gosh - there's a lot that can be said about writing.

First of all - why write ? Writing is the core of most communication in the 21st century. People are texting more, email and instant messaging are mandatory, twitter and Facebook are letting people put soundbites on the web and blogs like this let people throw Walls Of Text out there.

At work, we use written communication a huge amount as well. It forms a permanent record of decisions, actions, instructions, declarations, assumptions and all that stuff. If you don't write things like assumptions or actions down, it's open to "screenshot or it didn't happen" later. Not writing down so called "gentleman's agreements" leads to wasted time later as you try to prove or disprove the agreement. People are also happier with a piece of paper that says "Yes, you can turn that on, it's safe".

But ... it takes a certain type of style for the different writing we do. I have several that I switch between at will. I didn't study English language to A level but did get an A grade (A* didn't exist then - this was before GCSE was dumbed down) at the level below. One of the reasons for this blog is that it lets me practice writing and refine the skills.

It's not just splurging words on to a page. It's getting a message across.

And to make a point, a plan always helps. (Not that I'm following a plan here !) Being able to write in multiple different styles is a key skill. I prefer to use a jokey, casual style in most communication at work. I'll write in language that defies sentence construction. The objective behind most of that is to put me on a similar level to the people I'm talking to. I try and be their friend, I try and be on their side. Cos we're all trying to work together to the same goal most of the time.

However. There's also a need for several formal styles. Technical writing demands concise precision. There should be nothing open to interpretation when writing a technical description or defining a requirement. Any room for interpretation leads to you not getting what you want. At the same time, you want to capture everything.

The other formal writing is where you're defending a position. The same thing applies there with the precision, except the precision is directed more towards building an impenetrable wall around your argument.

With my new role at work, I found myself doing the position defence writing thing last week because we needed to ask for extra money because a contractor got it wrong with their requirement definition (it's the new project, not the old one - please don't thump me Ms Warpath! - lol). So that's like writing "we need this money" justification while hiding behind a wall you need as strong as you can make it. Otherwise, your justification gets knocked down, you don't get the necessary work done and your project falls behind.

Next week - I'll be doing the technical writing thing, where we write down all of our assumptions in a single document. Assumptions are pretty important. They either let you simplify your choice, or give justification for why you're ignoring something cheaper. With my latest PC, the assumptions included :

Intel cpu - because AMD lost their performance equality
nVidia graphics - because AMD/ATi had bad software

If I'd applied a similar assumption set with my laptop, it may have been able to still play video above 360p. The AMD cpu has the theoretical grunt but in real life, it isn't up to the job because it has to drive itself too hard.

All that said though. It's a different writing style again to what I put on this blog.

I think I balance the styles fairly well here. There's no real need for the ultra formal Build A Wall style, unless I'm on dodgy ground with an argument. The ultra casual style works well most of the time but I do like to try and appear intelligent and literate ;-). Technical writing style is handy for certain posts but I have the room to add in a bit more flowery descriptive language that I wouldn't put in a technical description.

Have I Wall Of Texted too much yet ? That's another thing with the writing for work. If your document is too thick, people just :

Read the start.
Read the end.
Look at the pictures.

I know I do. We sometimes don't have time to do more than focus on key points. If a work document is too long and that length isn't due to recording fact, then the length wastes the time of the author and the reader.

I hope my Wall of Text tendency here doesn't waste people's time. I do it mainly because, due to living on my own, I don't have the chance to talk through things with people. So in my own way, this is my way of talking through thoughts that would otherwise rattle around in my head until silly hours in the morning.

I can work my way through a lot of the random thoughts like that but not all. There's some stuff that's too private for on here, although I'll talk to a very small group of people about them. And that's a very small group because I don't trust many people with the really deep stuff.

And I'll close on this point - written communication is all very well. It lets you record what you think and also lets you put those thoughts in some sort of order. However ... it's very impersonal. You don't know if the reader is empathising or sniggering. That sort of stuff, you can only find out face to face.

I like to think I'm pretty good at figuring out what people are thinking or feeling, at least unconsciously due to empathy. But you can't tell on text-only whether people are just stringing you along.

I trust most of my closer friends implicitly. But there's some old friends where that trust level is slipping. There's just stuff been going on in the background that I've been picking up on which can be originating with just a few people. I think I know who it is - and I just don't get it. Actually I do - and that's because I know more than people think I do.

And I think it's really time to end this one before it gets well and truly derailed ! Think before you write, don't assume you know everything, consider the impact on others.

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