Writing Tips


  • When writing consider the recipients. What do they know already? What can you tell them?
  • Outline your memos and letters before beginning to write.
  • When writing reports, summarize key points or conclusions on the first page and document them with more information on subsequent pages.
  • Write like you speak to make your writing as readable as possible.
  • Learn the writing style of your organization and follow it. Don’t use flowery language (many adjectives and verbs) when inappropriate.
  • Have your secretary or assistant edit and proofread your correspondence for sentence structure and grammatical errors.
  • Keep dictionary thesaurus on hand to check spelling and word usage.
  • Use variety of sentence structures—simple, complex, and compound—to add interest to your writing.
  • When writing for a non-ethical audience, have a non-technical person identify jargon. Then either eliminate it or include a glossary defining the terms.
  • Use charts and tables wherever possible to present numerical information.
  • Use “action verbs” to add punch to your message.
  • Eliminate weak words like “very,” “interesting,” “often,” and other bland adjectives or adverbs.
  • Keep paragraphs short. Make sure the content of a paragraph revolves around only one thought—the topic sentence.
  • If you do a large amount of routine correspondence, standardize it as much as possible.
  • If procrastination is a problem, start writing a rough draft early so you have time to reverse it at least once.
  • When allocating blocks of time for writing, set aside periods of one to one-and-a-half hours, rather than trying to do it in segments of 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Develop a flash card system to work in your own common misspellings.
  • Dictate correspondence, memos, and so forth, to save time.
  • Seek immediate and specific feedback on reports you write.
  • Take a second or third look at your memos before sending them.
  • Use a grammar checking software program on your computer to identify errors you frequently make, and use that feedback to focus your efforts to improve your writing.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Inflation and the Rule of 72


No formula is more useful for understanding inflation than the rule of 72. Basically, the idea is to compute quickly how long it takes the cost of goods and services to double at various compounded rates of growth. For example, if houses were increasing in cost at 9 percent a year, how long would it take for the price of a home to double? The answer is easy to calculate. Simply divide the annual increase (9 percent) into 72 and you get a number of years it takes to double the price (eight years). If houses go up in price by 12 percent, it only takes six years to double in price (72 divided by 12 = 6), and so on. Of course, the same calculation can be used to predict how high food prices or car prices will be 10 years from now.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Stumbling on Leadership


Using today’s methods of managing the technical development process, the most important decision top management makes on a new product is the selection of the group leader. The second most important decision is to stay out of the way and let the leader lead.

But who is a leader? Or, better, who will develop into a leader? The person has a non-authoritative position; that is, a leader has no line authority over such co-workers as peers, peers’ subordinates, temporary employees, vendors (subcontractors, suppliers), customers, and bosses. The leader leads in a milieu that can change from supportive to hostile overnight, with parameters that are almost completely unknown (e.g., competitive reactions), and with a new and even more inexperienced team of people.

Yet that person can overcome virtually every obstacle. That person alone can enthuse and motivate a group of people to do what seems impossible. Fortunately there is lots of this leadership around, managers with successful track records in this work and many managers who are as yet undiscovered. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to pick out the undiscovered.

Compounding all of this is the conviction of some firms that a new products project actually needs two leaders, a creative, inspiring type for early on, and a tough disciplinarian for the later stages. Very rarely do we find people who can do both.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Use and Misuses of Authority


Most managers believe they must have authority to accomplish their jobs. They believe it is their superior’s responsibility to see that they have adequate authority in the areas for which they are held responsible and accountable. But a manager who either misuses or oversas his authority to get his subordinates to carry out their tasks may be inviting trouble. This is why it is important for the manager to understand the various sources of authority and power and the differences among them.

 Most people who have worked in the business world have seen a situation in which subordinates have “fired” their boss. By dragging their feet on assignments by cauing the organizations to do a relatively poor job, and by directing criticisms to appropriate ears, a unified group of subordinates can cause such trouble that their boss’s superiors may question his ability to handle his work group. Under these conditions the subordinates may sometimes be shown the door; but occasionally the boss is fired. That this can and does happen illustrates that managers are dependent, in part, on their work groups, just as their work groups are dependent, in part, on the managers. Although the manager has formal sanctions to back up his authority, the work group has informal sources of power it can utilize. The manager who relies only on his formal authority to direct the efforts of others may, therefore, not achieve the best results. It is desirable that he also be a leader; in short, he should be able to influence his subordinates as well as give them orders.

 Managers are often “caught in the middle”between the values, orders, and expectations of their superiors and the values, needs, and expectations of their subordinates. The manager usually needs to retain the support of both his superior and his subordinates, and the dilemma he feels when there is conflict between the two can create intensely uncomfortable feelings. The pressure is  compounded when the values and expectations of his peers are also involved, as they frequently are. Different managers resolve these internal dissonances in a variety of ways. Some ignore, or pay less attention to, either the subordinates or the superior, usually the former. Others try to find compromises that satisfy both, at least enough to avoid undue problems. But however thay handle them, most managers experience the discomfort of man-in-the-middle problems.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Knowledge Engineering


In the traditional approach to systems design, a system analyst, together with the ultimate end-users, or clients, for the project, will complete a functional specification of the system. At that point, the project is essentially in the hands of professional project management and programming staff, because that group possesses the knowledge and skill required to deliver the agreed upon features and functions. In the development of knowledge systems, this is simply not the case. Following the specification of function, a new problem arises. This is because it is not an algorithm that is being developed but knowledge that is being encoded for machine use.

 

The immediate problem is that traditional applications developers do not have sufficient knowledge of the applications area to complete the project from the starting point of a functional specification. This information generally exists in a variety of forms, depending on the application area. In some cases an individual or group of individuals may uniquely possess the relevant knowledge. In other cases, the knowledge may exist in the form of published materials like manuals or textbooks. In still other cases, the knowledge does not presently exist at all, and must be created and developed along with the system itself. This is an extremely difficult circumstance. Further compounding this problem is a critical factor: Regardless of the form in which the knowledge currently exists, it is not in a form that is ready for use by a knowledge system. Someone must decide what knowledge is relevant and desirable for inclusion, acquire the knowledge, and represent it in a form suitable for a knowledge system to apply. In all but trivial applications the task of representing the knowledge requires not only coding individual “chunks” of knowledge, but also organizing and structuring these individual components.

 

Historically, owing to the remoteness and enigmatic quality of artificial intelligence technologies, the person doing the actual systems development and the “expert,” or source of knowledge, were not the same. The availability of tools, in place of enigmatic technologies, has had an impact on reducing this problem. Even if one can imagine the case in which the “expert” whose knowledge is to be modeled is also an “expert” with the use of artificial intelligence development tools, there still remains a sizable problem.

 

In case where knowledge resides with some practitioner or expert, it does not exist explicitly as a series of IF …THEN rules, ready to be encoded. Most practitioners and experts find it difficult to explain explicitly what they are doing while solving problems. They are not cognizant of the underlying rules they are applying. Their expertise has been developed from numerous experiences and involves highly developed pattern recognition skills and heuristics.

 

In the case where the knowledge to be included is contained in text material like manuals, regulations, procedures, and the like, the information is still not in a form ready for inclusion in an expert system. It must be remembered that one of the most often cited advantages of expert systems is that they make explicit the knowledge that is most often implicit and unavailable for review, evaluation, dissemination, and modification. The task of making knowledge both explicit and available for systems application is that of knowledge engineering. Most literature on the development and application of knowledge systems has identified the need for individuals skilled in knowledge engineering as a critical factor to widespread use of technology.

 

Knowledge engineering involves acquiring, representing, and coding knowledge. The representation and coding aspects of systems development have been greatly impacted by these newly available tools. The speed with which prototyping can be accomplished has also helped reduce some of the difficulty in acquiring or refining knowledge. The knowledge engineer now finds it much less costly in time and effort to represent, code, and test early approaches to systems development, providing a more efficient feedback loop. This feedback loop is critical in the development of knowledge systems. The end-user/client for the project is, by nature, going to be much more involved in the systems design process. The “programmer” often is incapable of deciding if the system is behaving properly, owing to a lack of fundamental knowledge about the application area. This is simply not as strong a factor, where the programmer is capable of evaluating the accuracy and efficiency of algorithms. When the product is actionable knowledge rather than algorithms, the ability to evaluate project progress shifts to the end-user/client. This creates the increased emphasis on the feedback loop.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Plagiarism and Copyright Violation


Plagiarism and copyright violation are complicated issues, especially in modern technical writing.

Plagiarism is the practice of using someone else’s words or ideas without crediting the source. Many organizations treat authorship of internal documents, such as memos and most reports, casually; that is, if the organization asks you to update an internal procedures manual, it expects you to use any material from the existing manual, even if you cannot determine the original author.

Organizations tend to treat the authorship of published documents, such as external manuals or journal articles, more seriously. Although the authors of some kinds of published technical documents are not listed, many documents such as user’s guides do acknowledge their authors. However, what constitutes authorship can be a complicated question, because most large technical documents are produced collaboratively, with several persons contributing text, another doing the graphics, still another reviewing for technical accuracy, and finally someone reviewing for legal concerns. Problems are compounded when a document goes into revision, and parts of original text or graphics are combined with new material.

The best way to determine authorship is to discuss it openly with everyone who contributed to the document. Some persons might deserve to be listed as authors; others, only credited in an acknowledgment section. To prevent changes of plagiarism, the wisest course is to be very conservative: if there is any question about whether to cite a source, cite it.

A related problem involves copyright violation. Copyright law provides legal protection to the author of any document, whether it be published or unpublished, and whether the author be an individual or a corporation. Unfortunately, some companies will take whole sections of another company’s product information or manual, make cosmetic changes, and publish it themselves. This, of course is stealing.

But the difference between stealing and learning from your competitors can be subtle. Words are protected by copyright, but ideas aren’t. Rare is the manufacturer who doesn’t study the competitor’s users’ guides to see how a feature or task is described. Inevitably, a good idea spreads from one document to another, and then to another. If one manual contains a particularly useful kind of troubleshooting guide, pretty soon a lot of others will contain similar ones. Even though this process of imitation tends to produce a dull uniformity, it can improve the overall quality of the document. Under no circumstances, however, should you violate copyright by using another organization’s words.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight