Monday, May 30, 2005

SEC Handbook Available Online

Nothing is as intimidating to investors as reading and technical guidelines and abstruse disclaimers related to securities trading. In 1998, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission tried to solve this problem by publishing A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents.

The 77-page handbook presents excellent tips on documenting language and illustrations for maximum clarity and, therefore, reader benefit. Many instructive examples appear in the chapters "Writing in Plain English" and "Designing the Document," which readers from any business will find helpful.

The link to A Plain English Handbook is

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tongue and Quill Available Online

The United States Air Force has long relied on The Tongue and Quill, an excellent resource on presenting written and oral information. It covers the steps of the communication process; tips on researching topics, organizing ideas, and writing clearly and concisely; and guidelines for running meetings and speaking and listening effectively. While the writing templates offered are specific to military style and do not necessarily apply to the business world, the book is a readable, understandable, and practical reference for anyone who uses it wisely.

The 373-page August 1, 2004 edition, which supersedes the 1997 version, is available online at the following link:

Friday, May 20, 2005

Another Useful Link: The Elements of Style

Most people familiar with the name E.B. White (1899-1985) remember him as a children's book author (Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan), and some recall White's poems and essays in The New Yorker for more than a half century. But nearly anyone who has entered a college composition classroom has either had to read or at least become aware of his adaptation of the 1918 grammar and style book, The Elements of Style by Cornell University Professor of English William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1946).

Before the book became known as Strunk and White, there was Strunk all by himself. His version of the book, old though it may be, remains useful and, most importantly, available in its entirety on the Intenet. It offers rules for grammar and usage, tips on avoiding commonly misused words and expressions, and standards for excellent composition, among other practical pointers. Here is the link:

Monday, May 16, 2005

What's a Run-On? How Do I Stop It From Running On?

A run-on sentence is a grammatical error in which more than one complete thought is joined without an appropriate connecting words or punctuation mark. Here are two tips for avoiding run-on sentences: read the sentences aloud or learn the rules. Let’s take these tips one at a time.

Reading Aloud
Read your sentences aloud to hear how they will sound. Look at this example of a run-on:

I didn’t find the invoice on the photocopier I found it on the shredder.
In speaking the above statement, most of us naturally do one of two things after uttering the word photocopier: pause or change our pitch. The slower speakers actually pause. The faster speakers change pitch, momentarily shifting their intonation. Therefore, some punctuation is necessary.

We have a number of options in correcting this run-on sentence. Here are five:

  1. I didn’t find the invoice on the photocopier. I found it on the shredder.
  2. I didn’t find the invoice on the photocopier; I found it on the shredder.
  3. I didn’t find the invoice on the photocopier, but I found it on the shredder.
  4. You said that I found the invoice on the photocopier, but I found it on the shredder.
  5. Although I didn’t find the invoice on the photocopier, I did find it on the shredder.

Learning the Rules

Of course, some of us speak so fast that we do not hear a rate or a pitch change. With all due respect to fast talkers (I sometimes wish I had that skill), those people are generally more difficult to understand. They need to learn the rules, so here we go:

A sentence must express a complete thought. It must have a subject and a predicate.
  • The subject is the who or what the sentence is about.
  • The predicate is what is said about the subject.
Example: Managers train.

Subject? ManagersPredicate? train

A sentence may have also have the following parts:
  • object complements to indicate the receiver of the action by the simple predicate
  • modifiers to describe the meaning of another word
  • connectives, such as prepositions and conjunctions, to join sentence parts
  • independent elements, which are expressions that have no grammatical connection with the sentence in which they appear.
Examples (sentence part in italics):

object complements: Managers train staff.

modifiers: The managers often train new staff.

connectives: The managers often train and assign new staff for the factory.

independent elements: The managers, Phil believes, often train and assign new staff for the factory.

Many useful resources are available on this subject. This blog lists a few, so check them out!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Take Bradbury’s Advice

Ray Bradbury, world-famous author and editor of nearly 200 books and countless articles, said in an interview, “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down. (Brown Daily Herald, March 24, 1995).

What great advice for getting started with the first draft of your next report, proposal, newspaper article, or whatever else you write. Just let your thoughts fly from your head through your hand onto the screen or paper. Do not concern yourself with quality the first time around. Write the first draft with your heart; you’ll have plenty of time to revise, edit, and proofread the next draft with your head.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Parallel Structure, Part 2

As I suggested in Part 1 (April 29, 2005), parallel structure, the linking of like ideas through grammatically like forms, shows up when using the words and or or. If I said, "I need to meet with Bob and ..." you would expect to hear the name of a second person I need to meet. If you said to me, "Tonight we should eat Thai food or ..." I'd expect to hear another type of cuisine. The words and and or set up these expectations.

The same expectation occurs when reading bulleted or numbered lists. Although the and does not actually appear, we assume it's there. The errant example below illustrates this point.

Please bring the following items with you:
  • writable CD
  • 750 megabyte zip disk
  • floppy disk
  • This will ensure that you will be prepared for any installation configuration.
The sentence introducing the bullet list, known as the lead-in sentence, asks the reader to bring items. The final bullet, however, is not an item, but the benefit of bringing the items. To maintain parallel structure, the writer may revise the lead-in sentence and bullet list, as shown below.

To ensure that you will be prepared for any installation configuration, please bring the following items with you:
  • writable CD
  • 750 megabyte zip disk
  • floppy disk
Keeping like ideas aligned in parallel form goes a long way toward creating clear, concise, consistent documents. Keep it in mind!