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.

 

 

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Passive Sentences: What is Grammar Checker Telling You?

And, I’m guessing, telling you wrong maybe 50% of the time. So which 50%? And how do you know? And what is a passive sentence, anyway? You need to be able to check the grammar checker.

To begin with, let’s look at what a sentence is. Webster’s tells us that a sentence is “a combination of words, which is complete as expressing a thought…” A sentence starts with a capital letter, and most often ends with a period (.), although it could end with an exclamation point (!) or a question mark (?). Various types of sentences are usually categorized in one of two ways: structure, or function.
Structure-wise, there are three types of sentences: Active, Passive, and Descriptive.

An Active sentence is a sentence in which someone or something does something, e.g.,

John throws the ball.

A Passive sentence is a sentence in which someone or something is being done to, e.g.,

The ball was thrown.

A Descriptive sentence is one that uses a form of “to be,” such as: is, are, was, were, will be, and so on, and may be used in combination with words like “seems,” or “feels,” e.g.,

The ball is green.

The ball seems to be green.

So what about passive sentences? Well, for one thing, they are harder to read. Harder to comprehend, and almost always longer. In the above examples, you will need six words in the passive sentence to provide the same information the reader gets from the active sentence. The four-word active sentence above (“John throws the ball.”) becomes a six-word passive sentence (“The ball was thrown by John.”)

If you are writing to be more concise, more clearly understood at a glance – use active sentences.
Strategically: A piece loaded with passive sentences will certainly discourage readership and can lead to misunderstanding – or no understanding. Can often lead to a generally bad feeling about you or your organization, perhaps even, at the extreme, to the point of mistrust. Think about some of the least-trusted sectors of our society. Take a look at how they communicate with their various publics. Although many organizations now discourage over-use of passive sentences, you will likely still see a lot of passive sentences in these written materials.

So, are passive sentences lethal in your writing? Depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Readership, or non-readership.

Occasional passive sentences are not deadly. Active sentences communicate.

 

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Does Writing Really Matter?

Maybe you’ve asked yourself, in a moment of writer’s block frustration, what difference does it make if you can write well or not. More and more, writing well – conveying ideas clearly, concisely, convincingly – is becoming a rarity. And that’s not even considering the grammatical side of business writing.

Perhaps part of it is because email, the most common form of on-the-job writing, is a quick, often casually-approached process. There never seems to be the time to review an email for clarity, to tighten it up, or to polish those grammatical issues that seem so easy to forget, and are so frequently used that neither the writer nor the reader seems to notice them. And maybe that’s really the point.

But does writing really matter? I’ve got a book for you. If you haven’t read 1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, read it. Discussing the Neolithic Revolution, the point, about 11,000 years ago, when a formerly nomadic middle-eastern people settled down in permanent villages and invented both farming and the tools and agrarian practices to make it possible, Mann says, “The Sumerians put these inventions together, added writing, and in the third millennium B.C. created the first great civilization.”

Mann adds that “Writing begins with counting….The bureaucrats were not intending to create writing….they were simply adding useful features as they became necessary….”

And those “useful features,” at first represented by stylized symbols, have morphed, perhaps for the same reasons, into today’s writing.

That was then. This is now. How important is writing today? And especially, how important is it to write well in the business situation? Perhaps the more important question is, “How much more effective could we be in the business situation if we could write better – correctly, strategically, clearly? Concisely and convincingly. Does it really matter in our jobs?”

Your business writing is one way you can give “free samples” to a prospective employer. The clarity of your writing is perceived as a clear indication of the clarity of your thinking. If nothing else, clear writing demonstrates how well you can communicate your thoughts to others. No matter how brilliant your thoughts, for others to benefit from them, they must be communicated effectively.

If writing to prospects and customers is, or becomes part of your job requirements, strong business writing skills are important not only to getting a job, but in being promoted within your organization once you have the job. Communicating well is often interpreted as proof of intelligence, professionalism, and attention to detail – critical qualities for increasingly important leadership roles. A recent Time magazine article quoted a Grammerly study of 100 LinkedIn profiles over a 10-year period that found, “…professionals who received one to four promotions made 45 percent more grammatical errors than did professionals who were promoted six to nine times….”

When you represent your organization to customers, clients, or prospects, not only will you communicate your message clearly, you must also project a credible professional image of your organization.

A few ideas: Get right to the point; use active verbs; organize logically; write for your reading audience; proofread; make your material look (and be!) easy to read.

Your on-the-job writing can increase your professionalism and demonstrate your credibility. Your clear, correct, concise writing skills significantly enhance both your professionalism and your credibility. Start with spell checker, and then do an additional check with your own eyes. Do it with every piece you write – from that email to that text, to that tweet. Consistently.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment, and let’s start a conversation!

 

 

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

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Meeting Minutes

Meeting minutes, conference reports, action steps – whatever the assignment – here are a few tips participants in my workshops have found helpful:

  1. Always have an agenda
  2. Have a separate sheet of note-taking paper for each agenda item
  3. Use an alternate format that will allow each reader to get the information he or she needs, without having to wade through pages of notes

Let’s start with the first one – always have an agenda. Without an agenda, the meeting tends to fall apart quickly. The agenda can be as informal as a 1-2-3- list on a flip chart, white board, or PowerPoint; or as complex as a printed, formal agenda sent out with a meeting packet a week or more in advance of the meeting.

Whichever it is, when you know in advance what will be discussed, and in what order, you can prepare to take notes and organize the discussion of each agenda item at the same time, perhaps saving you the hours you might be spending now on organizing the notes that were taken in order of discussion.

You know what happens: the chair asks for a discussion on agenda item 1. There may be a bit of discussion on this item before one of the members says, “I have another meeting in 15 minutes. Could we discuss agenda item 3 before I have to leave?” And so it very well may go, leaving you with pages and pages of information to organize in the order they have been discussed.

So here’s what you do: Prepare separate note-taking sheets for each agenda item. If an agenda item is likely to be lengthy, and assuming you are taking notes by hand, you might staple two or three sheets of paper together to accommodate the discussion. If you are taking notes on a computer, prepare separate computer pages for each agenda item in advance, so you can place agenda items on the appropriate “page.”

Now when an agenda item is discussed out of sequence, there’s no problem. Simply enter the note on the appropriate note-taking page, and all the information you need on each subject will be gathered in the same place.

As for the format: For formal meeting minutes, most organizations have their own formats. At minimum the heading may include when and where the meeting was held, who was in attendance, and perhaps, who was not present. This information often appears as a first paragraph, and the heading may just be a simple title, e.g., “Minutes of the XYZ Committee Meeting Held October 22, 2013 in Sacramento, California.” Follow the practice of your organization.

For the body of the minutes, consider using the Log format. The log format can be easily adapted for a variety of uses – conference reports, meeting minutes, status reports, assignments, etc. This is an excellent format – probably the best – when you have a great quantity of information going to a number of people but not everyone needs to read everything.

By calling out the topic on the left-hand one-third of the page or screen, you will focus the reader’s attention so that the right person can quickly find, and read the right information. The discussion of each agenda item will be on the right-hand two-thirds of the page or screen. By thus directing each reader’s attention to the information he or she needs, you can significantly improve chances that the appropriate reader will read, and “get” the appropriate information, saving time all around.

As for content: Some organizations prefer detailed information on who said what or who took what position on the issue. Many organizations today, however, prefer a simple statement of the bottom line. What was decided, and how that decision was reached. For example, “Following discussion, the committee agreed that….” Or, “Following Joe Jones’s report (attached), and subsequent discussion of the issue, the committee voted to….” Again, follow the preference, and practice of your organization.

 

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

 …and how you can write stronger, more effective sentences – beginning immediately – with your very first keystroke.

So, how can you put each sentence to work for you to get the results you need?

Sentences may be approached from at least two angles: structure, or function.

Structurally, we may designate sentences as active (someone doing something); passive (someone or something being done to); or descriptive (a sentence using some form of “to be” – e.g., is, was, will be, were, and so on – sometimes in combination with words like “seems,” or “feels.”)

If one of these three structures is not in place, if one of these three things is not happening in your sentence, it’s likely that your group of words is not a sentence.

While there is substantial research demonstrating that partial sentences, or “sentence fragments,” are a business writing tool which may, and probably will, communicate better when they are well done, writing a good, communicative sentence fragment is an art, and a skill it takes most writers some time to develop. It can be difficult to write good, strong, communicative sentence fragments consistently.

Having said that, my advice to you is not to use sentence fragments on the job, and certainly not in the academic world. Most likely the best you will get is a note in the margin saying, “this is not a sentence.” Which you already knew, but…. A sentence fragment, when well done, will not be noticed, and will most likely improve the reader’s understanding.

You might enjoy analyzing the advertisements in your favorite “expensive” magazine. Identify the types of sentences, as well as the sentence fragments in the ads you particularly like, or that you feel make the writer’s point well. I will bet that you will find mostly, if not all, active sentences and at least a sentence fragment or two. In most cases, the people who write these ads have been doing it for a long time. And in most cases they are very good, both at using active sentences and at using well-written sentence fragments. That’s why they get the big bucks!

To strengthen your sentences, try these techniques:

  1. The average sentence length for the average adult reader should be 14-17 words.
  2. Improve readability by varying the length of your words, sentences, and paragraphs.

This is a mechanical device to keep the reader’s eye reading comfortably. Too many short words, sentences, and paragraphs will bounce the eye – like riding on a rough road, or turbulence in an airplane.  Too many long words, sentences, or paragraphs can put your reader to sleep – or at least make it more difficult to follow what you are saying. All average-length words, sentences, and paragraphs become boring.

  1. If you take nothing else from this blog, here is the biggest secret to writing stronger, more effective sentences beginning immediately – with your very next keystroke:

SYNTAX!

 No, as I like to joke with participants in my workshops, “syntax” is not what you pay for beer or cigarettes. “Syntax” is moving the order of the words around in the sentence, and let’s expand this definition just a bit to include moving sentences around in the paragraph, and paragraphs in the entire piece. Syntax is perhaps the least discussed, almost invisible, yet arguably most powerful tool you have in your business writing toolbox!

Take this sentence, for example:

I will need your completed time slip in my office not later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday of each month so you can continue to receive your paycheck on time.

 Compare the above sentence to this one, where we have moved sentence elements around a bit:

So you can continue to receive your paycheck on time, I will need your completed time slip in my office not later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday of each month.

 Do you see a difference? Which sentence is more powerful? More motivational? Which one captures your attention better – “hooks you” into reading more?

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done. Just like a rake, or shovel, or screwdriver. Your business writing needs to do its job.

Here’s what I’d like you to try this week: Take an important sentence in a piece you are writing on the job, and play with it a bit. Move the words and phrases around. See what you come up with to strengthen your writing.

Business writing has a job to do. But it can also be fun, and mentally stimulating. Experiment with your writing, within the boundaries of grammar and the style you use in your organization. Try new techniques, new tools. And let me know how it goes!

 

 

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Help for Grammarphobia

Sometimes “grammar” becomes overwhelming – fear of making a grammatical error can block out everything else, and get in the way of saying what we really want to say – if only we could remember what that was! What was that rule again?  And how many grammar or usage rules can any of us quote from memory?

Interestingly enough, in my workshops across the country, there is one rule that just about everyone can remember. I’ll bet you know that exact rule that most people remember. Ready? All together now: “i before e…”

Why do we remember that one? As many adverting copywriters will tell you, a catchy rhyme, one that becomes memorable, works! But while it may work on our memory muscles in day-to-day activity, writing in rhyme is not exactly what we are looking for in writing that must be sharp, clear, and to the point. As well as accurate, correct, and professional.

So here’s what I propose: Forget the grammar rules! Instead of trying to remember the rules, focus on recognizing an error.

Your word processing program’s grammar checker can be a helpful starting point. You can find grammar guidelines in your paper or online dictionary, or your grammar checker will likely make suggestions. Verify grammar checker recommendations with another resource unless you are absolutely certain that the grammar checker “fix” is correct.

What if you have identified the error, but do not know how to fix it? Then it’s time for a workaround. Rewrite it in a way you know is correct. Getting the work done, correctly – is the point here.

What you say on the one hand, how you say it on the other: content and grammar. Each is critical. Both are necessary to build your credibility; to prove your professionalism; to demonstrate your knowledge.

Now, how about a few more of those words that create mix-ups?

Affect and effect are two good ones to start with. Think of them in alphabetical order: You can affect an effect. Affecting is doing. An effect is the result.

So you might say, “We believe our new policy will affect the outcome to a significant degree. The effect of the required changes should be critical to our success next year.”

Here are two more frequently misused words: infer and imply. “Infer” is something one does inwardly. “Imply” is something one does outwardly. “Infer” is what you think you understand from what someone says; “imply” is what someone almost says.

For example, “The implication of his words is unmistakable. We can confidently infer that he will be stepping down within the next few months.”

Two final words that create mix-ups: compliment; and complement. We all love compliments – those nice things people say about us.

But what about “complement”? A totally different thing. A complement completes.

As in, “Your silk scarf beautifully complements that outfit.”

A complement could also be the complete number.

As in, “The store advertises 58 flavors, and sure enough, it has the full complement of 58 different flavors ready to serve at all times.”

For this week, instead of trying to remember the grammar rules we’ve all forgotten, focus on identifying grammatical errors you may not have been aware of – in your writing, and in what you are reading – as a practical first step to confident, correct, comfortable writing.

 

 

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

But How Do They Understand You?

The real point is not only do they understand you – the real point is how they understand you.

I remember thinking I was a pretty hot writer as I applied for my first jobs – first with a newspaper, then as assistant director of public relations at a major university. And grammatically I was pretty good, after Miss Cook and Mr. Hood turned me loose!

Then began the slow realization that to succeed in business, it takes a lot more than correct grammar. That was when I began to understand that there are important differences between academic writing and business writing.

Don’t get me wrong here – as we have discussed many times, and as you will find each week in this newsletter’s Quick Tips video, grammar is incredibly important.  It is the basis for writing correctly. Next, understand that there are differences in what is “correct,” for each application. Think of it this way: There are two parts to writing: (1) the mechanical, or grammar and usage issues; and (2) the practical, or results-getting side: how to make this specific piece of writing work in the environment where it needs to get results.

You start with your message, which then goes through your (the sender’s) “filters,” through a  “channel,” such as an email, a text, a phone conversation. After going through the receiver’s “filters,” does the receiver get the same message you intended to send?

Sometimes people think of this process as being somewhat like the children’s game, “telephone.” And if you consider the “filters” as being those giggly little kids either trying to make the outcome funnier by changing a word or two here, or who, for whatever reason, were not clearly understood by the next child whose ear was whispered into, I guess they were.

So in the game of telephone, did the message sent equal the message received? Probably not. One of the favorite messages when I was a kid was, “pressing papa’s purple pants,” which usually came out something like, “pop, pop the bandanna.” Whereupon everyone would laugh uproariously, and the game was considered a huge success. Because the purpose of the game was to get laughs!

But how funny is this kind of misunderstanding – or for that matter, any type of misunderstanding – in the business situation? How does it affect comprehension, or how the reader feels about you, your message, or your organization? And how in the world could they have misunderstood what you meant?

Of course, incorrect grammar and usage is a filter, as are word choices and cultural, generational, and regional practices and understandings.  Tone – the relationship that the writer sets up with the reader – also comes in very strongly here. Then consider expectations: What was your reader expecting you to say? Consider the reader’s biases as well as your own.

Stop for a minute here, and add two more possible filters you’ve thought of:

1.

2.

Now for a few practical examples:

  1. Are you yelling at someone? To someone? For someone? Do you hear the difference? Many people may use, “He was yelling at me,” for all of it, when they might mean, “He was yelling to me,” or, “He was yelling for me.” Taken literally – a tremendous difference both in meaning, and in tone! And a great opportunity for those filters to create, or change, or create a misunderstanding of what you meant.
  1. My Webster’s gives “variety,” and “diversity” as synonyms, until you get to the very bottom, where you find “variety” implies things to choose among, while “diversity” implies a number of items. Small differences that can make a difference.
  1. Have you ever had someone call you because they thought you had given them a “no,” when you had actually said, “yes”? And then say, “Oh, I didn’t see that”?
  1. And did you ever get marked down because you used a “frag”? While you would never use a sentence fragment in formal, or academic writing, research shows that sentence fragments can be highly effective, both for enhancing understanding, and for generating specific results.

Academic writing is neither any better nor any worse than writing for business. Each has its own purpose: Academic writing is meant for scholarly academic pursuits; business writing is meant to generate results in the business situation.

As you think of them, comment to share some filters that you’ve thought of.

 

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube