Can Writing Be More Than Just “Writing”?

The other day, we were talking about the richness and fullness of our language, from formal to informal, from slang to regional words and phrases. And once again shared the joy of words.

Someone brought up the word “take,” and how many ways it could be said. Our southern friends suggested “carry,” and “tote.” The difference, of course, is that you “carry” a person (as in “Can I carry you to town?”) while you “tote” a bundle – maybe even “toting” the groceries into the kitchen for the person you carried to town to buy them.

At that point one of the group asked, “Just what is the difference between “toting” groceries “into” the kitchen, or toting groceries “in” the kitchen? The AP Stylebook tells us that “in” is location, as in “She was in the kitchen.” On the other hand, “into” implies motion, as in “She toted the groceries into the kitchen.” Of course, you could change that meaning by saying “She toted the groceries in the kitchen,” which could mean either that she carried the groceries that were in the kitchen to somewhere else, or that she moved the groceries from one place to another in the kitchen. Whew!

At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with business writing.

The point is that just as there are many ways of expressing one’s thoughts, ideas, and plans, there are many different types of writing, designed to accomplish various results. Business writing is one of them.

Although the writing “rules,” tools, and words may be similar, it’s how they are used, how they are put together, and what they are meant to achieve that makes the difference. Business writing is a special type of writing, totally different from writing a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, which our academic writing classes were designed to teach us, so we could progress in the academic environment. If our business writing begins to sound like a term paper, we may be mis-applying the excellent academic writing skills we were taught – skills that could be so useful when adapted for the business situation.

Business writing is a tool, meant to achieve a specific result, and different from poetry – where the joy of the words, and the emotions evoked are the main point. Different from the novel, with its intricate plots and skillful character development – designed to create an experience for the reader. And different from strictly technical writing – the type of writing that technical writers in a variety of fields use to communicate technical information to technical readers.

For that matter, what most readers consider to be technical writing is likely to be good business writing that deals with technical information.

Critical to good business writing is a strategy that focuses on results. It begins with determining whether writing is the best way to get the desired results. Then, consider the most effective type of writing (e.g., informal email, formal email letter, postal mail letter, handwritten note, and so on). Consider the reader, and the best way to approach that reader. Decide whether this piece should inform or persuade. Have a very clear, very focused statement as to what you are informing the reader about, or what you want to persuade the reader to do. Now, and only after you have determined what you want this piece to accomplish, you are ready to decide what to say.

 

 

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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What’s in a Name

As kids, many, if not most of us were instructed to call adults by name. Depending on when, and where you grew up, that name could have been the traditional “Mr.,” Mrs.” or “Miss.” Also on the formal side, it could have been “Dr.,” “Reverend,” or “Professor.”

Somewhat less formally, we might have been able to call a physician or dentist who was a close family friend as well, something like “Dr. Larry.” Your mother’s close friend may have been called “Auntie Susan.” She may have arrived with “Uncle Colin.” Now, as adults, we may still call our older friends and “special people” by the names we learned years ago.

And some parents and friends preferred just a first name.

Names, we learned, are important. Not only for identification, but, depending on how they’re used, to create or reinforce a “tone” – the relationship that, in writing, the writer establishes with the reader. As has been attributed to Robert C. Lee, “The sweetest sound to anyone’s ears is the sound of his own name.”

Names – the correct name, correctly spelled and appropriately used – can make a huge difference both in business and in personal life!

My toddler granddaughter and I were walking out to the garden one day, and I made the mistake of calling her by her first name. Through her tears, she reminded me that she was not the name I had called her, but that she was my “little chipmunk” – the nickname I had given her, and obviously the name she preferred, and how she saw herself.

Names have been important since ancient times, when it was believed that if you could name someone, you could control him or her. And that if you could name an issue, you could get hold of it, and control it.

“Labels” can be names as well. For example, do you label yourself as an introvert? You probably are, or will be. If you call yourself a math super star, you very possibly will do better in math than if you label yourself a math dunce.

Watch how you “name” yourself. What you tell people you do, or who you tell them you are. What you can talk yourself into being.

Names are important.

Here are five tips for “naming” in business:

  1. Do not use ”he,” “his,” or “him” when you are referring to humankind in general. To avoid sexism, you can reword the sentence using a generic term for his or her position. Campaigning eliminates a politician’s privacy.
  1. You can use a plural name, and “they,” or “their.” Politicians lose their privacy when they run for office.
  1. Use optional pronouns. A politician cannot expect privacy when he or she runs for office.
  1. In a formal letter, avoid using a gender-specific salutation, such as “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” or “Gentlemen” unless you know for certain the gender of your specific reader or readers. If you do not know, you can use “Dear (title),” “Dear Madam or Sir,” or “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen.” With a less-formal email, salutations are frequently not used at all.
  1. Avoid making a point of the gender of a person in a formerly non-traditional role. Use “police officer,” rather than “policeman” or “police woman.” Consider using “nurse,” rather than “male nurse,” for another example.

 

 

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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Are You Getting the Most from Your Marketing Materials?

While we usually talk about writing strategies and techniques each week, this week let’s do a quick eyeball analysis of your online, print, and digital materials, and what else we might do with them.

In today’s tech-savvy world, there are many ways to evaluate – to get numbers showing what is working, and what isn’t. Extremely useful information, and readily available for online activity. Here’s another way to look at your materials to get the most from what you have.

Let’s say you’ve been in business for a while, or maybe you’re just starting out. In either case, you’ve produced some promotional materials online and off. Most likely a website to begin with, maybe an online newsletter, or blog site. Perhaps a brochure – online or in print – and certainly letterhead, also online or in print, or both. Envelopes, business cards, mailers, “one-sheets,” flyers, sales letters. All need to be reviewed regularly to make sure they are consistently working together, and that they will continue to do the job for you. But before we begin, here’s something you really need to know about penny-pinching marketing:

If the only thing wrong with your materials is that you’re getting tired of using the same old stuff, you cannot justify dumping it and starting over. Not if you’re a savvy penny-pinching marketer.

It could well be that the same old material you are tired of really is doing its job for you. And besides, it’s quite likely that this is the first time your prospects have seen at least some of it.

So print out your materials, and gather everything you have. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Do they have a “family look”? Are you using a consistent visual theme? Each piece should carry a unifying element – perhaps your logo, a photo, a slogan, a positioning statement – along with a consistent color scheme.
  1. Is the “look” of your pieces consistent with who you are? If you’re building an upscale position for your product or service, you’ll probably want to look upscale. On the other hand, some clients, who position themselves as a low-cost option, have told me they work against themselves by looking too high class
  1. Is the message consistent from one piece to the next? Will your readers, viewers, or listeners get the same message from each piece, or will they be confused about who you are, what you do, why they need what you offer, and what action they should take to secure the benefits you promise? Being consistent multiplies the effectiveness of your materials.
  1. Remember that it’s not about us – it’s about those individuals, or those organizations you have identified as your prospects. Consider, and write down the way you want them to think about you. Share this desired impression with everyone involved in producing your materials to consistently reinforce, and thereby multiply, the effectiveness of your every single effort.

Now that you’ve completed your first scan, let’s dig a little deeper. Which pieces are working best? What could you do to help the less successful pieces do better? What could you add or leave out? Which pieces is it cost-effective to keep, which should be eliminated? Are there pieces you really need, but don’t have?

Does each piece spell out strong benefits that really matter to your prospect – or have you focused more on how great you are. Each one of us – prospects included – acts from enlightened self-interest. How enlightening are your materials – for your prospects? Have you made it easy for your prospect to find you? To do business with you? Include a “call to action” in each piece, asking for their business, and making it easy for them to do what you are asking.

 

 

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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“Let’s Keep in Touch!”

How often have we said that, and really, really meant it? And how often have we followed through?

How important is it to keep in touch?

I want to tell you about something terrific that happened just this morning. I’d finished the usual “get ready for the day” tasks, and was settling in to do some serious work when the phone rang. Much to my delight – and I have to admit, surprise – the woman on the other end of the line had been in one of my workshops probably 10 or 15 years ago, had found my website, and was calling to order some materials for her staff.

It just does not get any better than that!

Yet much as I like to provide helpful materials – and we are working on some new materials right now – the biggest thing to me was that she remembered me, looked me up, and called!

So what are some of the reasons some of us may fall a bit short in the “keeping in touch” area? And what can we do about them?

Well, for one thing, there is always so much to do on the job that keeping in touch, especially when there is nothing immediate or pressing, somehow falls to the bottom of the “to do now” stack. Too busy? Most of us are – I rarely hear from anyone who is looking for “something to do”!

Maybe it’s because we feel a little awkward, or nervous about our writing skills, worried that because of our writing skills, we might lower ourselves in this reader’s estimation if we were to email him or her, just to keep in touch. And perhaps we don’t want to telephone because we fear that the person on the other end of the line will think that any time we call we want something.

Or realistically, we may understand that the person we want to keep in touch with is just as busy as we are, and we don’t want to become a nuisance.

“Nuisance” can happen, as we all know. Rule of thumb: Communicate at a comfortable contact frequency level not only for your reader (or call recipient), but for yourself as well. Is that interval for keeping in touch once a year? Quarterly? Weekly? Daily? Clearly, we do not want to make pests of ourselves (and that’s another reason we don’t keep in touch, or get back in touch), but I am willing to bet that even if you have not been in touch for a year or more, that person will likely be pleased to hear from you, particularly when you have something of interest, or of value to share with him or with her.

How do you do it?

Here’s one way: From time to time, you’ve probably read an article, or a blog post that made you think of something you discussed at one point, maybe even years ago, with that person or persons. If you think it might be useful to him or her, attach it to an email, or clip and postal mail it with a quick note. The advantage of the email is that it is easy, takes very little time, and most people check their email fairly often. But will they open it? The advantage of postal mail is that it is rather unusual to get something from the letter carrier, which may enhance your chances of having it opened, especially if it neither looks like, nor is, an ad.

If your contact has been more recent, perhaps offering your blog posts or newsletters may be an unobtrusive way to keep in touch. Just be sure the receiver requests, and wants to receive this material from you, that the material could be of value to him or to her, and that you don’t confuse blog posts and newsletters with sales letters and advertising. Advertising, sales-oriented, and promotional materials and campaigns are a separate issue, and not an appropriate “keep in touch” device.

 

 

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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Grammar as a “Foreign Language”

In most American cities and towns, school is out, and we are, or soon may be, on our various ways to see friends and family – the loved ones we think about so often, but haven’t seen for a while.

And when we think about them, how do we think about them? I’m pretty sure we do not think about the occasional, or perhaps even frequent grammatical errors they may make! When we see them again, after an absence, it’s always surprising to hear them making these errors.

So here’s something I hope you will think about even more: While poor grammar will, and very often does keep us from getting the job we really want, or need, or from achieving some of our life-long goals, poor grammar is not a character flaw. And with a little work, and a little “want to,” it can be fixed.

I was thinking about all of this when we re-connected with a friend for whom English is a second language. As usual, she generously started speaking to me in her native language immediately – a language I’ve been working on for years, but not always correctly from a grammatical point of view.  She has been willing to help me practice – especially to improve my grammar!

And I thought: Grammatically correct English can seem like a “foreign language” too. So what does my friend recommend to speed the “grammatically correct” learning process?

  1. Listen – to conversations, radio, television, movies, remembering that many of this speech is not grammatically correct, but can be helpful for pace, tone, and pronunciation. You can immerse yourself in something you find interesting, and pick up a great deal almost effortlessly.
  1. Read – everything from children’s books to periodicals, to textbooks and novels. Again, not all will be grammatically correct, but it will give you a good start, as you notice how the language goes together.
  1. Identify, and work on, one issue at a time. For example, if you are saying something like, “This will be fun for you and I,” when it should be, “This will be fun for you and me,” think about, and make up a bunch of sentences using the correct wording to practice this kind of sentence in various forms.
  1. Talk to Yourself – or the dog! I’ve found this one particularly helpful. When you are washing the dishes, taking a shower, going for a walk, or doing some activity that does not require a lot of heavy thinking, carry on a mental conversation with yourself, correcting, and using correctly, the issue you are working on.

To get started, visit my website free resources quiz section at http://www.gailtycer.com/quiz.html to see which areas you might want to work on.

Give me a call, or email me if you have a question the answer key doesn’t answer.

 

 

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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Word Scramble: What is That Word?

Hot as it has been, let’s take a couple of minutes to sit back, cool off, and have a little fun. And what could be more fun than grammar! It’s time for the Word Scramble Challenge!

Here’s how to play this version:

The scrambled word is at the top of each question.

The clue comes next.

Then there’s the space for you to fill in the word you’ve unscrambled.

Ready, Set, Go!

Scrambled Word: rdvbae

Clue: An   adverb describes or modifies a verb, an adjective, or

another adverb.

The word is:   adverb.

Scrambled Word: berv

Clue: A verb is an action word (run, throw, swim, shout, tackle), or expresses state of being (is, are, was, were, seems).

The word is verb .

Scrambled Word: jateviced

Clue: An adjective  describes or modifies a noun or a pronoun. Three articles, a,

an, and the are also adjectives.

The word is adjective.

Scrambled Word: uonn

Clue: A noun names something: a person, place, thing, or idea.

The word is noun

Scrambled Word: otipsprenoi

Clue: A  preposition  is a word or group of words that shows the relationship between its object and another word in the sentence.

The word is:  preposition.

Scrambled Word: ticnonjunoc

Clue:    A  conjunction  connects individual words or groups of words.

The word is   conjunction.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of fun! Let us know how you did.

 

 

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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Can You Get – and Give – Clear Directions?

There’s nothing like a bit of travel to remind you just how important asking for, getting, and giving directions is. When you’re lost – in the airport, getting into town, or on the city streets, it quickly becomes very clear just exactly how vital this information can really be.

When you’re traveling, the best answer we’ve found for getting directions to where you need to go geographically – just getting out of the parking lot can often be a challenge – is your favorite version of a GPS. By favorite, I mean the one you can figure out how to use! Our favorite is Siri, a personal assistant application for iOS. One of Siri’s many capabilities is a GPS function which pretty much gets you out of trouble – or into it – your preference!

Siri comes already installed on newer versions of the iPhone, making “her” easy to keep with you at all times. Many new cell phones today have some sort of GPS with various capabilities built in, or apps available.

But what if you do not have a GPS with you? How do you get directions? What questions do you ask, and more importantly, how do you ask them in a way that will avoid confusion and get you the answers you need?

If you’re still inside the terminal, it comes right down to reading the signs, which are, hopefully, in a language you can read, or have pictures that help you guess where they are telling you to go.

The second choice is to ask someone. This is where it starts getting more difficult. Asking for directions is an underrated, frequently overlooked skill. Ask the wrong question, or add extraneous information, who knows where you may wind up. When asking for information,

  1. Remember that “How do I go to…” or “Where do I go to get to…” are very different questions from “Where is….” The former are more likely to get you step-by-step directions, while the latter will most likely get you a general direction wave of the arm, and a turned back.

2. If there is a Tourist Aid counter, start there. If not, perhaps a uniformed employee could help. In all cases, be aware of cultural considerations. Bone up a bit on the “rules” for interaction in the places you will be visiting, including the airports or transportation hubs. Make your personal safety a top priority, and use common sense when selecting the person to ask. He or she is not your new best friend, and could turn into quite the opposite. Too much information is not only unwise from a safety point of view, but can also significantly confuse the issue. So provide no information or interaction beyond asking for directions, and any necessary follow-up questions.

3. Use only the information your listener needs to be able to give you the answer you need. He or she, with few exceptions, really doesn’t need to know why you need to go there, who you’re going to meet there, or what you plan to do next. And you certainly do not need him or her to know.

4. Beyond the usual “How do I go to…” a follow-up question might be necessary to find out what to expect. For example, you might ask, “How do I go to Baggage Claim?”

After getting the answer, your follow-up question might be, “How far is it?” This will help you to decide whether to request a wheelchair, catch a shuttle, or walk. You may have more than one follow-up question. Be sure you understand each answer, and if not, ask it in another way until you do. At the end, repeat all the information back, to be sure you “got it.”

When giving information,

  1. Provide step-by step directions, eliminating any extraneous comments or information.

2. Again, consider your personal safety first. Provide no further information or interaction beyond providing the information your questioner needs to provide the answers you’re looking for.

Bon Voyage! Have a great trip, and let us hear about 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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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.

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