Hello 2014 – Fare Well, 2013!

Over last weekend, I’ll bet many of you, like me, were busy packing away ornaments, deciding which candles can be used again, and trying to find a youth organization to give our retired trees to for recycling. Or at least, again, like me – thinking about it!

And now it’s serious back-to-work time. Time to try something new. I’m not quite ready for 2014 yet – what happened to 2010, anyway? So, with a final salute, let’s wrap up 2013 with the Best of the Blog – a short collection of my top nineteen posts of that year, as judged by the number of “likes” each garnered. An “e-book” for want of a better name, and the first e-book I’ve ever done.

I’d like to give this compilation to you as a thought-starter. A new way of thinking about your writing. Or maybe as a way to address a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your on-the-job writing, making it faster, easier, and more effective. Totally free. Please email me (gail@gailtycer.com), and I’ll send you the free link.

We’ll talk about:

1. If You’ve Ever Said, “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

2. How to Say It When You Can’t Think of What to Say

3. Shorter, Fewer Emails

4. Strategic Email

5. Meeting Minutes

6. Writing a Successful Instruction

7. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Getting Started

8. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Finishing Strong

9. How to Write a Business Thank You Note

10. Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

11. “Spin”

12. Hide, Hedge, Mask, and Cloud?

13. How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

14. How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

15. Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

16. What Was That Again?

17. Words That Create Mix-Ups

18. Words, Words, Words…

19. Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

We’ll also include a few of our weekly Quick Tips, answering some of those pesky grammar questions.

So here’s to 2013, wrapped up with a bow – and on to a great new year: 2014. Let me know how I can help you to achieve your business writing goals this year. I’m totally committed to helping you write less, say more – and get results in 2014.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

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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Thanksgiving “Thank You’s”

Thank You Card

This is traditionally the week when the traditional Thanksgiving thank you letters and notes are carefully addressed, and – hopefully – postal mailed to our favorite customers and clients. A good idea?  How are they most likely to be received?

The idea of a Thanksgiving “thank you” is indeed a good one if you are really sincere. If you really mean it to be just that – a genuine thank you to the people who make our businesses possible. Thanksgiving is the time we set aside yearly for each of us to be thankful for the many gifts we enjoy every day. Thanksgiving is indeed the appropriate time to say thank you.

So what can go wrong with that?

To begin with, most readers seem to have an incredible “phony detector.” They can tell.

The first two things that come to mind are, to begin with, those smarmy sales letters, and next, Thanksgiving Sale letters, each carefully disguised as letters of appreciation. These kinds of letters are not worth your time to write, nor the postage to mail them.

To be effective, a sales letter should be just that: a carefully-constructed sales letter, sent to a carefully-selected list of readers, and specifically designed to show those readers how a product or service can solve a knotty problem common to many, if not most of the people on the list.

The function of a Thanksgiving Sale letter is to let an appropriate list of readers know about special pricing, terms, or bonuses available only during this holiday period.

These kinds of letters are often sent as the email equivalent of non-personalized bulk mail. When they are sent by postal mail, they frequently are sent bulk mail, and usually come across that way.

A far cry from a sincere thank you.

This is not to say that a “Happy Thanksgiving” added to an email is not a good idea. It definitely is, so do it. But these kinds of good wishes are quite different from a specific “thank you” message.

A sincere, appreciative thank you should be personalized to each individual reader as much as possible, and certainly should never look like a bulk mail promotion. A card or a letter sent by first-class postal mail, hand addressed, and with a personal hand-written added note will help. This will take a bit of extra time, of course, but if you really mean it, do it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Subscribe to our blog – and we’ll see you next week!

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our blog, or to our newsletter.

We’ll be happy to come to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, email us at gail@gailtycer.com or give us a call at 503/292-9681. 

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Write Faster – Communicate Better!

We are all so very busy, and now we have the holidays coming up, and want some time to enjoy them!ThinkingWoman170

More than ever, holiday time is time to keep those lines of communication open. Not only with friends and family, but especially on the job with our customers and clients. Where are we going to find the time? Let’s begin by taking less time to communicate effectively.

So how can we write faster – and communicate better?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have a very definite bias in this area. Here it is: To write faster, you have to begin by knowing what you’re talking about!

First of all, take just a minute or two to ask yourself the big five questions:

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How to Write Comfortably About Yourself

Among the top challenges in business writing is how to be comfortable writing about yourself. Especially good – no, excellent – no, superlative! things about yourself for that promotional piece, certain portions of that resume (many, these days, are fill-out-the-form), or that requesting-an-interview letter, on paper, or online. Here’s the secret: Don’t focus on yourself. You are only incidental to focusing on the reader, and what you can do to help that reader.

So, as the saying goes, “get over yourself.” And as a client told me years ago, “If I’m not for me, who is? And if not now, when?” But the focus is on your reader!

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How to Write Instructions that Work!

womanInstructions200Remember the last time you started to install, or assemble, or repair something, following the appropriate set of manufacturer’s instructions – only to find that, while they included steps 2, 5, 6-8, 10, and 12 – they had forgotten to include steps 1, 3-4, 9, and 11?

How did you feel about the person who wrote those instructions and what about the company the instructions came from?

The instructions you and I write on the job are usually somewhat simpler, and certainly different from the late Christmas Eve “special gift” assembly guidelines described above. But the writing process for creating a clear, effective instruction that allows your reader to get the job done is very similar.

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And the Business Writing Trend is: Short!

But “short” is not enough. And “short” can cause you a lot of problems, cost you more time, and result in lost productivity. What we’re really talking about is the importance of being concise.typingOnKeyboard200

So, for today, we will assume that you understand the subtle, but critical difference between being “short,” and being “concise.” Today, we will assume you have prepared the reader for your message, and we’ll get straight to the point. What are some of the tricks and techniques you can use to tighten up your writing quickly?

Here are three to start with:

1. Use alternate formats wherever appropriate, even beginning with the first paragraph. The old standbys, bullet points and numbered paragraphs, are well known, well loved, and effective. But you know that.

Take a look at some of the lesser-known alternate formats, like the problem-solution, log, or question and answer formats, among others.

While the benefits of using an alternate format to shorten up your writing are many, and obvious when you see them, perhaps one of the foremost is that with the use of a good alternate format, you can also do away with the tricky business of writing a good transition. A good alternate format will make the transition obvious, reducing the number of words required, and enhancing comprehension.

And in an email, the only additional issue you need to watch out for is that your piece will hold its format. If you are writing outside of your organization, or if your organization does not share an intranet where all screens are set the same, it is most likely your formatting will not hold. Use the piece as an attachment, with the body of your email being a cover letter. Saving it as a pdf file is generally safer.

2. Use a cover letter. As you recall, an email should be no longer than a screen. A screen is long enough, with a screen-and-a-half maximum.

That first paragraph, the cover letter in this case, must never be any longer than five lines. This is the extent of your reader’s 100% attention span, and if that first paragraph is to do its job, you need to use that knowledge.

Two purposes of a cover letter are (a) to let the reader know, at a glance, what the attachment is about, and what he or she needs to do with it; and (b) obviously, to get him or her to open and read it. And to act on it the way you intend.

3. Use the old question, “Should this information be passed along at all?” Here’s where you can save not only words, but maybe the entire communication. I’ve had workshop participants tell me this one consideration saves up to half of their business writing time.

So there you have it. Three tips to shorten your written communication. More next week.

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We would appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your people at your location – or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Please give us a call at 503/292-9681 or email us at gail@gailtycer.com to discuss how we might be able to work together to meet your needs.

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You May Be Good – But Why Take Your Word for It?

One of the keys to writing less and saying more can be summed up in one word: specificity. Be specific.

ShakingHands175There is too much communication at every level today, and on every subject. How can you stand out, help your reader “get it” quickly, and make every word count? Be specific. Become aware of the words and phrases that are vague, general, and mean nothing. Words and phrases that are used so often, that are so trite your reader reads right past them – or not at all. For example:

What do you mean by

• Highest quality? Who says so? How can you prove it? Everyone says they are, so this phrase gives you no advantage; at best you only become a part of the self-proclaimed “highest quality” group. Where is your competitive edge? Support your claim. Give your reader a reason to believe you.

• Strict quality control?  What steps do you take? What is your process? Your certification? What does that mean in terms of your reader?

• Lowest prices? Compared to what? How do you know? How is the quality affected? How will lower prices today affect productivity in the months and years ahead? What kind of an investment will this be?

• Best (name) on the market today?  Back it up. Prove it. Where are the numbers, the endorsements, the case histories, the detail? And what do you mean by “best”?

Here are some more. You’ve got the idea, so play with these phrases. Apply them to your company, to your service, to a specific product.

• Full service:

• Centrally located:

• Completely equipped:

Vague words and phrases surround us, cluttering our writing, and losing valuable opportunities daily to prove who we are, what we do, and how well we do it in every email, sales piece, or conversation.

Begin by thinking like your reader might think. First priority: benefits to your reader. What will he or she gain, achieve, become? What will he or she avoid, prevent, save? Be specific.

Look for those vague, mean-nothing words and phrases in your own writing.

Think about what you would like your reader to tell his or her purchasing agent, colleague, or friend if asked about you, or about what you have to offer; what you would like him or her to believe (and remember) about you. Think about the level of detail you need for this writing situation. Then give your reader a specific reason to believe you.

See you next week!

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We’ll be happy to come to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, email us at gail@gailtycer.com or give us a call at 503/292-9681. 

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Your Most Cost-Effective Marketing Tool

Your day-to-day business writing could be – should be – your most cost-effective marketing tool, no matter what you’re writing. And you don’t have to be a marketing expert to use it this way!

First, ask yourself why you are writing. To inform? To persuade? No, really. Think about it. Much of the regular, routine information you pass along has a job to do, in addition to providing that information. When you provide the information, how do you want your reader to think about your organization? About you? Isn’t there a bit of persuasion there?

Pen and Paper“They seem to know what they’re doing,” might be one desirable judgment. “They sound like they’re easy to work with,” another. If, after reading your written communication, your reader were asked, “What do you think about (your organization)?” what do you want him or her to say? Isn’t there a bit of persuasion there?

So how do you write so that you get those opinions?

  1. Remember the most critical issue of all: If your reader doesn’t “get it” quickly, without spending some time with it, if your reader doesn’t “get it at a glance,” he or she may well decide you don’t know what you’re talking about!
  2. Where to start: Begin with the old basics: correct spelling; grammar: punctuation, sentence structure and all the rest; and of course, that secret strategy: tone, the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. Miss out on any of these, and it’s possible your reader may see you as somewhat careless, not quite so knowledgeable, and maybe not taking as much care as he or she might like you to do.
  3. Think about your reader. What is the best way to provide this information to him or to her? In person? On the phone? In writing – online, on paper? By a webinar, teleseminar, or in-person workshop? Through social media, or your own blog site, or comments on other blog sites?
  4. Think carefully about why you are writing. What is the result you want to achieve? To provide clear, accurate information to your reader? To persuade him or her to approve your proposal? To get that person to follow a new procedure?

What is the relationship your writing – if you decide the written word is the way to go – must set up with the reader? How will you word your piece? Then – it works best if you can give it a bit of time first – re-read your finished product, and ask yourself, “If I were the reader, how would I react (feel)? How would I respond (what would I be likely to do)?” And of course, “What questions would I have?”

Next time, we’ll talk about some of the words and phrases you might use to prove your case. See you then!

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We’ll be happy to come to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, email us at gail@gailtycer.com or give us a call at 503/292-9681. 

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Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

O.K. So you’re convinced. You’ve got to have a blog site, and post to it frequently. The internet is full of articles telling you how important this is to build trust; to establish yourself as an authority in your field; to improve your “findability” with the search engines; to attract the “right fit” for potential clients, customers, and employees; to increase traffic to your website; and to stay top of mind with your clients, customers, and prospects.

Now the next question – whether you are new to blogging, or a veteran – becomes “What do I write about?”TalkBubbleBlog

Here are nine places you can find things to write about:

  1. Build on your own experience. Think of the things you wish someone had told you, or that you had figured out sooner. How did this information solve a problem for you? What problem could it solve, and how, for your reader?
  2. Reflect on conversations with clients, customers, and employees. What is the feedback you’re hearing? Is there a new trend here? What are they interested in? What are the problems they need to solve? How can you help?
  3. Stay current with general circulation media – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio. The internet. Many thought-starters in each, every day, whether on the actual event itself, your reaction to how it was presented, your own unique view of the piece, or just something totally different that you thought about while reading, listening or watching. How could it relate to your field of expertise? Note: If you are commenting on someone else’s post, cite it, and provide a link.
  4. Include trade publications on your personal reading list. Enjoy a broader perspective by expanding your own knowledge base, and sharing it with your readers. Credit the publications you refer to in your post.
  5.  Observe. Without judging. Every business or social meeting, office interaction, or shopping trip gives you an opportunity to identify the natural consequences of specific actions. Everywhere you go, something is happening. What? And why? And why does this matter to your reader? What do you expect your reader to do with this information?
  6. Read books. Use your mortar and bricks library. Become acquainted with the reference librarians, and all the services your library provides. Everything you read, listen to, or watch will bring you ideas – from the new business book everyone is talking about, to a possibly unknown text you’re reading on a favorite topic. What’s your “take” on the best-seller? What did you think about – very possibly unrelated – when reading that unknown text that provides a jumping-off point for your blog post?
  7. Write about what concerns people. Friends, clients, neighbors, grocery checkers. What do they talk about? What concerns them?
  8. Interview an authority. While your authority may be a celebrity, or someone whose name is a household word, or someone with an unusual job or hobby, fabulous posts are very often written by providing insights from people who do everyday things.
  9. Update an old post. If you wrote something in the past that would do well with an update, perhaps this is the time.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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Can You Get the Word Out?

On the job, or for one of the professional, civic, or social organizations we support, many, if not all of us will probably be asked at some point to “help get the word out” about a variety of things, ranging from a promotion or a new hire to an event at work, or not.WomanReadingNewspaper200

These simple announcements should be easy to write, almost formulaic, and they must be interesting enough to your chosen audience that he or she will read it. And, best case, pass the information along to others who will likewise be interested.

How do you do it?

1. To begin with, decide who you are trying to reach with your information, and how best to get this information to them. What do they read? Listen to? Watch? What meetings do they attend? Where do they hang out? In short, where are you most likely to find them?

These days, email and social media are good bets, along with the traditional media: newspaper, including the neighborhood or local papers; radio; and television. Again, depending on who you are trying to reach, professional publications, alumni magazines, and their respective websites could also work for you, as could presentations to a variety of organizations, or just plain “word of mouth,” inspired by personal phone calls or emails or…

2. Now that you know who you primarily want to get the word out to, and how you will reach them, you’ll need to find out the ground rules for each medium you plan to use. For example, most newspapers will have a business column, as well as a  “calendar of events” where you will (respectively) send your announcements. These columns will also have deadlines for submission of your material. Also check professional publications and alumni magazines for their deadlines.

While it is highly unlikely that radio or television will use this type of story, some may have programs that will, so check into this as well.

 

With email you’ll want to determine how many times you will send an email on this subject, how often, and to whom. Then schedule your emails. Various social media outlets will have their own traditions.

3. Decide what information you want to include for each of the media you plan to use. While the easiest thing is to use the same “press release” for everyone, the format may be different depending on where the information is being sent. The information you include, however, will be the same.

For an announcement of a promotion or a new hire, you will want to include in the first paragraph who the person is (this may include a brief, powerful description if available, such as “Pulitzer prize winner, Dr. Joe Jones…” or a former position held, if appropriate); what happened (hired, promoted, or…); when; the name of the company or organization and location; and usually who is making the announcement.

Most likely, this will be the only information used, and it may be re-written.

The second paragraph will detail the individual’s new, or continuing responsibilities, and his or her qualifications for them, which may include previous positions, education, special training or certification, etc.

The third paragraph, in the standard “press release” format, will probably be a brief, standard description of the company or organization. This is also unlikely to be used, but may be helpful.

Of course, you may always hope that something in your information might lead to a more substantial story, but don’t hold your breath. Also, there is a possibility that, for whatever reason, the information may not be used at all, through no fault of your own.

For an event, you will obviously want to include the standard information: what the event is; where it will be held (including the address if not someplace familiar to readers) and when; the purpose; who is invited; and the appropriate details – how to purchase tickets, how to gain access to the venue, and so on.

Now, find your “grabber.” The first thing you say in the first paragraph. For an event, ask yourself, “What is most important – to the reader – about this event? Start there.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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