What’s in a Name?

What's in a nameAs 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.

2. You can use a plural name, and “they,” or “their.”
Politicians lose their privacy when they run for office.

3. Use optional pronouns.
A politician cannot expect privacy when he or she runs for office.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Are You Getting the Most from Your Marketing Materials?

Materials GirlWhile 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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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? Keep in touch photo

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.

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Do You Run, or Leap? Crawl, or Creep?

MOuntain BikerLet’s talk about that old workhorse, that four-letter word, that indispensible element in every sentence: the verb.

So what is a verb, and how do you use it? Perhaps you remember your English teacher telling you, “A verb is a word that expresses action (throw, run, examine, read, write), or state of being (is, are, was, seem).”

In a typical sentence (not always the most useful, but certainly the most common), the verb comes between the subject and the object, e.g., Mary (subject) throws (verb) the ball (object). You can also think of it as who (subject) does what (verb) to what (object). This of course, is for an active sentence. More about that later.

While we could talk about the differences between types of verbs (there are about a dozen types), Let’s concentrate today on how to use verbs for effect.

1. To add spice, and enhance your writing with greater clarity, use specific verbs, verbs that go a long way to creating the picture you want your reader to “see.” Paint a picture for your reader.

You could, for example, say,

“Jerry went down the hill.”

To be a bit more specific, you could say,

“Jerry ran down the hill.”

A bit better, but let’s be even more specific,

“Jerry raced down the hill.”

2. You can paint an even clearer picture with a step-by-step description, adding additional “picture verbs,”

“Jerry raced down the hill, tripped, stumbled, caught himself, and kept running as if the devil himself were about to devour him.”

In this case, we’ve used a couple of words with verbs to help paint the picture – “himself” with caught, and “kept” with running, and then the “as if” phrase to complete our picture.

You’ll note that in the above example, we’ve added words as we paint the whole picture for the reader.

3. Frequently, just exchanging one verb for another (“ran” for “went,” and then “raced” for “ran” in the above example) works well, and is all that is needed to paint a sufficient picture for more concise business writing. For example, you could say:

George sat at his desk.

Or

George slumped at his desk.

For tighter writing, you may want to avoid verbs like is, was, are, were…. E.g.,

MaryAnne is a person who plans for unexpected events.

Or

MaryAnne plans for unexpected events.

4. You could use a verb that “shows”:

Barbara is taller than her co-workers.

Or

Barbara towers over her co-workers.

5. Finally, that familiar grammar checker item: passive verbs. An active sentence is one where someone/something is, will, or has done something – an actor and an action, e.g., “Alex grasps the situation.” A passive sentence is one where someone/something is being done to, e.g., “The situation was grasped by Alex.”

Note that the active sentence in the above example contains four words, while the passive sentence must contain six words to provide the same information.

Passive sentences tend to be longer, slower moving, and impersonal. For better comprehension, easier reading, and fewer words, use active verbs to create active sentences.

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Love a Mystery? Here are Some Clues

girl with fan

I’ve always thought of those magic bits – prefixes – the beginnings of many words, as clues to the mystery of what in the world that word could mean.

For one example: You go to the doctor. Your doctor says you are suffering from hypothyroidism. Does that mean you will get a prescription and be taking thyroid pills for it?

For another: If someone tells you, “That was an atypical result.” What should you expect the next time?

Let’s look at a few common prefixes:

• Hypo – as in hypodermic, or hypothyroidism. The prefix “hypo” means “under.” So it’s easy to figure out that, for example, hypodermic means under the skin (“hypo”=under, and “derm”=skin).

In similar fashion, hypothyroidism must mean that you have under (or less than) the required amount of thyroid. Your doctor could decide to write you a prescription.

• Under is also a prefix that means beneath. For example, underground, or underlayment.

• Hyper – as in hyperactive. The prefix “hyper” means “over or above.”

• A (as well as “an”) means not, or without. So, if you got an atypical result, you would not necessarily assume you would get the same result next time. In fact, it would be “atypical” if you did!

(Note that il, ir, in, and im also mean “not.” For examples, illegal, irregular, incorrect, and immoral.)

• Ante means “before,” as in antedate, or anteroom. But note that:

• Anti means “against” as in anticommunist. “Ant” also means “against,” as in antacid.

• Multi and Poly both mean “many,” as in multiply, or multiform; or polygon (a figure with many sides.)

• Extra and Extro mean “beyond, or “outside.” Examples are extraordinary, extrovert, and extracurricular.

Numbers also come into play. For example:

• Deca means “ten,” e.g., decade.

• Di means “two, or twice,” e.g., divide, dioxide, ditto.

• Hex means “six,” e.g., hexagon, a six-sided figure.

Words can be fun to investigate – to put the clues together to solve the mystery. First, of course, comes the prefix. “Pre” meaning “before.” The prefix, depending on its meaning, has the power to change the intent, or the sense of the root, or base word.

Next comes the root – the base on which to build other words. We’ve mentioned a few of the root words in the examples above. Finding the root of the word is a major clue to solving the word meaning mystery. We’ll save that for another discussion.

The final clues come with the suffix. This final bit at the end of the word (e.g., “ly,” “ology,” “al”), can be very helpful in telling what kind of a word it is – a noun, adverb, adjective, and so forth – as well as adding to the reader’s understanding of the meaning of the word.

There you have the clues to solve the mystery. Happy sleuthing!

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Can Words Change Your View of the World?

Can wds change your view cropA March 10 article by Chris Gaylord in the Christian Science Monitor Weekly (On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a noun) caught my attention. Crediting the Internet with generating new words “at an unprecedented pace,” the article reports that about 14 words were added to the English language daily in 2013, thanks in large part to words invented and shared by Internet users, according to the Global Language Monitor in Austin, Texas.

So what about these new words? Are they “good jargon” – an insider language? Are they “bad jargon” – words unintelligible to just about everyone? Will they become a permanent part of the mainstream lexicon? And those are only the words shared primarily by Internet users.

Help is available in this area from BuzzFeed, who has created a style guide for what Gaylord calls the “Internet Age.” Knotty problems, such as whether one “de-friends,” or “unfriends,” along with explanations of “catfishing,” and “duckface” are to be found, he says.

How about words that have been around seemingly forever, but used by a very few until the issues to which they relate become the hot topics of the day. Take genetically modified (GM) crops, for example.

In a two-part series appearing in the March 23 and 29 issues of the East Oregonian, Harriet Isom refers to projections of the world’s increased need for food production, which has helped to spur research into the area of genetically modified organisms (GMO), “The world will definitely need more food. World food demand is expected to rise between 70 and 100 percent by mid-century…driven by a global population rising to 9 billion by 2050….”

With the significant worldwide controversy on the issue, it will be useful to understand terms like “transgenics,” and “cisgenics.”

Isom explains that new genome engineering tools mean that plants can be genetically modified without adding genes from other species, the process that has formed first generation GM crops. “Now they can rearrange genes from the same plant, a technique called cisgenics,” she added.

And then there are the made-up words, slang words, or insider words. Some know what they mean, others guess. Or not. Words like “spin fodder,” or “false equivalents.”

Finally, let’s think about expressions that have been around, and most people seem to have a meaning for them. Expressions like, “It is what it is,” or “Whatever…” (Note that the speaker’s tone of voice can change the meaning.)

Long-term, can expressions like these that have been used over time, change one’s view of the world, or of his or her place in it?  Can our words form the way we see the world? And in the larger picture, can new words serve to re-define the world as we see it? Let us hear what you think!

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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Writer’s Block: What are you talking about?

Writer's Block

I can pretty much promise you that if you suffer from writer’s block – you know, that endless period when you sit in front of your blank screen, virtually incapable of getting started – I can tell you why. And how to fix it.

If you are like most of the people who suffer from this malady, the most likely reason is, you haven’t thought through four key elements: why you’re writing, what that writing needs to achieve, or what you want to say, and how to say it. And the sticking point is most likely what you want to say.

As I like to tell participants in my business writing workshops, there’s the good news, and there’s the bad news. Then there’s the worst news, and the best news.

The good news: Writing is easy.
The bad news: Thinking is tough.
The worst news: You have to think before you write.
The best news: Here’s how!

Here’s what you need to think about before you begin to write:

1. Ask yourself:
a. What am I writing? A report? Instructions? A “regular email”? What is the piece?
b. Who am I writing to?
c. Am I writing to inform? To persuade? Of what? To do what?

This is where you’ll decide why you are writing.

2. Next, list the results this piece of writing needs to achieve. What will happen when you are successful?

3. And how you’re going to say it? What “tone” will you use, remembering that “tone” is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. How would you describe the relationship you will create or reinforce to get the results you are looking for?

4. Now that you have primed the thinking pump, you’re ready to decide what you want to say. It can be pretty tough to start writing before you think through the first three steps. That’s where what you want to say will come from.

List the items you want to talk about. Edit your list against three criteria:

1. What do I want to accomplish with this piece of writing
2. Why does the reader need this information?
3. How will the reader use this information?

Next, no matter how interesting each thing you want to say may be, if that point does not serve, to your complete satisfaction, one or more of the above three points, ruthlessly edit it out! Your goal is to have all of the information your reader needs to meet one or more of the above three tests, and nothing else!

Beware of distracting, or overloading your reader. Lack of clear understanding can easily lead to lack of any action or decision. It’s not necessary to tell your reader everything you know about the subject. First of all, he or she probably doesn’t care to hear all of it, and secondly, probably will not read such a torrent of information. Select only the information that serves your purpose, and meets the reader’s need for, and use of this information. Truthfully. As one workshop participant put it, tell your reader “just enough.”

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Comprehension: Screen vs. Print Reading

ReadtoChildrenAn April 6 Washington Post article by Michael S. Rosenwald , Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say, raises a question many of us have been wondering about, and asking ourselves: Is, and if so, how is online reading changing our reading habits, and, as a result, our comprehension of what we are reading? And what do we, as business writers, need to know now about today’s most common communication practices?

In her remarkable book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf, Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading, states that the brain was not designed for reading, but has adapted to reading.

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Count to Ten: Unpleasant Communication on the Job

 

WomanatComputer175

Until, or unless completely emotionless robots run our world, unpleasant communication issues will continue to exist on the job. And so, as one popular phrase puts it, we will just have to deal with it.

How?

What do you do when you receive an unpleasant, or even a downright angry email, phone call, or visit? How do you deal with it?

Many will tell you that you cannot be logical and emotional at the same time. Some will say, “Count to 10.” That old dictum can be very useful for collecting your thoughts. And in collecting your thoughts, you can move easily from emotion to logic.

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What Do You Call People?

ThinkingWoman170With email what to call your reader is frequently a non-issue, because many email writers just begin with what they have to say, using no greeting at all.

Some participants in my workshops are offended by this practice, and want a friendly word – maybe even just their name will do it for some. Others want a “hi,” or a “good morning.” A very few like a simple pleasantry, asking for the family, the kids, or perhaps the weekend golf game. To avoid giving offense, consider your reader, his or her probable preference, and the tone you want to establish or reinforce with that reader.

At least an equal, and growing number say, “just the facts, Ma’am!” and happily cut their reading time by getting to the meat of the issue immediately.

But what about the more formal emails, like letters? If your company has an established style for this type of correspondence, use it. If not, here are a few guidelines:

A longer, formal, traditional letter will probably be an attachment to a short email cover letter. For a formal letter, even when emailed, the rules of date, inside address, greeting, body, complimentary close, and signature line are also traditional. Most organizations use an electronic version of their letterhead as well.

If you call your reader “Dear Mr. Smith” on the letter, call him “Mr. Smith” on the cover letter as well. If you call him “Dear Joe,” then it’s acceptable to call him the same in the cover letter. Use the appropriate level of familiarity. “Miss,” “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” or “Mr.” are all acceptable titles, and “Ms.” is a convenient title when you are unsure, or simply prefer it. Professional titles are always acceptable, and frequently preferable. Consider your reader, your tone, and your purpose for writing.

Be aware of gender bias. Here are some tips: Continue reading

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