Making a Good Impression: Efficient Writing

These days, doing a good job as an ICT or Technology Co- ordinator/Subject Leader is not enough. In order to get on in your career, you have to be seen to be doing a good job. In this series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression.Today: learning how to write efficiently.

Alison SkymesAnyone can write, right? Um, think again! A lot of people equate "long" and "unfamiliar" with authority. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Writing should be plain, simple, and well-structured, and fit for purpose. Simple really!

There is nothing rocket science-ish about this. The main question you have to ask yourself is: do you want people to actually read what you've written. If the answer is "no", and you intend your long-winded prose to "bury bad news", I'm afraid I can't help you.

So, assuming that your motives are honest, here are 7 useful tips.

1. Avoid jargon. Jargon is any specialist term that non-specialists are unlikely to have heard of, or may they have heard of it but without really knowing or understanding what it means.

2. Avoid adverbs. Most of the time you can take out words like "really" or "very" -- what, for example, is the difference between "useful" and "very useful"? Either it's useful or it ain't. The only time  a relativistic approach makes any sense is when you compare two or more things. Thus, if product X is useful, and product Y is even more useful, that's fine.

3. Avoid speech mannerisms like "In fact". If it isn't a fact, why bother to say it?

4. Summarise, summarise, summarise. Why should any concept or proposal take more than half a dozen bullet points, or maybe a side of Letter or A4, to explain? In fact (oops, sorry!), why not send it as a single text message?

5. Structure the document (1). For example, have a summary at the beginning. That way, your audience can read that and then skip the rest until they have more time. Or they may even decide they don't need to read the whole thing at all.

6. Structure the document (2). For example, insert a table of contents. Even if the document is only 10 pages, or even 5 pages, long.

7. Structure the document (3). The first paragraph of the document, or of each section, should set the scene and tell the reader all they need to know.

If you wanna stay on the right side of your boss, don't try to be clever: the simpler you make things, the more intelligent and indispensable you will appear.

Tomorrow: How to read efficiently.

Making a Good Impression: Get To The Point!

These days, doing a good job as an ICT or Technology Co- ordinator/Subject Leader is not enough. In order to get on in your career, you have to be seen to be doing a good job.

In this new series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression. Today: knowing when to be brief.

Alison Skymes

Many people make a big mistake when talking to their boss: they give what teens refer to as (albeit in a different, and usually seedier, context) TMI: Too Much Information. Unless your supervisor is a nit-picking, ultra hands-on, overbearing fool who is obsessed with operational rather than strategic matters, she just doesn't need to know it all, and what's even more important, she doesn't want to.

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Well, put yourself in her shoes. She gets up at 5 am and does a pile of reading over breakfast. Arriving at work at 7am, she is confronted by the caretaker having a moan about someone flooding the boys' toilets -- again. 8.30 am comes and Mrs Grimes has phoned in sick, and her class is supposed be on a museum trip today. Then the bell has hardly stopped ringing when -- but you've got the picture by now, yeah? Do you really, honestly, hand-on-heart believe that she is gonna be interested in your 80 zigameg broadband connection?

Tell you what the boss will be interested in though:

Anything which gets the school a good press.

Anything that makes it more appealing to parents.

Anything that is likely to raise grades.

Anything, in short, that is going to make your boss look good.

So, you need to bear two things in mind before you go talking to your boss or write a report:

Fact: she is busy. Really busy.

Fact: she has taken the "what's in it for me? attitude to the next level.

Knowing these facts makes writing a progress report a cinch:

1. Never write more than a side of A4 or Letter-size paper -- and no cheating by using a size 5 font with no margins.

2. If you can, try and restrict yourself to half-a-dozen bullet points. Heck: go the whole hog and reduce it to a single tweet.

3. Lose the technicalities. Instead of writing, "We now have an 80 zigameg broadband connection", say "Teachers and students will now be able to access high quality resources from the internet -- all at the same time and in less time than it takes to blink."

But -- and this is of major importance -- always have the full story available at the click of the mouse just in case your boss wants more detail.

Tomorrow: Write right.

Making a Good Impression: Creating a Buzz

These days, doing a good job as an ICT or Technology Co- ordinator/Subject Leader is not enough. In order to get on in your career, you have to be seen to be doing a good job.

In this new series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression. Today: generating a buzz.

Alison SkymesBefore I look at this, I just gotta tell you something that neatly follows on from what I was going on about last time. I ended my piece by saying you should use a spell-checker. Well, it's a pity that an IT consultancy company I came across didn't take my advice. Their "representative" (actually, some 20- something studenty-type) thrust a flier into my hand.

I read it because I had nothing better to do at that particular moment. So here's what greeted me:

"Benefit from Consultancy from the proffesionals."

Why does "Consultancy" start with a capital "C"? Why is "professionals" spelled incorrectly? Why is the word "from" used twice in the same sentence?

Those aren't the only errors, of spelling, grammar and sentence construction. Now, maybe I am looking at this the wrong way, but if these people can't even be bothered to take care over their own flier, can I really trust them to look after my IT systems? Doesn't exactly inspire you with confidence, does it?

OK, on to today's topic: creating a buzz. Here are 7 points you need to know:

1. Question: what's creating a buzz got to do with creating a good impression? Answer: plenty. Looking at it from your boss's point of view, she has spent gazillions on educational technology: the least you can do is get people excited about using it. Because, at the end of the day, that's the only thing that really counts anyway. If the technology is being used, and people are excited about using it, that will create a warm glow in the hearts of the powers that be. And that can only be a good thing, especially when it comes to dishing out the money.

2. In case you're still not convinced, take a leaf out of the politicians' book (yeah, yeah, I know). Basically, if you can't or won't actually do anything, then at least shout about it. Of course, this approach is fine for politicians for whom the long run doesn't exist. Ideally, you should have something behind the "spin". But my point is this: Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. I say that 90% of the remaining 20% (is your head hurting yet?) is telling people about it, whatever "it" happens to be.

3. Make your space welcoming. Most computer labs look like something out of Stalag 17: full of notices telling you what you cannot do. How about some positive posters telling you what you can do -- and how to do it? Hey, and don't forget to include lots of examples of children's work: posters from the journals may be colourful, but they don't generate buy-in from the kids or their parents, and so they don't generate buzz.

4. Not if but when. If you say to a student "If you go on to take this subject at a higher level...", or "If you do well in this subject...", you're suggesting there's a possibility that the opposite will be the case. Be positive. Set your expectations high. People have a tendency to live up to, or down to, the teacher's expectations. Nobody ever created a buzz by making everyone else feel depressed.

5. Do some exciting work. It is possible to think outside the box and still meet all the National Curriculum requirements, or the equivalent standards in your country. Don't bore the pants off the kids: what have they ever done to you?

6. Put on exciting events. At open days or parents' evenings, have an automated rolling display, like a SlideShare or PowerPoint slide show, or a video containing interviews with the students saying how great the course is. Probably best not to bribe or threaten them though.

7. Above all, enjoy yourself. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. Be upbeat about what you do, and what the kids and your team are doing.

Tomorrow: If brevity be the soul of wit...


Making a Good Impression: Presenting Yourself

Alison SkymesIn the start of a new series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression, starting with the 7 different facets of presenting yourself. The interesting thing for me is that they don't have much to do with ICT as such, they're fairly generic points. You might like to discuss them with your students.

Hi, and thanks to Terry for the opportunity to share with you a few of my thoughts on the subject. I'm assuming that you don't have a lot of time on your hands (who would, in these days of initiative overload?), so I will be brief and to the point.

  1. Let's start with generic stuff. You're a professional, right? Guys, that means no turning up in jeans. Gals, save the party top for the weekend. Sorry if this ain't politically correct, but you have a choice: self-expression or a career path. Your decision.

  2. Presentation isn't only about your clothes. When was the last time you had your hair seen to? If you look like a mess, don't expect anyone to regard you as leadership material, unless you're incredibly lucky.

  3. Presentation is about more than just your appearance. It covers communication too: emails need to be polite and carefully written -- and spell-checked. The signature should have your name, title and contact details, not some quasi-religious proverb you found in a fortune cookie. Your letters/memos/posters should be spell-checked too.

  4. On the subject of memos and so on, no hand-written notes, ideally. But even if you have to, write them on headed paper. You're an ed tech guru, right? It shouldn't be rocket science for you to design a template and print off a stack of blank memo sheets. It's all part of what the marketing pundits call "branding".

  5. How do you come across when you talk to your co-workers in the staffroom? Knowledgeable? Quietly confident? A geek? If people can't understand you, they won't promote you. If people think you're patronising them, they won't want you in a position of power and influence where you can make them look like an idiot.

  6. Same with manuals and help sheets, posters and all that sort of thing. First of all you got to produce them. Then you better make them readable. If the best you can do is something that reads like it was written by a geek for whom English is his third language, get someone else to write it for you. That's known as "outsourcing", by the way.

  7. Always, but always, have some pertinent facts at your fingertips. It's a lot easier than you might think.

Feel free to comment. But use a spell-checker before hitting the Send button!