Friday, 12 November 2010

Business Writing: How to write like a pro? -- Part 1

Image from i.dailymail.co.uk


I am glad that 3 of you did try to do the homework I put up on Wednesday.

Before we look into the examples, let me through you a term in computational linguistics -- Lexical Density,    meaning how packed a piece of written work is with content words. In simple words, lexical density is how many important words / keywords are there in one sentence compared with unimportant words/non-keywords.

The Learning and Teaching Unit of The University of South Australia has a website on Readability, meaning how easy or difficult is a piece of written work to read or understand. Under the page of content words and lexical density you can find a detail description (with examples) regarding the topic, and you are highly recommended to read it. But maybe before you read it, you can first read my simpler version,

Image from Wikipedia


eg 1 . Armadillo is an animal which has an armour shell and it is similar to leather.
Content words: 7
Total words: 15
Lexical density = 46.7%

eg 2 . Armadillo is an animal with leathery armour shell.

Content words: 5
Total words: 8
Lexical density = 62.5%

eg 3. A leathery armour-shelled armadillo ...
Content words: 4
Total words: 5
Lexical density = 80%

From the above examples, you can see that the higher the lexical density, the more compact the sentence / expression is and the richer the information is. A point to note is that eg 3 isn't even a complete sentence, which means you can still pack more information in it.

Now going back to our example in the previous article:
***********************************************
Version 1:
Yesterday in Hung Hom at the international Mail Centre, a parcel caught on fire. There were cell phone batteries in the parcel. 510 people were cleared from the scene as some people feared that it was a terrorist attack.


Content words: 22 including number
Total words: 39
Lexical density = 56.4%
***********************************************
Version 2:
A parcel containing cell phone batteries burst into flames at the International Mail Centre in Hung Hom, sparking fears of a terrorist attack and forcing the evacuation of 510 people yesterday. 


Content words: 21 including number
Total words: 31
Lexical density = 67.7%
***********************************************

So now, it should be easy to see which one will sound more professional in terms of lexical density. But exactly,
  1. how can we write using sentence structures that has higher lexical density? 
  2. does "higher lexical density" = "better writing" in ALL CASES?

If you want to know, do follow my Monday posting.

For now, here's a homework for your practice:
Try to increase the lexical density of this paragraph taken from theStandard.com.hk:

Poor show by MTRC
I think MTR Corp did not handle the situation well. It did not give enough information to commuters. There was a chaotic situation because passengers could not find their way easily to other transport modes. Perhaps the MTRC should send more staff and call the police for help in future situations.

Resources:
http://lockyep.blogspot.com/2010/11/business-writing-how-to-write-like-pro.html#comments

Lexical Density on Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexical_density

The Learning and Teaching Unit of The University of South Australia
http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/learn/LearningConnection/?PATH=/Resources/la/Readability/&default=Welcome.htm

Content Words and Lexical Density
http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/Resources/la/Readability/Content%20words%20and%20lexical%20density.htm

Original email from The Standard
http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?we_cat=9&art_id=104379&sid=30124276&con_type=1&d_str=20101101&fc=8