4.15.2013

Slash the Trash: How to Persuade by Writing Less



This week, my girls are wrapping up a week of taking standardized tests. As I was helping my 7th grader brush up on Algebra (and yes, my head did nearly explode from the sudden onslaught of "x"s and "y"s, thanks for asking), I was reminded how much non-essential information test writers include in a question to see who can derive clarity in a choppy sea of nonsense. Then I realized  -- how often do we write something just as convoluted?

The girls and I came up with strategies for taking the test ... which work nicely with writing, too. So, let's pretend you're writing your boss an email about potentially attending a fabulous conference in Palm Beach on the company's dime. How can you use test-taking strategies to write the perfect, persuasive email?

1. Underline the question. In other words, get clear about the answer you seek and stay focused on the goal. "I'd like to attend the Awesome People of the World conference in Palm Beach this fall." 

2. Determine the pertinent information needed to answer the question. Are you multiplying? Looking for a percentage? Adding vertices? (What IS THIS? Who am I BECOMING? Why are we DISCUSSING ALGEBRA AND GEOMETRY?) For your email, you need dates, cost for conference and travel, amount of time you'll be out of the office. You also need to provide a sound argument as to why this conference is key to improving your organization, and why you're just the person to go.

3. Slash the trash. As I was demonstrating to my kids how the test writers throw in non-essential information to throw you off (I mean, who's this Josea and why is he measuring Himalayan salt?) my youngest interjected (as she so often does, bless us all) "my teachers' call that 'slash the trash.'" This is precisely why teachers should make way more money: their ability to distill a concept into a catchy rhyme. Your boss doesn't need to know how much you love to travel, that your Aunt Sally lives near Palm Beach, or that you bathe in Himalayan salts. Include only information that bolsters your cause ... and the image of you pruning in a tub of salty bathwater should never be branded in your superior's head.

4. Look at the answer for clues on working the problem. These are multiple choice tests, so I told the girls if you're confused, see if the answer will help you figure out how to work the problem. Think through how your superior might answer your request, then find a working solution to the problem. For example, do you suspect your boss will say "that's a very busy time for you to be out of the office"? Include your plan to remain available to your team and get work done during the conference.  

Apply these test-taking strategies the next time you need to write a persuasive piece -- whether a conference pitch, a presentation or just an important email. You'll find the clear, concise writing speeds decisions along ... very often in your favor.

Tell me: Do you have any test-taking strategies to share? Have you ever used a test-taking strategy in your post-school life?


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Source: via Maris on Pinterest

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