Are You a Professional Writer?

Do you write on the job? Are you paid for writing on the job? If so, that makes you a professional writer.

A “professional writer” is someone who is being paid to write consistent, dependable numbers of words regularly – no matter how he or she feels, whether inspired or not. We are not always going to be positive, happy, and generally “up,” especially over the holidays when there is so much to get done, and we are often distracted.

Here are some ways you can “fall back on technique,” to write clearly and effectively, even when inspiration is on vacation:

  1. Resist the urge to let “attitude” take over – especially in writing, especially when you are tired, or distracted with too much to get done, and too little time to do it in.

Think of “attitude” translated into writing – on purpose or unconsciously, as “tone” – the relationship we are using our writing to build, or to reinforce with the reader. “Tone” can not only reflect your attitude, your stress, your feeling of being overwhelmed, but the reader’s as well.

Consider especially how that reader is feeling right now and how he or she is likely to “hear” what you have written, above the noise of all the other thoughts that are crowding in on his or her decision-making process.

  1. Enlist your subconscious to help.

While you are doing “holiday things,” or washing the dishes, or walking the dog, let your mind wander a bit to the message, or to the project you have to write. Keep pen and paper handy wherever you are to capture your thoughts immediately in list form.

Think about that project as you drift off to sleep. Make notes as ideas occur to you during the night, when you wake up, and while the thoughts are still fresh.

Don’t waste good thoughts! Hang on to them! These are the grist for good writing, writing that will be clear and effective, especially for those tough, emotional, or worrisome pieces you write on the job.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals

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Professionalism vs. Availability

Remember the brick?

Perhaps not. “The brick” was a term used to describe early portable phones. Not so much because they looked like a brick – most of them were somewhat larger – but because they weighed at least as much.

The brick was so large, in fact, it was frequently left behind in the car. Hence no interrupted meetings, movies, or client meals.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was referred to a “Dear Amy” column, where Dear Amy was asked by “puzzled” for a polite way to ask guests to “put away their electronic toys and pay attention to the live people in the room.” Next came the movie screen admonishment to silence our cell phones to avoid distracting other theatergoers, or risk ejection from the theater.

This aspect of professionalism is rarely discussed in the business situation, but it should be: What is appropriate “communication” in this age of instant electronics? Should you text, or surf the web when you’re with others? Or is it O.K. to take a non-related call in the middle of a meeting, or a conversation with a customer or client?

“I’m waiting for an important call,” translates to “You’re not as important as the call I’m expecting.” So what do you do when you are expecting a critical call? One option is to put your phone on vibrate, and let voicemail handle it. If it is a true emergency, excuse yourself very briefly, with as little disruption to the meeting as possible.

Better yet, when you are expecting a call, set a time with the caller when you will be available to take the call, thus eliminating the double frustration both of the caller for not being answered, or of the client or meeting for being disturbed.

And what does all of this have to do with professionalism in the workplace? What is the trade-off between being immediately available to someone outside your meeting or conversation on the one hand, or giving 100% to the occasion at hand by “being there,” wherever you are, live. Does your partial, multi-tasking attention present you more favorably, more professionally than giving this client, this customer, this activity your entire attention? Do you become more credible by splitting your attention among them all?

Does the point really become wherever you are, be there?

A frequently-quoted Stanford University study debunks the hopeful myth of multi-tasking by demonstrating that human beings are physically incapable of giving 100% to two or more different activities simultaneously. So how do you build your credibility and enhance your professionalism on the job? Give 100% to each activity, one at a time. In short, wherever you are, be there!

On the other hand, what you do on your own time should reasonably be left to you and your friends – as long as it does not reflect negatively on your company, organization, or employer. Whether it is talking on your cell phone to a friend while shopping at the mall, or walking into a city parks pool while talking on your cell phone, as one unfortunate was reported to have done, that’s up to you.

What you do in the business situation is something else entirely. Client, customer, boss, or co-worker reactions might range from “oh well,” to mild annoyance, to downright full-blown irritation. None of them exactly what you’re looking for to build careers, credibility, or professionalism.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals

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Words that Create Mix-Ups – Part II

Let’s take a quick look at some more of those commonly misspelled, misused, or misunderstood words or phrases that can be such a problem:

How do you use “i.e.,” and “e.g.”?  There is a difference!

One way to remember which is which is to look at their Latin roots. My dictionary tells me that each phrase is an abbreviation for a Latin phrase: i.e. (id est) means “that is”; while e.g. (exempli gratia) means “for example.” Each, according to the AP style guide, is always followed by a comma.

To confuse the issue a bit, “I.E.” or “IE” both stand for the title “Industrial Engineer.”

You may have wondered about “pro-,” “anti-,” and “non-”

While each is most often used as part of an ordinary word, e.g., produce, anticipate, or nonsense, each may also be used to coin a new word, in which case, “pro” generally means for;  “anti” means against; and “non” means not.

Thus you have pro-peace; anti-war; and non-inflammatory. There are several rules and exceptions, so it’s always best to look up your specific word, and how to use it, in your dictionary and perhaps style guide as well.

And speaking of the need to standardize on a specific dictionary or style guide,

How about “bi-” and “semi-”?

“Bi-” means “every other,” while “semi-” means “twice.” So, when you say your newsletter is published “bimonthly,” that means it comes out every other month. But if you are really ambitious, and your newsletter is published “semimonthly,” your newsletter comes out twice a month (AP Style Guide) Whether these words are hyphenated or not depends on your dictionary or style guide.

There are some tricky exceptions. For example, “biannual” and “semiannual” are both words, mean the same, and are correctly spelled without the hyphen.  You could issue a policy update biannually (twice a year) – no hyphen, or semiannually (also twice a year).

To further confuse this issue, “biennial” means every two years. No wonder English is so difficult to learn!

Now for an easy one: “reject,” or “refute”:

Often used interchangeably, these two words have very different meanings. “Reject” means to refuse to accept. So you could say, “I totally reject the entire concept, and that is the end of it!”

On the other hand, if you just like a good argument, you could “refute” what someone has said, or offer proof that it was wrong, inaccurate, mistaken, or just a plain old lie! So you could say, “I am about to refute the accuracy of what he said: to prove that he has, indeed, lied about this matter.”

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

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Words that Create Mix-Ups Part 1

And then there are those pesky word mix-ups – words like their, they’re, and there, for one example. Or to, two, and too, for another. Or how about can’t, can not, and cannot? Or affect and effect? It’s and its? And the worst part? These words may be incorrectly used, but as long as they are spelled correctly, even if misused, Spell Checker will not catch them!

Let’s take a look and see what we can do with this merry mélange!

All right then, let’s start with alright: While alright is shown, and given an explanation in most dictionaries, it is still considered “non standard.” So, the correct way to spell the word is “all right” – two words.

Now let’s go for our first trio:  their, they’re, and there:

Their” is a member of that group of possessive words that does not use an apostrophe. “Our,” “your,” “my,” “mine,” and so on. Think about this kind of word, and you can add a few others to this list.

“They’re” is a lovely contraction, and means “they are.”Contractions are interesting in that the apostrophe (’) shows us that something has been left out. For example, the name O’Brian was originally “of Brian,” meaning Brian’s son or daughter. So in the name O’Brian, the apostrophe shows us that the “f” and the space have been left out. Similarly, for the word “they’re,” the apostrophe shows us that the space and the “a” have been omitted.

 “There” is a place.

So, perhaps we could say, “They’re there with their friends.”

And here’s a dangerous duo – possibly the two most frequently misspelled words in the English language – its and it’s:

 Its is – you remember – a possessive. Another of those possessive words that does not use an apostrophe. Did you think of “its” when adding words to your list in paragraph five?

It’s is – a contraction! “It’s” means “it is.” So what has been left out? The space and the “i.”

We could say, “It’s good to have its color such a cheery red!”

While we’re talking about the most frequently misused words in the language, here are three more – can not, cannot, and can’t:

“Can not” – two words – is only used when the next word is “only.” For example,“Mary can not only pitch, she can catch.”

“Cannot” – one word – is the most often used. For example, “I cannot thank you enough.”

“Can’t” is another of those – contractions. If you happen to be writing a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, you will not be using contractions in your writing. In the business situation, contractions will work in informal writing, but not when the situation calls for a more formal tone.

Here’s what I hope you will do this week: Concentrate on the words we’ve talked about today, to make sure you use these words correctly.

If you enjoy these Mix-Ups, let us hear your favorites! More next week.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

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What was that again?

Take a quick look at the following sentences. Can you see what the three of them have in common?

  1. The troops fired into crowds protesting the return of the religious leader.
  2. John and Bob were in the coffee room when Bill Smith and Art Jones from accounting walked in. Words were exchanged, and the two wanted to argue about the hiring policy decision.
  3. Army helicopter pilots reported seeing steam plumes venting from near the top of the smaller mountain last week, but they disappeared shortly after the observation.

Whatever else these sentences may have in common, none of them tells the reader who did what. Take another look.

In sentence 1, who was protesting the return of the religious leader? Was it the troops who were protesting? Was it the crowds? And in sentence 2, who was it who wanted to argue? And how about sentence 3?

Creating confusion is easy to do when the writer knows so much about the subject that it all seems clear at first glance. So now look at sentence 1. How can you make it perfectly clear who was doing the protesting?

Perhaps you said something like.

“The troops, who were protesting the return of the religious leader, fired into the crowds.”

Or, if it had been the other way around, perhaps something like,

“The troops fired into the crowds, who were protesting the return of the religious leader.”

And how about sentence 2. How could you make it clear which two wanted to argue?:

This one is relatively easy, right? All you need to do is substitute the names of the would-be arguers for “the two.” So fixes are not always that complicated. The hard part is to recognize when what you have written is not as clear to the reader as it was to you when you wrote it.

And now for sentence 3,  who was it who disappeared?:

This one is probably the most common source of confusion created by the writer. Is “they” the pilots (oh no!) or the plumes? This sort of confusion is also the easiest to spot when you proofread your writing before you send it. Just look for words like  “they,” “he,” “she,” “we,” “it.” Then substitute the name or description for that word.

Fixing this sort of confusion – who did what? – can be relatively easy. The trick is to be aware of, and to recognize the sentences that will be confusing to the reader. Then fix them.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

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Effective Email Structure for the Four Types of Email

How your email is structured – how it is presented, organized, and what it looks like – is critical to how your reader “gets it” – or not.

While various types of online business writing are done, let’s focus on the differences between traditional paper, and email writing: format, length, and tone.

Format can be an issue. If you are part of an intranet, it is likely, in fact even probable, that the screens of all the computers on that intranet will be set the same. This will not be true for emails going to computers outside of your intranet. So if your email is format-dependent, it will be a good idea to send it as an attachment.

How about length? The maximum length for an email should be not more than one-and-a-half to two screens. Any more than that is too hard on most readers’ eyes. The result of this can be an almost imperceptible eye irritation that may result in a not-so-imperceptible reader irritation – definitely not what you’re looking for.

Tone, always a critical element in any written communication, is especially important in an informal communication like email. “Tone” is the relationship the writer establishes or reinforces with the reader.

There are four types of email:

The original

The reply

The cover letter

An attachment

The original may be a very short message, requiring a very short answer. The original will be most effective if the first paragraph follows the who-what-when-where-why-how formula, and when you do this, you will most likely also reduce the number of emails in the string.

The reply to the original may also be very short. Depending on the amount of detail required for a complete answer, it may also be very helpful to use the who-what-when-where-why-how formula to reduce the number of questions going back and forth on this subject. Remember: no more than five lines in that first paragraph.

The cover letter for an attachment is an important, but frequently-overlooked option. The writer will forge ahead, saying everything he or she has to say in the email. This often results in a multi-screen email that increases the odds of misunderstanding, or even lack of understanding on the reader’s part. If your email will be more than one-and-a-half to two screens, “attach” it, and use a who-what-when-where-why-how cover letter.

An attachment may be as long as you need it to be. The first paragraph of each section, assuming there will be more than one section, should also be a who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

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What Should a Title Look Like?

The style you use to show the titles of books, magazines, plays, software, and so on has changed over the years as better technology has emerged. Even so, not all authorities agree on what this sort of “major” title should look like.

Let’s take a time out to take a quick look at the issue of style:

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is arguably the premier style guide for newspapers and publications written for the average adult reader. Also perhaps the most widely used business writing style guide.

The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, probably one of the most often used style guides for academic writing, defines style guidelines for the scholar. There are also specialized style guides for specialized fields and disciplines.

In addition, many universities, colleges, and schools devise their own style guides, addressing such common questions as “where does the comma go,”  “what should a title look like,” and “how many spaces should there be between sentences.” Similarly, a great many public- and private-sector organizations also produce their own style guides, similarly advising their writers how to use punctuation, or capitalize words.

Thus, we have two major styles: formal, or academic; and informal, or journalistic. Many style guides are available either in paper versions, or online, frequently on a subscription basis.

So, is there a difference between “correct” grammar and usage and style?

Absolutely. And the confusion and resulting arguments – online, as well as around the water cooler – can gobble up on-the-job hours, as well as playing fast and loose with the spirit of cooperation and respect every organization needs to be most productive.

The solution: Standardize on the style guide to be used in your office, or in your organization, and have everyone use the same guidelines.

Many organizations have a style guide that no one knows about. So find out if your organization has its own style guide.  If there is one, everyone needs to use that one!

But what if your organization truly does not have a standard style guide? Then you may use the style that seems to you most effective in making your point clearly – assuming, of course, that you are (1) using that style bit consistently, and are (2) also following the appropriate grammar rules.

Oh yes, back to titles:

What should a title look like?

The AP Stylebook says to capitalize the main words, including prepositions and conjunctions if they contain four or more letters; and to capitalize articles or short words (fewer than four letters) if it is the first or the last word in the title.

Then put quotation marks around the title, with the exception of the Bible, and reference materials.

MLA says capitalize the first, last, and all principal words in the title, including both words of a hyphenated word.

Then for the major works: books, plays, newspapers, journals, websites, online databases, films, radio or television broadcasts, performances, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture – well, you get the idea – italicize the title.

For titles of sub-sets of the major work, e.g., chapters of the book; essays, stories, or poems published as a part of the larger work; magazine or journal articles; pages of a website; TV broadcast segments – and so on, use quotation marks.

So who is right? As a practical matter, do what your boss says! Just (1) do it consistently; and (2) use the appropriate grammar rules, and you’ll be fine.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals

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How to Write a Blog Post that Gets Read

As I was thinking about this post, I remembered the professor who used a “shuffle the cards” exercise in his writing class. We were all so focused on giving good, clear instructions for shuffling cards, that we forgot the obvious step number one: “Start by obtaining a deck of cards.”

So, the obvious step number one in writing a blog post that gets read is, “Do you want to blog?” There are many good ways to pass along your information. Everything from phone calls, to text messages, to emails, and beyond.

If you have decided you want to write a blog, why?

There are different kinds of blogs. There are different ways to write a blog post, and different reasons for posting your content. You may want to express your feelings about a certain issue or happening. You may have a subject, or some ideas that you just need to share. Or, you may be supporting your organization or your business. Your blog site may be a personal one, or a business one. Next come the toughest questions:

What do you want each post on your blog site to achieve? What do you want your blog site overall to do for you? Are these goals consistent with each other?

With this in mind, what reading audience are you writing your posts for? Who will be interested in what you’re writing about? Are you speaking your language or theirs – both visually, and in words? Are the readers you’ve identified consistent with your reasons for blogging, and with what you want to achieve with your posts? Do they have the resources to do what you want them to do? How will you obtain, create, and maintain a good, appropriate mailing list?

When your medium (the blog posts); the type of content you want to write about, and the type of blog site you want to create; your reasons for writing it; the reader; the tone – the personal nature or the business nature of your blog site; and your expectations for the results you will get from each post, and from the blog site overall can be expected to work together, you’re ready to write.

At this point, with your strategy settled,

  1. Figure out what you want to write about with this post. To give you clarity and focus, a good place to start is by giving the post a rough title that says what you are posting about. Later on, you can rewrite that rough title into a headline for your post.
  1. When you write your introductory paragraph(s), appeal to the interests of your readers. Let them know what this post is about. Suggest how it will solve a problem they may be having.
  1. Organize and write your content for easy reading. The longer the post, the more important this becomes. Consider using sections, lists, and visual clues such as drawings, charts, and photos; type sizes and weights; perhaps videos, and colors to help your reader follow your conversation.
  1. Make it pretty. If it looks professional, you gain credibility. Consistency in appearance helps your readers to recognize your company and your brand at first glance, reinforcing your other consistent activities.
  1. Give the post a final once-over. Revise your working title into an accurate, clear, appealing “grabber” to bring your readers in. Check for awkward spots, typos and inaccuracies. Now you’re ready to go!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

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The Six Steps to Easier Spelling

Saw a sign the other day for a fundraising “sausage and pancake’s” breakfast, and thought about how often plural words are confused with plural possessive words. The easy way to remember the difference is that plural words – unless they are plural possessive words – do not have an apostrophe. The apostrophe is only used for possessive words – plural or singular, or for contractions.

A “singular” is one, while a “plural” is more than one. Generally, to form a plural, add an “s.” There are some exceptions:

  • To words ending in a consonant plus “y,” drop the “y” and add “ies.”
  • To words ending in a consonant plus “o” or to words ending in “x,” “s,” “z,” “ch,” or “sh,” add “es.”

So, for example, “uncle” becomes “uncles“; “company” becomes “companies“; and “Jones” becomes “Joneses.”

  • You could have one uncle, or six uncles.
  • You could talk about one company, or eight companies.
  • Your friend could be Joe Jones, and his family would be the Joneses.

Note: There are a few words that change in the plural form, e.g., woman becomes women; man becomes men; child becomes children.

Did you notice that when you are making a plural word, you do not use an apostrophe?

Bonus: The Six Steps to Easier Spelling

  1. Read more. The eye recognizes words by their shapes. Have you ever looked at a word and said, “That just doesn’t look right”? Train your eye by reading more, so that it recognizes the shapes of correctly spelled words more readily.
  1. Develop a “hit list.” As you are reading, keep a pen and paper at your elbow. When you see a word that doesn’t look like it is correctly spelled, make a note of it to check out with the dictionary later. If the word is correctly spelled, put it on your “hit list.” You can also add unfamiliar words to your list.
  1. Obtain a pad of self-stick notes. There are usually about 20-25 sheets to a 2 ½” or 3” pad.
  1. Write the first word on your “hit list” on each sheet in your own handwriting. Work on just one word at a time.
  1. Post those individual sheets everywhere. On the mirror, by the coffee pot, on the front door, on the back door, on the refrigerator, and – well, you get the idea.
  1. Leave the sheets up for 24 to 48 hours, then remove them.

Follow these six steps, and the correct spelling is yours!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals

 

 

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Getting a Job; Getting Ahead – The Communication Secrets You Need to Know

Whether you are a seasoned employee or just out of school and looking for your first “real job,“ the search can seem impossibly daunting. Even when jobs are plentiful.

So where do you start?

  1. First, you need to understand what business writing really is.

When I ask my workshop participants “What is business writing?” the answers vary widely. The answer is simple and straightforward: Business writing is a tool.

Business writing is as much a tool as a shovel, a rake, or a hammer. Business writing is very different from writing a term paper; different from writing a poem, a short story, a novel, or journaling. Business writing builds from the good writing skills we learned in school, and takes the next step.

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done. So select an appropriate way to use that tool to get the job done.

  1. Next, you need to understand what that job is: What is it each piece of business writing must accomplish? Most organizations must be results-oriented most of the time to stay in business! It’s important for you to understand this. Many business writers do not understand this, nor write this way, and may not get the results that you will be able to.

Why are you writing this piece? When you are successful, what will happen? How will you know you have succeeded?

  1. Third, ask yourself what tone will be appropriate to use with this particular reader. What tone, and what style is appropriate in your industry? In your organization?

Tone  is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. How would you describe the appropriate relationship you want to establish? You could use words to describe that relationship like “professional,” “helpful,” “technical,” “cooperative,” and so on. What is your organizational culture? Is the resulting tone appropriate for your purpose? Will it get the results you need? What is the environment in which your writing will be working?

And what style? Will your academic writing style fit in with your organization? Strictly academic writing must be totally objective, and generally uses scholarly words and phrases. Purely academic, or scholarly writing is meant to be “scholars writing for scholars,” and will not, generally, communicate well with the average adult reader, who frequently is not in the habit of curling up with a fascinating dissertation after dinner.

There are appropriate styles for most professions and disciplines that probably will not communicate with, explain, or help the information to be well understood by the average adult reader either, but are expected by readers within the profession or discipline where they are appropriate.

To be understood by the average adult reader – if that is your intended reader – you will probably want to use simpler, more comfortable words and phrases – not “vocabulary exercise words.”

Much of the time you will find, unlike when you are using the strictly academic style, that your writing needs to motivate, convince, or persuade your reader to take (or not to take) an action, or to change (or hold on to) a belief or a practice. Understanding the reader, the environment your writing must work in, and the job it must do will guide you in selecting the appropriate style.

Let me just say that in all the years I’ve been working with chief executives in business and in government, I’ve never had one ask me to teach their staffs to “write up” – to write more formally – to them. A comfortable, easy-to-read-and-grasp-quickly style is what they ask for. After all, they want to eat dinner with their families – and maybe watch some football too!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318-7412, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals

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