Five Ways to Strengthen Your Email

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Have you ever had an email “send” before you were ready to turn it loose? Who hasn’t experienced this awkward moment and its subsequent follow-up? Today, let’s talk about the fail-safe way to avoid this situation, as one of our five ways to strengthen your email.

1. A participant in one of my workshops came up with this tip: To avoid “sending” before you are ready, leave the “to” line blank until you are ready to send. Check your piece over for grammatical, usage, and strategic missteps, and then address and send it.

2. Consistently reply promptly, and you will stand out in a very positive way. One of the most common questions asked is always, “How do I get people to respond to me?” At all. Let alone promptly. If you do not have the answer at your fingertips, or do not have time to provide a lengthy answer right then, answer that email with a reasonable expectation for the reader, e.g., “I will send that information later this afternoon.” Or, “I can have that report for you by Friday.” This is what our reader needs. This is what we need to do.

3. Watch the tone of your email carefully. Texting has become the “short answer” medium. Frequently you’ll see “Yes.” Or “Can’t.” or “Don’t know.” But email has a little more leeway. So, with email, keep your message as short as you possibly can, and still provide the information using the best tone. Any message of more than a screen to a screen-and-a-half should be broken into a “cover letter,” and an attachment. The reader’s eyes have a virtually unconscious reaction to reading on the screen, which may cause irritation – both to the reader’s eyes and to your message!

4. Remember that there are four types of email: (1) the original that you write; (2) your response to someone else’s email; (3) the cover letter for (4) the attachment. Decide which you are writing, especially if it is just a one-paragraph cover letter for the attachment, where the “meat” of your message may be found.

5. Conventional wisdom says limit each email to one subject, and use the subject line only for that subject (as compared against carrying on with the same subject line for a variety of subjects). Good advice. It’s so much easier to find your message if you do this. Where the problem comes in is when you have a lot of different issues to discuss – each of them short, and in total all of them over-populating your reader’s in box. In this case, consider using an umbrella subject line covering the overall purpose of the email, or enumerating the two or three issues the email may deal with.

See you next week!

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

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How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

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Let’s talk a bit about grammar and usage errors today. Can you find the errors in the following three sentences?

1. Woodland Caribou: Less than 65 roam America’s mountains and mesas.

2.  As soon as they get the test scores back, her or her assistant will call you.

3.  They thought living in Canada would be a lot different than living in Portland, Oregon.

Here are the answers:

1. The error here is “Less.” When you can count them, it’s “Fewer,” so this sentence should read: Woodland Caribou: Fewer than 65 roam America’s mountains and mesas.  Use “Less” when it’s something you can measure (volume): There is less coffee in the blue cup than in the red one.

If you thought the problem was the capitalized word following the colon, then when do you capitalize the word following a colon? Capitalize the next word after a colon when it is a proper noun, or when it is the first word of a complete sentence. If it is part of a series, and not a complete sentence, it should be lower case.

How about “65”? Numbers nine and lower are spelled out. Numbers 10 and higher are shown in Arabic numerals.

2. This one is easy, but I included it to give you a shortcut. The error, of course, is the first “her,” which should be “she.” The shortcut: When you have a situation like this one, just cover up the first of the two words or phrases in question. Cover up the first “her,” and this part of the sentence reads, “…her assistant will call you.” Sounds fine. But cover up “or her assistant,” and this part of the sentence will read, “…her will call you.” Clearly not fine. You can hear that it should be “…she will call you.” The sentence should read:

As soon as they get the test scores back, she or her assistant will call you.

3. The error here is that things are “different from,” and not “different than.”

And yes, the comma needs to be between Portland, and Oregon

Hope you’ve enjoyed this short quiz. If you’d like to test yourself further, visit our archives by clicking here.

 

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

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

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The Write Gift – Beyond Price, Yet It Costs Nothing

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This week, I’m feeling that old holiday nostalgia, and would like to digress, and talk a bit about some of the best gifts I’ve ever received. They would not be for everyone, but it may be they’ll spark some ideas for you, and perhaps some wonderful memories for someone special to you.

As a young lieutenant’s family, we lived by the motto, “If the Air Force had wanted you to have children, they’d have issued them to you!” So, if we bought new school coats, or shoes, or sweaters in the fall, we really had a struggle to get them paid for by Christmas.

Enter The Poem!

We wrote poems describing each of the “early Christmas gifts” the children had already received. Much to our astonishment, they loved the poems, and the small gifts and stocking surprises they got on Christmas Day. Of course, that was then, and this is now. Then, most of their friends and classmates were in much the same situation. So it all worked out then.

Now they get regular presents, but the poem tradition remains a high point of our gift giving, closely followed by the stocking free-for-all!

I look at my office wall. There hang three treasures: Grandma’s Garden, a beautiful poem describing Sarah’s thoughts while weeding, planting, and just “being”; Tony’s short descriptive essay starting with a small seed and its nurture, and ending with an emerald green bowl of Garlic Butter Broccoli on the dinner table; and Marilyn’s cherished Picasso-style ink rendering of watering the garden, bringing it all to vibrant life. Treasures indeed.

And then there is Madison’s work. As a third grader, she was assigned to interview a neighbor, and then write his or her biography. I was the fortunate neighbor to be interviewed. Madison received an excellent grade for her fine work, and I received a dear gift in the form of an illustrated biography she had hand written and illustrated for me.

The spoken word can be powerful. Texting is clearly useful, and generally gets a quick response. And we all enjoy Pinterest and YouTube.

But the written word is just as powerful, more durable, and infinitely more memorable.

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

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Are You a Professional Writer?

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Do you write on the job? Are you paid for writing on the job? If so, that makes you a professional writer.

A “professional writer” is someone who is being paid to write consistent, dependable numbers of words regularly – no matter how he or she feels, whether inspired or not. We are not always going to be positive, happy, and generally “up,” especially over the holidays when there is so much to get done, and we are often distracted.

Here are some ways you can “fall back on technique,” to write clearly and effectively, even when inspiration is on vacation:

1. Resist the urge to let “attitude” takeover – especially in writing, especially when you are tired, or distracted with too much to get done, and too little time to do it in.

Think of “attitude” translated into writing – on purpose or unconsciously, as “tone” – the relationship we are using our writing to build, or to reinforce with the reader. “Tone” can not only reflect your attitude, your stress, your feeling of being overwhelmed, but the reader’s as well.

Consider especially how that reader is feeling right now and how he or she is likely to “hear” what you have written, above the noise of all the other thoughts that are crowding in on his or her decision-making process.

2. Enlist your subconscious to help.

While you are doing “holiday things,” or washing the dishes, or walking the dog, let your mind wander a bit to the message, or to the project you have to write. Keep pen and paper handy wherever you are to capture your thoughts immediately in list form.

Think about that project as you drift off to sleep. Make notes as ideas occur to you during the night, when you wake up, and while the thoughts are still fresh.

Don’t waste good thoughts! Hang on to them! These are the grist for good writing, writing that will be clear and effective, especially for those tough, emotional, or worrisome pieces you write on the job.

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

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

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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 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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More About the Business Writing Trend: Short!

Last week, we said that “short” is not what we really want, when we are looking for clearer, faster communication; when we want the reader to “get it” and to act on it now. TwoBusinessPeople175

What we are looking for is “concise.” “Short” can cause you a lot of problems, cost you more time, and result in lost productivity. You need to anticipate the questions you must answer for your reader before he or she can do what you are asking him or her to do. “Concise” – providing the information your reader needs, in as short a space as possible – greatly increases the odds that you will get what you need at all, and probably much sooner.

The second part of this is to make your writing faster and easier to read.

We already talked about alternate formats, cover letters, and whether to pass along this information at all. See last week’s post here.

Here are three more things you can do:

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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.

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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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Cost-Effective Marketing Part 2: Words and Phrases

Last week, we said that your day-to-day business writing should be your most cost-effective marketing tool (see the post here), and promised you some words, phrases, and techniques that will help.

PileofWords180Whether you are actually writing to persuade, or just passing along some requested information, the overall tone – the “feeling” your reader gets about you, and subsequently the way he or she thinks about you, and about your organization, is absolutely critical to the success of the piece you are writing, and in a larger sense, to the success of your organization overall.

So here goes…

1. Today, as the saying goes, “less is more.” That does not mean abrupt or incomplete. Give your reader everything he or she needs in as short a space as possible. Use the no-more-than-five-lines first paragraph formula, and, in five lines or less, you can be both as short as possible, and provide the information your reader needs, to do what you need him or her to do, much, if not most of the time.

2. If you have the time for this practice exercise, work with a longer sentence (yours, or someone else’s) and see how few words you can turn it into. For example, how can you tighten up the first nine words of the first sentence in this paragraph? How about, “For practice…” Usually a little thought and a quick re-write can help. What is really the point of what you are saying? How much of that detail does your reader need? What are the “bare bones” of your message/sentence/phrase?

Another example: “They went to the store, and while doing so, stopped by to see Mary.” Can you get the “bare bones” down to three words? How about “They saw Mary.”

3. Use a format that allows you to get as much information as possible into as little space as possible. Bullet points, for one example. Remember that formatting may not hold in the body of the email, and you probably should use an attachment when your message is format dependent.

4. Choose specific words. Words that leave no doubt what you mean. For example, how many is “few”? How soon is “ASAP”? Who is “everybody”?

5. Choose exactly the right word to clarify and to reinforce your message using fewer words. How many ways can you say, “send”? Or “situation”? Or “important”?

6. Use “comfortable,” easily-understood words, talking neither “up” nor “down” to your reader.

7. Think about the phrases you may use habitually, for example:

To get what you need, tell your reader what to do:  “enclosing for your review” becomes “please review the enclosed.”

To create a “they’re easy to work with” tone: “I’ll have to (look that up)” becomes “I’ll (look that up) for you. “I can’t (get to that until Friday)” becomes “I’ll have that for you Friday.”

Interestingly enough, using these two particular phrases will also change your feeling about the task, resulting in less fatigue for you by the end of the day.

To position yourself, or your recommendation, think about the relative power of the following phrases: I think, I know, I believe, I’d like to, I am convinced, I can, there is no question. “I don’t think” (an all-too-common phrase) will probably not be helpful.

To encourage initiative, instead of “I don’t see anything wrong with that” try “sounds good to me,” or “let’s do it.” Even an enthusiastic spoken “O.K.,” will work in a conversation, maybe not so much in writing.

So that’s it for today. Take some time this week if you can, to think about, and to try some of these words, phrases, and techniques.

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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