Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Tip (or Two) from a Student: Know Your ABC’s

As a corporate trainer, I am always “mind mining”—learning from the highly skilled professionals whom I teach. What a pleasure it is for me to then share their wisdom with you on this blog. For example, on the June 17 posting, I featured Jong Chan, a Supervising Specialist for the New York State Insurance Department, whose comments and writing samples provided to his fellow students and me a different perspective on writing purposefully. (See

Here’s a new tip, this one from Latisha V. Pace, a sales coordinator for International Flavors & Fragrances. When introducing herself to kick off an effective e-mail writing course, she described her course goal by saying, “I want to review the ABCs of writing: accuracy, brevity, and clarity.” As I wrote Ms. Pace’s goal on the whiteboard, I noted how discrete these three qualities are.

We are accurate by choosing words carefully. Example:

Inaccurate: The weekly sales meeting never begins on time.
Accurate: The weekly sales meeting has begun at least 15 minutes late on the four times our group has attended.

We are brief by making every word count. Example:

Wordy: The purpose of this e-mail is to propose the purchase of a company car.
Brief: This e-mail proposes the purchase of a company car.
Brief: I propose the purchase of a company car.

We are clear by favoring familiar language over unwieldy phrases and jargon. Example:

Unclear: The manager to whom the report must be conferred must be of a rank consistent with statutes as determined by management and documented in the bylaws noted in Section 12.3 of the Policy and Procedures Handbook.
Clear: The manager who receives the report must meet the requirements stated in Section 12.3 of the Policy and Procedures Handbook.

That’s right: Knowing with ABC’s of writing will help improve your correspondence. Being a fan of aphorisms, Ms. Pace left my writing class with one more gem: “There’s also ABC backwards: CBA, which stands for conceive it, believe it, and achieve it." Thank you, Ms. Pace!