What Do You Call People?

ThinkingWoman170With email what to call your reader is frequently a non-issue, because many email writers just begin with what they have to say, using no greeting at all.

Some participants in my workshops are offended by this practice, and want a friendly word – maybe even just their name will do it for some. Others want a “hi,” or a “good morning.” A very few like a simple pleasantry, asking for the family, the kids, or perhaps the weekend golf game. To avoid giving offense, consider your reader, his or her probable preference, and the tone you want to establish or reinforce with that reader.

At least an equal, and growing number say, “just the facts, Ma’am!” and happily cut their reading time by getting to the meat of the issue immediately.

But what about the more formal emails, like letters? If your company has an established style for this type of correspondence, use it. If not, here are a few guidelines:



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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentationsexecutive coaching,consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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.

Thanks for reading this week’s post. To get your Tip every week, please subscribe. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting.

Published in: on June 11, 2013 at 9:18 am  Comments (1)  
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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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We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  
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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.

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

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

Business Writing and Free Samples?

It was one of those glorious early spring days. A day to take your kids, or maybe your grandkids, someplace they love to go. To do something you all love to do. We looked at each other, and with one voice shouted, “Lunch at Costco!”Free Samples

Of course it could have been any other wholesale grocery warehouse, or for that matter, any other grocery store, but Costco is the closest to us, and they offer a gracious plenty of just what we were looking for. So what makes this grocery store so special on Saturdays? The menu.

That’s right: the menu! But…

The menu is terrific! Your choice of exquisite appetizers; magnificent main courses; beneficent beverages; and delightful desserts! There are cheeses from distant places, and handmade domestic cheese from closer by. Breads from artisan bakeries. Foods we’ve never tasted, from exotic places whose very names may be new to us. And the best part of it all? We can have all of them. We can taste each of them. Free!

They are all there in bountiful plenty: Free Samples! And if you like them, they are available. Just buy them and take them home. They are yours.

So what is so special about free samples, and what do free samples have to do with business writing?

Everything you write is a free sample.

“Free Samples” of your business writing, whether you intend it or not, for better or for worse, carry with them the potential for being your most cost-effective marketing tool. Your best, easiest-to implement customer satisfaction solution. Your strongest team-building technique. And your best way to demonstrate your professionalism, credibility, and hire-me-now employability.

Or not.

What you write on the job not only reflects on you, and your professionalism and credibility, but on your prospective employer. No wonder how you present yourself – in writing – on that job application is so important to that prospective employer.

Of course writing will be critical to who is chosen for an interview, and ultimately who gets the job.

Where else are free samples used in business writing at this very minute?

Coupling the newest technology with one of the most traditional enticements, today’s marketers have carried free samples, demonstrating their products or their capabilities, into the 21st century – apparently, for the most part, with reasonable success. We all want to see what we’re getting before we buy. Free webinars, teleseminars, and white papers abound online and are downloadable, in case you miss the scheduled time. Newsletters, Blog sites, and videos are readily available, and you can choose to subscribe to receive these “free samples” on a regular basis.

A local plumber has thought outside the box. Speculating on the greatest inconvenience a plumber can cause the customer – making him or her either take a day off work, or hire someone to wait for the plumber to arrive – he sets a specific appointment time, and advertises a $50 discount if his plumber is 15 minutes late. A free sample of this company’s responsiveness to the customer, rather than the other way around.

These are obvious free samples. Yet the way you write every email, every hand-written note, every instruction, every in-house memo – the way you respond to every question or explanation on a day-to-day basis, both internally and externally, can inspire confidence, build trust, and make your reader want to work with you.

Or not.

For this week, let me ask you to think about these “free samples.” Think about what your business writing is saying about you, and about the organization you represent.

  1. Is your intention clear in the first paragraph?  Have you made your point quickly, clearly, concisely? If the reader read no further, would he or she “get it”?
  2. Have you considered what this piece of business writing must accomplish? What results you need to have? Should this piece reasonably be expected to do it?
  3. Have you considered the all-important tone you will use for this piece? Did you succeed in creating, or reinforcing an existing relationship? Is this the appropriate relationship for this issue?
  4. Have you organized your information in a logical sequence, with one thought or point building to the next?

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

Published in: on April 2, 2013 at 9:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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Do You Write the Way You Want to Write – Or the Way They Want to Read?

Last week’s release of the Intel study – what happens on the internet in one minute – has left many shaking their heads, and wondering how in the world it could be possible to break through all this internet “noise” to Internet Noisecommunicate anything to anyone.

In a worldwide culture where today and every day 204 million emails are sent, 6 million Facebook pages are viewed, and 1.3 million YouTube clips are downloaded – to say nothing of 20 million photos seen, the 61,000 hours of music played, and the 20 stolen identities plus the 47,000 apps downloaded – every 60 seconds, this is indeed a good question.

And, the study projects, by 2015 the number of networked devices on the earth will be double the number of people on earth. By that time it would take five years to view all the video content crossing IP networks each and every second.

A good question indeed.

Decide on your purpose. Why are you writing? Do you want a specific reader, or readers to read what you have written? Or is just writing it enough? Who are you writing it for?

While it seems obvious, your best chance of getting your writing read is to write about something your reader wants to read. Second-best is to write something he or she has to read. In the second case, don’t count on that much of it getting through.

Now that you have decided what to write about, ask yourself how your reader prefers to read: Online – in a letter, memo, instructions, report? Or in a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn? On paper? Where are you most likely to find your reader?

Next step: assuming you want your writing read, what is the appropriate tone to use? What is the tone your reader will expect? What is the tone that will best connect with your reader? Should you use a formal, or academic tone? Will your reader be more likely to read and comprehend a less formal tone? Is that appropriate? Does your reader speak a specialized language – “legalese,” “medicalese,” “computerese”?

Much of the business writing done for higher-level co-workers tends to sound almost like a vocabulary test, as staff tends to “write up” for the higher-level reader. And yet, if that higher echelon reader were asked, he or she most likely would prefer to spend less time with a more comfortable, more readable, more easily-understood writing style. After all, that reader probably prefers having a family dinner, and maybe watching a little football, to staying late at work, trying to figure out what that piece of business writing says.

So if you want your writing to be read, write about something your reader wants to read – or present the information in such a way that he or she will want to read it. Use the writing medium your reader prefers, when you can appropriately do so. Write with a comfortable style, and an appropriate tone and language. And by all means, if you do nothing else, make it easy for the reader to get your point quickly, clearly, and concisely.

That last guideline is, and will continue to be, your most essential, most critical tool for cutting through all the “noise” your reader deals with on a day-to-day basis. The one tool you can totally control: Make your point quickly, clearly, and concisely.

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

Published in: on March 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eight Critical Checkpoints for Successful Business Writing

We’ve hit grammar and usage – the mechanical aspects of business writing – pretty hard over the last few weeks. This week, let’s talk about eight critical checkpoints to increase the effectiveness of your writing:

1. Even before you begin to write, ask yourself, “Should this information be passed along at all?” And if so, should it be passed along in writing?womanChecklist180

2. When? And who should sign it?

3. Should I use a straightforward, to-the-point-immediately approach? Are emotions involved? Should I build in reading time?

4. Considering the reader from demographic, psychographic, and “problem” points of view, what approach should be most effective?

5. Using this approach, do the thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next – all the while building the point I intended to make? What content can be eliminated? What holes need to be filled in?

6. Are my lead paragraph, and my final paragraph (if I used one) consistent with each other? Do they support the content in between? Should my reader reasonably be expected to take the meaning I intended?

7. How hard will my reader have to work to understand what I have written? Is that appropriate?

8. Have I given this piece both a spellchecker and an eyes-on visual check before it goes out, to find those old goblins – grammar, punctuation, and spelling problems?

Let’s talk a bit more about some of these checkpoints:

Probably the number one rule of communication is whether or not a specific piece of information should be passed along at all. Some of the participants in my workshops tell me that this can save up to 50% of their writing activity!

Should this information be passed along in writing? While there are many reasons you might want to write, the most common reasons for writing are to create some sort of record or proof, such as documenting an agreement; to provide a reference – instructions are one good example; because there is a mandate to put this information in writing; or to get the same information to a large number of people at relatively the same time.

Timing is always a critical strategic element, as is the decision as to who should sign the piece. Tone, the relationship the writer establishes or reinforces with the reader, is also critical, and may well tie in with the signer decision. The writer has the opportunity to set the tone with the reader to be what he or she wants that relationship to be. For example, it could be friendly, professional, authoritarian, technical, collegial, helpful – or even warm and fuzzy! What is the word you choose to describe that relationship?

The purpose of most of these posts is to talk about clear, concise, easily-understood business writing.  Business writing that can be read and the meaning grasped at a glance. One thing we have not yet discussed is when you might want to build in time for the reader. This does not mean to make the writing confusing, or your content hard to follow. You need to be clear at all times in the business writing situation.

There are times you will want to include more information, and times you will want to keep it as brief as appropriate. The effect of providing more information is that it takes the reader longer to read. Sometimes you can assume the reader has the background and the information to understand a brief message on the topic. At other times that’s just not the case. On rare occasions you might be writing about a serious emotional issue, and you might want to provide a bit of additional background or information to the reader, which will give him or her a bit of extra reading time to come to grips with his or her emotions.

Now, considering the reader from the demographic (what are the facts I know about, or can find out about this reader); the psychographic (what drives this reader, how he or she sees himself or herself, how the reader wants you to see him or her); and the “problem” (what is the issue you can solve for your reader) points of view, what tone will be most effective? What content will best serve your purpose?

From this perspective, do your thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next, building to the point you need to make? What information needs to be added? What information could result in “overload,” and could be easily deleted?

How hard are you making the reader work to “get it”? Can you reasonably expect that the reader will understand your intended meaning?

Finally, of course you will use the spellchecker and the grammar checker, but have you also put your own eyes on that piece of writing to give it a final proofing? Watch for words that are correctly spelled, but are in the wrong place, e.g., to-two-too; or there-they’re-their. Also look for words that are correctly spelled, but not the words you meant, e.g., “an” when you mean “at,” “on” for “of,” and so on.

At the very end, look for consistency, particularly in issues of style; then check, and revise as necessary, your word choice and syntax.

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tip of the Week: Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

The words and phrases you use not only have an effect on your readers and listeners – but they also affect your fatigue level, your confidence, and your positive (or negative!) attitude. They can affect your on-the-job performance, how you feel about your job, and your performance review.

Your words have an effect – whether you are aware of it or not. Whether you plan for it or not. It happens anyway. Automatically.happyWoman

For example:

To reduce your fatigue level at the end of the day:

Don’t say:  “ I’ll have to look that up”

SAY:  “I’ll look that up for you”

The Culprit:I’ll have to

Not only does your client, customer, prospect or co-worker hear what you are saying, but you hear what you are saying, time after time, all day long. “I’ll have to; I’ll have to; I’ll have to…” over and over and over. Your subconscious hears it too. All those “I’ll have to do this…” and “I’ll have to do that… and that… and that…” begin to pile up on you. Of course you’re exhausted at the end of the day!

To improve your confidence:

Don’t say:  “I can’t get to that until Friday”

SAY:  “I’ll have that for you Friday”

The Culprit:  I can’t

You’re hearing “I can’t; I can’t; I can’t…” all day long. Day after day after day. And night after night after night, you carry the residual “I can’t… I can’t… I can’t…” home with you. What are you telling yourself? What are you putting into your thought process?  The natural consequence of telling yourself over and over that you can’t is that you begin to believe it!

So, in addition to the positive, “can-do” relationship you are building with your client, customer, or prospect – you can reduce your fatigue level, and build your confidence – just by changing a few habitual phrases you may not have thought about!

Let’s expand this idea just a bit.

How about positioning yourself in your organization, or with your customer or prospect? Which of the following phrases is the strongest, the most “leader-like”? And the weakest? Which phrases position you appropriately?

I think

I know

I believe

I’d like to

I am convinced

I can

There is no question

To encourage helpful feedback and positive action:

Don’t say:  “Why don’t we…” or “Why don’t you…”

(You run the risk of the subconscious coming up with the reasons we don’t!)

SAY:  “Let’s…”;  “How about…”; “What do you think about…”; or maybe, “I’d like to….”

Finally, let’s look at encouraging initiative within your organization, or even within your family:

Don’t say:  “I don’t see anything wrong with that…”

SAY:  “Looks good to me…”; or “Let’s try it….”

Think about the words and phrases you use habitually, day after day. Then try reducing your fatigue level, and building your confidence – just by changing a few habitual phrases you may never have thought about!

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

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 10:50 am  Comments (2)  

Tip of the Week: Getting a Job; Getting Ahead – The Communication Secrets You Need to Know

Here’s hoping you had a fine holiday, and are refreshed, renewed, and ready to dig in on the job. As we think about our families and friends, and about all of our many blessings, it’s good to be thankful that we can work. And thankful for that work – paid, or unpaid, or part of what we do every day.

Today we are looking at tough times. Whether you are a seasoned employee or just out of school and looking for your first “real job,” the present employment statistics and opportunities can seem impossibly daunting. Really depressing.

Tough times require tough measures – new skills, better skills for a more valuable you! So where do you start?

1. First, you need to understand what business writing really is.

When I ask my workshop participants “What is business writing?” the answers vary widely. The answer is simple and straightforward: Business writing is a tool.

Business writing is as much a tool as a shovel, a rake, or a hammer. Business writing is very different from writing a term paper; different from writing a poem, a short story, a novel, or journaling. Business writing builds from the good writing skills you learned in school, and takes the next step.

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done. So select an appropriate way to use that tool to get the job done.

2. Next, you need to understand what that job is: What is it each piece of business writing must accomplish? Most organizations must be results-oriented most of the time to stay in business! It’s important for you to understand this. Many business writers do not understand this, nor write this way, and may not get the results you will be able to.

Why are you writing this piece? When you are successful, what will happen? How will you know you have succeeded?

3.      Third, ask yourself what tone will be appropriate to use with this particular reader. What tone, and what style is appropriate in your industry? In your organization?

Tone  is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. How would you describe the appropriate relationship you want to establish? You could use words to describe that relationship like “professional,” “helpful,” “technical,” “cooperative,” and so on. What is your organizational culture? Is the resulting tone appropriate for your purpose? Will it get the results you need? What is the environment in which your writing will be working?

And what style? Will your academic writing style fit in with your organization? Strictly academic writing must be totally objective, and generally uses scholarly words and phrases. Purely academic, or scholarly writing is meant to be “scholars writing for scholars,” and will not, generally, communicate well with the average adult reader, who frequently is not in the habit of curling up with a fascinating dissertation after dinner.

There are appropriate styles for most professions and disciplines that probably will not communicate with, explain, or help the information to be well understood by the average adult reader either, but are expected by readers within the profession or discipline where they are appropriate.

To be understood by the average adult reader – if that is your intended reader – you will probably want to use simpler, more comfortable words and phrases – not “vocabulary exercise words.”

Much of the time you will find, unlike when you are using the strictly academic style, that your writing needs to motivate, convince, or persuade your reader to take (or not to take) an action, or to change (or hold on to) a belief or a practice. Understanding the reader, the environment your writing must work in, and the job it must do will guide you in selecting the appropriate style.

Let me just say that in all the years I’ve been working with chief executives in business and in government, I’ve never had one ask me to teach their staffs to “write up” – to write more formally – to them. A comfortable, easy-to-read-and-grasp-quickly style is what they ask for. After all, they want to eat dinner with their families – and maybe watch some football too!

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Recommend a Gail Tycer workshop for your workplace, or suggest one of Gail’s shorter presentations for an upcoming meeting or conference

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

Published in: on November 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tip of the Week: Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

And how you can write stronger, more effective sentences – beginning immediately – with your very first keystroke.

So, how can you put each sentence to work for you to get the results you need?

Sentences may be approached from at least two angles: structure, or function.

Structurally, we may designate sentences as active (someone doing something); passive (someone or something being done to); or descriptive (a sentence using some form of “to be” – e.g., is, was, will be, were, and so on – sometimes in combination with words like “seems,” or “feels.”)

If one of these three structures is not in place, if one of these three things is not happening in your sentence, it’s likely that your group of words is not a sentence.

While there is substantial research demonstrating that partial sentences, or “sentence fragments,” is a business writing tool which may, and probably will, communicate better when they are well done, writing a good, communicative sentence fragment is an art, and a skill it takes most writers some time to develop. It can be difficult to write good, strong, communicative sentence fragments consistently.

Having said that, my advice to you is not to use sentence fragments on the job, and certainly not in the academic world. Most likely the best you will get is a note in the margin saying, “this is not a sentence.” Which you already knew, but…. A sentence fragment, when well done, will not be noticed, and will most likely improve the reader’s understanding.

You might enjoy analyzing the advertisements in your favorite “expensive” magazine. Identify the types of sentences, as well as the sentence fragments in the ads you particularly like, or that you feel make the writer’s point well. I will bet that you will find mostly, if not all, active sentences and at least a sentence fragment or two. In most cases, the people who write these ads have been doing it for a long time. And in most cases they are very good, both at using active sentences and at using well-written sentence fragments. That’s why they get the big bucks!

To strengthen your sentences, try these techniques:

 1. The average sentence length for the average adult reader should be 14-17 words.

2. Improve readability by varying the length of your words, sentences, and paragraphs.

This is a mechanical device to keep the reader’s eye reading comfortably. Too many short words, sentences, and paragraphs will bounce the eye – like riding on a rough road, or turbulence in an airplane.  Too many long words, sentences, or paragraphs can put your reader to sleep – or at least make it more difficult to follow what you are saying. All average-length words, sentences, and paragraphs become boring.

3. If you take nothing else from this blog, here is the biggest secret to writing stronger, more effective sentences. Beginning immediately – with your very next keystroke:


 No, as I like to joke with participants in my workshops, “syntax” is not what you pay for beer or cigarettes. “Syntax” is moving the order of the words around in the sentence, and let’s expand this definition just a bit to include moving sentences around in the paragraph, and paragraphs in the entire piece. Syntax is perhaps the least discussed, almost invisible, yet arguably most powerful tool you have in your business writing toolbox!

Take this sentence, for example:

I will need your completed time slip in my office not later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday of each month so you can continue to receive your paycheck on time.

 Compare the above sentence to this one, where we have moved sentence elements around a bit:

So you can continue to receive your paycheck on time, I will need your completed time slip in my office not later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday of each month.

 Do you see a difference? Which sentence is more powerful? More motivational? Which one captures your attention the best – “hooks you” into reading more?

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done. Just like a rake, or shovel, or screwdriver. Your business writing needs to do its job.

Here’s what I’d like you to try this week: Take an important sentence in a piece you are writing on the job, and play with it a bit. Move the words and phrases around. See what you come up with to strengthen your writing.

Business writing has a job to do. But it can also be fun, and mentally stimulating. Experiment with your writing, within the boundaries of grammar and the style you use in your organization. Try new techniques, new tools. And let me know how it goes!

Find this information helpful? Consider bringing a Gail Tycer workshop to your workplace, or recommend one of Gail’s shorter presentations  for an upcoming meeting or conference.


© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

Published in: on October 22, 2012 at 11:30 am  Comments (4)  
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