Business Writing Tip of the Week: Want to Help Your Kids Excel in School?

Well, it might be, “An apple a day….” Or maybe healthy food and plenty of exercise and good sleep. Maybe even an extra hug or two every day.

ReadtoChildrenWhile all of these are very good ideas, today let’s talk about something you can do easily, and enjoy with your children, making memories for them and for you. What is this mystical something? Read to your kids every day for at least the first eight years of their lives.

According to a recent Harris Interactive study reported this week in our daily paper, some 87% of the 1,003 U. S. parents of children eight years old or younger they interviewed said they read bedtime stories to their kids. But only about a third of them read to their children every day, according to the national study conducted in April of this year, sponsored by the literacy nonprofit organization Reading is Fundamental.

When asked what their children do most of the time, half of the respondents said television or video games. Not reading. According to officials at the Reading is Fundamental organization, “…parental reading helps children acquire large vocabularies and become comfortable with decoding words and sentences by the end of third grade. That’s technically when children are about eight years old and when school curriculum switches from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’”

Isn’t that a great phrase, a switch from “learning to read to reading to learn”?

This comes as no surprise, when we realize that words are, in fact, symbols that stand for an entire concept. That word, or that phrase, wraps the concept into a neat, manageable package that you and I, and our children, can work with.

According to Reading is Fundamental, reading to children daily during their earliest years allows them to start hearing, seeing, and learning words that are not usually part of their day-to-day lives. If your child does not have these, what RIF calls “decoding skills,” by the third grade, he or she will not have the vocabulary, and therefore will not have the concept, putting your child behind before he or she can get off to a good start.

So where to start?

Picture books are especially fine for building vocabulary. A child may not really understand, for example, what a turkey is. But with repeated reading, the word “turkey” ties in with the picture of the turkey, and the child gets the concept of the word “turkey.”

The daily reading time can be any time, or several times, during the day or night. While it does not have to be the traditional “bedtime story,” incorporating story-reading as part of the night-time ritual can be a calming routine, and tends to help children look forward to bedtime (and story time), making it easier on children and parents alike. The most important thing, according to RIF, is to make the story-reading, or story-telling time a regular daily event – even if you have just a few minutes – and to create a pleasant habit for both parent and child.

The organization also suggests some creative ways to build vocabulary, and to package concepts, including some that work well when the parent is short on time, or just plain exhausted. Here are a few:

• Choose a single page of a picture book – children always seem to have their favorite pages – look at it, and talk about it. Your children may even enjoy making up their own stories about what happened before, or what is going to happen after the picture on the page. Read a poem. Tell a family story. If you’re excited about it, they will be too.

• Most children enjoy hearing stories about when their parents were children, especially when it involves something funny, or something similar to what is going on in their own lives.

• Participate in story times at your local library. Borrow books to take home to read. Many families have books the parents read as children. Or how about writing a story with your child? Keep it easy. You can use a spiral-bound tablet, or single sheets, with the parent writing down the child’s words, and the child “illustrating” the story. Sheets can be stapled down the side to make a book, pasted into the spiral-bound tablet, or punched and put into a notebook.

• Your stories can be imaginary, or based on something you did with your child – going to the park, the zoo, or taking a road trip, for example. Talk about what you are seeing, how it sounds, and how you feel about it. Talk about the things you are doing. Take turns asking questions, and answering them. Then write about them.

• And finally, “…look for words and letters around you…many children…learned the letter M from McDonald’s…and ‘stop’ from a stop sign.” And play alphabet games with your kids, they suggest.

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Plurals and Hyphens: Exceptional Differences

‘Way back in December we talked about the rules for forming plurals, which are actually pretty straightforward:

• Generally, to form a plural, add “s” to the singular word.hyphen

The most common exceptions are:

• If the word ends in a consonant (any letter other than a, e, i, o, u) plus “y,” drop the “y” and add “ies.” For example:  company = companies; bakery = bakeries.

• If the word ends in a consonant plus “o,” add “es.” For example: tomato = tomatoes; potato = potatoes.

• If the word ends in “x,” “s,” “z,” “ch,” or “sh,” add “es.” For example: box = boxes; Jones = Joneses; buzz = buzzes; peach = peaches; bush = bushes; bulrush = bulrushes.

We also noted that there are words that change in the plural form: woman = women; man = men; child = children, and so on.

And there are a few words that are both singular and plural: “deer,” for one example.

Let’s add another: For abbreviations, we generally follow the same rule: Add “s” to make an abbreviation plural if you can do it without adding confusion. For example, CPU = CPUs; 1980 = 1980s.

Then we said that plural words – not plural possessive words, but plural words – never use apostrophes. To paraphrase that wonderful line from The Pirates of Penzance song: “What, never?” “No never!” “What never?” “Well, hardly ever…”

And here is an exception: Note that the following are not possessive words, but plural words, even though they have an apostrophe:

The exception is: When needed for clarity, “ ‘s” is used to form plurals, but only for lowercase letters, or abbreviations with periods. For example: p’s and q’s;  f.o.b.’s.

Changing the Subject: Now Let’s Talk About Using Hyphens

So now you’ve had a chance to assimilate last week’s tips on how and when to use hyphens and dashes – not all authorities agree on all points, and the whole discussion can become quite complicated. The dictionary is your final authority, and last week’s guidelines should help with the most common uses when you don’t have a dictionary handy.

Here comes yet another consideration: Arguably, in addition to dividing words at the end of a line, hyphens are perhaps most often used between two or more words to create a compound idea that describes the following word.

For example: a better-than-average hamburger; a first-rate pitcher. But if these words come after the word they are describing, they are very often individual words. For example: The hamburger tasted better than average. The pitcher seemed first rate.

Another, less-frequently-seen guideline for not using hyphens:

• Do not use a hyphen to link a group of words that includes “very,” or a word ending in “ly.” For example: “Everyone was there for a very specific reason.”  Or, “This is an easily remembered quotation.”

In your reading this week, (1) watch for plurals correctly formed, and (2) see if you can pick up hyphens correctly used – either where they should be used, or not used where they should not be used.


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How Do You Spell That?

Have you ever been working on something, and suddenly looked up, wondering how that word should be spelled? Or whether you’re using the right word, spelled in the right way?

It has come as somewhat of a shock to many of us to learn that “words” we have always thought were words, indeed are not. Not words at all. For one example, “alright,” which, according to my big American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, is “Non-Standard,” and should be spelled all right – two words.

I love what this dictionary has to say in its usage note: “…the spelling of alright has never been accepted as a standard variant…the writer who chooses to risk that spelling had best be confident that readers will acknowledge it as a token of willful unconventionality rather than as a mark of ignorance.”

As I’ve already unabashedly admitted to you, I love reading the dictionary, as my dad used to say, “just for fun.” I’ve been wondering about the following words, looked them up, and thought you might be interested in what I found out:







Take a look: Which of these is one word? Two words? How should they be used, and when?

Anytime: Anytime (one word) means at any time (three words), and you can use it either way with confidence.

Sometime(s): Sometime(s) is a bit more complicated. Sometime (one word) indicates some indefinite time in the future, as in, “We’ll have to get together sometime.” But what if you really mean it? “We’ll have to get together some time after the first of the year,” (two words) indicating a definite point in the future.

Sometimes, on the other hand, means “now and then,” or “occasionally,” or “from time to time.”

Oft-times: Another good one for the dictionary lover! The first part, “oft,” means “often,” and comes from the Middle English, which comes from the Old English. (See what you can learn from the dictionary!) The modern, most-often-used word is oftentimes (one word) and means repeatedly, or frequently.

Oft-, when used today, is generally used in combination with another word, e.g., oft-times, oft-expressed, or oft-repeated, and oft-times is used by writers, and by academics as a tool of a more formal, or an academic tone. Note that a hyphen follows “oft-.”

Anyway(s): Anyway is one word, meaning in any way (two words) or manner; in any case; or nevertheless.

Anyways is “Non-Standard,” or not an accepted word.

However: One word, meaning in whatever manner or way (However it happened, it will work to our advantage.); or to what extent or degree (They went, however reluctantly, anyway.)

However can also be used to strengthen the word how (However did they do it?), or to mean nevertheless (It’s expensive; however, it’s well worth it!), or to mean “on the other hand.” (It was essential; however, it took hours!)

Anyhow: A great, uncomplicated one word, meaning in whatever way; or carelessly, haphazardly; or in any case; or nevertheless.

Whenever you think of a word you are not exactly sure of, write it down. When you have a minute, look it up – as dad said, “just for fun.”

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Copyright © 2013 Gail Tycer, All rights reserved.


Tip of the Week: Forming Plurals; Bonus: The Six Steps to Easier Spelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus: The Six Steps to Easier Spelling

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

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

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 Recommend a Gail Tycer workshop for your workplace, or suggest one of Gail’s shorter presentations for an upcoming meeting or conference.

© 2013 Gail Tycer •


Tip of the Week: If You’ve Ever Said “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

My mom used to say (and maybe yours did, too!) “If I had a nickel for every time I…”

So now I’ll say it: If you and I had a nickel for everyone who has said to us, “I wasn’t good at English in school…” or “I used to hate English class…” or “I’m not a good writer…” or even “I just can’t write…” we could retire rich!

Let’s talk about this. What many of us were taught in school to think of as “writing” was actually formal writing – writing to be used in the academic environment – scholars writing to other scholars. And we used this writing style for assignments like term papers. Later, perhaps, for theses and dissertations.

Each of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to our long-suffering, dedicated teachers who built the incredibly important writing framework that has allowed us to have the job we have; to have accomplished what we have accomplished so far.

Correct grammar, spelling, and usage are critical for any type of writing. Yet the writing produced to work in the business environment can be very different from the writing produced to work in the academic environment.

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done.

Academic writing vs. business writing. Here are two very different types of writing to two very different types of readers for two very different purposes.

Let me give you the five things you must be very clear about before you begin to write if you want to write effectively in the business environment:

  1. Identify the piece you are going to write. A one-screen email? A 57-page attached report? A four-page proposal?
  2. Who are you writing to? What do you know about the reader? You probably know more than you think!
  3. Why are you writing? Are you writing to provide information only, and do not care what the reader does with it? Or are you writing to persuade the reader to take an action? To change how he or she is already doing something? To think a certain way? Specifically, what is it you want the reader to do?
  4. What is the relationship you want to reinforce, or to establish with this reader? What sorts of words or phrases fit this relationship? Tone is the relationship you, as the writer, set up with your reader.
  5. What are the points you want your reader to remember? Make a list. Organize your list into a logical sequence, e.g., time, procedural, importance.

Once you are clear on those five steps, just start writing.Give yourself a draft, something to work with. It may not be perfect at this point, and it doesn’t have to be. “Touch-ups” are so much easier, and so much faster than creating the perfect piece the first time.

Write a strong first paragraph that makes your point. Tell your reader who did/will do/should do what, when, where, why, and how.

Tighten up that first paragraph without losing any of these six elements. Eliminate unnecessary words, information, or phrases. You should have no more than five lines in that first paragraph. Probably one or two sentences will be about right, but not more than five lines.

Not more than five lines will work for at least 50% – probably more – of your emails if you follow these guidelines, significantly improving readership and comprehension.

Follow your organizational structure to complete a longer piece. Check grammar, spelling, and usage, making necessary changes.

To end this piece, you could summarize; tell the reader what to do; use an ending that reinforces the relationship you have set up with the reader; or – and sometimes the best option of all – just quit.

When you have the first five steps clearly in mind, your draft will go quickly. Make appropriate touch-ups – grammatical and content – and you should be good to go.

To get your Tip every week, please subscribe. Forward helpful information to a friend, or share it. Thanks for reading!

Recommend a Gail Tycer workshop for your workplace, or suggest one of Gail’s shorter presentations for an upcoming meeting or conference. 

© 2013 Gail Tycer •


Overcoming Email Irritants

If I were to ask you what are the things about your incoming email that are most likely to drive you right over the edge some day, what would you say?

Here are the most common, perhaps not-so-surprising answers most often given at my email workshops across the country:

1.  Emails sent “reply all,” or to an entire emailing list, rather than just to those few who really have a need for the information

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Using the Right Word: Accept vs. Except

One of the many reasons that I like Writers INC is that they have a section called “Using the Right World.” This section is great for helping writers figure out which word they want to use. Here’s an example:

accept, except: The verb accept means ‘to receive’ or ‘to believe’; the preposition except means ‘other than.'”

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Review: Writers INC

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Writers INC is a valuable resource for writers of all ages and all genres. While intended for high school students, it contains a wealth of essential information that is relevant to business writers.

A quick look at the Writers INC table of contents:
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A fun story about “woman” vs. “women”

Happy New Year, everyone!

My granddaughter shared a funny story with me. She works in a middle school and was helping a student revise his work. The assignment was to make a comic strip about a scene in the book Jennifer Murdley’s Toad, and this particular student chose the scene where the young woman protagonist is humiliated because she has to wear her brother’s underpants and everyone at school finds out. (It is a very amusing book, to say the least!) Continue reading


Proofreading Tips, Tactics & Techniques

Get Ready:


1. Start the easy way. Use your spell checker—remember, it will “OK” any word that is correctly spelled, whether or not it’s correctly used

2. Use the grammar checker. Make sure you understand what it’s trying to tell you.

3. Leave some time between inputting the material and proofreading it. Overnight is good. When possible, try to schedule proofreading when you’re fresh, and there are the fewest distractions.

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