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!

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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.

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Readers Want to “Like” You Online!

People may be a whole lot nicer than given credit for, according to a new study published on the Journal of Science website last week. Study findings could well have significant implications for communication – especially traditional marketing communication – in the long run.

To reach their conclusions, researchers examined how thousands of people reading online comments reacted and responded, perhaps providing new ideas on how marketers can present their products or services positively today.


Here’s what researchers found:

If a post, perhaps on a site like Facebook, garners a “like,” more people are likely to “like” it also, “even if the reporting and writing are not all that great,” researchers said, adding that a positive comment “can set off a bandwagon of approval.”

Apparently the same is not true in reverse – in fact, rather than inspiring readers to dislike an article or post, an “unfair negative reaction” will quickly rally readers to counteract the negative view with positive ones. See? A lot of nice people out there!

Additionally, researcher Sinan Aral, professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that “Hype can work, and feed on itself as well.”

Calling the study “provocative,” Matthew Jackson, professor of economics at Stanford noted that it raised many questions to be answered. Jackson was not involved in the research.

Conducted over a five-month period with an unnamed website to provide objectivity, users submitted links to news articles. Readers then scored and/or commented on the articles, and commented on other readers’ comments to provide the raw data. Researchers applied mathematical formulae to compile their findings.

Among the most interesting findings were that site users were initially twice as likely to comment on the article favorably. And when the researchers posted a fake positive score, the first person reading the comment was 32 percent more likely to give the article an “up vote, ” with no change in the likelihood of subsequent negative votes. Over the course of the study, those comments with the artificial “up vote” garnered scores 25% higher than those of the control group.

“…a significant change,” Aral noted, “…very small signals of social influence snowballed into  behaviors….”

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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Strategic Business Writing – a Powerful, Cost-Effective Marketing Tool

Companies that thrive today realize that as dollars tighten, every word of every email, memo, letter, report, or proposal could also have a financial payback, as well as the more subliminal, less tangible results brought about by clarity and directness. womanTyping250

More and more, successful business people understand that strategic business writing — writing that gets the results it was meant to get — can be an extremely powerful marketing tool, and certainly one of the most cost-effective.

Here are a few quick tips on what makes everyday business writing — whether we’re talking about email, or paper writing — work today:

  1. Decide what you want this piece to accomplish. It may be that all you want to do is to provide information, and let the reader decide what to do with that information. Alternatively, you may want this piece to generate an action, or to avoid an action; perhaps to influence, or to change what your reader thinks, or believes.
  2. Focus on the reader’s needs/wants/desires. Think about your reader. Your reader wants to know “What’s in it for me?” “What will happen if I do,” or, “What will happen if I don’t?” Focus on benefits to the reader. Understand your reader’s options. Consider and address his or her real concerns, rather than just what you want to say, if you want to get, and to keep his or her attention.
  3. Select the items you will discuss based on your reader’s need for the information, your reader’s use of the information, and your purpose for writing. If your information does not meet at least one of these criteria, leave it out.
  4. Determine, and use the appropriate tone for this specific message and for this specific reader. “Tone” is the relationship that you — the writer — set up with your reader. What do you want that relationship to be? Formal? Informal? Friendly? Helpful? Authoritarian? Professional? No-nonsense?
  5. Decide on the “take away” — what do you want your reader to understand, and to remember from this piece.
  6. Provide a “call to action.” Tell the reader what he or she should do with, or about the information you provide.
  7. Aim for clarity, not cleverness.
  8. Write carefully, thoughtfully. Make it easy to read. Select comfortable words. Use the best format to make your point. Use active sentences for greater clarity. Keep your average sentence length in the 14-17-word range. Vary the length of your sentences, words, and paragraphs to keep the reader reading: some short, some long, some mid-length. Work with syntax — try moving the words around in a sentence; sentences in the paragraph. Be consistent.

And finally, nothing will destroy respect for a company or organization faster than sloppy, grammatically incorrect correspondence — and that goes for email as well as for paper mail.

Good business writing has generally become more strategic, and a bit less formal than it was at one point. In many organizations, it’s now considered acceptable to use contractions; to start sentences with “And,” or “But”; to use alternate formats — and even to end a sentence with a preposition if it makes your meaning more clear!

Check what is acceptable in your workplace. Each company has its own personality; its own style; its own way of doing things. Even if there are no company-wide guidelines, your particular boss may have his or her own ideas about how things should be done. Understanding your organization’s “ground rules” — the environment in which your writing must work — is a good place to start writing strategically.

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Business Writing Tip of the Week: Hide, Hedge, Mask and Cloud?

It happened to me again, just this past week, and maybe it happens to you as well. “So you help business, government, and association people to be better business writers,” my dinner guest said. “Does that also mean you show them ways to hide, hedge, mask, and cloud?”


Although, by doing just the opposite of the clear, concise business writing skills we talk about in a workshop, that could be the result. But no.

Another guest volunteered that it’s pretty easy to identify some of the techniques that will lead to “hiding, hedging, masking, and clouding.” So that turned the conversation to how a particular situation we’d all been following is being covered. Seems an incident, with possibly unfortunate ramifications for the company involved – and certainly for their customers – had been reported. “Did you notice how they did it?” another guest said. “It was almost like they used the company’s press release.”

I kept thinking about that comment, as well as our dinner-table discussion all the next day, and decided to take a look at the article being discussed to see whether there might be some sort of formula for how the information was presented that might have created the impressions and observations these folks passed along.

Of course our mealtime conversation had been somewhat disconnected, interrupted with bits and pieces here and there – vital issues like “Please pass the salt.”  For the most part they were the quick, disorganized, random impressions of a group of average adult readers who had read (or scanned?) the article or maybe just the headline. They were the “take-aways.” Impressions that would subsequently be passed along in conversation, and perhaps, when all you have to go on is the first information available, form opinions based on that information. Impressions that could be, maybe even would be, passed along, and along, and along.

The formula used? It looked like (1) company name, followed by a very positive phrase describing the company; (2) re-frame, and raise the question: Was the incident an act of sabotage, or was it an accident (two choices only); (3) history and background, weaving in information supporting both aspects of part two, and suggesting who could have been the perpetrator if it had been an act of sabotage; and (4) finally concluding with an inclusive statement as to the effect on the stock market.

Then I looked at some of the concepts, words, and phrases used to position the “incident.” (Note: not “catastrophe,” but “incident,” or maybe “situation.”)

There was a general air of mystification around the article. How could this have happened? Impossible! All safeguards had been taken. However, the company was calling in the appropriate government authorities to look into it thoroughly, to make certain such a thing would never happen again.

The situation was downsized, lessening its importance because such a small (amount, number, dollars) had been involved, that its effect would hardly matter at all in the big scheme of things.

Then there was a quick quote from an authority, supporting the sabotage or accident suggestions, disclaiming responsibility on the part of those involved, and providing numbers to back up that conclusion.

We have talked about, and will again discuss, three other writing issues that can lead to a lack of clarity, and accelerate hiding, hedging, masking, and clouding: passive sentences, poor use of pronouns, and lack of specificity. Probably next week.

So there you have it – some quick thoughts on that very first article, and on the writing techniques that generated the first thoughts on the issue that were voiced at my dinner table.

Your assignment – assuming you choose to accept – is to follow a reported issue from its beginning as far through as you can. Note the structure and the wording. When a story breaks, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get complete, accurate information immediately, and later, perhaps, not at all as particular points drop from the reader’s radar screen.  A story develops over time, as additional information becomes available. Note also how important the very first statements are, how memorable, and how difficult it could be to change the initial impressions they created.

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Business Writing Tip of the Week: How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

Do you wake up on a workday morning and say to yourself, “I wonder how many of our customers/clients/contacts I can offend/anger/frustrate today?”

Of course not! And yet, it’s so easy to do just that, and never even realize it – perhaps until it’s too late.

Here’s one: How many times, with the best of intentions, have you ended a letter with, “Please feel free to call on us if we can be of further assistance”? If you’re like most of us, you’ve used that phrase as a “curtain line” hundreds of times. We’ve all done it. Somewhere in the distant past, we may even have been taught that this is a standard business phrase to be used at the end of most correspondence.

Let’s talk about this.

To begin with, you never need a “curtain line” to end your correspondence. There are actually four customary ways to finish writing: a summary, a conclusion, a “nicety” (a word I made up to describe this type of an ending), or – and this one is too often overlooked – just plain quit when you have said what you have to say.

 Well, if it’s acceptable to “just plain quit” when you’ve said what you have to say, why do you need a “nicety” at all? And if you do, when should you use it?

A “nicety” is a tool of tone. Remember that tone is the relationship the writer sets up, or reinforces with the reader. Think about what you want that relationship to be: Helpful? Knowledgeable? Respectful? Friendly? Cooperative?

So the only time you will use, and the only purpose of a “nicety,” is to build or reinforce that relationship. And if you are not looking to do that, “just plain quit” can be a great option.

Now let’s look at the wording of that “nicety,” beginning with the phrase, “Please feel free.” You do not have to give your client, customer, or contact permission to call on you! Of course he or she should “feel free” and your telling that reader so may well sound a bit patronizing. Or at least it could, if your reader paid any attention to your “nicety.”

So here’s the good news: That phrase is so trite your reader is more likely not to read or even notice it at all. So why bother?

And then there’s that phrase, “further assistance.” We may have just informed the reader that he or she did not get the job, does not get the extension, or will not get the expected refund. Now we are essentially telling that reader, “If there’s anything else we can do for you….”

It’s wise to be sure you have done something of assistance before claiming you have. Better yet, avoid that concept altogether. Let your reader tell you if you have been helpful!

Let’s clarify a point here: The idea of offering help is a good one. Just be careful how you word it, and personalize your “nicety” to your specific reader, and the specific situation.

The same thing goes for the words and phrases we use. Most of them, as well, are carry-overs from what we learned in school. (Bless our English teachers – where would we be without them?) Just remember that formal, or academic writing, can be very different from practical business writing, and generally is.

For example, can you think of three ways to say  “about”? Well, to start with we could say  “about,” or “regarding,” or “with regard to.” Now, which one is the most formal?  Which is the least formal? Which one is down the middle?

It’s helpful to decide how formal, or how informal you want your writing to be before you begin to write. Consider the level of formality that will best support the tone, or relationship you will be establishing or reinforcing with your reader. Oh, and by the way, “about” is the least formal, while “with regard to” is the most formal. “Regarding” is somewhere down the middle, perhaps leaning a bit toward the formal side.

This week, please give particular thought to the words, phrases, and even paragraphs you use habitually. The throwaway ones. The ones we never think about, but just use without much thought.

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Business Writing Tip of the Week: “Spin”

Can you remember when “spin” was what we did as little kids to make ourselves dizzy and fall down? And then we all laughed so hard?SpinningTop175

“Spin” is not a laughing word today, is it?

In the kindest terms, maybe we could say “spin” is “putting the best face on it,” or maybe just call it “reframing,” helping your reader to see the positive side of what might normally be considered a negative.

For example, pretend you are the copywriter for an advertising campaign promoting a new housing development. Here are some of the facts about this housing development you must deal with. See if you can turn each of them – which would normally be considered negative – into a positive statement about the development:

  1. The new housing development is across the street from the main entrance to a busy urban airport, and directly under the flight path.
  2. There are sidewalks on only one side of the street.
  3. The playground has only one swing.
  4. No required minimum landscaping will be provided.
  5. There is a dangerous swamp in the southeast corner of the development.
  6. The model home blew up last Friday.

Now let’s have a little fun with this exercise. Take a couple of minutes to turn each of these probably negative statements into positive ones.







So what did you come up with?

Perhaps on negative #1, you thought how perfect this new housing development would be for the busy business traveler, saving commute time, and allowing his or her family to be alerted to his or her return.

Negative #2: Did you think about the sidewalks provided for safe walking, or greater privacy with reduced foot traffic?

For negative #3, how about “Children’s playground thoughtfully designed for cooperative play, and to support sharing.”

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stretch your imagination and create the unbelievably beautiful garden you have dreamed of, and only imagined until now,” might work for negative #4.

And of course the dangerous swamp in negative #5 can easily be translated into an unusual wildlife preserve allowing your family to observe nature at first hand.

Finally, the model home in negative #6 that blew up last Friday?  “Only one home has not met our rigorous standards, and it was promptly removed last Friday.”

You’ve probably come up with many other negatives-into-positives, and I hope you have had some fun with this exercise. Let us hear from you!

Now that we have the general idea of negative-into-positive with this light-hearted exercise, let’s get a little more serious. Over the next week, listen for “reframing” statements. Listen to the ads, listen to the news, listen to your co-workers, customers, and clients. Listen for how your family members – kids are particularly good at this – manage to “put the best face on” what could be a negative situation or fact.

Word choice can also be a tool of “spin.”

We all recognize connotative words, words like “propaganda,” “gossip,” and “manipulate” – words that carry baggage. Words that in and of themselves can create a negative emotion. And of course there are also words that in and of themselves can create a positive emotion.

But let’s talk about “neutral words,” and how they can be ramped up, or ramped down to inflame emotion, or to calm emotion. For two examples, let’s use the words “situation,” and “important.”

How many ways can you think of to say “situation”? Take a minute here to jot down half a dozen or more as they occur to you.

Which of these words might, under certain circumstances, create a panic? Which are the potentially inflammatory words? Crisis? Disaster? Catastrophe?

Which of these words could you use to calm a general sense of panic? Which neutral words tend to minimize the serious nature of a crisis? Situation? Issue? Matter?

Now let’s look at “important.” Well just how important is “important”? Not very is it? How much attention do you pay when someone says, “This is an important issue”? Let’s ramp it up a bit. How about critical, crucial, life-threatening? Dire, desperate, or grave? Even there you can see various levels indicating just how important this issue may be.

And to ramp it down? Important? Worth consideration? Or fairly serious?

While thinking about the quality, nature, and potential effect of the words you use may not be critical, crucial, or life-threatening, probably not even dire, desperate, or grave, I do hope you will find it worth your consideration this week.

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 We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.


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.”

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We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.


Business Writing Tip of the Week: How to Write a Business Thank You Note

I could tell it was something pretty special the moment I removed the envelope from the post office box. Something important. Something that mattered. The envelope was notecard size, the address was handwritten. And it had a stamp on it!Thank You Card

Very special indeed. It was a handwritten thank you note. How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those in the business situation? Right. And that is precisely why it’s such a good idea. Because no one does it any more, any handwritten note, and particularly a handwritten thank you note, will make you stand out against your competition for, say, a job. A contract. An advocate.

Now in the business situation, there are layers – bottom layer is ignoring the thank you altogether. Not a good plan.

Next up – a spoken thank you. Depending on what the thanker is thanking the thankee for, this level of informality may be appropriate. In any case, it would certainly be preferable to saying nothing!

And then, how about a text? Or an email that could even be a bit longer. Well, still better than nothing, and it may be an appropriate tone and level of informality.

But how about that handwritten paper thank you note. Now that’s special. There is just something about holding that paper in your hand…

When to write a thank you note?

“Thank,” according to my Webster’s, means to show appreciation. You already do this, in a variety of ways, several times every day for kindnesses shown you by others.  But when do you write your thanks in the business situation? For those special kindnesses, as you would define special – the introduction; the special tip or suggestion that worked so well; the referral.

Timing is important. Write that note right away, and get it in the mail.

How do you make it easier to get started?

We could make this really hard. We could suggest visiting your stationer to select the appropriate notepaper and fountain pen. If you have the time, that is a good idea. But formal, dedicated stationers are harder and harder to find these days. The point really is that many stores carry good quality notepaper, and any pen that does not leave blotches or write only when it feels like it, will work just fine. Let’s not get bogged down with the details.

In the business situation, you will probably choose a neutral color, good quality stock with very understated, or no design. Some organizations have their own notepaper, and may use their own colors or design to echo or reinforce their brand.

When we were talking about thank you notes the other day, a friend shared a great tip from a friend of hers: Pre-stamp, and pre-return address several envelopes, and slip the blank notepaper inside each. When the occasion arises, all you have left to do is to use the same pen to write the note and address the envelope.

What goes into a handwritten thank you note?

1. Sincerity.

Sincerity, a sincere appreciation for a kindness done you by another is also number two and number three on this list. Your reader has a built-in radar that can detect one of those I-don’t-really-mean-it-but-have-to-write-it messages from 10,000 feet! This is the same radar that can detect the difference between a sales message disguised as a thank you, and the real thing. If you don’t mean it, you have no reason to write it.

4. The type of message that calls for a handwritten thank you note may very well be short, but should never be rushed. Take a few minutes to think about that kindness, and about the person you are thanking (you can do this while pouring your coffee, or brushing your teeth) before you write it.

A sincere thank you is always appropriate. A sincere written thank you is a very special thing.

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How Do You Spell That?

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

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

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

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







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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