You're a brain. You know your stuff. When you write a report, you put your heart into it. When it's complete, you know it's chock full of valuable information. There's just one problem: Other people don't get it. They don't see what you see.
What's the problem? It just might be your writing style.
When you understand data and its implications, you want others to see what you see. How frustrating it can be when decision makers ignore or misunderstand the information you've developed for them. When your reports aren't taken seriously, it's more than frustrating -- it's career limiting. If the boss doesn't find your reports valuable, the boss doesn't find you valuable. Persuasive writing is a survival skill for data analysts.
Good writing depends on good structure. Reports, whether they're the length of a memo or an encyclopedia, need a strong overall structure to guide the reader to relevant information and clarify the relationships among the facts that you present. Good sentence structure helps readers understand details.
When you've been pouring your life into a project, you can become so familiar with it that it's easy to forget how much others don't know. Technical experts often leap into specifics without giving the reader enough guidance to appreciate the significance of their results.
You must provide readers with structure to help them understand what you write. They need to know what to expect and how the information will be organized. Since people aren't always perfect at understanding and remembering what they read and hear, they also need a bit of repetition. You may have heard that, when you write or speak, you should tell them what you're gonna tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. I find that people need a little more structure than that. Here's what I recommend.
Opening: Get their attention.
Introduction: Briefly explain the issue and the information that will follow.
Thesis: Explain how the information will be presented.
Body: Provide the information in a simple, orderly way.
Conclusion: Summarize the main points you've made.
You won't end up with a well-structured document if you write everything off the top of your head. Get in the habit of outlining. Begin by making notes about the points you want the reader to understand. Then develop an outline that provides background and gets your points across. Outline the document as a whole, and then do the same for every topic you discuss -- each topic should have its own introduction, body, and conclusion.
Technical folks often write sentences like this: "The research phase investigated coupons as proposed by the research committee and redeemable by consumers at retail outlets." Vile, isn't it? But it's not your fault. They encouraged you to write that way in graduate school. Still, you have to move on now. Write simpler sentences. Keep them short. Write just one idea per sentence.
Give more thought to the structure of each report you write. Make outlines before you write. Simplify your sentences. These few things will make your reports easier to read and understand. And when the boss understands your message, you'll find your message has more impact.
You can certainly read online or in books and learn about writing. I've learned a lot that way, and of course, there would have been no point in writing the article if you couldn't learn from it.
Sooner or later, we all must write something, let people read it and give us some feedback. Some of that feedback should come from real, live professional teachers. I'd like to think we could all get that as part of our regular schooling, but often we don't. I don't believe online classes can make up the slack unless they are accompanied by an army of live teachers to read and criticize papers and presentations. For learning communication skills, I suggest conventional adult ed, corporate training, speaker's club and other time-tested methods. And practice - lots and lots of practice.
Meta, I agree. I've learned more from professional in media about communication than in a dedicated technical coure. I think an analytics professional would beenfit not only from learning style, but also seeing how other professionals and , frankly, people communicate. I've met people that really do not want a dashboard, just the end story with bullet points on what is needed. In some cases it is more important to learn how to listen to people's communciation style than to do a graduate course.
I also wonder if many communication concerns are now being addressed with online courses such as Udemy rather than an outright course.
I'm reluctant to suggest a graduate course in editing for technical fields. For one thing, who's going to teach it, college professors in technical fields? Have you read what they write?
My feeling is that it would be more productive for technical people to invest time and effort in taking conventional training in English composition, non-fiction writing, business writing and public speaking.
Beth - I agree with your comment title. Writing and reading do go together. The people I know who read a lot of good stuff end up writing well, while the ones who read crap (or hardly read anything at all) produce those horrendous LinkedIn profiles you mentioned.
In that case, Meta, do you think there's room for a diploma/graduate course on editing for those in technical fields? It seems that a person with those credentials can fetch a good salary given the skills shortage.
Do you think the problem will get worse or better as people rely more and more on digital communications for everyday conversation? Will we become better or worse at the written word with the practice we get out on the social web, for example? Hmmm.
It's an evil cycle - our professors and our bosses are lousy writers, and they demand that we write just like them. So technical people are trained into writing dense techno-babble and never recover. Then they train the next generation to write more of the same crummy stuff.
Noreen, you are so write about the value of a good editor! But not many writers have access to a good editor.
I'm in the midst of a major consulting project for a firm of very sophisticated analysts who need to improve the quality of their reports. Working on a tight time frame, they don't have time to familiarize an outsider on their business - so only someone who knows their highly specialized trade can offer meaningful help. That's a common problem, one that many organizations face.
The rarety of editors with technical knowledge makes it particularly important for technical people to develop good writing skills.
Diego Klabjan, chair of the INFORMS University Analytics Program Committee and program director for Northwestern University's Master of Science in Analytics program, gives his advice for figuring out where to get an advanced analytics degree.
What Works: Open Source Analytics Software International Institute for Analytics WebinarOn Wednesday, Sept. 24, join IIA CEO and Co-Founder Jack Phillips, along with featured guest Gary Spakes, as we explore the five modernization stages that analytics hardware/software have experienced. We will discuss the considerations when calculating total cost of ownership of the analytics ecosystem.
2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- Cary, NCThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SASŪ Data Management and SASŪ Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SASŪ Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
Essential Practice Skills for Analytics Professionals Drawing on best practices from the field, this INFORMS course helps analytics professionals add value from beginning to end: listening to clients, framing the central problem, scoping a project, defining metrics for success, creating a work plan, assembling data and expert sources, selecting modeling approaches, validating and verifying analytical results, communicating and presenting results to clients, driving organizational change, and assessing impact.
Analytics 2014 The Analytics 2014 Conference is a two-day, educational event for anyone who is serious about analytics. This annual event brings together hundreds of professionals, industry experts and leading researchers in the field of analytics. All Analytics members save $500 on conference fees by using promo code ACAA.
Premier Business Leadership Series 2014 The Premier Business Leadership Series is an exclusive event for senior executives and decision makers that focuses on solving the current issues that affect governments and businesses globally. The Series is a unique learning and networking experience focused on the most innovative leadership strategies and analytic solutions for competing in todayâs global economy.
2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- BostonThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SASŪ Data Management and SASŪ Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SASŪ Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
Data Exploration & Visualization Get hands-on training that focuses on the critical steps in the process of analyzing data: accessing and extracting data, cleaning and preparing data, exploring and visualizing data. This INFORMS course will use several of the most popular software tools intensively, and provide an overview of the range of software options.
Foundations of Modern Predictive Analytics In this INFORMS course, learn about modern predictive analytics, the science of discovering and exploiting complex data relationships. This course will give participants hands-on practice in handling real data types, real business problems and practical methods for delivering business-useful results.
2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- AtlantaThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SASŪ Data Management and SASŪ Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SASŪ Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
LEADERS FROM THE BUSINESS AND IT COMMUNITIES DUEL OVER CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY ISSUES
The Current Discussion
Visual Analytics: Who Carries the Onus? The Issue: Data visualization is an up-and-coming technology for businesses that want to deliver analytical results in a visual way, enabling analysts the ability to spot patterns more easily and business users to absorb the insight at a glance and better understand what questions to ask of the data. But does it make more sense to train everybody to handle the visualization mandate or bring on visualization expertise? Our experts are divided on the question. The Speakers: Hyoun Park, Principal Analyst, Nucleus Research; Jonathan Schwabish, US Economist & Data Visualizer
The hospitality industry gathers massive amounts of customer data, and mining that data effectively can yield tremendous results in terms of improved CRM, better-targeted marketing spend, and more efficient back-end processes. Roger Ares, vice president of analytics at Hyatt Corp., discusses the ways he and his staff use big data.
Charged with keeping track of travel assets, including employees, iJET International relies on data management best-practices and advanced analytics to keep its clients in the know on current and potential world events affecting travel, Rich Murnane, Director of Enterprise Data Operations & Data Architect, told All Analytics in an interview from the 2014 SAS Global Forum Executive Conference.
Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer for the Center for Generational Kinetics and keynote speaker at last month's SAS Global Forum 2014, describes how Gen Y professionals are enhancing the makeup of multigenerational analytics organizations.
From analytics talent development to the power of visual analytics, All Analytics found a variety of common themes circulating throughout the exhibition floor and session discussions at the 2014 SAS Global Forum and SAS Global Forum Executive Conference events held last month in Washington, DC.
Talking with All Analytics live from the 2014 SAS Global Forum Executive Conference, Eric Helmer, senior manager of campaign design and execution for T-Mobile, discussed the importance of customer data -- starting internally -- in devising the mobile operator's marketing plans.
The big-data analytics market can be a confusing place. Among the vendors vying for your dollars are traditional database management providers, Hadoop startup services, and IT giants. In this video, All Analytics editors Beth Schultz and Michael Steinhart sit down in a Google+ Hangout on Air with Doug Henschen, executive editor of InformationWeek. Henschen discusses use cases for big-data analytics, purchase considerations, and his recent roundup of the top 16 big-data analytics platforms.
At the National Retail Federation BIG Show last month, All Analytics executive editor Michael Steinhart noted a host of solutions for tracking and analyzing customer activity in retail stores. From Bluetooth beacons to RFID tags to NFC connections to video analytics, retailers must find the right combination of tools to help optimize the shopper experience, streamline operations, and boost revenues.
The days when historical shipment trends and gut feelings were enough to forecast retail demand accurately are long over. SAS chief industry consultant Charles Chase outlines the benefits of pulling real-time sales information from point-of-sale and product scanner systems, then flowing that data into dynamic forecasting tools from SAS.
With today's advanced visual analytics tools, you can stream data into memory for real-time processing, provide users the ability to explore and manipulate the data, and bring your data to life for the business.
Dynamic data visualizations let analysts and business users interact with the data, changing variables or drilling down into data points, and see results in a flash. Advance your use of data visualization with tools that support features like auto-charting, explanatory pop-ups, and mobile sharing.
No doubt your enterprise is amassing loads of data for fact-based decision-making. Hand in hand with all that data comes big computational requirements. Can traditional IT infrastructure handle the increasing number and complexity of your analytical work? Probably not, which is why you need a backend rethink. Big data calls for a high-performance analytics infrastructure, as Fern Halper, a partner at the IT consulting and research firm, Hurwitz & Associates, discusses here.
Redbox's bright-red DVD kiosks are all but ubiquitous these days, located in more than 28,000 spots across the country. Jayson Tipp, Redbox VP of Analytics and CRM, provides an insider's look at how the company has accomplished its phenomenal nine-year growth.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), a seven-brand global hotelier, has woven analytics into the fabric of its operations. David Schmitt, director of performance strategy and planning, shares IHG's analytics story and his lessons learned.