Write Shorter Sentences!

During my 28 years of training business writers throughout the United States, people have often asked me, “Is there one thing I could do that would automatically make me a better writer?” The answer is yes. One simple change would make all your work more clear and comprehensible: Write shorter sentences.
Pitfalls of Long Sentences
Long sentences are minefields of grammar mistakes. They may lead to grammar errors such as mismatch of singular and plural. This happens when the verb in a sentence is so far away from the subject that the writer forgets whether he is matching a singular or a plural. Long sentences cause the writer to get confused and leave clauses hanging with no clear reference. Consider this:

For example, acceptance of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds through the CEC would require the corporation to comply with U.S. Office of Budget and Management reporting requirements, and the “Buy America Act,” requiring the company to buy American-made iron, steel, and manufactured goods, and federal wage and labor requirements applicable to any subcontracted work. (57words)

If you read carefully, you will see that the last clause, about the subcontracted work, has no verb attached to it.

Long sentences are hard to understand. They often require readers to reread. And readers hate to reread. If you get a 65-word sentence like this, can you absorb it in only one reading?

Similar to the distribution scenario, if the continuing partner acquires the retiring partner’s interest in the partnership and the partnership has a section 754 election in place, the partnership’s inside tax basis will generally step up or down equal to the difference between the purchase price and the net inside tax basis of the selling partner’s proportionate share of the partnership’s assets under section 743(b).

Ideal Average Sentence Length
Research has shown that the most readable sentences have an average length of less than 20 words.  Most adults can take in up to 20 words of information before their eyes start to glaze over. Feed them information a spoonful at a time and you can eventually convey your whole message. Try to shove too much information into your reader’s mind at once and your message will not stick in his mind.

You can check your average words per sentence by using the “Check readability statistics” function on MS Word. Check the Help (F1) tab in your version of Word and choose “Show readability statistics.” The program will yield a rich harvest of information about the quality of your writing.  Look under “Averages” for “words per sentence.”

Note that this is an average measure. If every sentence is the same length and structure, the writing will be boring. You can have a longer sentence now and then, but sandwich it in between other sentences that are shorter. Keep the average low.

In the age of Twitter and texting, writing shorter sentences is more important than ever. Write shorter sentences and your readers will cheer.

The Worktalk writing training offers practical techniques for shortening and simplifying sentences that are too long. It also shows you how to write sentences that are short, clear, and powerful.

Note: The average words per sentence of this Writamin is 17.5, and that’s including the 57- and 65-word examples!

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Time to Email, A Time to Talk

Amanda had talked to Jeff, the operations manager of a firm that was an ideal prospect for the product Amanda’s firm was offering. Jeff had expressed an interest in Amanda’s product, and even said he was looking into getting budget for it. Amanda sent Jeff an email two weeks after their conversation, asking about the status of the deal. Jeff did not reply. She sent another email a week later, following up on the Previous one. No reply. Should Amanda send a third email, or should she call Jeff on the phone?
In a previous Writamin, we discussed the kinds of messages that are more appropriate to email and those that are more appropriate to a phone call or conversation. Here will look at the timing of these communications. At what stage in a relationship is email the right medium? When should you switch to the phone?

When Email is More Appropriate

 

Making an Introduction

Email is ideal for introductions. Write something like, “Lanie, meet Manuelle. Both of you are outstanding professionals involved in helping people communicate across cultures. I think you will enjoy meeting one another,” and send to both parties. Lanie and Manuelle will then email each other their phone numbers and set a time to meet in person or talk on the phone.

Making a Commitment

If you want to create a permanent record of a commitment and confirm your intention to do what you say, then email is your perfect medium. Even something as simple as a lunch date can be confirmed with an email. Commitments to engage services, purchase items, or attend a meeting also work well with emails. Useful tip: Put the essential commitment in the subject line.

Documenting a Negotiation

Email equals paper trail. The moment you hit send, your message zaps out to multiple servers, where it will remain until kingdom come. The back-and-forth of negotiation should take place on the phone or in person. Then follow up with an email saying, “This is to confirm our recent conversation, in which we agreed…” or “in which you offered…”

When a Phone Call or Personal Conversation is Better

 

Establishing a Relationship

As mentioned above, an email can set up the beginning of a relationship. However, email does not build relationships. Conversations build relationships. If you are looking for warmth, rapport, shared values and camaraderie, you are not going to find it in your email inbox, especially at the beginning of a relationship. If you care about connection, use your voice and nonverbal communication to develop a bond with another person.

Closing a Deal

Okay, you’ve been exchanging emails for a while, dancing around the possibility of doing business. Maybe a few emails have gone unanswered. Maybe you documented an offer with an email and got a vague reply, or no reply at all. In the example above, this would be the time for Amanda to call Jeff to see if she has a deal. She needs to call Jeff and say she hasn’t heard from him and wants to make sure he got her email (of course he did, but let him save face). She can ask if he has any questions or concerns about the offer, and see if he is ready to make the agreement. If not, she just saved herself a lot of fruitless marketing time. If so, she is that much closer to getting paid. Phone calls can yield immediate results.

Resolving a Conflict

Why do people avoid conflict by hiding out in email? Instead of facing a conflict responsibly and openly, they send snarky – or hostile – emails to one another, ratcheting up the tension and anger, until the relationship reaches a snapping point. They say things in the email that they would never dare to say to the person’s face. Or they simmer quietly, sending formal, cold emails without letting the other person know that something is amiss.
Email is the wrong venue for conflict resolution. If problems arise in a relationship, as they often do, deal with them on the phone or in person. Sending each other argumentative emails will only make matters worse.

****************************************************************************************************
Every communication requires that you choose the right medium for your message.  Sometimes email is right. Sometimes the phone is right. And sometimes only a face-to-face meeting will do. In Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney flies from Los Angeles to London just to meet with the author of Mary Poppins, because that was the only way to close the deal.  Email is great for interactions with a low emotional content or a high need for permanent documentation. If feelings or nuance are involved, skip the email. Pick up the phone or do as Disney did and make the meeting happen.

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Posted in Emailing Effectively | Leave a comment

Email or Conversation? How to Decide.

Jerome, a manager at a large corporation, received an email from his boss, Sam,  criticizing him because Jerome’s project was running late. The main reason for the delay was that Sam had delayed approvals and required cumbersome, unnecessary reports. Incensed at this perceived attack, Jerome shot off an email to Sam, accusing him of being the source of the problem. Sam sent a counter-attack, and soon the two found that all their conversations were tense and stilted — and the project was even further behind schedule.

What if Jerome had let his emotions settle and then asked Sam to schedule a time to talk, either on the phone or in person? Jerome could have shared his concerns while staying alert for Sam’s  reactions. Perhaps Jerome could have persuaded Sam to forget about those unnecessary reports. A conflict could have turned into a conversation.

When should you send an email instead of having a conversation? When should you forget the computer and pick up the phone? These questions plague many businesspeople.

Choosing the wrong mode of communication can be costly. Nuanced messages may be trampled by email, and vital paper trails can be lost by relying too much on the phone or meetings.
Determining whether to use email or have a conversation depends on the kind of message you are trying to convey and on the timing of that message.

Messages Suitable to Email
Confirming Agreements  For better or for worse, every email creates a permanent record of your message. This is advantageous when you are confirming the terms of an agreement, the date and time of an appointment, or other factual details. So if you have had a phone conversation in which you hashed out the details of an engagement, you would write an email saying:
“This is to confirm our recent conversation, in which we agreed that we will perform an audit of Smith Company’s 2013 books for a fee of $xxxx. We will begin the audit on [date] and complete it by [date].”

Making Introductions Let’s say that you want to introduce your friend Jeff to a business consultant named Mark. You could send them both an email that says:
“Jeff, meet Mark. We have worked with Mark for several years and he has been an extremely valuable member of our team. I think you will enjoy working with him.”
Then either Jeff or Mark could respond with an email asking to schedule a phone call so that they can get to know each other.

Keeping in Touch with a Team  Need to float an idea past a group of people? Send an email. Need to share the agenda of an upcoming team meeting? Send an email. But if your message is likely to upset people, think twice before sending a bulk email. Is there a way you can deliver your news in a more personal way, such as with a group meeting or individual conversations?

Messages Suitable to Conversation
Complex or Nuanced Dialogues  As in the example above, email is fine for making introductions. It is not great for developing relationships. Relationships grow through conversations. The phone or an in-person meeting are better tools for any message that requires sensitivity or inflection. Email is inherently a cold medium, while conversation enables you to use vocal pacing and tone to enhance your message.

Conflict Situations  If you are in an conflict-laden relationship, avoid sending emotional emails. Settle your nerves and deal with the other person in a conversation. Don’t try to avoid confrontation by hiding out in email. This approach is likely to backfire, leaving you with more tension and misunderstanding.

Confidential Conversations  Email creates a potentially public, permanent record of every message. If you want to be certain that your words will not end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, don’t email them. Pick up the phone. Do not leave your message on a voicemail; voicemails are now stored on servers as well. NSA notwithstanding, I believe you can still have a private conversation on the phone.

Situations Where Email Has Failed  Have you just had three email exchanges while trying to set a date and time for a lunch? Face it. Email is not working. Pick up the phone, and in 30 seconds you will have your plan. Often, a quick phone call or meeting can resolve issues that had generated dozens of email messages.
In a publicly traded company I consult for, the executive team all needed to edit key press releases. The draft went out to ten people, and they all jumped on the document, sending out multiple versions of the draft to all ten people at once. It didn’t take long for a one-page press release to generate a hundred emails with comments.  The company’s communications director realized that there had to be a better way. He sent out the release, asked people to prepare comments, and scheduled a brief meeting for the next day. “In a 15-minute meeting, we accomplished more than we had in a week of emails going back and forth,” he told me.

In next month’s Writamin, we will look at the timing of emails and phone calls, and how timing affects your decision of whether to email or call.

Do you have war stories about times when you made the wrong choice? Please share them with me. I will remove identifying details and share some of your stories. Then your experience can create a lesson for other people.

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Posted in Emailing Effectively | Leave a comment

How to Respond to an Insulting or Upsetting Email

A nonprofit company in Florida sent out email blasts to all managers at all their locations. This meant that some portions of the message were not intended for everyone, even though everyone received them. The IT department had tried to remedy this, but had run into difficulties. The assistant to the president received an email from a manager at one of their smaller facilities saying, “Why do you send me this if it doesn’t refer to me?!” Looking back on the email, she says, “When I got it, I felt like I’d been hit. It was so rude.” Wisely, she decided to put the email aside and take care of other matters for a while. Several hours later, she composed a calm response, explaining the problems with the IT department. The manager immediately responded, “Oh, now I understand. I’m sorry.” A potential conflict had been avoided.

How should you respond when you receive an email that feels like a slap in the face?

Don’t respond immediately.
The immediate instinct is to lash back at the person who hurt us, either hurling insults at them or angrily defending our position. This is usually a mistake. An email written in anger will linger forever on your company’s server, waiting to be called forth in a lawsuit or grievance. The email can be forwarded to anyone, making you look bad. Moreover, responding in anger only escalates the conflict.

  • Put the email aside and do something else. If possible, sleep on it before responding.

Consider responding by phone or in person.
If the other person is genuinely upset with you, email might not be the best way to respond. Let time pass. Then pick up the phone or ask for an in-person meeting. Remember, email lacks the nuance that a personal conversation can provide.

  • If you genuinely want to clear the air, speak to the person directly.

Take the moral high ground.
Perhaps the other person is being unfair, insulting, rude, or insensitive. That is their problem. Don’t make it your problem. If you respond in kind, you have descended to that person’s level and will have to fight it out from there. If you refuse to engage in the conflict and stay calm and courteous, you will outclass your opponent and defuse the situation.

  • Don’t descend to the other person’s level.

Think of the big picture.
The person who sent you the email is probably someone with whom you will have interact tomorrow and the next day. Before responding in anger, think of the big picture: What kind of relationship do you want to have with this person next week? Next month?
In the Worktalk writing trainings, we talk about the Three Ps: purpose, person, and point. Think of these principles when you are reeling from that email:

  • What is the purpose of my relationship with this person? What result do I hope to achieve from responding to this person? What do I hope to accomplish?
  •  What kind of person am I dealing with? Is that person over-sensitive? Does that person already feel badly for having written the email? Is this person likely to over-react and escalate the conflict? What kind of language would get through to this individual?
  • What is my point? Note: “You are a jerk” is not a valid point. Make a rational, constructive point. If there is no such point, don’t send the email. Vent your feelings and then delete without sending. In the example above, the assistant’s point was that she understood his frustration and that IT was working on the problem.

Keep your cool.
Maybe the person who wrote you the email is going through a personal crisis, or just having a really bad day. Whatever the reason, you don’t have to let his bad day ruin yours. Take ten deep breaths. Wait before responding. Be the better person. Focus on your end game, which is to maintain your reputation as a person who acts with grace under pressure and who maintains working relationships with all kinds of people.

Responding to upsetting emails is challenging, but it is a challenge you can overcome.

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Write Shorter Sentences!

During my 28 years of training business writers throughout the United States, people have often asked me, “Is there one thing I could do that would automatically make me a better writer?” The answer is yes. One simple change would make all your work more clear and comprehensible: Write shorter sentences.
Pitfalls of Long Sentences
Long sentences are minefields of grammar mistakes. They may lead to grammar errors such as mismatch of singular and plural. This happens when the verb in a sentence is so far away from the subject that the writer forgets whether he is matching a singular or a plural. Long sentences cause the writer to get confused and leave clauses hanging with no clear reference. Consider this:

For example, acceptance of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds through the CEC would require the corporation to comply with U.S. Office of Budget and Management reporting requirements, and the “Buy America Act,” requiring the company to buy American-made iron, steel, and manufactured goods, and federal wage and labor requirements applicable to any subcontracted work. (57words)

If you read carefully, you will see that the last clause, about the subcontracted work, has no verb attached to it.

Long sentences are hard to understand. They often require readers to reread. And readers hate to reread. If you get a 65-word sentence like this, can you absorb it in only one reading?

Similar to the distribution scenario, if the continuing partner acquires the retiring partner’s interest in the partnership and the partnership has a section 754 election in place, the partnership’s inside tax basis will generally step up or down equal to the difference between the purchase price and the net inside tax basis of the selling partner’s proportionate share of the partnership’s assets under section 743(b).

Ideal Average Sentence Length
Research has shown that the most readable sentences have an average length of less than 20 words.  Most adults can take in up to 20 words of information before their eyes start to glaze over. Feed them information a spoonful at a time and you can eventually convey your whole message. Try to shove too much information into your reader’s mind at once and your message will not stick in his mind.

You can check your average words per sentence by using the “Check readability statistics” function on MS Word. Check the Help (F1) tab in your version of Word and choose “Show readability statistics.” The program will yield a rich harvest of information about the quality of your writing.  Look under “Averages” for “words per sentence.”

Note that this is an average measure. If every sentence is the same length and structure, the writing will be boring. You can have a longer sentence now and then, but sandwich it in between other sentences that are shorter. Keep the average low.

In the age of Twitter and texting, writing shorter sentences is more important than ever. Write shorter sentences and your readers will cheer.

The Worktalk writing training offers practical techniques for shortening and simplifying sentences that are too long. It also shows you how to write sentences that are short, clear, and powerful.

Note: The average words per sentence of this Writamin is 17.5, and that’s including the 57- and 65-word examples!

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.
Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.

Read recent Writamins:

Include Enough Information in Emails

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/include-enough-information-in-emails.html

Maintain Parallel Patterns

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/writing-well/maintain-parallel-patterns.html

Avoid Death by Email: When to Pick Up the Phone

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/avoiding-death-by-email-when-to-pick-up-the-phone.html

Posted in Writing Clearly | Leave a comment

A Common Grammar Gaffe: Don’t Let This Undermine You

Grammar! The word itself makes some people’s eyes glaze over. Shades of elementary school make eyelids droop. But think about it: When you receive an email or document that contains grammar and punctuation errors, how does it affect your opinion of the sender? When I ask this question in the Worktalk writing trainings, people use words like, “incompetent, unprofessional, uneducated, careless…” The list goes on and on. When we disregard basic grammar, we risk undermining the good impression we have worked so hard to build.One grammar error that has cropped up in recent writing trainings is a lack of singular-plural agreement. Wait — don’t go to sleep yet. Disregarding this point can make you look ignorant. So take a look.

What is wrong with these sentences?

  • Since our mid-year review there has been many  changes that has happen in the XYZ department.
  •  An oversupply of foreign imports are flooding the market.
  • If any portion of the expenses do, in fact, qualify as business expenses under IRC §162(a), what is the substantiation and documentation requirements that Client, as well as their employees and customers that will be attending the foreign cruise ship convention/seminar, would need in order to appropriately deduct these expenses?
Each sentence contains errors in singular-plural agreement. This principle is basic, yet many people stumble over it.  In every sentence, the subject and predicate must both be either singular or plural. Having a singular subject and a plural verb, or vice versa, is a fundamental grammar error. Singular nouns need singular pronouns (he, she, it) as well. In most cases, people instinctively use the right verb for their subject. How is it that they sometimes go off-track?There Is/Are Structure Confuses Writers

In sentences containing there is/are, people often mistakenly assume that there is a subject. In fact, it simply states that something exists. In order to find the true grammatical subject, you need to invert the sentence; the subject usually follows the verb. So in the above case,
There has been many changes that has happen would become:

                 Many changes  has happen

When you look at it this way, you see clearly that it should say

Many changes have happened.

Prepositional Phrases Mislead
During the Worktalk training programs, I advise participants to find the “essential sentence”, the subject and predicate, when editing. The first step in isolating subject and predicate is to mark out the prepositional phrases. You might recall that a preposition is “anywhere a rat can run” – about, above, in, to, at, by, or of. Phrases containing of are particularly irksome, as they often contain plural nouns. In the sentence:

An oversupply of foreign imports are flooding the market, we cross out “of foreign imports” because it is a prepositional phrase. This leaves us with:


An oversupply   are flooding       the market.  


This is clearly incorrect. The correct sentence is

An oversupply of foreign imports is flooding the market.

Long Sentences Breed Grammar Errors
Singular-plural agreement errors often crop up when sentences are too long. The writer begins the sentence with a clear subject, but by the end of the sentence he has forgotten where he started. Keep your average sentence length below 20 words and you will be less likely to get confused. Now brace yourself: Here comes a 50-word challenge. Consider this doozy:

If any portion of the expenses do, in fact, qualify as business expenses under IRC §162(a), what is the substantiation and documentation requirements that Client, as well as their employees and customers that will be attending the foreign cruise ship convention/seminar, would need in order to appropriately deduct these expenses?


This sentence contains multiple errors in singular-plural agreement. Errors are capitalized below.


If any portion of the expenses DO, in fact, qualify as business expenses under IRC §162(a), what IS the substantiation and documentation requirements that Client, as well as THEIR employees and customers that will be attending the foreign cruise ship convention/seminar, would need in order to appropriately deduct these expenses?


Cross out OF THE EXPENSES. The subject of this sentence is portion. Note that Client is singular, and thus takes the pronoun its, not their. Corrections are capitalized below.


If any portion of the expenses DOES, in fact, qualify as business expenses under IRC §162(a), what ARE the substantiation and documentation requirements that Client, as well as ITS employees and customers that will be attending the foreign cruise ship convention/seminar, would need in order to appropriately deduct these expenses?


The person who wrote this sentence  is highly educated. Once alerted to the errors, he knew immediately how to correct them. But in the confusion of dealing with a very long sentence, the stress of writing , and the rush that led him not to proofread carefully, he let these errors creep into a document that went to a client.

You can avoid errors in singular-plural agreement by avoiding the there is/are structure, being aware of prepositional phrases and, most importantly, by keeping your average sentence length short. The average number of words per sentence in this Writamin is 17.8, even allowing for the repetition of the 50-word behemoth above.

In the Worktalk writing trainings, we painlessly review some of the major ways people sabotage themselves by making careless grammar errors. Mismatching singulars and plurals is just one  problem we address. We also learn about using punctuation marks, capitalizing correctly, and avoiding common confusions like its and it’s.

It’s tempting to think that grammar is for fuddy duddies. But grammatical rules form the backbone of language. When we break them too often, we may fail at the most fundamental task of writing: getting our message clearly into the mind of our reader. So remember your singular and plural word agreement. Your meaning may depend on them.

© 2014 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

         Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.

Read recent Writamins:

Include Enough Information in Emails

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/include-enough-information-in-emails.html

Maintain Parallel Patterns

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/writing-well/maintain-parallel-patterns.html

Avoid Death by Email: When to Pick Up the Phone

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/avoiding-death-by-email-when-to-pick-up-the-phone.html

Posted in Writing Clearly | Leave a comment

Harness the Essential Sentence

A strong sentence needs a strong core.  Every sentence has a subject and a predicate. In the Worktalk writing trainings, we call the core noun and verb of a sentence the “essential sentence”.  An essential sentence can be strong or weak.A strong essential sentence uses a specific noun and an active verb. It conveys the writer’s essential thought.

I came. I saw. I conquered.
The developer created the software application.
Word travels quickly.

A weak essential sentence relies on vague nouns like it, and frequently builds on forms of the verb to be. It often circumvents the basic thought.
It is noteworthy that he attended.
There is no one home.
It seems that you are tired.

How to Find the Essential Sentence
When seeking the essential sentence, start by marking out phrases that start with prepositions. Then take away subordinate clauses which start with that, which, or who. Look for the heart of the sentence, the subject and predicate.
For example, in the sentence
The index of this book is useful, which means that you should refer to it.

of this book is a prepositional phrase.
which means that you should refer to it
is a subordinate clause.

Index  is the subject. Is is the predicate. The essential sentence is: index is.

Your Essential Sentence Should Contain Your Essential Idea.
When you write a sentence that starts with phrases like the purpose is, or It is important to note or there is/are, you are squandering the potential power of the essential sentence. I recommend that you avoid these structures. Instead, use the essential sentence to your advantage by putting your main idea into the subject and predicate of your sentence.

NOT:    The purpose of this workpaper is to summarize 2013 operations of the property. 

BETTER:           This workpaper summarizes 2013 operations of the property. 

NOT:    It is important to note that the situation has deteriorated significantly in the past six months.

BETTER:           The situation has deteriorated significantly in the past six months.

NOT:    There is someone at the front desk who can help you.

BETTER:           Someone at the front desk can help you.

Using the Essential Sentence as an Editing Tool
Consider this sentence:

The Peer Review Committee met on Feb. 5, 2012, to review the proposed policy goals and evaluate the feasibility of accelerating renewable energy project development.

The essential sentence is Committee met.

But is this the essential meaning? Perhaps the fact that they met is a given, and what matters is what they did when they met. A stronger essential sentence would be:

On February 5, 2012, the Peer Review Committee reviewed the proposed policy goals and evaluated the feasibility of accelerating renewable energy project development.

Here the essential sentence is Committee reviewed and evaluated.

As you edit your writing, look for ways to strengthen your essential sentence. Put the crux of your meaning into the subject and predicate of your sentence. Harnessing the power of the essential sentence will improve your writing dramatically.

© 2013 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

        

Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.

Read recent Writamins:

Know Your Purpose Before You Start

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/thoughts-on-writing/know-your-purpose-before-you-start.html

Include Enough Information in Emails

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/include-enough-information-in-emails.html

Maintain Parallel Patterns

http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/writing-well/maintain-parallel-patterns.html

Posted in Writing Clearly | Leave a comment

Perils of Tiny Typing: Typos

I received an email recently that contained the signature line: “Expect typos.”

Why should I expect typos? I expect people to avoid them, especially in business correspondence.

Cell phones breed typos. Granted, when one is typing with thumbs on a tiny screen, errors are more likely to creep in. But this does not mean that we should simply give up without a murmur and say, “Oh, well, my writing will be full of typos and my readers will just have to deal with it.”

Cell phones have had many effects on our communication, including these: They have blurred the boundary between business and personal communications and they have made us less sensitive to typographical errors.
In personal, informal cell phone dialogues, readers usually overlook  errors, as long as the meaning is comprehensible. The question is, however, whether any important messages or emails should be sent from a phone when you are too rushed to correct mistakes.

If you’re tooling down the highway and you want to tell your friend you’ll be ten minutes late, your phone might change your message to “Ill be ten menudos cake.” and your friend will probably understand.

But if you are writing deal points, or clarifying a negotiation position, or making a promise or request, the telephone on the run is the wrong tool for the job. Simply send, “Got your message. Will respond soon,” and then wait until you can sit down and give your full attention to your phone or other mobile device. Remember, the email you send from your car is just as discoverable as the one you carefully compose at your desk.

Why should we make the effort to avoid these errors? Because people judge us based on our writing.

In my business writing workshops, I ask people, “When you receive an email or document that contains typos, misused words, and errors in grammar and punctuation, how does it affect your opinion of the sender?” There is always a charitable soul who says, “I just figure the person was busy.”  The majority is less forgiving. People use words like “careless” “rushed” “inattentive to detail” “incompetent” “uneducated” and of course, “stupid” to describe the writer who sends out documents full of errors. The reader might not know or care that the email originated from a phone.

True, your spelling gaffes might reach the person who is willing to forgive and overlook. But whenever you send out a business email containing errors, you are taking a chance that your reader might not be the forgiving type. Your client, boss, or colleague might believe that people who write carelessly also think and work carelessly. They might think less of you and consider you less professional because you did not take the time to reread and see what favors Autocorrect has done for you. Even if they realize that your message came from a phone, the lingering impression is that you are willing to sacrifice quality for expedience.  Is it worth taking that chance?

If you want to avoid typos, here’s what to do:
·         Reread EVERY email and document at least once before sending it. I know you feel you don’t have time; do it anyway. The downside of not proofreading is too big.
·         Read your message aloud before sending it.
·         Read from the end to the beginning.

For low priority, informal phone messages, most people are willing to forgive typos. But if you want people to hold a high opinion of you — and especially if a business relationship depends on your message — take the time to correct your spelling. I urge you: Fight the good fight. Even on your phone, don’t expect typos.

©2013 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved

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Addressing Emails: To, CC, BCC, and the Dreaded Reply All

To, CC, BCC, and the Dreaded Reply All           

Every email needs an addressee, and every time you address an email, you make significant choices. First, are you going to be careful as you hover your mouse over the To line and make sure that you are sending the email to your intended recipient, and not to some hapless soul who shares the same initials?

That’s the first addressing error, and it has led attorneys to send their strategies to opposing counsel,  snarky authors to send their nasties to the people they are trashing, and employers to send comments  that end up as evidence in wrongful termination lawsuits. At the least, it has led to some very embarrassing moments. So the first rule of addressing emails is:
·         Make sure you are sending your email ONLY to the person you intend it to reach.

CC: Carbon Copy (Why do we still use this acronym?)

Next, decide whether to use CC. When you copy, or CC someone on an email, you are saying “FYI – For Your Information”. People do not expect to act on emails on which they have been CC’d. If you expect your reader to act on your email, put him or her in the To line. And don’t overuse CC. Some people routinely delete or ignore emails on which they are CC’d. Some are annoyed that their inbox is stuffed with messages that are only of tangential importance to them. If there are people in your organization to whom you routinely send CC emails, take a moment to ask them if they really want to receive all those emails from you.

Avoid using CC for self-protection or self-aggrandizement. If you want to let your boss know that you are on top of a problem he assigned you, send a separate email saying, “Just wanted to let you know that I contacted Christine and she will get me the information by Thursday” instead of CCing him on a series of emails.
·         CC = FYI only

BCC: Blind Carbon Copy

When you put someone’s name in the BCC line, other recipients will not be able to see that that person received the email. “Blind” refers to the other people who received the email. BCC is useful if you are sending out a bulk email and you do not want everyone’s email addresses to be visible in the To or CC line. In these cases, BCC protects the privacy of the recipients.

However, other uses of BCC are less straightforward. Basically, using BCC means you are hiding something: You are not letting John know that Sally saw the email. In some organizations, people use BCC to secretly show bosses the poor work of their colleagues or otherwise undermine their peers. For this reason, many people avoid using BCC altogether, preferring transparency to secrecy.
Here’s one thing you should never do: If you are BCC’d on a group email, do not hit Reply All. Doing so blows your anonymity and shocks anyone who might have been uncomfortable with your receiving the email in the first place.
·         BCC = Be Careful Comrade

Reply All

I did a nationwide survey of Anderson School alumni a few years ago, asking them what email practice annoyed them most. The winner? Reply All. Everyone hates Reply All, yet many people continue to use it. They think other people overuse it. Occasionally, Reply All is useful; for example, you might use it when you are trying to set up a meeting with a few people and everyone needs to know everyone else’s availability. Tedious as it may be, it’s hard to avoid a bunch of Reply All messages saying “I’m not available on the 3rd; can we make it the 14th?” However, if you are setting up a large meeting and send out a bulk email to all potential attendees inviting them, each person does not need to hit Reply All to say, “I’ll be there,” or “Can’t make it.” In such a case, responses should go only to the person who sent the email.

Certainly avoid using Reply All just to let everyone know what you are doing. Trust me, everyone does not care what you are doing. They care about doing what they are supposed to be doing. They also care a lot about reducing the email volume in their already clogged Inbox. So having you write “Handling the AAA account” and sending it to them will not buy you brownie points.

·         Reply All: Not so fast.

Email can speed to hundreds of people instantly: that’s both the good news and the bad news. If we don’t address our emails carefully and responsibly, we risk losing our credibility and the goodwill of our readers. So use To, CC, BCC, and Reply All slowly and judiciously. Remember, an email is like an arrow: once you’ve launched it, you can never get it back.

©2013 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.

Read recent Writamins:
Avoid Death by Email: When to Pick up the Phone    http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/avoiding-death-by-email-when-to-pick-up-the-phone.html

White Space Rests the Eye     http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/writing-well/white-space-rests-the-eye.html

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Posted in Emailing Effectively | Leave a comment

Create an Appropriate Tone

In my Ten Principles of Effective Email presentation, I ask how many people have received a short email and thought the writer was angry at them.  Most of the people in the room raise their hands. They often learned later that the writers were not actually angry. Readers believed that the writers were angry because of the emails’ tone.Your message is composed of two factors: what you say and how you say it.  Tone is “how you say it”. Tone reflects your  attitude toward both the reader and the subject of your message. Your document’s tone affects your reader’s response to your written message as much as your vocal tone affects a listener’s response to a spoken message.  In deciding on your tone, start with the Three Ps: purpose, person, and point.

·         What is your purpose?
Every communication has a tone; your job is to use the tone that will best help you fulfill your purpose with your reader.  Should you be warm and friendly? Clear and direct? Formal and indirect? It depends on the result you are aiming for.

·         How will your reader respond to this tone?
Although business writing is generally becoming more informal, use your judgment to find the right tone. Ultimately, the best approach is to put yourself in your reader’s place and consider the message from his or her viewpoint.

·         What tone best suits your point?
You won’t use the same tone in a condolence note as you would in a demand for payment or an invitation to lunch. Your tone should suit your message.

In general, your tone should be:
·         Confident
·         Positive
·         Courteous
·         At an appropriate level of difficulty
·         At an appropriate level of formality.

Formal vs. Informal Tone
Business writing in general has become more informal and conversational than in times past. Nevertheless, a formal tone is often right.  A formal tone contains no contractions, no slang, fewer personal pronouns like I and you, and, sometimes, longer forms of words. The passive voice is more common in formal writing. Sentences are often longer. Typically, a formal tone is appropriate for people outside your organization.

You might mix formal and informal elements to create a tone that is warm but professional.

An informal tone is more appropriate for colleagues and peers. Even in an informal business document, however, avoid excessive use of slang, acronyms, or emoticons.

When writing to senior management, be as straightforward and direct as possible. You can use a mixture of formal and informal language, as long as you make your point clear and brief.

How can you create a warm, friendly tone?
·         A warm tone is conversational.
·         Personal pronouns such as you and I/we are warmer than third-person pronouns such as it and one.
·         In a warm document, you can show empathy with the reader. I realize this process is difficult for you… might work in an informal letter about a credit application, but it would not appear in the formal correspondence.
·         Polite, courteous comments build relationships. Please, thank you, would you mind, I would be grateful if and similar terms add an element of good will to your message.
·         Some colloquialisms are acceptable.  You can refer to your kids rather than your children.
·         Some contractions are acceptable. You can write don’t instead of do not, can’t instead of cannot, and so forth.

It is never appropriate to use profanity, crude slang, racist, sexist, or other discriminatory terms in business writing, no matter how informal you are being.

Your tone can make the difference between your reader accepting your message and rejecting it.  When you re-read your work before sending it (which I hope you do), consider the tone as well as the content. Your results may depend on the tone you take.

©2013 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved
Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to lizd@worktalk.com.

Online Email Course Still Available
Email is fast becoming the medium of choice for business communications. Make sure that you are using it optimally. Sign up for the Ten Principles of Smart Email free online course at www.worktalk.com.

Read recent Writamins:
Avoid Death by Email: When to Pick up the Phone    http://www.worktalk.com/writamins/emailing-effectively/avoiding-death-by-email-when-to-pick-up-the-phone.html

Put More Cachet into the Everyday

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Posted in Emailing Effectively, Writing Clearly | Leave a comment