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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

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

Posted in Emailing Effectively, Writing Clearly | Leave a comment

Limit Email Checking

Most people check email more than they need to. Some folks have urgent operational responsibilities that require them to be on top of their email every minute, but others simply succumb to the overwhelming urge to see what emails have just arrived.

Who knows? The single person might have received a marriage proposal. The lawyer or accountant might have heard from a new client. The entrepreneur might have received a fantastic business opportunity. All of them may be receiving the week’s winning lottery numbers. But more often than not, they are sacrificing precious time and concentration to read messages that could have waited until later.  Many people place email checking above doing the work they should be doing, all the while thinking that they are being productive.

What’s wrong with checking email every time you hanker to find out what’s in your Inbox? Email checking is a massive productivity killer. The New York Times reported that in the United States, $588 billion a year in productivity is lost because of unnecessary interruptions, including email, according to Basex.

Basex estimates that interruptions now consume 28% of the knowledge worker’s day. This translates into 28 billion lost man-hours per annum to companies in the US alone. Assuming an average salary of $21/hour for a knowledge worker, the cost to business is $588 billion. The firm says that a big chunk of that cost comes from the time it takes people to recover from an interruption (such as checking email) and get back to work. In another study,  Infographics estimated that each employee costs an employer $10,000 a year in lost productivity due to checking and sending irrelevant emails.

What drives us to check email when we know we should be working on other things? Two recent articles in The Atlantic connected the email-checking habit to the same principle that drives people to play slot machines: the principle of intermittent positive reward. Most emails do not trigger our pleasure centers, but once in a while we hit the jackpot — a letter from a long-lost friend, a great business opportunity, or some other form of positive stimulation.

That intermittent reward keeps us slavering for more. Add to that the fact that checking email gives us the pleasant sensation of doing something productive when in fact we are just wasting time. That illusion of doing something useful keeps us checking the Inbox all day long.

How can we wean ourselves from the habit of continually checking email? Here are some ideas.

Tips for Reducing Excess Email Checking

—  Create “blackout” periods when you will concentrate only on your work and not check email.

—  Close Outlook while working on other tasks so that you do not continually see emails coming in.

—  Disable the audio alert that tells you emails are coming in.

—  Check email only at natural breaks in your work flow. Force yourself to wait until you finish the task at hand before jumping in to check your email yet again.

—  Train people to wait patiently for a response to their emails and to call you if they need instant feedback.  If people realize that they can count on you to respond within minutes to their email, they will keep up that expectation — and the pressure will stay on you.  If you can, let them know that you are changing your work habits and checking email less frequently.

I accept that some people really have to be on top of their emails every few minutes. This Writamin is directed toward those whose jobs do not truly require that level of connection, but who succumb to the urge to check email too often and end up losing valuable work time. We’ll discuss Facebook procrastination another day.

©2012 Elizabeth Danziger

Want to learn about bringing the Worktalk Email Best Practices training to your organization? Contact lizd@worktalk.com.

Posted in Emailing Effectively | Leave a comment

Avoid Weather Reports: Use Words That Act

I’m sorry.
It’s okay.
We need the paperwork by Friday.
The holding tank might explode.
I think that restructuring is a good idea.
What do these statements have in common? They are weather reports, informing the reader of feelings, needs, situations, and thoughts. Whether stated explicitly or not, their purpose is to inform. If all you are doing is reporting the weather, informing is fine. But if you want people to think, feel, or act differently, simply informing is weak. Either put the information into context or put it into motion. Let the reader know why the facts matter to him, or do something meaningful with the information.
Most words just tell. Some special words, however, act. The  process of using these words is an action in itself. These words even have their own name. You don’t have to remember it, but if you are interested, they are called performatives.  For example, when you say I promise, you have actually done the action of promising. Before you said it, there was no promise. After you said, something new existed: a promise. Here are a few other words that act:
Apologize            “I apologize for what I did.”
Forgive                “I forgive you.”
Request/Ask        “I request that you send in the paperwork by Friday.”
“Please send in the paperwork by Friday.”
Warn                   ”I am warning you that the holding tank might explode.”
Recommend        “I recommend that you restructure.”
Other common performatives include thank, order, deny, forbid, and recommend.  These words add backbone to your writing, making your ideas real and putting them into motion.
In some situations, these words are too strong. If you are writing to someone higher on the food chain, for example, you might not want to use warn or even recommend. In these cases, you can fulfill your purpose of warning or recommending by stating your case persuasively and letting the reader figure out what you intend. However, taking this approach creates the risk that the reader won’t figure out what you mean.
If you want to make an impact, I urge (that’s an action!) you to avoid weather reports and use words that act.
©2012 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 Choosing Words Carefully, Writing Clearly | Leave a comment

Overcoming Pride of Authorship

Let’s face it: No one likes to have work corrected. We dream that people will say, “It’s brilliant! It’s perfect! Let’s run with it.” But that doesn’t always happen. In fact, it is much more common to be corrected than to be unconditionally praised. This is part of the writing process. Remember the adage, “Writing is rewriting what has already been rewritten.”

So if you have sweated over your verbiage and then some senseless monster says that your work is not perfect, how do you cope? Here are a few suggestions:

1.      Focus on achieving the purpose of the document.

It’s not about you: It’s about fulfilling your purpose. Hopefully you clarified your purpose before you began to write. The revision process is only about getting you to your goal.

2.      Focus on the product.

Again, even though it may feel like it’s about you, it’s not. Take your focus off of yourself and put it on the words on the paper. What can be done to help them fulfill their purpose?

3.      Listen respectfully.

Even if you disagree with your reviewer, listen carefully to what he or she says.

4.      Look for seeds of truth.

Perhaps the reviewer is overemphasizing a minor flaw, perhaps not. Look for points that might be valid.

5.      Don’t take it personally.

In all likelihood, this person is not out to get you, gunning to reduce your contribution, or trying to suppress you. He just has a different vision for how the document should be written. He might be right in some ways and you might be right in some ways. Taking the criticism personally will only harm you, personally and professionally.

6.      Avoid defensive behavior.

It may be too much to ask you not to feel defensive, but at least don’t act defensive. It will make you look foolish.

7.      Ask for specific suggestions.

You have a right to ask for specific suggestions. You do not need to accept blanket or scathing criticisms without requesting something positive. Ask for a suggestion to go with every criticism. If the person can’t think of one, take the time to discuss options together.

8.      Win by letting go.

Release is the secret to serenity.

9.      Smile and say thank you.

Believe it or not, this will help you accept the feedback. Even if you don’t feel thankful, recall that the person did take the time to try to help you improve. Criticism may be an unwelcome gift but it is still a gift.

10.  Breathe deeply and slowly.

This will help you do everything else on this list.

Pride of authorship is paradoxical. It is good to do work that you are proud of and to be proud of your work. At the same time, if that pride keeps you from seeing what could be improved in your writing, it becomes an obstacle to excellence. Stay focused on creating the best product and you’ll do fine.

© 2012 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved.

For information on Elizabeth Danziger’s writing training and coaching, visit www.worktalk.com or contact her at lizd@worktalk.com.

Posted in Writing Clearly, Writing More Efficiently | Leave a comment

Forward Emails Responsibly.

Being able to forward messages and instantly share information is one of the blessings of email, but it is also a curse, as many people can attest.  A simple, honest mistake can become a companywide conflagration once someone decides that everyone should know about it. A privately stated negative comment can become a human-resources nightmare when someone helpfully decides to forward the criticism to the person being discussed.  Rumors become rampant as people rush to send them to everyone they know.

Here are some guidelines to keep you from over-forwarding.

Think of two people before you forward an email: the author of the item you are forwarding and the person you are forwarding to.  First ask yourself if the person who wrote it would like other people to read it. If you are not sure, ask or err on the side of caution and do not forward.

Next, and equally important, realize that when you hit send you are sending a meta-message to all your recipients. You are saying, “What I have to tell you is so important that you should spend your valuable time reading it.”  Ask yourself honestly: Is this joke, consumer alert, cartoon, political statement, bit of gossip, example of someone’s stupidity or other questionable material really worth taking people’s time?

Perhaps the item you are forwarding is of genuine interest to your reader; if so, fire away. However, think before you send.  As the Gregg Reference Manual says, “Ask yourself if the person or people to whom you plan to forward the message have a pressing need to see it.”

A few etiquette points about forwarding:

  • Do not force people to click through a series of attachments to get to the actual message you are sending. Make it easy on your readers.
  • Protect the privacy of previous recipients. If the forward contains the email addresses of previous recipients, delete those names before you forward. Previous recipients probably do not want their email addresses sent all over creation just because someone decided to forward.
    • The exception to this would be if you are forwarding something within your organization and want others to know who else received the email.
    • If you are forwarding a group of people who do not know each other, protect the privacy of their email addresses by using the Bcc function. List the recipients’ names in the Bcc line and the To line will just read “undisclosed recipients”.
    • If you are forwarding to a group that knows each other well, go ahead and list all the names in the To line. Then everyone will know who else received the message and will resist the urge to forward it to other members of the group.

 

Forwarded emails clog the overloaded inboxes of millions of individuals. They can stir up trouble where none need exist. They can also be tools for usefully sharing valuable information. Only you can decide whether the message you are about to forward should be sent. All I ask is that you pause and consider the question.

©2012 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 Emailing Effectively | Leave a comment