By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2016-11-17 11:50:45
Don’t write off the value of strong, concise, error-free business writing in school nutrition. IMPRESSIONS MATTER IN SCHOOL NUTRITION. No one knows better than you do the negative stereotypes that persist about school meals. You’ve learned that changing impressions of cafeteria fare requires effort—you must always take steps to ensure variety, eye appeal, taste, nutrition, quality and safety meal after meal after meal. The same is true for the impressions others have of you. Changing negative stereotypes about cafeteria team members also takes work—and you must pay attention to every type of encounter during which someone will make an instant, but potentially lasting, judgment about you and your team. This means when they see you, when they talk to you and when you communicate in writing. Emails, text messaging and social media have certainly lowered our collective standards when it comes to expectations for error-free writing. But don’t be fooled. A typo that is forgivable in a text with a family member or a Tweet to friends is looked at much more critically when it comes to business communications. Mistakes in basic grammar, misspellings and typos send unintentional messages to readers. Regardless of whether it’s true or fair, the recipient is likely to come away with an impression that either you don’t care or you lack education. That might lead them to wonder— what else do you not care or have insufficient education about? You risk being diminished—your expertise in the most complicated foodservice segment discounted. And because you work in a K-12 educational environment, the standards may be that much higher. I’m not trying to scare you into being perfect. As a professional writer, I can assure you that my team and I make mistakes that wind up in the print magazine every single month. One of my favorites was a profile that applauded a director for her “30 decades” of experience (she looked good for being more than 300 years old). And after we unveiled the new magazine design in June/July, it took three more issues before we realized that the word “education” was spelled wrong—on the “To Your Credit” test of all things! (Still embarrassed about that one.) But if we made obvious grammatical errors and typos over and over again, then I’d expect readers to question our expertise, my boss to hold me accountable and the chances of another publications award to evaporate. No one expects you to become a professional writer, just like no one expects me to prep and serve meals to anyone, never mind hundreds of school children each day. But others do expect you to show your professionalism when you send written communications, just as they expect me not to poison anyone when I bring a dish for the potluck. It’s my pleasure to be in a position to offer some of my expertise to help you make the best impressions on your readers. PROOFREADING CHECKLIST Always scan your written material one last time, paying special attention to the accuracy of the following: • Names • Titles • Subject Lines/Headlines • Addresses (postal and email) • Phone Numbers • Website URLs • Dates/Deadlines • Dollar Amounts CAFETERIA COMMUNICATIONS Think that, simply because you don’t clock 8+ hours in an office environment, you don’t write any “business” communications? Think again. Following are examples of various materials that you might be responsible for writing and sharing with different members of your community. • Mass letters to parents • Letters to individual parents • Requests to school administrators/teachers • Announcements • Displays • Nutrition education support materials • Press releases • Media invitations • Website content • Newsletter articles • Progress reports • Recaps of events/activities, such as National School Lunch Week • Employee performance evaluations • Employee commendations • Notices/warnings of performance problems/suspensions • Grant/funding applications • Contest entries • Letters of complaint/concern to vendors • FAQs • Advocacy materials 3 THINGS TO KNOW Before pen hits paper or fingers tap on the keyboard, there are three basic things you should know. 1) KNOW your purpose. What’s your goal? Is your writing intended to persuade? (“Don’t miss the deadline to apply for free or reduced-priced meals for your child. This is a valuable benefit that provides a nutrition and hunger safety net.”) Inform? (“Participation rates increased by 3% between September 15 and November 15. Promotional activities for National School Lunch Week and World Milk Day were especially effective.”) Educate? (“Did you know that broccoli helps your body in three major ways?”) Invite? (“We would be honored to have the senator eat lunch with our students the next time Congress is in recess and she is home.”) Each goal requires differences in approach. You can dig into the specifics of those differences with an Internet search or a business writing reference text, but the starting place is simple awareness. Know your intention and keep it top of mind as you write and edit; you might be surprised how naturally changes in your writer’s voice and the structure of your communication come along, simply because you didn’t lose sight of your purpose. 2) KNOW your audience. Who will be reading your writing? Is it an audience that is very knowledgeable about school nutrition? Can you use abbreviations and jargon? Don’t presume without being sure. A request to your school principal about a breakfast in the classroom pilot project won’t get the attention it deserves if you reference “BIC,” “SBP,” “ADP,” “POS,” “meal pattern” and “free/reduced” without supplying definitions and/or context. Knowing your audience will also help determine how many details to include and the appropriate length of your document. Brevity is important. Studies confirm that we are reading less and skimming more. Don’t let your message get lost because you didn’t account for a reader’s impatience. On the other hand, don’t be so focused on keeping it brief that you wind up overlooking the inclusion of relevant and critical details. 3) KNOW your tone. Your goal and your audience help to dictate the appropriate tone for your business writing. A request to the Board of Education to support your wellness policy goals is going to sound a lot different than a letter to parents about the year’s newest menu changes. But even within the conventions of formal and informal approaches, there are many shades of gray, and extremes are not recommended. Don’t let your formal requests get bogged down in unnecessary flourishes and pretention. Similarly, don’t get overly casual, using slang or inappropriate language. Don’t get carried away with your enthusiasm, either. Limit the use of the words “very” and “really,” as well as the number of exclamation points you add. (There should be just one at the end of a sentence and no more than one or two in a paragraph.) REVIEW CHECKLIST Make time to review your business writing before you share it with your audience, whether that’s just one person or thousands. Check it once. Take a break—whether a few hours or overnight and then check it again with clear eyes. Read it aloud, slowly; this can help you identify awkward phrasing or catch careless typos. When in doubt—or if it’s really important—ask someone else to read it over, as well. Be objective and consider the following questions as you re-read your work. • Is each sentence complete and easy to understand? • Do sentences and paragraphs connect logically from one to another, with effective transitions? • Does each sentence say something new and important, or is it unnecessarily repetitive? • Do I use strong action verbs and specific, concrete nouns? Can I replace any word with one that is more precise? • Do I fully understand the definitions and connotations of the words I’m using? • Have I left out words I meant to include? • Have I left in words I meant to delete? • Have I avoided unnecessary abbreviations or jargon that my audience won’t understand? • Am I using contractions appropriately? • Have I used the spell-check feature on my computer? GRAMMAR TIME There are many books, web pages and courses that cover the spectrum of grammatical errors. Frankly, some are more “forgivable” than others if they appear in business communications, so don’t tie yourself in knots if you don’t understand when to use “lay or lie” and “which or that.” Following is a list of nine common errors we feel are easiest to describe and most important for you to avoid. It’s/Its It’s is the contraction for “It is” It’s National School Breakfast Week in March. Its is the possessive, meaning “belonging to” Dairy is important because of its high concentration of calcium. You’re/Your You’re is the contraction for “You are” You’re going to be able to try many new foods at our Food Show. Your is the possessive, meaning “belonging to” Your best way to start the day is with school breakfast. They’re/Their/There They’re is the contraction for “They are” They’re going to attend SNA’s Annual National Conference for the first time. Their is the possessive, meaning “belonging to” Their average participation went up when they introduced entrée salads. There is a place/location or a point of action or state. At the health fair, there will be a booth for blood pressure screenings. Affect/Effect Affect is the verb that means to influence or change A new combi oven will affect our ability to speed production. Effect is the noun that means the result of Our new combi oven has had a great effect on the morale of our cooks. Loose/Lose Loose is when something is coming apart Her shoelaces were loose, and I worried she would trip. Lose/Losing is when something is in the process of being lost We were losing money, and then we switched our pizza vendor. Than/Then Than is used to compare things Mary has a better customer service attitude than Rosa. Then is used to refer to time On Monday, staff will prep the bean burritos first and then set up the salad bar. Complement/Compliment Complement refers to something that has been added for positive value The fresh herbs are a great complement to the new chicken dish. Compliment is something positive said about you or someone else The school principal complimented the cafeteria team on their health inspection score. Farther/Further Farther indicates physical distance With our new food truck, we’ve added summer feeding sites that are farther away than ever. Further indicates metaphorical or figurative distance It’s only halfway through the school year, but our participation has climbed further than we expected. Bring/Take Bring is the action of moving something to where you are Students paying by check should bring the money to the cafeteria on Monday. Take is the action of moving something to where you are going Upon request, we can prepare sack lunches for students to take on their field trip. TYPO TEST Can you spot the 10 misspelled/mistyped words? Some of these won’t be caught by your computer’s spellchecker. Always proofread with care! The Child Nutrition Services Department of Washington County Pubic Schools welcomes parents to join us on Februrary 1 at Jefferson Elementary for a special cafeteria presentation celebrating the power of good nutrtion. Through song and dance, our Student Advisory Council will show how healthy meals help to improve achievment in math, science, grammer, reading and social studies. Our local atheletes will be on hand, to, encouraging good eating choices, form morning to night. (And if you look closely, you may recognize the familiar faces of our mangers disguised as popular fruits and vegetables!) They all know a school lunch is the perscription for a healthy life. We hope to see you! ANSWER: The Child Nutrition Services Department of Washington County Public Schools welcomes parents to join us on February 1 at Jefferson Elementary for a special cafeteria presentation celebrating the power of good nutrition. Through song and dance, our Student Advisory Council will show how healthy meals help to improve achievement in math, science, grammar, reading and social studies. Our local athletes will be on hand, too, encouraging good eating choices, from morning to night. (And if you look closely, you may recognize the familiar faces of our managers disguised as popular fruits and vegetables!) They all know a school lunch is the prescription for a healthy life. We hope to see you! Did you catch them all? 4 REFERENCE BOOKS Even professional writers turn to reference guides to answer questions. Here are four of our favorites: • Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss • Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty • The Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon • Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition.
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