Saturday, June 25, 2005

WORDS ON THE LINE Referenced Again

Once again, we've spotted evidence that people around the globe are checking into WORDS ON THE LINE. The April 12 entry, "The Pluses and Minuses of Distance Learning," was referenced in "Wired Temples," a blog created by Robert Micallef, and economics professor who resides in Belgium and the Czech Republic. His blog is on Maltese culture, news, society, people, history, and blogs.

Keep reading WORDS ON THE LINE for useful tips and terrific resources on effective writing. Meanwhile, if you find a print or electronic point of interest and value, feel free to write Phil Vassallo at

Monday, June 20, 2005

Do I Appreciate You, or What You Do?

A common grammatical mistake that we have all seen is in the following sentence:

I appreciate you working on the project.

Since the word working functions not as a verb but as a noun (a gerund), we need a pronoun in the possessive case (your), not the subjective case (you). We appreciate people, places, or things (nouns), not action words (verbs). Examples include “I appreciate Helen,” “You appreciate Chicago,” or “We appreciate mangos”; however, we do not say, “I appreciate do,” "You appreciate go," or "We appreciate eat.”

The correct way to write the faulty sentence is as follows:

I appreciate your working on the project.

OK, but some of us find this sentence too impersonal. After all, we may want to say that we appreciate the person and not the thing the person did. So here’s another option:

I appreciate you for working on the project.

The choice is yours: Appreciate the person for doing something, or the thing the person does. As for me, I have two closing statements, both grammatically correct:

I appreciate you for reading this message.
I appreciate your reading this message.

Friday, June 17, 2005

What’s the Point of Having a Point?

If you have read previous postings on WORDS ON THE LINE, you would know how big I am on placing an explicit purpose statement in business messages. Sentences such as “I propose that we purchase PDAs for the six staff researchers in our Cincinnati office” or “This root-cause analysis reports on the equipment failure in our Tacoma facility on June 3” keep the writer focused while composing the message. They also immediately ground the reader in the writer’s reason for transmitting the message; in effect, they instantly put the reader to work. Therefore, we should be sure to place a purpose statement early in our documents. My book The Art of On-the Job Writing discusses in detail the power of a purpose statement, so I stand behind this principle whenever I lead a corporate writing class.

Sometimes, however, a clearly established relationship with another reader may preclude the need for writing a purpose statement in an informal e-mail. This point was cleverly illustrated by Jong Chan, a Supervising Specialist for the New York State Insurance Department and a participant in one of my recent courses. I assigned to the participants a writing situation in which a trade show produced disappointing results for their company. I assumed that they would write to Larry, the trade show representative, a message in which they either notify him of their intention of no longer participating in his future trade fairs, or asking him for concessions and improvements to guarantee their future attendance.

Mr. Chan, an experienced manager who supervises high-level employees in his organization, chose a different approach, one he called “neutral.” Here it is:


The Chicago Trade Show raised concerns about the cost-benefit results for our company. We believe that it was too expensive and that your advertising underrepresented us.


Notice that he did not write a purpose statement, such as, “We will not attend future trade shows for the following reasons” or “We request a plan of action from you to ensure better results for our next appearance at your trade show.” Nevertheless, I know that I would have responded to the e-mail if I were Larry. After Mr. Chan read his message to the other participants, an audience of 20 professionals representing a broad range of business responsibilities and industries, I asked what they would do if they were Larry and they had received this message. Nearly all agreed that they would call Mr. Chan to see what they could do to keep him as a customer—precisely the result that Mr. Chan expected.

I congratulated Mr. Chan for achieving this interesting trick: being purposeful without writing a purpose. He proved that sometimes we do not need to write a purpose—as long as our readers can read our minds! But even Mr. Chan would agree that for most readers, we should play it safely and assert our purpose.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Watch Those Modifiers!

Someone who felt that men were treated unfairly in his department complained to me about his dilemma, but I could not help laughing when I read what he had written:

Where I work more men lift cartons than women.

What a strange place to work. I wonder if deciding which men get to lift the women is based on seniority. Surely, the complainant meant to write:

Where I work more men than women lift cartons.

Just by changing the position of the phrase than women, he would have achieved clarity. This error, known as a misplaced modifier, is easy to make--especially when writing quickly and not taking the time to edit.

Here is an example of a dangling modifier, a word or phrase attached to a sentence without connecting logically to it:

After raining for five minutes, I decided to leave the park.

This sounds like he had a drippy bladder. He could get arrested for doing that in public! Solution:

After it rained for five minutes, I decided to leave the park.

Editing takes time--but it's time well spent. Keep words and phrases as close as possible to the words they describe. We all want our readers to focus on our meaning, not to chuckle at our blunders.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Another Excellent Web Sighting

If you are looking for another useful writer's resource and have not checked out The Guide to Grammar and Writing by the Capital Community College Foundation, then you should. Developed by Professor Charles Darling of Capital Community College in Hartford, the website offers the following features:
  • a reader-friendly layout for efficient access to the site
  • an in-depth review of grammar and usage
  • a discussion of the principles of composition on the word, sentence, paragraph, and document levels
  • easy-to-follow PowerPoint presentations on various writing topics
  • more than a hundred interactive quizzes on sentence structure, word usage, punctuation, and other grammatical issues
  • excellent aphorisms on writing by famous authors
By the way, the Foundation exists on contributions and would welcome your donation. Here is the link: