Extrinsic Skills:Ancillary Activities in Written Business Communication

Extrinsic Skills:Ancillary Activities in Written Business Communication 

Extrinsic Skills aim at neat appearance and tasteful arrangement of written matter for the purpose of achieving eye appeal. They are essential elements for imparting ”sellability” into all forms of written communication. Some of the skills involved in achieving the quality of “sellability” or attractiveness of presentation include the following:-
 (i) Wide Margins (on all sides of the paper: right, left, top and bottom). New computer technology in graphic communication, such as the word-processor and the desktop printer, is extending the frontiers of graphic presentation to almost infinite limits.
 (ii) Appropriate Line-spacing: Besides the general attractiveness which suitable line-spacing and these other extrinsic traits give to written matter, suitable spacing also makes for easy reading.
Also, the new technologies in graphic production have wide possibilities for use of varied sizes of line-spacing. (iii) Use of Conventional Formats in Written Matter: In general terms, we refer here to such established formats as those of the letter and the internal memorandum which, of course, may have minor variations from firm to firm. Also, firms have their own prescribed formats for such routine (Control or Periodic) reports as on regional sales, income and expenditure, bonus and overtime liabilities, and so on. Observing these conventions is a crucial necessity. There is abundant room for innovation and creativity in reports and similar kinds of continuous writing, but such initiatives should not be exercised with regard to the use of established formats. Changes in such formats can only cause irritation and waste of time. The three elements which we have been discussing (margins, linespacing and formats), taken together prevent a crowded, ungainly presentation of written matter, such as reports and also prevent what is referred to as “print fright” – the threat, repulsion or aversion which a typed or printed page may exercise on a potential or target reader on account of the ugliness of the page.
Intrinsic Skills As our chart shows, these are divided into two, i.e., Mechanical (or Rote) Skills and Cognitive (or Language) Skills
 Mechanical (or Rote) Skills
Mechanical (or Rote) Skills Essentially, these are techniques which require, for their use by a writer, not intelligence or knowledge, but the memory. So, practically every writer can use these techniques if he/she will remember to use them or is temperamentally disposed to using them. When applied, they distinctly enhance the quality of a piece of writing but, unhappily, many writers either constantly forget to use them or are temperamentally averse to using them. These skills include the following:- 1. Re-writing as a HabitRe-writing gives pieces of reports the quality of polish by which a piece of writing is not only understood, but impossible to be misunderstood. Personnel handling the written communication function in organisations should, from the onset, be aware of the fact that even the most accomplished masters of language and communication techniques can hardly achieve
first-rate pieces of writing by a “dash-off” effort. A writer should take a piece through at least three stages (draft, final and proof) before it is released. 2.
 Paragraphing for Attractiveness You already know a great deal about the skills for building the paragraph. Here, we are concerned with three inter-related purposes concerning the paragraph, viz: (1) drawing attention to its value as an attribute which enhances the physical quality of a piece of business writing;
 (2) awakening the business writer’s consciousness of the need to strive for effective paragraphing, and
(3) encouraging the business writer to become accustomed to inspecting each individual page of a sheet for paragraphing effectiveness. The paragraph is one of those writing qualities which prevent printfright, provide bridging breaks in continuous writing, and offer the reader manageable units of thought or material upon which to focus his attention at any one time and, so, provide him with a valuable aid to memory. 3. Consistent and Intelligent Itemising Items, sub-heading and, sometimes, paragraphs in written pieces are often numbered – that is what we mean by itemizing. The system used for the numbering may be the somewhat older one of combining many symbols
Top-level (a) Managerial; (b) Technical; (c) Accounting, etc. The crucial need here is clarity and consistency. We need not pursue the matter into greater details. 4. Use of “Bullets” This is related to itemization; indeed, it is another method of itemizing. Bullets refer to any symbols (large dots, the dash, swords, zeros, etc.) used for indicating different items on any one topic. (The asterisk is not used much for this purpose apparently because of its conventional use in modern grammar for indicating – giving advance warning about – wrong language constructions). The “bullet” is used for making lists in situations in which, although listing is required and necessary, no ordering of any kind (such as of importance, priority, chronology, etc.) is required. 5. Use of Sub-titles Sub-titles are used for dividing a long piece of writing or report on a topic into the many different units or elements which make up that topic. Supposing that one was reporting on an enterprise in a certain period of business, one might have such topics to report upon as the following:-
 1.0. Business Outlook
 2.0. Investment:
2.1. The Components of Working Capital.
2.2. Capital Expenditure.
 2.3. Progress on New Projects
. 3.0. Production
 3.1. Production Difficulties.
3.2. Production Costs.
3.3. Overhead and General Expenses.
4.0. Sales
 4.1. Sales
 4.2. Market Developments.
 4.3. New Orders.
4.4. Backlog of Orders.
4.5. Profits.
 5.0. Yields from New Materials.
6.0. Maintenance and Repair.
Of course, the value of sub-titling is self-evident. It helps the reader to organize his thoughts and, so, assists his memory and stimulates his interest because it prevents fright at unbroken lengths of writing. 6. Use of Tabulation Without doubt, tables are very handy for presenting large quantities of data in which certain relationships are to be shown, e.g., statistics on various subjects (such as a firm’s sales figures in different regions for the same or different periods; accounting summaries, analytical figures, budget statements, textual details and references, etc.). Tabulation makes for brevity and assists the reader’s comprehension. We are familiar with the use of Frequency Tables for presenting, and Contingency Tables for analyzing, research data, but tables are equally valuable in routine reports and similar other forms of writing. Consider, for example, how awkward and laborious it would be for a report writer to be presenting sales figures on a commodity in different regions and for a number of consecutive months in a style such as the following: In January, 2002, sale of our new “Shine” brand of detergent amounted to N230,000 in Lagos State; 225,000.00 in Ogun State, N200,000 in Delta State, N100,000.00 in Enugu State, N125,000.00 in Kano State and N130,000.00 in Benue State. In February, the sales were … (continuing in that way for six months in the six states).

The brevity and precision of the presentation and the versatility of use to which the table can be put are evident. We can tell at a glance the totals from each state and easily make comparisons among them. Any particular figure required for any special purpose can be easily extracted. On the basis of the trend conspicuously displayed by the whole table and for each region, management action for sustaining or improving performance – or even for suspending or discontinuing operations – can
be easily taken. If we consider that operational costs (including staff wages) could be shown on another table or integrated into the same table, we can see how utilitarian tables can be for management decisions. Every area of organisational activity amenable to statistical quantification can be subjected to tabulation. 7. Use of Illustrations This refers to the use in writing (for illustrative purposes) of pictures, sketches, drawings, photographs, and so on, and, in speech, music, films, tapes, models, gestures, projectors and similar objects. Some people include these illustrations and, indeed, the next item which we shall consider (i.e., charts or graphs) and even tabulation (which we have just discussed) among what are referred to as aids (audio, visual and audio-visual) to communication. The idea of aid is good because it supports the notion that use of these skills which we have been discussing is essentially invoked from the memory, rather than from the intellect or from acquired knowledge. So, they essentially aid (help) the intellect and acquired knowledge in producing the fullest impact in written matter. A picture or sketch of a plantation, an extension to a factory or of people sampling a new product would be very germane to a report on a related subject. Illustrations invoke images, bring out the human element of situations and, so, make for vividness of impact. A well-known Chinese dictum says that “a picture is worth 10,000 words”. Illustrations are very useful in house journals. 8. Use of Charts (Graphs) and Sketch Maps We shall try not to flog this item but make it as simply as possible. Points to note about graphs are the following:- (i) There are many kinds of them. (ii) They are usually constructed from quantitative data, such as contained in the table which we have already given. (iii) Their greatest value lies in showing a trend or movement in the subject which they depict. So, while the table gives precise information but may not give an immediate graphic visual picture of a situation or trend, a graph gives that immediate visual picture of a situation and trend. (iv) Graphs are usually drawn (at least, by the lay person or nonstatistician) on grid paper – paper divided into equal squares of known dimension, so that vertical and horizontal sides of each square can be given definite values. Dyer (1964:48-51) and Evans (1984:163-166) describe a number of kinds of graphs
(v) Related to point (iv) is the fact that graphs are constructed from exact data, either already presented on a table or available from research findings and, perhaps, given in an Appendix. This point should remind us that when it is necessary to show the exact values represented by a point on a graph, such a value should be written into the graph. This concludes our discussion of the Rote (or Mechanical) elements of the skills of continuous writing. The great value of these skills for enhancing the quality (both of visual appeal and physical layout and of clarity and explicitness of meaning) should be readily evident. These features also raise the status of a piece of writing and the attention which it can win because the features attract positive and favourable attention to the knowledgeableness of a writer. Every writer should give serious attention to using them. 

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