Sunday, February 21, 2010

Delivering on the order

Whether you write for school or for work, you are likely to be given certain assignments. How well you respond to them can make a big difference in the type of praise you receive.

Let’s pretend that you are in a restaurant and a server approaches your table. You tell him or her that you would like a steak made rare and a side of mashed potatoes with cheese and mushrooms. After awhile the server brings you the plate and walks away. You quickly discover that the steak is overcooked and that mashed potatoes, while covered with cheese, have no sign of mushrooms. You wonder to yourself how difficult it is to get simple instructions straight and vow not to give the server any tip.

How is this example related to writing? Very closely. All assignments (just like restaurant orders) typically provide with them a set of instructions or a list of specific things that need to be included. Whenever those instructions are not fulfilled to the satisfaction of the requester, people get upset. Just like you wouldn’t be too happy if your plate was missing mushrooms and had an overcooked steak, your college instructor or work supervisor wouldn’t be too happy if parts of the assigned task are completely missing and others are not done to the exact specifications.

The moral of this story is that delivering exactly what is ordered (so to speak) is the first and very important step in satisfying your customer (i.e. instructor, supervisor, etc.). Satisfied customers in a restaurant tend to leave higher tips for their servers. Similarly, teachers and supervisors that receive exactly what they requested tend to grade the writers higher (literally and symbolically).

When you receive an assignment, review it carefully; if necessary, write down a list of things that you need to address and exactly how they should be addressed. As you start writing your response, check things off as you address them. Review the assignment again after you complete the report to make sure that you have done everything you were expected to do. Your reward is likely to increase to the extent that what you deliver matches the order.

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  1. In the writing tip of March 2, one of the quiz question was about using the word historic vs. histrical. The answer to the question was "Please prepare an historical outline of the development of the project.
    " My question is whether why the article "an" used and not "a"?

  2. Great question. My best answer is that it was a typo. The issue here is whether to use "a" or "an" before words that begin with H. That all depends on whether the H is pronounced. If the H is pronounced, then we use "a." If the H is not pronounced, then we use "an." The underlying rule here is that if a word begins with a consonant (which pronounced H would be), then you use "a." If the word begins with a vowel (which unpronounced H would create), then we use "an." Here are some examples: an hour; a host; an homage; a historic event. In the end, it all depends on how you pronounce these words. Thank you for your question.

  3. First let me say that I enjoy reading your column. But I'm confused by your description of metaphors in your May 11th column. You may want to check your definition, as I don't believe a metaphor is an analogy. Also, the examples you give are neither metaphors or analogies. I'd call your examples idioms.

  4. Thank you for your comment. For those who didn't read the writing tip, this is referring to such phrases as "bring to the table" and "rev up." As I was thinking about the response, I decided to turn it into a blog. Please read the blog called Idioms, Metaphors, and Analogies for a better explanation. However, I will provide a quick answer here first. The reason "rev up," for example, is not technically an idiom is because this combination of words creates a figurative image of someone or something going faster and harder. This type of symbolic language is not characteristic of a typical idiom. That's why even though it may look like an idiom, it is not actually considered one. But we can call it a metaphorical idiom, how about that?