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How to Know What Belongs in Your Reports

Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
Imagine that someone asks you for a report. If the person who asks is your manager, you may know what he or she wants in the document. But if the individual is from the executive team or another department or even a client company, you may not know what or how much to include. Here are tips that will help you recognize the best content.  

1. Imagine that instead of a report, the individual asked to interview you on the topic. What do you think he or she would ask? For example, imagine that you just returned from a trip to another country to visit a division of your company, a client’s office, or a factory. What would the other person ask you?
Here are some ideas:
  1. What was the purpose of your trip?
  2. Where did you go? 
  3. When did you travel? 
  4. Who traveled with you? 
  5. With whom did you meet there? At what facilities?
    (The questions above are the basics, which you can cover briefly.)
  6. What did you accomplish on the trip?
  7. What did you learn
  8. What do you recommend based on your trip? 
  9. Overall, how useful was the trip?
  10. Does anyone need to follow up on the trip? If so, who? How? 
You can use this question method to recognize what belongs in any report. Here are sample questions for an update: 
  1. What is this report about?
  2. What time period does this report cover?
  3. Are things on track?
  4. What has been accomplished since the last report?
  5. Have any important events taken place?
  6. Have there been any problems or obstacles? If so, how have they been managed?
  7. Is there anything I need to worry about?
  8. Where can I get more information
If you are writing a very important report, such as one to the president of your organization, you may want to have someone else review your list of questions to see whether you are on target before you write the report.  

When you feel you have a good list of questions, you are ready to write a draft. Just answer the questions. You can even use parts of the questions for headings, for example, “Purpose of the Trip” and “Trip Dates.” 

2. Recognize the purpose of the report. Will your director use the report to make a decision about financing a project? Will another team use your report to design software tests? Will your peers read the report to incorporate information into a proposal? Will the report go into a file to document a current situation? Write a sentence that states the purpose of the report, and use that statement to help you recognize what must be included (and what should be left out) to support that purpose. 

3. Consider your larger purpose for writing the report. Think beyond the fact that you are writing the report to satisfy someone’s request or a job requirement. What would you like the report to do for you or others? For example, for the trip report: 
  • Is your purpose to help build a better relationship with the overseas office? 
  • Is your purpose to illustrate the critical need for more involvement with the factory? 
  • Do you want to show the monetary value of the trip to get approval for travel in your 2015 budget?
  • Do you want to impress your new manager with the clarity of your thinking and writing
As you think about what to include, keep your larger purpose in mind so that you can be sure your report supports that goal. 

4. Ask for a sample report if you are unsure what your reader wants. Especially if you are new in a job or have never written the kind of report requested, ask whether sample reports are available. Review those samples and notice what works for you as a reader. Pay special attention to the kind of information that is included and its relevance. 

5. Recognize that your readers have asked for a report–not a book. They want the essential information–not all the details. To restrain yourself from including too much, try these approaches: 
  • Leave out any information that does not answer a reader’s question. For instance, if your reader would not ask what hotel you stayed at or whether you had any great meals, do not include those details. 
  • Avoid using chronological order to report. Chronological order may cause you to include irrelevant details just because they happened.
  • Use headings, preferably descriptive headings such as “Recommendation: Send a Team to the 2015 Conference” and “Budget Required: $85,000.” Headings will stop you from including information that does not belong in that section.  
  • Summarize. For example, in a report on a client meeting, do not include he said-I said details. Instead, report agreements and outcomes. In a financial or technical report, do not include raw data in the body of the report. If it’s essential, put it in an appendix. 
  • Include links to more information and offers to provide more. For instance, in a report on a conference, link to the conference program or offer to provide certain conference handouts. 
  • Use fewer examples. One or two powerful examples can achieve your goal. Additional examples provide length–not strength. 
  • Use tables and charts rather than sentences to capture numerical information. Graphical illustrations help you leave out extraneous information. Be sure to label each graphic so its relevance is clear to you and your reader. 
When you succeed with a report, keep it in an electronic folder of model reports. Its success will give you confidence, and its strengths will inspire you the next time someone asks for a report. 
Business Writing With Heart won two Silver Benjamin Franklin Awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association last month. You can order the paperback book from Syntax Training or your favorite bookseller, and you can get the e-book and paperback from Amazon and  Barnes & Noble
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How to say “No”

If you are like many people, you find it difficult to say no, especially when you need to commit words to paper or the screen. Some people find the task so challenging that they avoid responding. In a survey I conducted of 686 people (many were readers of this newsletter), I found that 22 percent occasionally avoid responding; 3 percent frequently avoid responding rather than say no.

Read More…

Better Writing at Work: Write Mighty Thank-Yous

In a survey on business writing and relationships, 81 percent of respondents said that a thank-you note they received had a definite positive influence on their decision to do business with a company or an individual again. 

Beyond the professional rewards of thank-yous, sending thank-yous makes everyone smile: you, the writer, for having expressed your gratitude, and the recipient for being remembered and appreciated. 

Here are reminders to help you write mighty thank-yous that bring smiles to all: 

1. Recognize opportunities to say thank you. You have a chance to say thank you anytime someone has:

  • Delivered particularly good service.
  • Gone beyond the job requirements for you.

Read More…

Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas

What could be wrong with sipping vodka in Russia? Or with eating with your left hand in India, or with patting the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”?In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense. They could even damage a relationship or ruin a major deal.

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world.

Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas
You may cause offense if you use chopsticks incorrectly.
© iStockphoto/imagestock

In this article, we’ll discuss why it is so important to be aware of different cultural traditions. We’ll also highlight some gestures and actions to avoid if you want to build good working relationships with people from these cultures.

The Importance of Cultural Awareness

It’s not just professionals working overseas who need to learn cross-cultural business etiquette. Stop and think about how many different cultures you come into contact with at work.

Even if you work in your home country, your colleagues and suppliers could hail from other cultures. Your organization might decide to acquire or merge with an organization in a different country. And your customers, too, may be located in dozens of countries worldwide.

Our world’s diversity is what makes it so fascinating. When you take time to understand the reasons for this diversity, you show respect for other people’s cultures. And when you do this in a business context, you’ll improve your working relationships and develop your own reputation.

Considering Cultural Differences

Consider the following questions when thinking about how a culture might differ from your own:

  • What values does this culture embrace? How do these values compare with those of your culture?
  • How do people make decisions, conduct relationships, and display emotion?
  • How does this culture treat time and scheduling?
  • What are the social rules and boundaries surrounding gender?
  • How does this culture display and respect power? Which authority figures are revered?
  • How do individuals relate to their employers?
  • How do people in this culture communicate? How direct are they in what they say and mean?
Tip 1:
See our article on cultural intelligence to learn how to work well in different cultures. This is a powerful skill that can be learned and developed throughout your working life.Tip 2:
Be humble. Whatever you learn about cultural differences, there will be local and regional variations that you won’t know about. Admit that you’re keen to learn, and encourage people to tell you about these variations.

Common Cross-Cultural Mistakes

Below we’ve listed actions and items that could cause offense in a variety of cultures and countries. (Note, however, that this list isn’t exhaustive!)

Food

People abstain from eating and drinking certain foods for many religious and cultural reasons. Manners and expectations at the table can also differ.

  • In Asian and Russian cultures, it’s common not to talk during a meal because the food is the focus. Most conversation takes place after dinner. This isn’t the case in, for example, Japan, where colleagues often discuss work after hours and while socializing over a meal.
  • How much you eat can cause offense in some cultures. For example, your hosts in Russia, Greece, and Italy could be offended if you don’t eat enough.
  • Pay careful attention to how you use your chopsticks in Asian countries. Never use them in a gesture or for pointing, and never stick them upright in your rice bowl: this is an omen of death. Don’t use them to spear a piece of food or to tap a glass or bowl, either. And never cross your chopsticks; they should always lie side by side.
  • Try to avoid turning down vodka in Russia – when it’s offered, it’s a sign of trust and friendship. Vodka is served neat, and you should drink it all at once; Russians consider sipping vodka to be rude.
  • Muslims, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists avoid alcohol.
  • Hindus, India’s largest religious population, consider it unholy to eat beef. Most are also vegetarian. Muslims and Jews are forbidden to eat pork (and, in addition, Jews do not eat shellfish), and Roman Catholics may choose fish rather than red meat on Fridays.

Body Language and Gestures

  • In India, Africa, and the Middle East, people always use their right hand for greeting, touching, and eating. They consider the left hand unclean, so you should never use it for anything publicly.
  • Several cultures consider crossing your legs to be rude. For example, in the Middle East and South Africa, crossed legs often show the sole of the foot, a sign of an ill wish or a bad omen. In Japan, it’s considered rude to cross your legs in the presence of someone older or more respected than you.
  • Certain gestures considered acceptable in one country can be highly offensive in another. For example, a “thumbs up” gesture is seen as a sign of satisfaction in the West, but is highly offensive in some Middle Eastern countries.
  • In the United States, a handshake demonstrates that negotiations are finished, and that everyone is leaving on good terms. In the Middle East, a handshake is a sign that serious negotiations are now beginning.
  • In many cultures, pointing is impolite, so it’s usually best to avoid it entirely. If you must gesture toward something, use your entire hand.
Tip:
It can be challenging to know which gestures are taboo.A good rule of thumb is to avoid gestures until you’re sure that they’re acceptable. Watch how locals use body language, and follow their lead.

Clothing and Color

  • In the South Pacific, Asia, Thailand, and Russia, it’s courteous to remove your shoes before entering a home. This helps maintain cleanliness; but it’s also a sign that you’re leaving the outside world where it belongs.
  • Some cultures pay careful attention to clothing. For example, it’s important to be well dressed in Italy and the United Arab Emirates, and sloppy or casual clothing is considered impolite.
  • The color of your clothing could also cause offense. For example, never wear yellow in Malaysia; this color is reserved for royalty. In China, you’ll make a better impression by wearing red, which is considered lucky, than by wearing white, which is associated with death.

Personal Space

Personal space is the distance that you keep between yourself and another person. It varies widely between cultures.

  • In the United States, many people prefer to keep one to two meters’ space between friends and family members, and up to three meters between strangers and business associates. These preferences are similar in the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, and other European countries.
  • The personal space requirements of Saudi Arabians are much lower: they often stand very close to one another, even those they don’t know well.
  • Chinese people and people from other Asian cultures are also typically used to less personal space than Westerners.

It’s important to understand the personal space requirements of a different culture, so that you’re not perceived as rude (by standing too far away) or pushy (by standing too close).

Personal space also includes touching. In Mediterranean and South American cultures, touching is an important part of conversation and connecting. If you don’t touch others, you’ll be considered cold. However, in Eastern countries, touching is often considered taboo, and you’ll offend your colleagues if you even pat them on the back or touch their arm.

Key Points

Cross-cultural awareness is an essential skill, regardless of whether you’re working overseas, leading a cross-cultural or virtual team, or dealing with a global customer base. Learn about the culture of the country where you’re doing business to avoid cultural mistakes, and to demonstrate respect and understanding.

Research key differences in decision making, relationships, dress, food, dining, and social etiquette before working with or traveling to a different culture. Your hosts will notice your efforts, and appreciate that you took the time to learn about their culture.

Via http://www.mindtools.com
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15 Phrases That Build Bridges Between People

Business is changing. The experts sure seem to think so. Every day, some new article hypes a brave new world of egalitarian openness and collaboration. That might be true if you work for yourself. For the rest of us, it’s still a winner-take-all, command-and-control world. Always has been, always will be. The experts may own the language, but not reality. When leaders feel threatened or the ink runs red, they rarely tap into their talent for solutions. More often, they cut communication and withdraw behind closed doors. Corporate culture can overcome many hurdles, but never human nature.

In reality, business has evloved little. Work still involves small victories and slow progress, often ambiguous and rarely permanent. That said, what drives workers has changed little too. Besides money, they want a voice. They dream of receiving a fair shot to make a difference. And they long to feel special. And all that starts with communication. These days, we’re taught that tone and body language are the message. But words – and what they signify – matter too. Over time, your character, competence, and caring may be revealed by your actions. In a micro world, it is the right words used at the right moments that spark conversations and build bridges between people.

1) Thank You: Common courtesy? Sure. But tell me this: When was the last time you forgot (or rejected) gratitude? Whether given in private or public, a sincere ‘thanks’ creates goodwill. Don’t forget your mother’s advice: “Say please.” People are always happier doing a favor than taking an order.

2) I Trust Your Judgment: Translation: “You have my permission. I believe in you. Now, go make it happen.” Feels pretty uplifting to hear that, doesn’t it? And I’ll bet you’d do almost anything to please someone who makes you feel that way. Your employees and peers are no different.

3) I Don’t Know: We don’t have all the answers. And it scares us to death. That’s a perfect point to start a dialogue…over facts and fears. Facing the unknown – and seeking assurances and answers – bonds people like nothing else. All you have to do is first admit what you don’t know.

4) Tell Me More: “I’m all ears.” It’s the ultimate conversation starter!  When you signal that you’re open and intrigued, the other party will respond in kind. And who can resist flattery? Use phrases like “What do you think” or “What would you do” to acknowledge someone’s expertise. In doing so, you’re courting authentic suggestions, even if they challenge convention or skewer a sacred cow. If your interest is genuine, you may just fuel a productive exchange.

5) What I Hear You Saying Is: Ever wonder if someone has been listening to you? Be assured the person speaking to you is. So here’s a way to keep the ideas flowing. Step back and rephrase what someone says. In fact, vaguely distort or stray from it. This offers two benefits. It implies that you’re engaged, increasing the likelihood you’ll get more detail. It also helps you gauge the other person’s preparation, reasoning, and seriousness. It’s a win-win for everyone.

6) I’m On It: You’re giving your full attention. You’re saying,Relax. Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll see to it personally.” That response can disarm just about anyone. To express a deeper commitment, use “You have my word.” This makes you more accountable to someone, conveying that you’re on board and will make it happen…whatever it takes.

7) How Else Can I Help You: It takes guts to speak up. People risk rejection, ridicule, or retaliation. Sure, you’ve discussed one issue. Chances are, this was just a test balloon to see how you’d react. This person probably wants to cover more; he’s just hesitant to ask. Make it easy on him. Extend the proverbial “what can I do” invitation to widen the conversation. And don’t be afraid to ask for help occasionally, either. People love to lend a hand. It provides purpose. When you’re humble and vulnerable, it humanizes you. It makes you one of them. And people trust those with whom they can identify.

8) I’ve Got Your Back: We’ve all made big mistakes. When we’ve recognized the gravity, the same question automatically pops up: “Am I getting fired for this?” It’s natural for co-workers and reports to imagine worst case scenarios. In those times, step in with a reassurance: “I’m not judging you. You’re going to get through this. You’re not alone. We’ll figure this out together. It’s going to be OK.”

9) My Pleasure: This subtle reminder reinforces a key point. You’re here to help others. You have all the time they need. And you’re happy to do it.

10) What If: Call it whatever you want: Imagination, wonder, inspiration, or vision. It’s that “why not” spirit that’s driven men and women to dream, create, and push limits. How often do you channel this force to hit it off with others? When was the last time you used a phrase like “How can we make this happen” or “Let’s try this out?” Go ahead. Open the floor to everyone. Put every option on the table. Don’t judge them based on budgetary, time, labor, or cultural considerations.  Sure, most ideas won’t be feasible or relevant. But you’re seeking that nugget that makes your organization just a little more competitive and enjoyable. You can find the means another time.

11) Let Me Play Devil’s Advocate: Looking for a subtle way to critique? Turn the conversation into an exercise where you’re a detached party performing a function: Poking holes in the logic and plan of attack. Maybe you need to reel the other person back to the big picture. Maybe you want to direct him towards missing pieces, pros and cons, or alternatives. Either way, you use this strategy to stress test ideas without making the process personal.

12) Let Me Think About That: Yeah, it sounds like a cop out. And it is…sometimes. Fact is, we don’t always have the authority or expertise to make decisions. This phrase buys you time and breathing space. It intimates that you’re open-minded and the request merits consideration. Then, set a date and time for follow up so the other person knows you’re taking him serious.

13) Well Done: It’s a cliché, no doubt. Sometimes, it isn’t enough just to say thanks. People want to know what they did was great and why. They pour so much sweat and soul into their projects. They need more than recognition that a task or goal was completed. They need to know their work was special and had meaning to someone.

14) You’re Right: Want to get someone’s attention? Tell him that he’s right. Once you yield the high ground, it’s much easier for the other party to swallow that the right plan and sentiment can’t always overcome the absurdities and restraints we face every day.

15) I Understand: People have such an innate desire to connect. They long to know they’re not alone, seeking others who’ve been where they are – and have successfully made it through. Helping someone doesn’t always involve making suggestions or calls. It may just involve being there, paying attention to what a person has to say. Most times, that’s enough to show you understand.

What phrases do you use to make people feel more comfortable, motivated, and appreciated?

Via http://www.forbes.com

Do you speak ‘Project’?

Project management is a specialty, and it has its own language. Resistance is futile.

  • Scope – It’s what has to be done. Always too general for some and too specific for others. Never right.
  • Resources – Funding and people authorized for the project. Never enough and always in the wrong denominations.
  • Schedule – How much time you have to get it all done. Never enough.
  • Project Manager – You. The person responsible for everything, and in control of nothing.
  • Sponsor – The one that wanted it in the first place. The one that shudders when you walk in because you always bring a problem, and give them way too many details.
  • Customer – The group that want things their way.
  • Vendor – The other group that wants things their way.
  • Users – People addicted to the old way.
  • Escalation – A process that defies gravity, and moves problems uphill.
  • Documentation – The last task in a project, or later.
  • Flowcharts – Cubicle art.
  • Team – Your best friends. The group that, when asked who caused a problem, forms a circle and each person points to the left.
  • Work Group – An oxymoron.
  • Oxymorons – People that take more than their share of oxygen from a project.
  • Project Plan – A deliverable assigned to the most annoying person on the project, who doesn’t recognize his or her work is done after the project has started and is going according to plan.
  • Almost Done – Where you are after Day 1 of the project. What you say when the “80% done” answer quits working.
  • RFI – Request for Information. A request for a customized marketing document.
  • RFP – Request for Proposal. A request to take a monkey off a customer’s back.
  • RFQ – Request for Qualifications. A request for a customized marketing document. A good source of boilerplate information for the RFP.
  • RFQQ – Adds a price quote to the RFQ. Generally from a vendor that has too little information from a customer that has too little understanding. Binding.
  • RFK – An important reminder that even the best project managers can find themselves in a bay of pigs.
  • Proposal – A document of sweeping generalizations.
  • Testing – What development is called after the development schedule has passed.
  • Testing – What the end-users do when the testing schedule has passed. Sometimes called Post-implementation Support.
  • Process Reengineering – Today’s processes, turned sideways.
  • KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. Objective measures of failure, most often advocated by opponents. Never tracked.
  • CSFs – Critical Success Factors. An early view of the blunders you will certainly make. Always tracked, but never called CSFs.

If this sounds familiar, you are an experienced project manager, undoubtedly overworked, underpaid and not appreciated. Get a dog.

Via http://www.pmhut.com

Photo credit: http://www.study-habits.com

FREE business textbooks

Last week I came across a compelling online business library  consisting of (almost) everything I need for the business writing, economics and related studies, including loads of wonderfully written textbooks.

And when I say “wonderfully written”, I mean that an earth, mortal human without previous phd degree could easily understand the essentials, then roll sleeves and get to work.

Over 800 textbooks written by professors

We currently offer over 800 textbooks. The books are in average around 200 pages long, and are being used as both primary and secondary literature.

All our books are written by highly respected professors from some of the best universities in the world and exclusively for bookboon.com.

There we have it, welcome:

Why is it free?

There is an excerpt of BookBoon.com mission and concept:

Bookboon.com publishes free and openly available eBooks for students and business professionals. The Books can be downloaded in PDF without registration. Our mission is that students should be able to go through university without having to pay for textbooks.

If you had a look, please share your experience in the comments below. Do you find it useful the way I did (I already finished two of the books on communication).

Have a magnificent Wednesday,

How to write for the European Institutions

Are you an aspiring non-fiction author, or translator, maybe? Dreaming for a career in the European Parliament and/or Commission?

There you have two useful tools that will help you achieve the EU- English (house) style:

Writing in clear language can be difficult at the Commission, since much of the subject matter is complex and more and more is written in English by (and for) non-native speakers, or by native speakers who are beginning to lose touch with their language after years of working in a multilingual environment. We must nevertheless try to set an example by using language that is as clear, simple, and accessible as possible, out of courtesy to our readers and consideration for the image of the Commission.

  • How to write clearly

    (16 pages, PDF)

    1. Think before you write
    2. Focus on the reader — be direct and interesting
    3. Get your document into shape
    4. KISS: Keep It Short and Simple
    5. Make sense — structure your sentences
    6. Cut out excess nouns – verb forms are livelier
    7. Be concrete, not abstract
    8. Prefer active verbs to passive — and name the agent
    9. Beware of false friends, jargon and abbreviations
    10. Revise and check
    11. Online EU drafting aids

Yours europeanly,

Word of the day: subpoena

Pronunciation: /səˈpiːnə/

Law
Definition of subpoena

noun

  • (in full subpoena ad testificandum) a writ ordering a person to attend a court: a subpoena may be issued to compel their attendance [mass noun]: they were all under subpoena to appear

verb (subpoenas, subpoenaing, subpoenaed or subpoena’d)

[with object]

  • summon (someone) with a subpoena: the Queen is above the law and cannot be subpoenaed
  • require (a document or other evidence) to be submitted to a court of law: the decision to subpoena government records

Origin:

late Middle English (as a noun): from Latin sub poena ‘under penalty’ (the first words of the writ). Use as a verb dates from the mid 17th century

http://oxforddictionaries.com

Subpoena translates to “under punishment” in Latin. It is an order from a court for a person to appear at a trial under punishment for failure to appear. If the person given a subpoena does not appear, some courts have the discretion to find the person in contempt of court and either order the person’s arrest or issue fines accordingly.

The term subpoena is primarily used in US courts. The preferred term in the UK is now Witness Summons, at least in civil trials. In either country, the subpoena is usually written by the court clerk after he or she has been given a list of witnesses for a trial. The court clerk then writes out, usually in a form letter, a request for the witness’ presence at a specific date and time for testimony.

When the testimony has lagged or the trial has been delayed, those receiving a subpoena still must appear at the specified date and time. The witness may then be given another date and time to appear, or may have to wait several hours or days to deliver testimony. If one has a time conflict of a serious nature, contacting the court or the attorneys may help change the subpoena date to a better time. In some cases, testimony has been given over long distances, or has taken place in locations other than the court, such as hospitals. In these cases, both the defense and prosecuting lawyer must be present so that fair examination and cross-examination can both take place.

When a subpoena is issued, it is usually the responsibility of the attorney to deliver it. In criminal cases for example, the defense lawyer will deliver subpoenas to any witnesses who might help prove innocence. The prosecuting attorney will deliver subpoenas to those who can help prove the guilt of the accused.

As well, in divorce or child custody hearings, a subpoena can be issued to one of the spouses. Failure to appear in a child custody trial is tantamount to giving up custody of one’s child. Failure to appear in a divorce proceeding tends to mean the divorce is uncontested and may be granted immediately. Financial or custodial arrangements after the divorce usually will favor the appearing spouse.

The US Congress is empowered to send subpoenas when testimony is required in a congressional investigation. The US Congress, like the federal and state courts, can fine people who ignore a summons to testify. A person failing to appear is said to be in contempt of congress.

http://www.wisegeek.com

‘Yours faithfully’ vs ‘Yours sincerely’

When do you write ‘Yours faithfully’ and when ‘Yours sincerely’ in a business letter?

When the recipient’s name is unknown to you:
* Dear Sir … Yours faithfully
* Dear Sir or Madam … Yours faithfully
When you know the recipient’s name:
* Dear Mrs Hanson … Yours sincerely
* Dear Miss/Ms Hanson … Yours sincerely
When addressing a good friend or colleague:
* Dear Jack … Best wishes/Best regards
Addressing whole departments:
* Dear Sirs … Yours faithfull
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