Being a Better IT Pro – Get to the Point

When writing emails or other communications, state your point or request right at the beginning.

For instance, if you need the server team to reboot the server, tell them in the first sentence that you want them to reboot the server. Most IT folks attempt to reason through things logically and if you’re like me, you like to systematically prepare your argument or request. However, the problem with this approach – especially in emails – is it buries what you’re trying to convey to your reader. The further down the email something is, the more likely it will be missed or won’t be read at all. That won’t do.
What drove this home for me was reading about how journalists prepare news articles. They are supposed to use an “inverted pyramid” structure where the most important details are placed at the top of the article. The reason for this is primarily due to editing and layout. If the most important facts are at the top, then I can chop from the bottom without actually having to read the article.
When it comes to business communications, likely no one is trying to piece articles together to fit well on the printed page. However, most folks are deluged with emails on a daily basis. Therefore, the longer the email, the less likely it’s going to be read. If it is read, there’s a good chance the reader will skim the first few sentences and then move on to the next email. As a result, if your point or your request is not in those first few sentences, it will be missed. Therefore, an inverted pyramid works best with respect to email as well.

Let’s look at a simple example:

Bad:
Today we had a problem with SQL Server SalesSQL04. We are seeing symptoms of a memory leak. However, this server supports the main sales application and we can’t reboot it until after hours. If you all would, please reboot the server at 9 PM.

Good:
At 9 PM, we need SalesSQL04 rebooted.

We are seeing symptoms of a memory leak. However, the server supports the main sales application and we can’t reboot it until after hours.

Being a Better IT Pro – Grammar

In my IT career, one of the things I have found that sets me apart is my ability to write. As IT pros, we write a lot. Whether we’re talking email or documentation, senior level IT workers are always writing. However, not all of us graduated college with a degree in English. I certainly didn’t. The good news is you don’t have to have an English degree to write well. Writing well consists of understanding the rules, observing good writing, and practicing.

One of the biggest areas that folks struggle is with respect to grammar. A grammatical mistake can obliterate an otherwise well-written message. Here are some of the big offenders:

CopyBlogger: 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly

Do you struggle with any of these rules? The best way to overcome the problematic rule is to study the rule and then practice using it. For instance, the rule on there, their, and they’re is one a lot of people get wrong. There refers to a place, their is possessive, and they’re is a contraction of they are. If I was having an issue with this rule, I’d try to write 20 sentences of each example. After a few days of practice, I’d have the rule down. If you’ve never tried this exercise, it works on the concept of deliberate practice.

Master these 15 rules as a start to writing better. Writing, like most other skills, is a skill you can always improve on. Professional writers are always writing. They are always trying to improve. Even though writing isn’t our primary skill, it is still an important one for any IT worker. Invest time and effort in your writing and you greatly benefit your career.