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Tag Archive | writing

Intelligence or emotion word choice | Vocabulary

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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…

How to Spend Less Time Revising 

Written by Lynn 
Syntax Training
Here are three ways to spend less time revising. They touch on planning, writing, and adjusting your standards. 

1. Make a simple plan and follow it. Diving in without a plan may give you a rush of accomplishment. But eventually you will have to slog through the revision stage, forcing your words and ideas into a coherent package.

Decide from the start what you want the message to accomplish. Examples:

  • This agenda will help team members prepare for a productive meeting.
  • This flyer will motivate parents to attend the open house.
  • This email will help the customer complete the necessary paperwork.

Once you know what you want to accomplish, list the questions your message must answer for your readers to achieve your goal. Then write the piece by answering your readers’ questions. Do not include information that your readers would not ask for. If you do, you will write too much and will spend too much time cutting and revising.
For instance, an agenda that helps people prepare for a meeting might answer these questions:

  • What are the agenda items?
  • Who is responsible for handling each agenda item?
  • How much time will we spend on each item?
  • What do we want to accomplish with each one: to agree? to decide? to assign?
  • How should I prepare?

Too often writers focus on background information, when readers rarely want or need it.

2. Use the power of one. When you write, limit yourself to one: just one topic per paragraph, one idea per sentence. Focusing on just one thing at a time will help you avoid sprawling paragraphs and sentences that you have to rework later.

For example, in a flyer to motivate parents to attend an open house, the answer to each of these questions would be a separate, short chunk of text:

  • What’s this about?
  • When is the open house?
  • Where is it?
  • Why should I attend? How will it benefit my family?
  • Who will be there?
  • Will food be served?
  • Do I need to let anyone know that I plan to attend?
  • Where can I get more information?

Combining the answers to several questions in one chunk of text will tangle the message. And it will require more time to revise.

Similarly, a sentence with several interwoven ideas will take time to untangle:

Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document and that you fill the top and signature portion of the credit application out just for assurance that we have the pertinent contact information correct.

This version, with one idea per sentence, is simple and clear:

Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document. Also, please fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application. These actions will ensure that we have your correct contact information.

Even better, this version helps the ideas stand out for quick action:

To ensure that we have your correct contact information, please:
  • Provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document.
  • Fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application.

If you limit yourself to one idea per sentence (or bullet), you will write a clear version from the start. The time you spend rewriting will shrink.

3. Recognize that perfection is unattainable—and a waste of time. Unless you write essays, poetry, or other literary works, your audience will not read and savor your every word. Instead, they will skim the agenda, flyer, email, proposal, report, or other communication in search of the information they need. So why strive for perfection when clarity, conciseness, and courtesy are useful, achievable goals?

Avoid pointless revising:

  • Don’t fuss over changing “interesting” to “notable” unless “notable” is more accurate.
  • Don’t take time to change “Thanks” to “Thank you” unless your reader needs a more formal tone.
  • Don’t struggle to eliminate “I am writing to” at the beginning of an email. Yes, your reader knows you are writing. But there is no harm in stating “I am writing to inform you of a change in your interview schedule.”
  • Don’t strive to revise just because two sentences in a row begin with “I.” Those two “I”s will not distract your reader. (But starting every paragraph with “I” willdistract your reader, who is probably skimming at the left margin.)
  • Don’t take time to apply outdated rules. You can start a sentence with any word you choose. You can end a sentence with a preposition. You can use contractions unless your document must be formal.

When your communication focuses on its goal and answers your readers’ questions in clear sentences and paragraphs, you are finished revising. Just run your grammar and spelling checker; then proofread. Hurray! The piece is done! Now move on to the next one.

Read More…

When to Write a Memo, Not an Email

Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
Before emails demanded everyone’s attention, people communicated internally through a medium called the interoffice memorandum—the memo. We typed and printed it, signed or initialed it, and distributed it through interoffice mail to people who read it to make decisions, take action, or have essential information.

 

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.

4. If people will print your communication, use a memo rather than an email. If your message belongs on a bulletin board—for example, in an employee break room—write a memo. If people will discuss your ideas at a meeting, write a memo to make it easy for them to print the document you intended. 

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.

Follow Syntax Training on Facebook and on Twitter @SyntaxLynn.

The Politically Incorrect Etymologies of 10 Words and Phrases

At various moments in its life, a word will hop languages, change meanings, travel through sinister moments and land in pleasant ones. But no matter how many times it’s superimposed, and how far it gets from its original source, a word doesn’t let go of its memories easily. Here are 11 modern English words with socially insensitive origins.

 

hysteria meaning

1. Hysteria (n.) – a wild, irrational eruption of fear or emotion

Hysteria begins in the womb, or so thought the medical scholars of the 1610s, who named the condition after the Latin hystericus, meaning “of the womb.” Those who’ve studied the Victorian era, or read The Awakening in high school, may know that the go-to prognosis of the time for just about every female’s symptom from the occasional hissy fit to chronic seizures was a pesky wayfaring uterus. The condition was thought to be caused by sexual frustration and cured by intercourse or pelvic massage, the latter often performed by physicians and midwives. When doctors finally got fed up with the tedious task in the late 19th century, the personal vibrator was created to take their place. Read More…

Lost in Long Sentences?

Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training

When reading essays, books, and novels, many people enjoy traveling through long, complex sentences with twists and turns that lead to a satisfying end. But in business writing, readers want a short, clear path to understanding. Follow the four tips below to edit long sentences.

1. Include just one idea per sentence. When sentences have several ideas, readers need to figure out the relationship between the ideas. They need to suspend their understanding until they get to the period (full stop). In contrast, readers can quickly grasp each one-idea sentence and move on to the next.

The sentence below packs in three ideas. The punctuation makes is easy to recognize them.

I hope you will be able to attend, and if you need more information, please call or email me, and I will be glad to help you.
This revision shows that each idea can be a crisp sentence: I hope you will be able to attend. If you need more information, please call or email me. I will be glad to help you.

Test Yourself Number 1: Revise this three-idea sentence, whose length makes readers move slowly:

Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document and that you fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application just for assurance that we have the pertinent contact information correct.
Revise the sentence to communicate just one idea per sentence. After you have tried, you can check my revision. It appears at the end of this article.
2. Begin with the subject, not the windup. 
In baseball, the windup is the pitcher’s actions before releasing the ball. Although important to the pitcher, the windup can distract the batter. The same is true of readers: If you begin a sentence with a fancy windup, you may lose your readers before releasing your main idea. Instead, start with your subject.This sentence has a dizzying windup, which makes it too long and complicated:

With over a decade of experience with programming, network security, reverse engineering, cryptography design and cryptanalysis, and attacking protocols, and significant expertise in information security, Lance James provides consultation to businesses ranging from small startups to governments, Fortune 500s, and top financial institutions.
If the sentence began with the subject, Lance James, rather than the long windup, it would be two clearer sentences:
Lance James has over a decade of experience with programming, network security, reverse engineering, cryptography design and cryptanalysis, and attacking protocols, and significant expertise in information security. He provides consultation to businesses ranging from small startups to governments, Fortune 500s, and top financial institutions.
Test Yourself Number 2: Start with the subject rather than the long windup in this sentence, so readers do not struggle to understand its meaning:
By keeping the three critical success factors in mind and talking with your unit manager or your peer coach whenever you find yourself struggling with an employee issue, you should have the greatest opportunity for success as a new supervisor.

My revision appears at the end of the article.

3. When a sentence is too long or has more than one idea, try inserting a period (full stop) in place of the word andSometimes your sentences will ramble on because you have forgotten to take a breath and give your reader one. Replacing and with a period may help, as it would in this sentence:
Thanks for your cooperation on this project and we look forward to meeting with you to discuss the items above.
This revision communicates in two powerful sentences: Thanks for your cooperation. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss the items above.Sometimes replacing and with a period requires the addition of a word. In the sentence below, which word would you use to replace and? 

The navigation panel on the left side of the screen is the same for all contractors and helps them navigate through the site to find what they need quickly.

Your revision might look like mine: The navigation panel on the left side of the screen is the same for all contractors. It helps them navigate through the site to find what they need quickly.

Test Yourself Number 3: Break up this long sentence by inserting a period and replacing and. Then compare your revision with mine, which appears at the end of the article.

Recently there have been several calls and emails from individuals who are using an MS Excel version dated earlier than 2007 and are not able to save their changes based on the instructions provided in the guidelines.

4. Do not let a long list transform your sentence into a solid wall of text. Often you need to include a list in your writing. But a sentence burdened with a long list can become a blur to your reader. If that happens, your reader will not see any of the important information in your list. The solution is to break up the long, heavy sentence into bullet points or short sentences that keep your reader’s attention.

How would you revise this list-heavy sentence?

Your daily work will include counseling managers on issues ranging from major incidents to employee communications and community relations, representing the company with various groups, supporting the needs of individual plants, managing strategic media opportunities and crisis communications, placing community advertising, and publicizing company efforts in environmental stewardship.
This revision helps each point stand out for the reader:
Your daily work will include:
  • Counseling managers on issues ranging from major incidents to employee communications and community relations.
  • Representing the company with various groups.
  • Supporting the needs of individual plants.
  • Managing strategic media opportunities and crisis communications.
  • Placing community advertising.
  • Publicizing company efforts in environmental stewardship.
Test Yourself Number 4: Restructure this long sentence so that each part stands out:
If new information concerning the case should come to your attention, if you should leave the area for more than a few days, or if you should change your address or telephone number, please advise Marie Smith or your insurance agent immediately.
How long is too long? Sometimes long sentences are not difficult to understand. But a document filled with long, complex sentences will slow down readers and could lose them. Strive for an average of no more than 20 words per sentence–15 is better. Also, do not allow yourself to include sentences of more than 35 words in your final draft. If a sentence gets that long, break it in two (or three) or cut words.
Solution to Number 1:
Our credit department has requested that you provide a copy of your exempt sales tax document. Also, please fill out the top and signature portion of the credit application. This step is just for assurance that we have the pertinent contact information correct.
Solution to Number 2:  
You should have the greatest opportunity for success as a new supervisor if you do these two things: Keep the three critical success factors in mind. Talk with your unit manager or your peer coach whenever you find yourself struggling with an employee issue.
Solution to Number 3:
Recently there have been several calls and emails from individuals who are using an MS Excel version dated earlier than 2007. They are not able to save their changes based on the instructions provided in the guidelines.
Solution to Number 4: 
Please immediately advise Marie Smith or your insurance agent if any of these occurs:
  • New information concerning the case comes to your attention.

  • You leave the area for more than a few days.

  • You change your address or telephone number.

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The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English

Ailurophile A cat-lover.
Assemblage A gathering.
Becoming Attractive.
Beleaguer To exhaust with attacks.
Brood To think alone.
Bucolic In a lovely rural setting.
Bungalow A small, cozy cottage.
Chatoyant Like a cat’s eye.
Comely Attractive.
Conflate To blend together.
Cynosure A focal point of admiration.
Dalliance A brief love affair.
Demesne Dominion, territory.
Demure Shy and reserved.
Denouement The resolution of a mystery.
Desuetude Disuse.
Desultory Slow, sluggish.
Diaphanous Filmy.
Dissemble Deceive.
Dulcet Sweet, sugary.
Ebullience Bubbling enthusiasm.
Effervescent Bubbly.
Efflorescence Flowering, blooming.
Elision Dropping a sound or syllable in a word.
Elixir A good potion.
Eloquence Beauty and persuasion in speech.
Embrocation Rubbing on a lotion.
Emollient A softener.
Ephemeral Short-lived.
Epiphany A sudden revelation.
Erstwhile At one time, for a time.
Ethereal Gaseous, invisible but detectable.
Evanescent Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.
Evocative Suggestive.
Fetching Pretty.
Felicity Pleasantness.
Forbearance Withholding response to provocation.
Fugacious Fleeting.
Furtive Shifty, sneaky.
Gambol To skip or leap about joyfully.
Glamour Beauty.
Gossamer The finest piece of thread, a spider’s silk
Halcyon Happy, sunny, care-free.
Harbinger Messenger with news of the future.
Imbrication Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.
Imbroglio An altercation or complicated situation.
Imbue To infuse, instill.
Incipient Beginning, in an early stage.
Ineffable Unutterable, inexpressible.
Ingénue A naïve young woman.
Inglenook A cozy nook by the hearth.
Insouciance Blithe nonchalance.
Inure To become jaded.
Labyrinthine Twisting and turning.
Lagniappe A special kind of gift.
Lagoon A small gulf or inlet.
Languor Listlessness, inactivity.
Lassitude Weariness, listlessness.
Leisure Free time.
Lilt To move musically or lively.
Lissome Slender and graceful.
Lithe Slender and flexible.
Love Deep affection.
Mellifluous Sweet sounding.
Moiety One of two equal parts.
Mondegreen A slip of the ear.
Murmurous Murmuring.
Nemesis An unconquerable archenemy.
Offing The sea between the horizon and the offshore.
Onomatopoeia A word that sounds like its meaning.
Opulent Lush, luxuriant.
Palimpsest A manuscript written over earlier ones.
Panacea A solution for all problems
Panoply A complete set.
Pastiche An art work combining materials from various sources.
Penumbra A half-shadow.
Petrichor The smell of earth after rain.
Plethora A large quantity.
Propinquity An inclination.
Pyrrhic Successful with heavy losses.
Quintessential Most essential.
Ratatouille A spicy French stew.
Ravel To knit or unknit.
Redolent Fragrant.
Riparian By the bank of a stream.
Ripple A very small wave.
Scintilla A spark or very small thing.
Sempiternal Eternal.
Seraglio Rich, luxurious oriental palace or harem.
Serendipity Finding something nice while looking for something else.
Summery Light, delicate or warm and sunny.
Sumptuous Lush, luxurious.
Surreptitious Secretive, sneaky.
Susquehanna A river in Pennsylvania.
Susurrous Whispering, hissing.
Talisman A good luck charm.
Tintinnabulation Tinkling.
Umbrella Protection from sun or rain.
Untoward Unseemly, inappropriate.
Vestigial In trace amounts.
Wafture Waving.
Wherewithal The means.
Woebegone Sorrowful, downcast.

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The 100 Funniest Words in English

Abibliophobia The fear of running out of reading material.
Absquatulate To leave or abscond with something.
Allegator Some who alleges.
Anencephalous Lacking a brain.
Argle-bargle A loud row or quarrel.
Batrachomyomachy Making a mountain out of a molehill.
Billingsgate Loud, raucous profanity.
Bloviate To speak pompously or brag.
Blunderbuss A gun with a flared muzzle or disorganized activity.
Borborygm A rumbling of the stomach.
Boustrophedon A back and forth pattern.
Bowyang A strap that holds the pants legs in place.
Brouhaha An uproar.
Bumbershoot An umbrella.
Callipygian Having an attractive rear end or nice buns.
Canoodle To hug and kiss.
Cantankerous Testy, grumpy.
Catercornered Diagonal(ly).
Cockalorum A small, haughty man.
Cockamamie Absurd, outlandish.
Codswallop Nonsense, balderdash.
Collop A slice of meat or fold of flab.
Collywobbles Butterflies in the stomach.
Comeuppance Just reward, just deserts.
Crapulence Discomfort from eating or drinking too much.
Crudivore An eater of raw food.
Discombobulate To confuse.
Donnybrook An melee, a riot.
Doozy Something really great.
Dudgeon A bad mood, a huff.
Ecdysiast An exotic dancer, a stripper.
Eructation A burp, belch.
Fard Face-paint, makeup.
Fartlek An athletic training regime.
Fatuous Unconsciously foolish.
Filibuster Refusal to give up the floor in a debate to prevent a vote.
Firkin A quarter barrel or small cask.
Flibbertigibbet Nonsense, balderdash.
Flummox To exasperate.
Folderol Nonsense.
Formication The sense of ants crawling on your skin.
Fuddy-duddy An old-fashioned, mild-mannered person.
Furbelow A fringe or ruffle.
Furphy A portable water-container.
Gaberlunzie A wandering beggar.
Gardyloo! A warning shouted before throwing water from above.
Gastromancy Telling fortune from the rumblings of the stomach.
Gazump To buy something already promised to someone else.
Gobbledygook Nonsense, balderdash.
Gobemouche A highly gullible person.
Godwottery Nonsense, balderdash.
Gongoozle To stare at, kibitz.
Gonzo Far-out journalism.
Goombah An older friend who protects you.
Hemidemisemiquaver A musical timing of 1/64.
Hobbledehoy An awkward or ill-mannered young boy.
Hocus-pocus Deceitful sleight of hand.
Hoosegow A jail or prison.
Hootenanny A country or folk music get-together.
Jackanapes A rapscallion, hooligan.
Kerfuffle Nonsense, balderdash.
Klutz An awkward, stupid person.
La-di-da An interjection indicating that something is pretentious.
Lagopodous Like a rabbit’s foot.
Lickety-split As fast as possible.
Lickspittle A servile person, a toady.
Logorrhea Loquaciousness, talkativeness.
Lollygag To move slowly, fall behind.
Malarkey Nonsense, balderdash.
Maverick A loner, someone outside the box.
Mollycoddle To treat too leniently.
Mugwump An independent politician who does not follow any party.
Mumpsimus An outdated and unreasonable position on an issue.
Namby-pamby Weak, with no backbone.
Nincompoop A foolish person.
Oocephalus An egghead.
Ornery Mean, nasty, grumpy.
Pandiculation A full body stretch.
Panjandrum Someone who thinks himself high and mighty.
Pettifogger A person who tries to befuddle others with his speech.
Pratfall A fall on one’s rear.
Quean A disreputable woman.
Rambunctious Aggressive, hard to control.
Ranivorous Frog-eating
Rigmarole Nonsense, unnecessary complexity.
Shenanigan A prank, mischief.
Sialoquent Spitting while speaking.
Skedaddle To hurry somewhere.
Skullduggery No good, underhanded dealing.
Slangwhanger A loud abusive speaker or obnoxious writer.
Smellfungus A perpetual pessimist.
Snickersnee A long knife.
Snollygoster A person who can’t be trusted.
Snool A servile person.
Tatterdemalion A child in rags.
Troglodyte Someone or something that lives in a cave.
Turdiform Having the form of a lark.
Unremacadamized Having not been repaved with macadam.
Vomitory An exit or outlet.
Wabbit Exhausted, tired, worn out.
Widdershins In a contrary or counterclockwise direction.
Yahoo A rube, a country bumpkin.
@ The “at” sign.

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