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Top 10 list of mistakes writing HI narrative


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Jim pointed out something to me that hit me like a ton of bricks concerning absent mindingly writing in concession statements. It's like shooting your self in the foot. This has caused me a lot of grief cause it allows the seller a way out. "will, there you go. I guess I don't really have to do that thing that there inspector is saying should be done".

Another one that Kurt mentioned was failing to state the facts. I have certainly commited this sin dancing on the issue but not reporting the facts.

I am well aware of K.I.S.S but I asking for comment beyond that.

What are some of the principles that we might be guided by in writing good HI narative competently? What mistakes do inspectors commonly make in writing narrative?

What say yee?

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I'll admit that it is one of my weak areas and I'm always trying to improve upon it. What I try to do is not get long winded and drone on about something. I find that some love to impress others, with what they know, and will put in as many big words and looonnnnggg sentences to prove it.

I try to write as if I was talking to the client, state what I found (a defect), why it's wrong and what needs to be done to correct it with as few words as possible. I find that if you do a good job in communicating with your client, on the job site, the report is more or less redundant.

Your mileage may vary.

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Off the top of my head I would say to always check you work for the basic steps of sound reporting.

1. This is what I saw/found/smelled/you name it.

2. This is what I know/think/suspect/you name it about that (based on my observations/training/experience/you name it, but don't bother saying that unless you feel the need).

3. This is what I recommend/you should do/you name it.

and if you want....

4. Here's where you should go to learn more if you're interested (good for complex/enviroment/you name it issues that you don't want to go on and on about or pretend to be an expert in).

Then there's the precaution of making sure anything stated as fact is indeed a fact, not merely an assumption or probability. Some HI's are a lot bolder than others about that kind of thing, so you'll have to find your own comfort level with it.

Like most of the others, I strongly advocate a mostly conversational tone written in plain English. How much to write is debateable, so I suggest writing as if you were doing the report for a good friend. If you would be okay with giving a good friend just one or two sentences about a particular thing, go with that; if you wouldn't be comfortable without saying more, do.

I like the way you're putting yourself out here, trying to improve your skills. Most of us have done that, and sometimes still do. Good for you.

Brian G.

Never Stop Learning [:-graduat

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Buy and read Strunk & White (aka The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White.) Try to get one of the older, pre-1999, versions.

Read it through then read it again, one chapter at a time. It's an easy read. I, quite literally, wore out two copies of it in college.

It's so succinct, so clear and so applicable to home inspection reporting that I can't imagine a better text to start with.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

Buy and read Strunk & White (aka The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White.) Try to get one of the older, pre-1999, versions.

Amazon has a lot of these, one being sub-titled The Original Edition. It's a paperback, and they start at 1.79 for a new copy (plus shipping). I think I can swing that.

Hey John, they also have On Writing by Stephen King for about 3.00 and up.

Brian G.

Write On [:-thumbu]

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Originally posted by hausdok

Kurt, Jim, et. al,

Wasn't there some kind of style book that WJ was always talking about being perfect for home inspectors?

OT - OF!!!

M.

Yes, Walter recommends the "Chicago Manual of Style" (not nearly as entertaining as Strunk & White in my opinion) and James Kilpatrick's "The Writer's Art." I've never read that book, but I used to read the newspaper columns that the book comprises. Kilpatrick's good.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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My favorite is also Strunk & White. It is not pedantic (boring) like so many. For example,the following is from chapter 5:

And would you write "The worst tennis player around here is I" or "The worst tennis player around here is me"? The first is good grammar, the second is good judgment — although the me might not do in all contexts.

No single book claims to do it all. In fact, the only way to really learn is to really do. My library also includes:

The Little Brown Handbook (Little & Brown)

On Writing Well (William Zinsser)

Originally posted by Jim Katen

Originally posted by hausdok

Kurt, Jim, et. al,

Wasn't there some kind of style book that WJ was always talking about being perfect for home inspectors?

OT - OF!!!

M.

Yes, Walter recommends the "Chicago Manual of Style" (not nearly as entertaining as Strunk & White in my opinion) and James Kilpatrick's "The Writer's Art." I've never read that book, but I used to read the newspaper columns that the book comprises. Kilpatrick's good.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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I have a copy of "The Elements of Style". It was required reading at Cornell, where I got my degree. A look into the background of the authors would make it clear why this was so.

Another good book, and one that I read based upon Kurt's recommendation, is "The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier", by Bonnie Trenga. She makes her points in a way that is fun and easy to read, while driving the message home. In it she tackles what she believes are the seven most common problems that weaken writing:

-- using passive voice

-- using nominalizations (a noun you have created from a verb or an adjective)

-- using vague "-ing" words where it is not clear who is doing the action

-- using too many weak verbs (various forms of to be, do, go, get, have, occur, make, etc.)

-- misplacing modifiers (a word or a phrase that is meant to describe the nearest noun)

-- trying to put too many thoughts into one sentence

-- wordiness

I like this book because I would rather focus my energies on a small number of the most common mistakes, than to try to memorize every rule and make my writing perfect.

The book I am studying now is "Keys to Great Writing" by Stephen Wilbers. It is heavier reading than Trenga's book, but I like it because he spends a lot of time showing the reader how to put his ideas into action. His five keys are: economy, precision, action, music, and personality. He also discusses the elements of effective composition and the writing process (drafting and revising).

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Is anyone interested in posting a few photos of some very obvious conditions which would warrant comment in an inspection report? Each condition should be clearly identifiable from a single photo. Individual inspectors who want to participate in the exercise can post the language they would use to specifically identify the component(s) in question, to describe the condition(s), and to recommend an appropriate action.

Comments about one another's posts should address specific pros and cons and the cons should be accompanied by suggested changes/revisions for improvement.

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Originally posted by housewhisperer

Is anyone interested in posting a few photos of some very obvious conditions which would warrant comment in an inspection report? Each condition should be clearly identifiable from a single photo. Individual inspectors who want to participate in the exercise can post the language they would use to specifically identify the component(s) in question, to describe the condition(s), and to recommend an appropriate action.

Comments about one another's posts should address specific pros and cons and the cons should be accompanied by suggested changes/revisions for improvement.

I think that's a good idea, although it should be in a separate thread under Report Writing.

I find this conversation very helpful; it's hard finding a group of old farts that are interested in improving their writing.

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I always taught both my employee inspectors and my students the importance of understanding the basic report writing ground rules established by the standard of practice which applied to their work. In the case of my company those rules were those of the ASHI Standards. In my teaching the ground rules were those of the State of Arizona Standards.

The October 2006 ASHI Standards state: “These Standards of Practice are not intended to limit inspectors from: B. designing or specifying repairs, [sic] provided the inspector is appropriately qualified and willing to do so.â€

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Writing is a bit like sex.

Just about everyone can do it, and we all think we're great at it, but the truth is: not everyone is.

Just like your partner is the best judge of your romantic skills, your audience will tell you what kind of writer you are. Post something for critique on this board, and you will get good, if not always tactful feedback.

My advice would be to take Mark Cramer's report writing class. He teaches this subject far better than anyone I've ever heard.

Until then, make sure every comment in your reports contains an observation, analysis, and recommendation (i.e. "this is what I saw", "this is what it means", "and this is what you should do next"). Use as few words as possible and write it in such a way that a 6th grader could understand.

Oh yeah, and never try to sound smart. If you are smart, clients will already know by the time they read the report. If you try to sound smart, it comes through and you inevitably end up sounding foolish.

Finally, take Katen's advice, whatever it is. He is leagues better at technical writing than anyone in this field.

Jim Morrison

Princeton, MA

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At the end of my inspection today, the buyer asked if I would like to review the report that had been done a few months prior for this property. I should know better, but I thumbed through some of it.

Typical to this area, it was horrible, software generated boilerplate that lists generic descriptions of building products, not specific to what is actually on site. Each paragraph ends with "Condition: Appears serviceable".

Handing it back to him, I noticed something on the front page. I thought I misread it, but no, it really said:

"Climactic Conditions - 45°, Clear"

It just illustrates Jimmy's statement: "If you try to sound smart...you inevitably end up sounding foolish."

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

What are some of the principles that we might be guided by in writing good HI narative competently? What mistakes do inspectors commonly make in writing narrative?

What say yee?

One of my pastimes is reading inspection reports. I'm always looking for better ways to state things, as well as as well as looking for examples of what not to do.

Below are two screen shots from an actual report. I'm not going out on a limb by saying that it's a stupefyingly bad (good?) example of what NOT to do, from the idiotic first sentence in the first screen, right through to the nonsensical last paragraph in the second screen.

I think it was Kurt who said that lately, he's been embarrassed to be known as a home inspector. After seeing this, I want into that club.

http://static.flickr.com/139/328200147_470caddfa4_o.jpg

http://static.flickr.com/136/328199779_eb0b76a9da_o.jpg

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A couple of things I learned from Walter Jowers that have worked well for me:

It's not enough to write your report so that it can be understood. You've got to write it well enough so that it can't be misunderstood. For instance, I once wrote the recommendation, "Replace the gutters with the roof." I meant to say that they should replace the gutters at the same time that they replace the roof. Most people would probably figure that out. However, it doesn't pass the can't-be-misunderstood test. I can easily imagine someone discarding his gutters entirely after replacing the roof based on this recommendation. Another inspector once wrote, "There are signs of a fire in the attic. . . "

When writing about a particular problem, start the explanation with a description of the location. If you just jump into a discussion of the intracacies of a problem, readers are often lost because they're trying to imagine it in their heads as you describe it. Without a location, they lack the foundation necessary to build the image in their heads. I start my paragraphs with, "At the master bathroom window," or, "Just above the front door," or, "In the crawlspace under the kitchen." Once people have the location set in their heads, their imagination is ready to add images to it and they can more easily visualize the issue that you describe. This technique has the added benefit of automatically improving your writing style as every paragraph won't start with "the" or "there is." If you use boilerplate in your reports, just insert a placeholder of some type at the beginning of the boilerplate. For instance, "L*O*C*A*T*I*O*N blah, blah, blah, this a piece of boilerplate that I use to describe some stupid problem that I see time and again." Before you finish your report, do a search for "L*O*C*A*T*I*O*N" to be sure you haven't missed any. With this technique, boilerplate sounds less like boilerplate and more like custom narrative.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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A lot of great ideas here - but we're missing 2 very important ideas (IMO)

1. Hire a writing inspector to inspect your reports.

AKA an English Writing professor/teacher

[And, if you want to dig deep, have a lawyer look over some of your work too!]

2. Proofread/reread. Proofread/reread. Proofread/reread. [in proofing this line just now, I corrected two typos!]

Right now, as soon as you log off, pull the first report you did in Aug, 2006; the first in May 2006, and the last in December, 2006.

In that order, read each slowly and carefully. Be merciless with yourself

Find a poorly written passage in each.

Rewrite it 3 different ways

Find another poorly written passage and rewrite.

(If you can't find a poorly written passage, send a copy to me For just $19.99 each month from now to Armageddon....)

Good writing takes as much work and time as any other skill

Have a friend read those reports as well. After s/he has read them, go through the reports together and tell him/her about the house and it's problems.

(BTW, "him/her" is poor usage and writing, IMO. 3 Dog biscuits to the winner of the "Rewrite that paragraph contest)

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A good deal of the reporting style will also depend on what part of the country you are in. A good example would be a report that is written in the Southern part of the country. I have been known to use "Y'all" in my reports; "Y'all need to be sure that a licensed electrician makes that needed repair".

I try my best to write my reports in the first person. For the most part my reports read like a fairly normal conversation. I don't know if this is good or bad, but I seldom have to explain anything.

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The Katen via Jower's approach is it, but it's ignoring the digital photo angle. Folks really dig photos, and it's pretty hard to misunderstand a picture.

For stuff that gets convoluted in language, a simple photo, an arrow, and a quick notation is very helpful.

I still hate dinking around w/a camera, but if one has software optimized for photo use, it's very effective.

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