Business Writing Truths and Myths
Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
For the 25 years I have taught classes in business writing, I have heard and rejected a few myths. And I have learned and applied some important truths. Don’t let yourself be fooled by false rules that others may follow. Recognize and apply what makes sense.
Is each of the five statements below a truth, a myth, or a mix of both depending on the situation? You decide. Read More…
Deciphering the 123 Most Common Business Acronyms
By Kat Moon
Ever feel like your co-workers—or, worse, your boss—are speaking to you in a different language? No, I’m not talking about your team suddenly deciding to conduct a meeting entirely in French. I’m talking about what often seems to be the language of the business world: acronyms.
While some of us have the guts to ask for clarification when we have no idea what’s being said, others of us cringe at the thought of asking potentially “stupid” questions. Well, to everyone in the latter group: Today’s your lucky day. We’ve rounded up abbreviations for the most commonly used terms that you’re likely to run into at work (or more likely, in an email).
Better yet, they’re categorized by department, so you can prep before a meeting with your finance, technical, or marketing teams. (And because we’re pretty sure that, regardless of your role, you don’t want to be the only one who nods with a confused smile when there’s a RFD because the CTR for your website decreased and a QA test is required by EOD.)
BID: Break it down
COB: Close of business
EOD: End of day
EOM: End of message
EOT: End of thread
EOW: End of week Read More…
No more boring sentences
I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like we, as writers, do get so wrapped up in the actions, thoughts and relationships of our characters that we completely forget to dress it up. Sentences get so long-winded in action and thought that any descriptive narrative is just left in the dust. With this tutorial, we will remedy that. Hopefully.
You may ask: What am I to do? And I shall tell you: You just need to start small, using basic descriptive words and work up to more complicated and sophisticated sentence structures.
- Let’s start with a plain, basic sentence.
Ollie sat underneath the tree.
- Let’s replace Ollie with a pronoun and give the tree a species.
A boy sat underneath the willow tree.
- Ask yourself this. How old is the boy? Is he very young? Or is he more of a teen? Is the tree dying? Is it a young tree? Use words like “young” or “lively” to give your character (or any other living things in the scene) an age group and a starting point to visualizing your character for the reader. We’re just going to call the boy “young” for right now.
A young boy sat underneath the willow tree.
- Now we need some sort of action the boy (or the tree) could be doing. just sitting isn’t going to cut it. when adding more action to a sentence, it would range anywhere from a single word to an entire phrase. just make sure that when you add the action that it moves with the rest of the sentence in a coherent fashion and that there is proper punctuation to accommodate it. for our little example sentence, we’re going to add a phrase.
A young boy sat underneath the willow tree, watching a breeze.
- “Watching the breeze” sounded all nice and fluffy when we first put it, but after we’ve read it a few times it sounds sort sort of ridiculous. One can’t literally watch a breeze, right? Here we can just add an action for the breeze to be doing simultaneously with the action of the boy. The boy doesn’t even have to have any awareness of what the breeze is doing at all. So, we will just change a few words around and add something for the breeze to do.
A young boy sat underneath the willow tree, as a breeze flitted through the bulrushes.
- Now that you are starting to get the hand of this, we can just skip a bunch of the steps and get to the end part, where we have a lovely and descriptive sentence worthy of opening your post. Below, as you can see, we added a few more choice words, replaced some things and moved some phrases around.
As a gentle breeze flitted through the bulrushes, a young boy sat contemplating underneath the ancient willow tree.
When to Write a Memo, Not an Email
These days we have replaced memos with rampant emails. We have pushed email too far, expecting it to communicate long, complex, important messages to everyone. Our inboxes are stuffed, and those essential messages are not being read.
It’s time to take the pressure off emails. If you want people to read your important ideas and information, you need to revive the memo. Consider these suggestions:
1. Recognize the best uses of email. Emails win for fast, temporary communications that readers quickly read, act on, and delete. Emails excel at succinct requests and replies, speedy updates, short reminders or check-ins, time-sensitive announcements, and similar short-lived messages. They are perfect for briefly introducing attachments such as memos.
2. Use a memo when you are writing a message built to last. If your communication is a detailed proposal, a significant report, a serious recommendation, a technical explanation, meeting minutes, a new policy, or something else that readers will consult more than once, make it a memo. Your readers will be able to save the document, read it, and find it when they need the information again.
3. Use a memo when formatting matters. If the piece contains bullet points, bold headings, columns, tables, a graph, or even a good balance of white space, a memo will help you retain that formatting. To guarantee your formatting, save the memo as a PDF. If your audience reads emails on their phones, an attachment may be the only way to preserve the formatting you intend.
5. To communicate formally, choose a memo. Memos provide a place at the top of the message to insert the company name and logo and the professional titles of senders and receivers. Those inclusions make the message appear more formal. Also, a well-formatted message conveys significance.
6. When you worry that your message is too long as an email, write a memo. Impossibly long emails often result when you try to incorporate important, lasting information in them. But memos work best when people will return to your message for information. (See Point 2.) For instance, if you are communicating the details of the four-stage construction project, use a memo. To convey pros and cons of a major purchasing decision, lay out your research in a memo.
Attach your memo to an email that gives your readers a brief summary of the memo contents. For some readers, that summary will be enough. Those who need the information will read and save the memo.
7. To communicate complex information to people outside your organization (clients, citizens, etc.), consider a memo or a letter. A letter is the traditional format for external correspondence, especially to people you serve, such as customers and patients. But you can choose a memo to write to vendors, consultants, members, clients, professional peers, and others who collaborate with you to get results.
8. To send your memo, simply attach it to a brief email. Or send a printed copy through interoffice mail if that approach makes sense.
I have attached a sample memo to illustrate a standard format.
The memo is no dinosaur. Use it for your significant communications, and your messages will come across as professional, relevant, and of lasting importance.
Seven Tips for Communicating Data
Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
After you have worked hard to collect meaningful data, the big challenges are how and how much to communicate. Consider these tips when you work on your next report or presentation that includes data.
- Focus first on your message, not on the numbers.
When planning your communication, focus first on the big idea or points you want to make. Then incorporate the data that will help your audience understand and appreciate your points. Be sure your big idea gets center stage, not the numbers.
- Explain the data.
Numbers mean nothing on their own. They need interpretation. Avoid asking readers or your audience to “review the attached spreadsheets.” Why should they review them? Which numbers should they pay attention to and why? What do the numbers indicate?
- Put data in context.
Make it clear whether numbers are positive, negative, or neutral. If you tell a sales rep that she visited an average of six prospects per day, compare that number to the goal number of prospects. If a client walks 5500 steps in a day, state whether 5500 is the magic healthy number or only halfway there. If expenses are 18 percent over income, say why the reader should care. Explain that the account balance will be €0 by 2018 if nothing changes.
- Paint a picture with your numbers so people can see them.
Even simple expressions like “a tenfold increase” or “a 30 percent drop” can seem vague unless your audience can see them. If numbers have decreased dramatically over a decade, do not use words and numbers alone. In a bold-colored graph, show the deep drop year by year, month by month over 10 years.
If your numbers are so large as to be abstract, paint them in recognizable mental pictures such as an area as large as Italy or a distance of 100 Greyhound buses. (Think of your audience when you choose the image.) How hot is 158 degrees Fahrenheit? Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.
Or show the numbers reduced to their essence. Jack Hagley’s graphic “The World as 100 People” (www.jackhagley.com/The-World-as-100-People) presents the world as though it were only 100 people. For instance, 83 of the world’s 100 people are able to read and write; 17 are not.
- Highlight important numbers.
A wall of numbers is as intimidating as a wall of text. Pull out essential numbers and focus on them. If you are presenting financial data, show just a small portion of it at a time on a slide or a page–just the portion you are discussing now. If you refer to and show just a small part, your audience will not say, “Where are you?” and “What are you talking about?” And always render numbers in a large enough font that you do not have to apologize for it.
Make it easy for your readers to find important numbers. If a client has asked for your fee, for example, don’t bury the number in a paragraph. Instead, render the number alone on a line or as part of a short heading, like this:
Your investment: US$19,000
- Prominently display the legends for tables and charts of numbers.
Ensure that your audience will know instantly that 3000 indicates 3,000,000 and that your balance is positive rather than negative. Use abbreviations such as K and M only if you are certain your readers understand them. (To some people, M means thousand; to others, it means million.)
- Use only the essential, compelling numbers in the body of your document.
If numbers weigh down your document, your readers may forget your main point. So move most of the supporting tables, lists, charts, and graphs to the appendices. In a presentation, hold back some slides of data, and show them only upon request. Remember: The numbers are not the message; they serve the message.
If you think of your communication as music, your most important message comes through the soloist. The numbers are the accompanists. They play an essential role, but they should never drown out the soloist. If they do, your communication will not reach and change your audience.
168 Color terms in English
Compiled by Stephen Chrisomalis
This list contains 168 definitions of obscure colour terms using combinations of ‘normal‘ colours of the rainbow and descriptive adjectives; e.g. cardinal = deep scarlet red; russet = reddish brown. Note that most English speakers outside the U.S. spell colour with the added British ‘u’ rather than the American version color. Don’t worry if the colours (or colors) in your universe don’t match up with the definitions I’ve given for these words, though – I’ve been known to have skewed perceptions of reality … Read More…
How to Know What Belongs in Your Reports
- What was the purpose of your trip?
- Where did you go?
- When did you travel?
- Who traveled with you?
- With whom did you meet there? At what facilities?
(The questions above are the basics, which you can cover briefly.)
- What did you accomplish on the trip?
- What did you learn?
- What do you recommend based on your trip?
- Overall, how useful was the trip?
- Does anyone need to follow up on the trip? If so, who? How?
- What is this report about?
- What time period does this report cover?
- Are things on track?
- What has been accomplished since the last report?
- Have any important events taken place?
- Have there been any problems or obstacles? If so, how have they been managed?
- Is there anything I need to worry about?
- Where can I get more information?
- 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?
- 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.
Better Writing at Work: Write Mighty Thank-Yous
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.