Have You Ever Wished You Hadn’t Said It?

Ever wished you could take those words back? Ever wished you hadn’t said it? Well, I guess most of us have.

Those “Oh, I wish I could take it back,” or “Can I have a do-over?” moments generally fall into two categories: (1) Content, or what you say; and (2) Mechanics – or how you use the English language to say it. I got thinking about this over the weekend, (1) as a great neighbor wished me a “happy” Memorial Day.

How well intentioned! How kind of my neighbor to wish me, as I’m sure it was meant, a happy holiday. But what a contradiction in terms. Happy Memorial Day? While there must be tremendous gratitude for those who have given their lives for our country, as there are those happy memories of our deceased loved ones, it just doesn’t seem quite right to consider a day of reflection for their impacts on our lives today as a happy time. Grateful? Maybe. Appreciative? Maybe.

Another sign of the times? Probably. When, in 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic – an organization of Union veterans of the American Civil War – set aside a “Decoration Day” for putting flowers on veterans’ graves, the intent was clear. Today? Maybe not so much, as Decoration Day has morphed into the more inclusive Memorial Day, with its attendant day off, sales, and picnics, sometimes following a trip to the cemetery. And that’s why I was being wished a “happy”one. And why my neighbor, when he realized the content he had offered, was embarrassed.

In the second category – mechanics, or how you say it:  The frequently-seen sign outside the dental or medical office, reading “Now Accepting New Patients.” A real potential for disaster on three counts: (1) tone, (2) word choice, and (3) potential for very unfortunate misspelling, or misunderstanding.

  1. Tone and (2) Word Choice. Instead of saying, “Now Accepting New Patients,” which is (2) pretty formal and could come across like the professional inside is doing you a favor, why not just say, “New Patients Welcome” – which expresses a far warmer tone – much more desirable if you are looking for new patients

3 Potential for Unfortunate Misspelling. “Accepting” and “Excepting” can sound very similar, and can be easily misunderstood, or confused. Not a good situation when you want potential patients to know they will be favorably received – “accepted”; and not “excepted,” or turned down.

Two more easily misunderstood, or misspelled words: accede and exceed. Both of these words date back to the 14th century, when they did not look or sound as similar as they do today. Accede means, Mr. Webster tells us, “to express approval or give consent.” Exceed means “to be greater…better…or more than…to go beyond the limit.”

So give some thought to what you want to say – to your content, and then to how you will say it. Make what you mean to say very clear, so you can get the results you have planned for. Ask yourself, ”Is this what I really mean?” And then look particularly at how you say it: choice of words, resulting tone, and potential for misunderstanding, or misspelling.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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More About Connotation

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Words and Phrases that Affect Your Reader  – Not Always in a Good Way, and promised more of what to avoid in another post. Here it is.

First off, we defined a connotative word as a word that in and of itself “carries baggage.” Our old friend Webster’s defines connotation as “an idea or quality that a word makes you think about in addition to its meaning.” Two examples might be “complaint,” and  “propaganda.” Or how about “diet,” which may be defined as, “food or drink regularly provided or consumed” – in other words, we’re just talking about what you eat – which is probably not what most of us think when the word “diet” is introduced into the conversation!

Second, we said that connotative words and phrases are often judgmental words or phrases.  Sometimes they are overly formal, or “vocabulary exercise” types of words that, at the very least, can make others feel uncomfortable, if not outright put down.

And third, sometimes those words and phrases that may affect your reader negatively are just words or phrases that are keeping bad company – just an unfortunate random combination of, or juxtaposition of your words.

But connotation affects everyone. We’ve been talking about “big people” – adults in the workplace – to this point, but think about kids. Tell any two-year-old it’s time for a nap, and see what happens! Unless that child is willing to admit he or she is bone tired, and can see a little rest as a good thing, “nap” may mean being separated from the people or the activities he or she is enjoying.

Or how about “Don’t you know how to tie your shoes?” vs. “Do you know how to tie your shoes?”

How many connotative words can you identify in the following three sentences? Underline them. And then, how can you provide the same information without using any connotative words? Note: These sentences were extracted from real letters to real people.

  1. You assert that we failed to handle your complaint properly, but what you fail to recognize is that you read the guarantee wrong and are not entitled to a refund in the first place.

 

  1. You failed to pass the test.

 

  1. You obviously failed to comprehend what I said, even though it was written in plain English.

 

(Note: The word “you” may be thought of as a “finger pointer.” When you use “you” or the person’s name in a positive message it strengthens the positive feeling. Quite the reverse is true when you use “you,” or the person’s name in a negative message.)

 

So connotative words are words that trigger feelings when they assume meanings beyond the dictionary definition. This often happens because of when they are used and the context in which they are used. They may be used to create feelings, but should not be used without appropriate thought. When they are used, it should be for a definite purpose, determined in advance.

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You Wrote this Post – Thank You!

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your questions and comments. Today, I’d like to share two of these emails with you.

From Doha, Qatar comes a great observation from our friend the college professor: “…loved your reference to the dictionary being a fun read…” (Thanks so much, professor!) And then he goes on,

“I speak of connotation as the flavor of the word….”

What a great way to look at it! What are the basic historic four flavors – salt, sour, sweet, and bitter? Think of all the connotative words (words that “carry baggage,” making their meaning sometimes go beyond the dictionary definition), and how could you then define the connotative meaning better than by identifying the connotative meaning of that word as being, “salt(y), sour, sweet, (or) bitter”? Good way to think about those words!

From Portland, Oregon:

“We use a lot of bullet points in our reports. Some of the points in a given list may be complete sentences, and some are not. When that is the case, should periods be used at the end of each bullet point?…What do you do if there is more than one sentence in a point?”

This is a great question, and one frequently asked in class. Your organization may have its own style and preferences, and if so, you’ll want to use them.  (An organizational Style Guide is a great idea.)

On to the answer:

To begin with, use parallel construction; that is,

  • When one bullet point is in sentence form, all bullet points should be in sentence form.
  • Similarly, if your bullet points are not sentences, but a few words on each line to form the list, there should be no sentences – all should be “list” items. The first word, along with any proper nouns, should be capitalized. There should be no punctuation following each list item.
  • This three-point explanation is an example of the sentence form bullet point list.

You can use parallel construction to strengthen the case you are building with your bullet points. When your list is in either sentence, or list form, the first word should be the same part of speech – usually an action word (a verb), in business writing. For example:

In addition to my work responsibilities, I have participated in a variety of community and volunteer activities. I have:

  • Increased member pledge amounts to my church by 37% in a one-year period.
  • Developed a training program for new youth umpires for our neighborhood Little League program.
  • Raised funds, recruited sponsors, and organized an adult volunteer program to support our elementary school’s Youth Garden project.

And you could continue, using strong action words to introduce each bullet point. Do you see how this practice positions the writer? He or she increased, developed, and raised… An active, results-oriented go-getter, indeed, especially when coupled with a similarly-formatted list of on-the-job achievements. Further, did you notice how the actual number (37%) “proved” the accomplishment, making it more concrete and believable?

So how was this second bullet point list punctuated? Because each “action item” completes the “I have” introductory stem to form a complete sentence, each ends with a period. If there were two sentences to a particular point, each sentence would have the appropriate ending punctuation (period, exclamation point, or question mark).

You could also have a single sentence in list form. If you have one sentence, with its various points in a list, it could look like this:

This job requires the employee to:

  • be at work promptly,
  • function independently,
  • respect co-workers, and
  • provide back up as requested by the motor pool.

In essence, this format splits a sentence into bite-size pieces, which makes it easier for your reader to “get it,” and remember it.

Three ways to format your bullet list:

  1. Each point is a complete sentence, punctuated and capitalized as a complete sentence.

1a. With an introductory stem, each bullet point completes the sentence thus formed. The part of this sentence actually in the list is capitalized, and has ending punctuation – usually a period in the business situation.

  1. If your bullet points are not sentences, but a few words on each line to form the list, the first word, along with any proper nouns, should be capitalized. There should be no punctuation following each list item.
  1. You could have a single sentence in list form.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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 and Phrases that Affect Your Reader – Not Always in a Good Way

“Tone” – the relationship the writer sets up, or reinforces with the reader – is such a critical part of your business writing that we talk about it often. Today let’s start a list with the first three of the tools of tone.

The first thing to consider is that, if we accept the above definition of tone as being the relationship the writer sets up with the reader, just think of the power that gives the writer. And thus, must be carefully considered during the writing process.

  1. In general, words and phrases are some of the tools used to build, or to reinforce that relationship. For the most part, those words and phrases go beyond the dictionary definition to create a feeling, or an emotion.

To begin with, let’s look at some of these connotative words. These are words that in and of themselves carry “baggage.” For example, complaint. To a police officer, a complaint may simply be the paperwork, or the issue itself – perhaps the need to trim tree limbs overhanging the sidewalk. To go beyond how the police officer understands and uses the word, to a frightened person who does not have the same understanding of the word as the officer has, it may mean little short of someone banging on your door in the middle of the night to carry you off to jail! While this is a rather extreme example, perhaps it makes the point.

Another negatively connotative word is propaganda, which somehow morphed from being something positive, done “for the faith” into its present negative connotation. Pope Gregory XV, who established the congregation for propagating the faith back in 1623, would, most likely, have been distressed when, by 1718, the meaning and use of the word had changed so drastically. Don’t you just love reading your dictionary? There is so much information in dictionaries! So many stories to learn! While the plot may be a bit thin, and character development a bit weak, dictionaries are a great read!

2. High-blown, or very formal words and phrases also create tone, and usually a negative one. Unless you are working on a vocabulary exercise, or a paper, thesis, or dissertation where these types of words and phrases are expected, if not downright required, it’s best to use easily-understood words and phrases to help your reader understand what you are saying. Your reader’s vocabulary struggles often lead to massive frustration – not the environment in which you want your writing read. So check on the expectation or requirements of your reader, and of the piece you are writing, as you consider the tone of words to use.

3. Negative connotation can also happen randomly, when there is an unfortunate combination of, or juxtaposition of, your words.

So there you have the first installment of three easy ways to create a negative, or unfortunate connotation. Probably not a good idea in most situations. More of what to avoid in another post.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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The Language of Business Writing – Is It Really Different?

Well, yes and no. The main difference between the written language we learned in school, and the written language we use on the job, is purpose. What language are you speaking, and to whom? And most importantly – why?

To oversimplify, the purpose of academic, or formal writing was, at least initially, to give us the skills we needed to succeed in the formal or academic setting. The skills not only to write well in a scholarly manner, but the skills we needed to help us learn well from all types of writers, including the scholarly ones.

An additional, and frequently overlooked benefit was that, virtually unconsciously, we learned to write with a certain “tone,” garnering skills that enabled us to build, or reinforce a relationship that would allow us to fit in with the people we wanted to meet, know, or work with as adults.

On the other hand, business writing has a far different purpose. The purpose of business writing is to get a job done in the business situation. In the same way a shovel, rake, or hoe is designed for, and used for its specific purpose, business writing is a tool to get a job done!

And in the same way the design of the garden tool has been modified to do the best job of the job it has been assigned, the various tools of business writing are similarly designed to do the best job of the job they have been assigned. Business writers need to learn those skills.

And on yet another hand, there is at least one common factor: the proper use of the English language – and in particular the grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage that those English teachers – God Bless ‘em! – had the patience to teach us, whether we wanted to learn, or not.

So let’s take a look at five of the most common errors that mark your writing as being not quite up to speed with those folks you may want to meet, know, or work with, now that we are adults. Do you recognize any of them? Here’s a very quick short quiz (answers at the end):

1. So… Let’s begin with quotation marks, and where the period (.), comma (,), colon (:), and semicolon (;) go – inside of, or outside of that closing quotation mark?

.             ,             :            and          ;

2. Do you see anything wrong with this sentence?

The Smith’s and the Johnson’s were invited to go with the Walker’s.

3a. its means______________________________________

  b. it’s means______________________________________

4. When do you use each of the following:

   a. Can not

   b. Cannot

   c. Can’t

5. When do you use “lay,” and when do you use “lie”? This one has been irritating students of “proper English,” virtually forever!

   a. Use “lay” when ______________________________________________________

   b. An example of using “lay” correctly in a sentence is: _______________________________

   c. Use “lie” when ___________________________________________________________

   d. An example of using “lie” correctly in a sentence is:________________________________

Hope you enjoyed this week’s brainteaser. Let me know if you’d like to do it again soon. Here are the answers:

  1. So… Let’s begin with quotation marks, and where the period (.), comma (,), colon (:), and semicolon (;) go – inside of, or outside of that closing quotation mark?

.”                  ,”                  “:          and          “;

2. Do you see anything wrong with this sentence?

The Smith’s and the Johnson’s were invited to go with the Walker’s.

The three words boldfaced and in black, are all singular possessives – one person owning something. Makes one want to ask, “(Joe) Smith’s what?” His house? Book? Party? Same for the Johnson’s what, and the Walker’s what.  What is it each possesses? The problem here is that if you are talking about a couple, or a family, the Smiths, the Johnsons, and the Walkers, are plurals (more than one), and not possessive at all. Plain old plurals (unless they are possessive), are not made with apostrophes.

3. a. its means: “its” is possessive.

   b. it’s means: “it is.”

Its/it’s are, arguably, the most commonly misspelled words in the English language

4. When do you use each of the following:

a. Can not: The only time you use “can not” (two words) is when the next word is “only” – e.g., She can not only dance, she can sing.

b. Cannot: This is the one you will generally use.

c. Can’t: This contraction of “cannot” is generally used for less formal communication, including business use.

5. When do you use “lay,” and when do you use “lie”? This one has been irritating students of “proper English,” virtually forever! Or at least since 1770, when, my Webster’s tells me, a group of scholars started trying to correct those who were misusing it!

a. Use “lay” when: There are so many definitions and uses for “lay,” that the mind boggles. Let’s stick with the one that gives so many folks problems. Use “lay” when you mean to put something down.

b. An example of using “lay” correctly in a sentence is: I will lay my books on the table.

c. Use “lie” when: There are probably as many definitions for “lie” as there are for “lay.” So, as before, let’s look at the one  most likely to give problems. Use “lie” when you mean “to recline,” or, as Webster’s puts it, “to be or to stay at rest in a horizontal position…”

d. An example of using both “lay,” and “lie” correctly in a sentence is: I think I’ll lay my books on the table and go lie down for a while.

Got some favorites we can take on? Let us hear from you!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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 Deal With Difficult Communication Issues on the Job

First Step: Avoid them. If that’s not possible, you’ll have to deal with them.

Think back to the most recent time you had a difficult conversation with a customer, or with a coworker. (1) How did you handle it? (2) What happened as a result? (3) What was the real issue? (4) In retrospect, and given the results you got, what, if anything, would you have done differently – or will do differently, next time?

Here’s a quick formula you might use to smooth out your next difficult conversation in advance. As you see this difficult, or unpleasant conversation developing, and before you become enmeshed too far, ask yourself: (1.) What is my purpose in having this conversation? And then,

 

2. What do I want to achieve here?

3. If you have no answer for either of these questions, maybe it’s time to take your polite leave.

4. It has been said that you cannot be emotional and logical at the same time. So, by having this analytical dialogue with yourself, you can remove the emotion, and concentrate on the logical. The next question, a key question, is to determine what the real issue is in this difficult conversation. Yours, and his, her, or theirs.

5. Choose the outcome you need, and as the conversation progresses, be certain that everything you say contributes to that outcome.

6. If, rather than your being in the middle, a situation already exists for you to fix, you have two options: (1) do nothing, and wait to see what happens, and (2) do something – but what?

In any case, remain professional, pleasant, objective, and calm. Stay focused on what you want to achieve. Don’t lose focus and allow yourself to sink in a swamp of unrelated and useless details.

Some communication issues you can control.  These are usually the outgoing ones. For a phone call, perhaps to resolve a difficult or controversial issue, or maybe just to avoid making an issue any more difficult than it already is, you may want to try this:

  1. Jot down a few notes for yourself before picking up the phone – just a few words on each point you want to cover to remind yourself of the points you want to include. These are “talking points,” not a script. (Scripts sound phony.)

2. You may find it helpful to start your conversation with an objective who-what-when-where-why-how first paragraph, identifying yourself, and the situation. Be as objective as you can. “Just the facts, ma’am!”

3. Before making that phone call, anticipate the other person’s comments, complaints, or questions. Practice the answers before picking up the phone (good idea to do this for every contact, and every contact medium).

4. For that in-person meeting, you’ll want to prepare an agenda to hand out at the meeting, leaving space between agenda items to take notes. For the phone call your contact is expecting, you may or may not want to prepare an agenda and email it in advance. This is a strategy consideration.

Incoming messages are harder to control. You cannot always anticipate the unexpected! So what do you do when you receive an unexpected, unpleasant, or even angry email, phone call, or visit?

  1. Sound, or seem glad to hear from, or see, the other person. Be pleasant, be professional.

2. Clear your mind and focus on this discussion, especially on what he or she is saying, so you can:

3. Re-state what he or she has said, in other words, to make sure you have a clear understanding of what each of you agrees to.

4. If you can, set up a conversational “agenda.”

5. Set up reasonable expectations for this conversation.

6. Take good notes, making sure you have proper spellings – especially of names – and complete contact information.

In many cases, you will be able to resolve the issue at this point if you can remain focused, professional, pleasant, objective, and calm. When this is the case: Keeping a copy, and using an appropriate tone, confirm, or re-state what you have agreed to, in writing – by email, paper mail, or note card, as appropriate for the tone you want to establish or reinforce with this person.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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Is Your Writing Clear as Mud?

Yep, it happened again. And all you were doing was sitting in front of your computer, minding your own business, and going through the daily plethora of incoming emails. And there it came. You didn’t deserve this first thing in your working morning. But there it was.

There was another email from your co-worker.  The one whose emails you especially dread. The email you knew would only be the first in a long series of email exchanges as you tried to figure out what he or she was trying to tell you. The one with a foggy subject line (the email, not the co-worker, although….) You knew automatically that this email would be very, very long while the writer seemed to be working out just what he or she was trying to say, and that you would have to spend extra time you didn’t have this morning, guessing at just what your co-worker was trying to tell you – just as you always have to do with this person.

And it may have crossed your mind that if your co-worker only knew what he or she was talking about…. Because consciously or not, unfairly or not, that is how most of us, as readers, evaluate the writing of others: If we don’t know what the writer is talking about, we assume that the writer doesn’t, either.

Don’t let this happen to you! Don’t be the writer who produces those dreaded emails. Your writing must build your credibility and professionalism, not destroy it.

Here’s how to do it right:

1. The biggest hindrance to clarity is sending yourself mixed messages. Lack of clarity in your writing is almost always due to lack of clarity in your thinking. So start by asking yourself, “What do I want to tell my reader?” And then, “Why?” And maybe, from a strategic point of view, “What do I want my reader to think I have said?”

2. Clarify, in your own mind, whether you are writing to inform – in which case you will use words like “tell,” “state,”  “notify,”  “inform”…. Ask yourself, “Inform about what?”

If you are writing to persuade – in which case you will use words like “motivate,” “convince,” “justify,” “persuade”…. Ask yourself, “persuade to do what?

This choice is the most critical decision you will make about this piece of writing. Writing to inform is very different from writing to persuade. And you need to know which you are doing, to be clear with your reader.

If you are writing to inform, you will want to put the information before your reader as clearly and concisely as you can, but once he or she has your information, what that reader does with, or about it is up to the reader.

On the other hand, if you are writing to persuade, you will obviously want to put the information before your reader clearly and concisely, but the whole point of the piece is what the reader will do with the information you have presented.

Be clear in your own mind which side you’re on before you begin to write, if you want to be clear to your reader. Your reader needs to know, “What am I supposed to do with, or about, this piece of writing?”

3. So now that we have pretty well nailed our strategy, and understand what we want to have happen, it’s time to look at the mechanical devices that will help to clarify our writing:

a. Begin with a who-what-when-where-why-how first paragraph.

b. Select your content to relate to the needs of your readers.

c. Organize your content. Before you begin to write, group similar information. Depending on the length of your piece, each group will be either a paragraph or a section/chapter. Then organize your “groups” in a logical sequence

d. Vary the length of your words, sentences, and paragraphs. Some short, some long, some in between.

e. Use words that are easily understood by, and are within the comfort level of your reader

f. Use an average sentence length of 14-17 words.

g. Use active sentences.

h. Use alternative formats. Lists, using numbers, letters, or bullet points are especially useful.

i. Decide on your last paragraph: conclusion? summary? “nicety?” or just quit? Here’s a chance to clarify what your reader is supposed to do, if anything.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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Does Your Writing Make You Look Like a Player?

You’re watching as the first golfer walks up to the tee box. You watch how he or she starts out.  How confident and how competent he or she appears. His or her attention to the details others may ignore. You can tell, just from how meticulously this golfer takes his or her stance, that this golfer will be a player – or not.

You cannot tell what kind of a person that golfer is from his or her stance at the first tee, but you can anticipate how well you can reasonably expect that golfer to do. Maybe what kind of a player he or she will be. You may even ask yourself, “Would I like to have that person on my team for the next tournament?”

Have you ever thought that your writing can say those same things about you, as well? Do you look like a player?

To begin with, good golfers, indeed good athletes, and good writers, all know that paying attention to the details others let slide, or don’t think matter, is critically important to their success. It is, in fact, a serious part of looking like, as well as being, a player, no matter what the game.

As Pro Golfer Billy Casper once said, “At my first Masters, I got the feeling that if I didn’t play well, I wouldn’t go to heaven.” That’s serious.

So what are the details that others may let slide that you need to pay attention to?

There seems to be a trend toward ignoring what Miss Cooke, my English teacher considered critical: You know what I mean, the grammar, the spelling, the usage, the punctuation – the mechanics of the language. Many folks out there no longer see these issues as very important.

If you want to stand out from your competition for a job, a promotion, or getting that contract, start with the detail that others may let slide. Improve your grammar and usage skills. One place to start is with the quick blogs on this site. Another is to borrow a good English textbook from a friend, or maybe the kids.  Does your company or organization offer workshops, or a tuition reimbursement program? It’s amazing to me that so many people looking for a job do not see the mechanics of the language as being as important as the people doing the hiring do. Go figure!

And certainly co-equal with the mechanics of the language is the strategic side of your business writing. In the business situation, your communication is meant to get results – with your writing and with your speaking. While there are fewer strategic business writing books available, perhaps your librarian, or your favorite bookstore will be able to recommend one. You may want to check out the posts for the last two weeks on this site to get you started. Many of the posts on this site, even the ones listed under a variety of categories, cover a variety of strategic tactics and concepts. Check ‘em out.

  • We said that, “You can tell, from how meticulously this golfer (begins)…that this (person) will be a player – or not.” The business writer does this with the first paragraph.
  • And then we said, “…you can anticipate how well you can reasonably expect that (person) to do.” This you demonstrate somewhat subtly with (a) the “tone” of the piece, (b) the content you elect to include, (c) how well your material is organized and presented, and (d) perhaps the “call to action” at the end, if there is one. The test: If your reader were asked what you said, could that reader give one single, clear sentence to sum it all up?
  • And finally we said, “Would I like to have that person on my team…?” This desirable question, whether you are looking for a job, a promotion, or a contract, should be the result of the piece as a whole. A big part of that must be the clarity of that one-sentence summary the reader takes away in his or her own words, and how quickly he or she “gets it.” What the reader thinks you said is what you said to him or to her.

What do people want to think about the business people they do business withtoday? How about decency, appreciation, honesty, respect, leadership, integrity, excellence – especially in the areas and with the problems you can solve for them.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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Your Best Email Strategy

Very few writers realize that there are four different types of email, and that it’s important to determine which type you will be writing before you begin.  Each will be somewhat different from the other three.

The four types of emails are (1) the “original” email, which should be no longer than a single screen to a screen and a half at the very most; (2) the response to the original email, no more than a screen; (3) an attachment, usually a much longer piece; and (4) the cover letter for the attachment, usually a screen or less. Frequently a who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph, no more than five lines,  telling the reader what you are sending, will do it.

Shorter is better today, as long as you cover what needs to be said.

Important as the mechanics of writing are – and they absolutely are – that’s only the first half of what you must know to write effectively – to write for results.

The second part of writing for results is your strategy. So let’s pick up there from last week. For business writing, a well thought out strategy is crucial to getting the results your writing is meant to achieve.

Let’s take a longer look at the starting point for developing a solid strategy,

The Four Critical Questions:

  1. What is the piece I am writing?

Are you using an email when a USPS letter could be more effective? A phone call when a text might get you better, faster results? Are you trying to avoid the personal touch by using an impersonal medium rather than a personal contact? Is email the best way to communicate with your potential reader? It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and the best way to achieve that goal with this specific reader.

Achieve that goal? While it may seem incontrovertible that of course you want the reader to read what you have written, consider the possibility that your strategy might be better served if that piece is not read at all! I leave that one to you and your good judgment.

So question #1 to ask yourself:  (a) Should I pass this particular piece of information along at all?  (b) If so, should I pass it along in writing? By email? And then, if so,  (c) Do I want the reader to read this piece, or not?

2. To whom?

So who is this prospective reader? Who should he or she or they be? Think about who your real reader is. Are you writing directly to the decision-maker? To the gatekeeper, the person who frequently decides whether or not the decision-maker will get the material you’ve sent? To the influential, the person who has the most “say” in what the decision-maker decides?  To all of the above?

What do you know about the attention span of your potential reader(s)? Does this mean a “just the facts ma’am” communication, or does your potential reader want all the details. And how does he, she, or they want it presented? How long should your piece be if you want your readers to read it?

Question #2 to ask yourself: How will I need to adjust my writing – if it all – based on the answers to these questions?

3. Am I informing? Or persuading?

This decision is possibly the most critical of the four critical questions. Here’s where you break down writer’s block. Here’s where you tighten up your writing. Here’s where you cut to the chase, and quit rambling.

Let’s define “informing” in the context of this discussion. By “informing” I mean you are just providing information. You have no vested interest. What the reader does with the information is up to the reader.

“Persuading,” is a completely different matter. You do have a vested interest. You do care what the reader does with the information you provide.

Think about each of these two pieces:

(1) I am going to write a one-page email to Joe Jones informing him of the changes to our XYZ process (information side).

(2) I am going to write a one-page email to Joe Jones persuading him to implement the new changes to our XYZ process (persuasion side).

How will they differ? How will you write each?

4. Of What? To do what?

Focus in.  (1) On the information side, what are you informing your reader about?  (2) On the persuasion side, what do you want your reader to do? These are really the key questions which, if left unanswered, will keep your thought process in a muddle.

Once you can clarify your answers, a remarkable thing happens: The piece almost writes itself!

Now you’re ready to consider the results this piece needs to achieve; the tone you will use to get those results; and the content you will include, based on the reader’s need and use for this information, and your purpose for writing it.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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The Two Things You Must Know to Write for Results

Thinking back to their school days, many people think of writing as consisting of the traditional mechanics of the language: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. Sadly, not without some uncomfortable memories.

Fortunately, important as the mechanics of writing are – and they are – that’s only the first half of what you must know to write for results.

The second part of writing for results is strategy. And in many, if not most cases, the strategy behind writing effectively may be virtually overlooked. For business writing, a well thought out strategy is crucial to getting the results your writing is meant to achieve.

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done, just as a shovel, hammer, or rake is a way to get a job done. The two tools you must master on the job are the mechanics, and the strategy of each piece you write.

On the personal level, there is no question that proper use of the mechanics of the English language is critical, both to your being hired in the first place, and to enhancing your chances of promotion once you are on the job. So, just for fun, see how fast you can answer the following three very common mechanical issues (The answers are at the bottom of this post):

Which word (or words) will you use most often: (a) cannot, or (b) can not?

You use “its” when you mean____________, and “it’s” when you mean________.

The comma (,) goes (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“ “), as does the_________, while the _________ and the_________ go (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks.

So, what can you do if you’re not comfortable with your use of the mechanics of the English language?

Find a good textbook. Maybe your kids have a good one. Or ask at your school, library, or bookstore. While there are many good ones available, one I like is “Writers Inc., A Student Handbook for WRITING and LEARNING,” if you can find it.

Obtain a copy of the current year’s style guide your organization uses. Arguably the most common style guide used in business is “The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual,” although your organization may use a different one, may have developed its own style guide, or may not have standardized on a style guide at all. A style guide will answer just about everything you always wanted to know – and probably more. A word of warning: If your boss has immutable preferences, it may be wise to follow them. Your choice.

Finally, if all else fails, you may want to find a good coach, or take a class offered at your organization. Note that in most cases there is a significant difference between academic writing and business writing.

Now, what is your starting point for developing a solid strategy?

To begin with, ask yourself:

The Four Critical Questions:

  1. What is the piece I am writing?
  2. To whom?
  3. Am I informing? Or persuading?
  4. Of what? To do what?
  • So that what will happen?

List the results this piece needs to achieve.

  • What Tone Will I Use to Get These Results?

Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader – what is the relationship you want to establish or reinforce with your reader?

  • What Content Will I Use to Get These Results?

Based on the reader’s need and use for this information, and your purpose.

Wow! So much more to be said about strategy, but this will get you off to a good start this week. Let’s pick up right here next week. See you then!

Answers to the quiz (above):

Which word (or words) will you use most often: (a) cannot, or (b) can not?

You use “its” when you mean possession, and “it’s” when you mean it is.

The comma (,) goes (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“ ,“), as does the period (“ .“), while the colon (:) and the semicolon (;) go (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“  “:), and (“  “;).

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, 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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