Friday, May 11, 2012

Tips for Writing in the Hashtag Age

Don’t misunderstand – I love Texting, Facebooking and Tweeting.

But I wonder what the impact will be on the current generation focused on these cryptic forms of communication. Will we forget how to write a complete sentence? Will the next generation even know about adjectives and adverbs? Will we be able to write anything without adding the ubiquitous hashtag?

I suspect my concern might be inflated.  After all, our schools still teach reading, writing and arithmetic. Well, at least reading and arithmetic. How much longer will they count writing as a requirement? As we eliminate music, art, and sports form our schools, can writing be far behind? 

OK, OK. I’m exaggerating again maybe just a little – but I fear JUST a little.  However, just in case, I’m thinking that we might want to offer some tips to assure we continue to think in sentences and paragraphs. And what better place to hone our writing skills than having fun with our family and simultaneously increasing quality time together?

FunFamily Writing Exercises

My suggestion is that you schedule time for family activities and include some writing exercises as one of the “games.” Don’t make the timing inflexible – after all we’re all very busy being cryptic. And if it works better for your family just to do it extemporaneously, then so be it. But make it a priority.

Maybe Sunday evening as part of an informal family dinner you could do some of the following exercises to involve as many family members as possible. I suspect if you’re a parent you already know that you’ll have to work on topics of interest to the age group of your kids, although superheroes seems to be a subject for all ages at the moment. 

By the way, you might also consider this as a great way to tell Mom what you think of her for Mother’s Day; or Dad for Father’s Day; or for any member of the family on their birthday. Eventually you might like the exercises so much that you start to write prose and poetry. 

Consider using one or more of the following as part of your routine family gatherings. Once you start, you will most likely think of lots of other exercises that your family will appreciate.

·      A special gift for Mother’s Day or for Mom’s birthday: each family member choose a topic to build a story about Mom.  Then put it together in one document. You can print it out or read it to her. Suggested topics:
o   Her sense of humor – she always laughs at my jokes
o   How she makes dinner after a long day at work
o   Her fantastic appearance
o   The cool way she tells me I’ve made a mistake
o   How she helps me with my homework
o   Her favorite movies
·      Each family member is to write a paragraph that includes a topic sentence and at least 2 detail sentences and a conclusion about a favorite super hero without telling anyone who it is. Write a physical description, special gift that makes your character a super hero, and why you like him/her. Read your description to your family. The first one to guess gets to go next.   
·      Each family member writes a paragraph describing the family getting ready for school or work in the morning.  For a little something extra, include some dialogue. This should make for some interesting discussion when you read your paragraph aloud to the rest of the family and then they read their paragraph. The different perspectives could be very enlightening.
·      Write a dialogue that occurred between you and your teacher, friend or even a stranger. Ask the rest of the family to act it out. 
·      Write a paragraph describing a room. Include shape, use of room (does it have bars?), smell, humid or dry. Each family member is to draw the room within ten minutes.

Reminder: Tips to Write an Effective Message

In addition to honing our writing skills by having fun with our family, we can all write effective messages such as e-mails or letters by remember the following easy tips:

1.     Identify the recipient’s characteristics.  Is it someone who is always in a hurry and thus will only read part of your message?  Is it someone who needs to be convinced, requiring more details?  Is this a procrastinator who you know will need follow-up messages to achieve action?  Is this a group of people who you don’t know?  Does the group have any common characteristics you could address? Or, do you have no idea about the recipient, suggesting a more general approach?
2.     Know what you want to accomplish.  What is it you want your reader to do?  There are many reasons for writing: 
a.     to introduce yourself or your company;
b.     to correct a mistake – theirs or yours;
c.      to complain about poor service or a defective product. 
If you are clear in your own head what you want to accomplish, you will have direction when you write.  This is true for the simplest e-mail.  Just ask yourself when you start writing it:  What do I want the recipient to do?
3.      Inform the reader immediately what you want—in the opening statement.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but in general your first sentence should be an action statement:  this is what you want them to do or this is what you want them to know.  I find it exasperating to get a message that doesn’t tell me until the end what I’m supposed to do.  Or worse, the requested action is buried in the middle somewhere. Often, I miss the requested action, and neglect to respond appropriately.   If you tell us immediately what you want, we are more likely to read on to understand why we should do it, and are more likely to do as you request.
4.     Provide supporting statements.  After you have stated what you want, amplify your request.  This is where you provide the details for the reader to give your message credibility.   When you have clearly stated your goal in the beginning, these supporting statements help to convince the reader to do what you want.
5.     Inform the reader clearly what the result or benefit will be of doing what you ask.  Make a simple concluding statement:  the result of learning about my new company is that you will have a place to go to buy the most unique widget.  When you need a widget, you will be happy that you know about it.

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