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!

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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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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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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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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Why Don’t They “Get It?”

How many times have we asked ourselves that? Lots. How frustrating that they don’t understand our point when it is so clear to us!ScaredMaleFace

Over the years, we’ve talked about a great many of the techniques that will help our readers understand the point quickly and easily, and we will continue to do so.

But today, let’s talk about the essential basics of what happens in the communication process, and what we need to know about that process to communicate more effectively with our readers. To help them “get it.”

We’ve said many times that writing is a visual art. And indeed it is – how those words and other visual elements look on your screen or on paper when printed out, has a tremendous impact on how the reader understands the point we are trying to make – or not. That’s another one of those “essential basics.”

Business writing is certainly a cerebral art as well. The thought that goes into each piece is critical to how your reader will feel about what you have said, and subsequently how your reader will feel about you and about the organization you represent. Please do not underestimate how important this is, or the responsibility you bear because of it.

The following diagram shows what happens, and what you need to know about what happens during the communication process:

messageWorkflow

The big question we’re asking ourselves here is, “Will the message that comes out of the system be the same as the message that went into the system?”

As you see, the message you start with begins with you. Then it goes through your “filters.” So what are some of these filters? Filters are things like experience, education, understanding, expectations, biases, and in general, how you look at the world.

Mechanical issues, such as your competence in the language in which your material is written, factor in as well. Another mechanical issue can be how well you understand, and can use, the channel through which your message will be sent.

So let’s take a look at that channel, now that the message has gone through your filters. The channel is the vehicle by means of which your message will travel. This could be an email, an advertisement, a phone call, a personal visit, a training session – well, you get the idea.

But once that message is on board the channel, it will still have to negotiate the receiver’s filters. Like you, that reader will likewise have his or her own filters. An objective understanding of your reader’s filters can be very useful. Note the word, “objective.”

So now it’s time to retrieve the message from the system, and to answer the question, “Does the message we sent equal the message the reader ‘got?'”

When you were a kid, did you ever play that birthday party game, “Gossip”? Or maybe you called it “Telephone”? Same game, different name. The way the game went was this: The first little kid would whisper a short sentence to the second little kid, who in turn whispered what he or she had heard to the third little kid, and so on around the circle until that message stopped with the last little kid, who had to repeat what he or she heard.

Thus, “pressing papa’s purple pants” (for some reason, this one was always a favorite at the parties I went to – don’t know why, maybe it was the effect of whispering so many plosives into the next kids’ ears), came out of the system usually sounding something like, “pop, pop, the bandana.” This result was, of course, always unfailingly funny to a group of six- or seven-year-olds.

But how funny is it in adult miscommunication? The objectives are not the same. Kids of a certain age love to be silly. The objective of their game was to laugh, and to make others laugh – even to the point of laughing at them.

Adults in the business situation: probably not so much.

To answer our question: No, it’s not a sure bet that the receiver will 100% “get” the message exactly as sent. There are many tactics and techniques we can use to improve the odds, but those filters are very powerful influencers in the communication system. Understanding them well – ours as well as the reader’s – can go a long way toward improving those odds.

And so will the careful selection, and knowledgeable use, of the most appropriate channel through which to send your message.

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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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Strategic Email

Joseph Pulitzer said:

“Put it before them briefly, so they will read it, clearly, so they will appreciate it, picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

That goes double for email.emailIcon

Ask yourself:

  1. What am I writing? To whom? Why?
  2. What will happen when I am successful?
  3. What tone is needed to get these results?
  4. What content will get these results?

Figuring out what you want to do BEFORE you start doing it is critical for many reasons. You will virtually eliminate writer’s block; the writing will flow far better, making it infinitely more readable; your reader will have a much better chance to “get it,” thereby enhancing their impression of you as a credible professional; and when properly presented, your writing will have a greater chance of achieving what you need.  When you spend a little more time up front to think, to plan, you will spend a whole lot less time writing.

In an informal medium like email, all the rules we used to work with sometimes seem to melt away. Email is so much easier, so much faster, so much better – isn’t it? It sure can be. But it needs the same thought, the same planning that business writing has always required. In the business situation the same attention to grammar, usage, and format still applies.

Unfair though it may be, your reader also still judges you, and your organization by the only things he or she may know about you. So, unless you have established, or reinforced a relationship with that reader in addition to your email correspondence, perhaps through such activities as phone calls, meetings, or working together on a project, the only things he or she knows to judge you on are (1) how well you use the language; and (2) how quickly, and how well he or she “gets” what you are trying to say.

So take a look at that piece of email.

1. Overall, is it no more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half? If you have more to say, did you prepare an attachment for the longer message, and use the main email as a “cover letter” introducing your attachment?

2. Does your first paragraph – not more than a maximum of five lines – inform the reader of exactly what you want him or her to know? Or, does it persuade him or her to take a specific action? Is there any ambiguity? After the first five lines, is your reader immediately “in the picture”? Does he or she “get it” at a glance?

3. If you have a message detailing a number of steps or processes, are the details well presented in the next paragraph or two, following a logical, well-organized pattern?

4. Have you written – or not written, as appropriate – a good, strong close? Remember that just quitting after you have said what you need to say, is also an option, and may be a very good one.

5. Overall, how does this piece “read”? It’s all about the reader now. Knowing what you know about your reader, put yourself firmly in his or her shoes. What questions might your reader still have, after reading this email?

And then, still looking at it from that reader’s point of view, how would you expect him or her to feel about what you have written? Neutral? Happy? Angry? Depending on how you expect that reader might feel about what you have written, what can you expect him or her to do, as a result of those feelings?  And then, what, if anything, do you need to do to be ready for that response?

6. Is it possible to put your reader completely in the picture in five lines, or fewer? If so, most readers would rather read no more than five lines than they would several pages. Of course this assumes that from those five lines your readers know exactly how your message applies to them, what they need to do, and how they need to do it, if action is required of them. “Action” can mean anything from how to go out and physically do some action, to how to think about, or change the way you think about an issue or a process.

These are the steps to take to “put your reader in the picture.” This is the way to “Put it before them briefly, so they will read it, clearly, so they will appreciate it, picturesquely, so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe.

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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Prepositions

A preposition is a connecting word that shows the relationship between words in a sentence, and elaborates meaning. A prepositional phrase begins with one of the prepositions below. A very common mistake is to match the verb in the sentence to the word at the end of the prepositional phrase, rather than to the subject of the sentence (“A selection of three entrees is available at dinner” is correct; “A selection of three entrees are available at dinner” is incorrect). By learning to recognize a preposition when you see is, you can avoid this grammatical error.
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