Friday, December 29, 2006

Executing Knowledge

In the introductory chapter of The Effective Executive (1966), management guru Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005) renders a prophetic insight into the role of corporate employees in an information age:

Every knowledge worker is an “executive” if, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results.

Forty years later, we know Drucker’s premise to be reality. Anyone charged with communicating company information carries an enormous responsibility in fulfilling daily tasks. Whether returning that prospective client’s inquiry, explaining that product specification sheet, delivering that price quotation, or troubleshooting that complicated order, employees contribute profoundly to the vitality of their organization.

So what does this truth have to do with writing? Simply that we have to use the tools at our disposal to communicate purposefully, courteously, clearly, and concisely. The computer, the PDA, and any other writing instrument available to us afford the opportunity to express more than just the data but our interpretation of the data, more than the just facts but our spin on them, more than a statement of the problem but our proposed solution to it. The computers in our head—not the ones resting on our desk—must do the real thinking, and we express our thinking through writing. In the same book, Drucker concludes:

The greatest impact of the computer lies in its limitations, which will force us increasingly to make decisions, and above all, force middle managers to change from operators into executives and decision-makers.

Where do those decisions appear? In writing—and writing tools are useful only in the right person’s hands.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

You DO Have to Be Einstein

Albert Einstein was extremely generous about world opinion in general, and the American people in particular, when he said in a 1921 interview:

It is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose goals lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large section of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealistic outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is decried as a singularly materialistic country. (Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein, page 4)

How interesting that in the face of rising European Fascism, with its political motivations, Einstein persisted with such an optimistic viewpoint about humanity. I wonder, however, what he would say about the state of human affairs some 85 years later, in light of technological advances, which have created a world of virtual anythings that have insulated us from actual experience and insolated us from each other.

As a corporate trainer, I have had the privilege of discussing what our society most values with an impressive range of well-educated people from around the world and from diverse professional disciplines. I think the consensus is that Einstein would retract his statement today. As a society, do we prize intellectual and moral achievement over financial and political gain? If the newspapers we read accurately reflect what we value, then go no further than the entertainment, fashion, sports, society, stock, and scandal pages (did I leave out anything but the funnies?) to see what matters most to us. We are inundated with an information overload that gives us scarce time to reflect on the data’s value. In a sense, the lightning speed at which the information passes through our lives from the levels of high urgency to instant oblivion has become like a drug that devalues human interaction. Today, I’m sure Einstein would say, “Forget what the media and technology tell you is wisdom and find wisdom for yourselves.”

I usually recommend to participants of my writing seminars that they read inside their field to maintain their subject-matter expertise and outside their field to cultivate their knowledge of ideas and their command of language. Yet many people unabashedly confess that they do not read much. My response never varies: “You cannot become a good writer without becoming a good reader, and you become a good reader by reading regularly and eclectically.”

Here’s my advice for whoever is reading this note: To become a better writer, keep reading like a writer: read, reflect, respond (in writing, of course), repeat.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The Scissors or the Pen?

During one of my recent recent writing courses, a participant, Luis LaSalvia said, “The scissors are mightier than the pen.” Dr. LaSalvia (he has M.D. and M.B.A. degrees) cleverly adapted the better-known quote by the English writer Baron Lytton, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” to highlight the need for thorough editing. As a key member of the Bayer Health Care Diagnostics Division for Scientific Affairs in North America, Dr. LaSalvia is keen on using language to foster clear communication. Since I share his motivation, he will get no argument from me on this point.

But a lesser-known yet preferable aphorism prefers creativity to criticism. Attributed to the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier, it goes something like this: “To err is human, but when the pencil's eraser wears out before the lead, you’re overdoing it.” I could not agree more, and I’d bet that Dr. LaSalvia also would agree with this wisdom.

What’s the point? Don’t let your high critical standards get in the way of your creative streak. Keep writing—and then return to edit.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Reflections on THE MIND MAP BOOK

The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential by Tony Buzan with Barry Buzan. New York: Plume/Penguin, 1996. 320 pp. $17.25. Paper

In my seminars, I have occasionally recommended Tony Buzan’s mind mapping strategy as a means of breaking through writer’s block and generating ideas. Convinced that the mindset of labeling people left—or right-brained is counterproductive, Buzan borrows from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso to assert that we all have a greater capacity for creativity than we realize. Through mind mapping, Buzan claims, “the more you learn/gather new data in an integrated, radiating organized manner, the easier it is to learn more.”

His technique encourages the use of colors, pictures, and single words to create associations for stimulating focused ideas. In Chapter 2 of my book, The Art of On-the-Job Writing, I mention other techniques that may be useful to writers, such as idea tags and idea lists; however, I know that Buzan’s methodology has worked for me, especially when my emotions run high and I have to work through.

I question whether mind mapping can take a fiction writer through the maze of a complex plot he is establishing in a novel, or whether it can help a proposal writer find the best phrasing for her intended audience. Nevertheless, if reducing writer’s block to become more efficient is your priority, then The Mind Map Book is a worthwhile read.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Spark Notes: A Helpful Website

I’m sure that academic purists would heap criticism upon me for recommending Spark Notes (, but the website is helpful to writers for at least three reasons:

  1. The Study Guides section offers potential customers the opportunity to browse for the products they want, on topics ranging from literature and philosophy to math and science.
  2. The College Search section provides a good search engine for general and demographic data for most American colleges, and you can enter each college’s website from there.
  3. The “Writing” link in the Study Guides section gives excellent tips on grammar, diction, punctuation, and mechanics.

Of course, you may find other reasons to hook into Happy navigating!

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Fact or Friction?

Saundra Adams of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. chalked up a gem for the record when she said that her goal in my writing seminar was to improve in her ability to distinguish fact from friction in her writing. At first, one might consider her statement a malapropism of the cliché, “distinguish fact from fiction.”

But think again. In technical writing, straying from the facts may lead to friction, so choose words carefully. For example, suppose Joe, your manager, said at a staff meeting, “I think we could reduce operating expenses by subcontracting our printing services.” In the meeting minutes, you should not write :

Joe thinks we could reduce operating expenses by subcontracting our printing services.

That sort of writing seems like you’re reading the boss’s mind. In this situation, you have three better choices:

1. Do not write about his comment at all.

2. Write precisely what he said by directly quoting him: Joe said, “I think we could reduce operating expenses by subcontracting our printing services.”

3. Ask Joe for clarification before writing the comment.

In any case, remember that Joe is the boss, so get his approval before writing. Why? It’s not always the facts that count, but the facts that management wants to discuss. That mindset will help you in distinguishing fact from friction.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 20: Poisoning the Well

I conclude this series on logical fallacies with poisoning the well, a logical fallacy akin to the ad hominem argument (see July 15 posting). At the risk of appearing redundant, I’ve included it because the term frequently appears in writing. One “poisons the well” when discrediting the source of a claim with the intention of refuting the claim itself. Example:

How can we allow allow a man of another faith to speak to our congregation on family values?

If you’ve found these last 20 postings useful, you might want to read Nonsense: A Handbook of Logical Fallacies by Robert J. Gula.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 19: Composition

On the flip side of the fallacy of division (see November 4 posting) is the fallacy of composition. It arises when reasoning that something true about a part of a subject must be true of the whole. Examples:

New Yorkers are aggressive people. I should know: I’ve met two aggressive New Yorkers.

The project manager is brilliant, so I’m sure that the entire project team is up to the task.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 18: Division

The logical fallacy of division occurs when reasoning that something true about a subject must also be true of its parts. Examples:

Our new CFO, Ken Allen, previously worked for Microsoft, a multinational coproration known for treating its employees with integrity; therefore, expect Mr. Allen to treat his staff respectfully.

The CD player in the car must be expensive because the car itself is expensive.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 17: Appeal to Prestige

The logical fallacy of appeal to prestige is an inappropriate reference to the reputation of a subject to support an argument. Examples:

Dr. Cohen’s Ph.D. certainly qualifies him to assess the quality of the architectural scope of work. [His Ph.D. is in biochemistry, not building design.]

The President’s endorsement is reason enough to vote for Bill HR2006. [The Bill may have the endorsement of only the members of one political party.]

The shoes have to be good—they’re made in Italy. [While Italian shoes have an excellent reputation, they may not all be necessarily good.]

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 16: Appeal to Pity

The appeal to pity as a logical fallacy occurs when the writer uses pity and not the merits of a case to persuade the audience. We need more than pity to argue our point. Examples:

We should select Ms. Tosca over Mr. Rodriguez for the promotion because as a single parent she needs the money more than he does.

The financial analysts need our attention because the previous CEO disregarded their input.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 15: Appeal to Force

The appeal to force argument uses coercion for its justification. It is akin to the "might makes right" statement--a sure way to lose credibility with your readers. Examples:

Comply with this new security procedure if you want to keep your job.

Our justification for selling the franchise is that the Board of Directors wanted us to do it.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 14: Straw Man

Setting up a straw man in an argument mischaracterizes an opposing viewpoint by falsely attributing to it an easily refutable position. Examples:

I’d rather not give the client the additional samples she requested. If we give her more, then we’ll have to give them to all our clients.

The CEO wants to move our office from New York to Philadelphia. I suppose he's thinking, "smaller city, smaller business opportunities."

The first example can also be seen as a hasty generalization (see September 9 entry) and the second as a false analogy (see September 23 entry).

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 13: Misplaced Authority

The fallacy of misplaced authority arises whenever attributing authority to a source that does not merit the authorty. This fallacy is a particular problem in celebrity cultures. We want to hear entertainers’ opinions on politics, athletes opinions on soft drinks, and artists’ opinions on the environment. Here is an obvious example:

The AFL-CIO, AFT, and Sean Penn have endorsed Senator John Kerry’s candidacy for President of the United States.

Sean Penn, an award-winning actor, does not have the same credibility or clout as do the AFL-CIO (a 9 million member union) or the AFT (a 1.3 million member union).

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 12: False Analogy

In the false analogy, a writer incorrectly shows that two entities having common features have other common features which they do not. Example:

Since Citigroup and Exxon Mobil are both Fortune 50 corporations, the United States Environmental Protection Agency should dedicate the same amount of resources to monitoring each company’s environmental compliance.

Indeed, both companies are huge and must share a significant commitment to protecting the environment; however, the nature of Exxon Mobil’s business should require greater oversight.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 11: Tu Quoque

The tu quoque fallacy (Latin for “you too”) is a close relative of the ad hominem attack. (See the July 15, 2006 entry on this blog.) Tu quoque appears when deflecting attention from a criticism by asserting that the same criticism applies to the critic.

Deposed Iraqi leader Sadaam Hussein has tried the tu quoque argument by insisting that he should not be on trial for war crimes since the United States is guilty of war crimes. The problem with Hussein’s argument is that anyone else’s wrong does not make his crimes any less wrong.

Here’s a business example:

The Chief Financial Officer has said that the Research and Development group is over budget on Project X, but he is not bearing down as much on Accounting for overspending.

The writer’s complaint does nothing to justify Research and Development being over budget.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 10: Hasty Generalization

The hasty generalization occurs when stating a generalization with insufficient evidence. Example:

The company lost $11 million in the first half 2006; therefore, it will end the year just as poorly.

Perhaps the $11 million loss is an improvement over previous periods. Maybe the loss is a one-time or cyclical situation. It could be that the loss was from an investment which will soon become profitable. The evidence is just not there to make this claim.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 9: Guilt by Association

The guilt by association rhetorical flaw arises when the writer unreasonably associates an opponent or a proposition with a guilty party. It is related to the red herring (see the previous entry, August 26, 2006). Example:

How can we elect a man who served under an impeached president?

The thinking is flawed because of its assumption that anyone associated with the impeached president must be just like the impeached president.

Conversely, Check your endorsements as well. Equally misleading could be honor by association, in which the writer unreasonably associates an ally or a proposition with an esteemed party. Example:

The fact that the employee leave policy is supported by Governor Richford is sufficient reason to establish it.

Reasonable people expect more evidence than a governor’s endorsement to support a claim.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 8: Red Herring

When writers choose an unrelated point to distract readers from the real issue, they are committing the logical fallacy of a red herring . If you’ve ever heard or said, “You always disagree with me,” you’ve experienced a red herring. The term originates from the use of smoked herring to distract hunting dogs following a scent trail. Example:

Cicero Architectural & Engineering Consulting promises a profitable year. We have heard such claims before—from the likes of Fashion First Textiles and Medusa Boutiques—both of which yielded disappointing results in their first year after emerging from bankruptcy.

The textile and boutique businesses could not be more unrelated to an architectural and engineering firm. In addition, Cicero Consulting was not emerging from bankruptcy. By raising this irrelevant issue, the writer hopes to scores points in discrediting Cicero’s claim. Educated readers quickly detect this flaw.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 7: Non Sequitur

The non sequitur is closely related to the post hoc argument. The non sequitur (Latin for “it does not follow”) occurs when the writer incorrectly links two events or draws a conclusion that contradicts its premise. We also use the term non sequitur to refer to nonsensical statements in general. Example:

Sensation’s sales force needs to be more aggressive in territories the company recently entered. How ironic, then, that Sensation has enjoyed a six-year track record of uninterrupted growth.

In the framework of this sentence, past results have nothing to do with current plans in a new area of business. In fact, the company might have enjoyed six years of uninterrupted growth precisely because it takes aggressive positions in new territories.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 6: Post Hoc Reasoning

The term post hoc reasoning comes from the Latin phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). The writer incorrectly assumes that one event caused another just because the first event preceded the second event. Example:

The Firm lost $1.5 million in assets last fiscal year. Undeniably, management lost its resolve to stem operating losses after CEO Mitchell’s retirement.

Perhaps the CEO’s retirement did have an effect on the company’s losses; however, the absoluteness of the claim defies clear thinking.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 5: Equivocation

An equivocation is the use of different meanings of the same word to argue that the word means the same in each instance. Example:

We understand that runoff from Kennedy Park into the Raritan River is of great community concern; however, the runoff between the mayoral cadidates seems to generate little local interest.

Obviously, the environmental and political meanings of runoff are vastly different, so this comment would be met with skepticism or derision.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 4: Unequal Comparison

The unequal comparison inappropriately links unequal ideas. Such comparisons greatly compromise the credibility of the writer. The two examples below appeared in the writing of students in my writing seminars:

The Mayor’s social policies are no better than Hitler’s.

The manager’s attempt to reorganize our department is tantamount to a hostile takeover.

The first example likened an American mayor to a leader whose social policy called for genocide. No American mayor has such a draconian policy.

The second example is flawed in two ways:
  1. Since the manager already is an insider running the department, she should not be compared to an outsider attempting to acquire a company against the will of its staff, which is the definition of a hostile takeover.
  2. Reorganizing a department, even if it is against the staff’s will, does not share the magnitude of an organization-wide hostile takeover.

Once I pointed out the logical fallacies, the writers revised their sentences as follows:

The Mayor’s social policies are insensitive to the interests of the city’s minority groups.

The manager’s attempt to reorganize our department is rash because it contradicts our corporate mission and strays from the sound managerial approaches of other departments.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 3: Ad Populum

An ad populum comment is an appeal to popularity, also known as bandwagoning. Using this line of reasoning alone rarely lacks validity. Examples:

Anyone who cares about freedom would vote for the libertarian candidate.

If you disagree with my position, then you are a racist (or ageist, classist, sexist, etc.).

When asserting a position to find the common ground or to discredit an opposing view, choose words and phrases carefully. The following sentences may be regarded as improvements of the previous examples:

Since the libertarian candidate bases her platform on individual freedom, a vote for her would signal your support of a less restrictive government.

How would you distance your position from the apartheid policies formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa?

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 2: Ad Hominem

Even if you are unfamiliar with the term ad hominem, you have read or heard examples of it countless times. The Latin term has come to mean an attack against a person to discredit that person’s argument. In politics, it is so commonplace that we have become numb to it—but many careful readers see through the weakness of the position and judge the attacker accordingly. Examples:

Since Aristotle had a low opinion of women, his philosophical theories are without merit.

No wonder the Mayor is opposed to tax credits for families—he is a bachelor.

The CEO does not have a religious affiliation; therefore, her opinion on our merger with XYZ Corporation must be flawed.
Of course, attacking a person to advance an argument is not always flawed. Here are some perfectly acceptable examples:

We should not leave decisions about how to best run our school in the hands of an inexperienced Student Council president.

Since Mr. Camilleri us a political pundit, I would not trust him to have the final say on issues of national defense.

Check for the ad hominem attack in your own position papers and proposals. Attack the position, not the person.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 1: Straw Man

Establishing faulty assumptions, asserting opinions as facts, and drawing improper conclusions are colossal credibility killers. When I point them out to people who have committed them, they often confess to being unaware of the misstep or to having let their strong emotional attachment to the issue override their otherwise logical approach to argumentation.

As an example, below the writer interjects a straw man, an easily refutable argument which one attributes to an opponent who has not made that argument.

Since Mr. Vella is opposed to capital punishment, he clearly favors rewarding murderers by allowing them to live. This just goes to show that Mr. Vella cares more about murderers than their victims.

The straw man is only one of numerous persuasive missteps that muddle the meaning and heighten the hostility of what could otherwise be a principled argument. These rhetorical flaws fall under the broad category known as logical fallacies. They are often used, little understood, and easy to recognize and remedy. Since avoiding them in favor of sound argument is vital to excellent writing, they will be the topic of coming installments of WORDS ON THE LINE.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

E.G. or I.E.?

Writers tend to confuse the Latin abbreviations e.g. and i.e., so the request to distinguish between the two often pops up in my writing seminars. Here is a list of common questions and their answers to clarify the confusion.

Question: What do e.g. and i.e. mean?
Answer: e.g. stands for exempli gratia, or for example; i.e. stands for id est, or that is.

Question: Can I use e.g. and i.e. interchangeably?
Answer: No.

Question: When should I use e.g.?
Answer: Use e.g. to give an example of something you’ve just indicated. In the sentence below, the writer assumes that the reader would know that pens, pencils, and notebooks are only examples of a larger list of needed supplies.

Please bring the supplies (e.g., pens, pencils, notebooks).

Question: When should I use i.e.?
Answer: Use i.e. to provide an explanation of something you’ve just indicated. In the sentence below, the writer describes the complete list of needed books.

I need the books (i.e., dictionary, thesaurus, style manual).

Question: How should I punctuate e.g. and i.e.?
Answer: See the examples above. They appear in parentheses and have periods after each letter followed by a comma.

Question: Since Latin is a “dead” language, should I even use e.g. or i.e.?
Answer: Why not? We use other Latin terms. Many competent writers use them—writers who are far more skilled than the grammar police who discourage their use. So feel free to use e.g. and i.e. But use them correctly, because they are different, and use them sparingly, because overusing them could become an excuse for not writing clearly.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Life Is in That Opening!

In starting a discussion on why writer’s block often happens when composing the opening of a business message, I often ask, “What’s in the opening that prevents us from writing it efficiently?”

People usually respond, “That’s the part that sets the tone for the rest of the message, so I try hard to find the right words to respect people’s feelings” or “Sometimes I’m really not sure of what my message is, so I immediately get stuck on my purpose statement.” Either of these answers works for gaining insight into this pressing writing problem.

I recently received a different answer so rich with both perception and pragmatism. When Jennifer Noble, a Systems Integrity Analyst at Nickelodeon, heard me ask the question, she promptly responded with two simple words: “My life.”

A follow-up chat with Ms. Noble showed that those two words have several philosophical and practical implications. For instance, by “my life” she could have meant:
  1. The distractions of my life—my frantic schedule, my frequent interruptions, my diverse responsibilities, even my own insecurities—could get in the way of writing an efficient opening.
  2. My own preferred style—which is a reflection of my attitude and life experience—might not work for this situation, so now I have to leave my compositional comfort zone.
  3. My life— my business deal or my very reputation—is on the line, so writing the opening is unnerving.

What could we do about "my life" getting in the way? Skip the opening and jump to the details, which are much easier to write. You can return to the opening once you’re in a writer’s groove, when you’ll find crafting the opening a less imposing task.

Thanks for sharing “my life,” Ms. Noble!

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Oh, Those PDAs!

My busy schedule forces me to write more and more e-mails on a tiny handheld device, or PDA (personal digital assistant). Its 4.5-square-centimeter screen usually makes focusing on the entire message difficult because I cannot have it entirely on view. Its 3-millimeter type size increases my chances of making typographical errors. Add to these problems the distracting environments in which I compose these messages: bumpy buses, noisy restaurants, crowded elevators, and busy corridors in major American cities.

These factors contribute to e-mails whose tone is definitely curt and whose details are possibly missing, inaccurate, or unclear. Here are three solutions, depending on the situation:

  1. Reread the message before pressing send.
  2. Return the e-mail with a phone call, whose give-and-take nature suits the circumstances.
  3. Wait until you return to the office, where you can write your response on a larger screen.

These PDAs should serve us in doing our job efficiently—not cause us new communication problems. We should use them wisely.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Practice Makes Fluency

A recent conversation about musicianship gave me some insight into writing. My friend Theo Scott, an exceptional actor and musician, described how intensely he prepares for gigs. “I rehearse for endurance, speed, and dexterity.”

Those three nouns hung in the air a moment before they sunk into my imagination. For these three reasons, writers need to write every day. The continual practice will help us write longer, faster, and easier. Thanks for the analogy, Theo.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Don't Dis That!

Occasionally, I have heard people say that you can always remove the pronoun that from a sentence.

Not true.

I’d grant you that that can safely be removed from the following sentences:

She said that the client will be here at noon.
The report that you wrote was not mailed.

But without that, the syntax would collapse in the following sentences :

A letter that criticizes our firm will be published in The New York Times.
The service that helped us is no longer available.

Here's a quick test of your linguistic competence. From which sentence could you remove that without compromising clarity:

1. I know that Maria will help.
2. I know that she will help.

I would not remove that from Sentence 1 because I do not necessarily know Maria but something about Maria. Maria could be used as both a subject or an object. However, I would not mind removing that from Sentence 2 because I would have written, "I know her" if I know Maria. By reading the subject case, she, and not the object case, her, you are expecting to learn something about Maria.

So think twice before dissing that by removing it from a sentence willy-nilly.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Silent vs. the Heard H

For the third time, my friend Marco DeSena, now a policy analyst with the Free Enterprise Fund in Washington, DC, makes an appearance on this blog. (See Get a Job! Tips for the Job Seeker on November 21, 2005, and “Try And” vs. “Try To” on January 17, 2006 for earlier mentions.) Mr. DeSena’s latest linguistic lather:

I see the term historic preceded by both a and an. The Wall Street Journal, if I’m not mistaken, uses an. Crain’s Business uses a. Your thoughts?

My response:

Regarding the silent vs. heard h, I go by sound, which is not the traditional view. (See the King James Bible, which uses an to precede h regardless of the sound.) Therefore, I will see you in an hour to discuss a hopeless situation. The "sound" approach applies to abbreviations as well. You have a master’s degree, but an MA (because the M sounds like em, which has an initial vowel sound).

I know that I did not address a/an when preceding historic. I would use a because my Bronx ears hear that h! (I take a history test, not an history test.) But Mr. DeSena is from Queens, so he may hear it differently. I hope that whether he writes about a historic or an historic precedent, his editor overlooks this minor point. After all, his readers would understand his message either way.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

World Wide Words: Another Fine Website Spotting

World Wide Words, billed by its author Michael Quinion as a website “about international English from a British viewpoint” offers virtually countless tips on word usage, often with humor and always with intelligence.

The website could be pedantic at times (etaoin shrdlu = A nonsense phrase; an absurd or unintelligible utterance), or downright silly (YAPPIE = Young Affluent Parent, OINK = One Income, No Kids, DINKIE = Dual Income, No Kids, HOPEFUL = Hard-up Older Person Expecting Full Useful Life, DUMP = Destitute Unemployed Mature Professional, SITCOM = Single Income, Two Kids, Outrageous Mortgage, SINBAD = Single Income, No Boyfriend, Absolutely Desperate). However, Quinion’s take on business terms like 360-degree feedback or on pronoun usage and acronyms, for instance, are immediately useful to the serious on-the-job writer.

What’s best about this site is that Quinion's discussion of commonly and uncommonly used words and phrases refrains from registering a righteous this-is-right-and-this-is wrong mindset. He knows that language is driven by context, and all his entries thoroughly deliberate on the topic. Here is the link:

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Quibbling over And/Or

What does the phrase and/or mean? Once we use or, don’t we nullify and? Jason Paukowits, an analyst for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, remembers hearing me say in a writing class that or will stand in just fine for and/or, so he e-mailed me: “Can you explain to me the rationale behind using or rather than and/or? I believe that you are right, but I am having trouble convincing others of this.”

OK. Let’s look at this sentence:

Please pay $100 by check and/or money order.

Clearly, we mean, “check or money order.” After all, we wouldn't want some of the payment by check and the balance by money order.

Here’s a trickier example:

The boss said that Jack and/or Jill must attend the meeting.

To the boss, it doesn’t matter if only one attends, so she should have written or. To Jack and Jill, however, both may elect to attend. If they do, they may be wasting company resources because one of them could have stayed back in the office and written reports instead of attending the meeting. Therefore, for clarity the boss should have written, “Jack or Jill must attend the meeting,” because as their boss it really should matter to her that only one attends.

Another example:

If you hold a United States and/or European Union passport, you must pay the value-added tax.

If you hold one passport or the other, then you must comply with the tax law. If you hold one passport, you must pay the tax; if you hold both, you must pay the tax as well. So what’s the difference? A US, an EU, or a US and EU passport holder must pay tax. Therefore, the or is sufficiently clear.

The phrase and/or indicates that any of the possible stated conditions may be true, but so does the word or. Therefore and/or is redundant. Legalistic thinkers, however, argue that and/or removes the possible ambiguity of the following sentences:

  • You may write the chief executive officer, chief operating officer, and/or chief financial officer.
  • Feel free to phone, fax, and/or e-mail me.

The phrase and/or, lawyers may contend, asserts that your three contact choices are available and combinable. If such were the case, however, then the word and should suffice. The point is that by eliminating and/or, you may find a more clear way of expressing what you need to.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Process Driven vs. Profit Driven

Does it matter to an employee when writing whether the business is profit-driven or process-driven? At a writing class I recently presented for the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I was reinforcing the importance of establishing a results-focused purpose statement early in a document. At that point, one of the participants, Gregory Gengo, Procurement Manager for the Division of Materiel, Bus Maintenance and Support, New York City Transit, politely slipped me a hand-written note on a napkin which simply said, “process not profit driven.”

I immediately understood his point. Being profit-driven requires an attention to benefits related to cost decreases or revenue increases; being process-driven demands a mindset on policies and procedures that improve public safety and promote ethical conduct. In the case of the MTA, a virtual public transportation monopoly, such a mindset also considers issues like reasonable fares. Of course, this is not to say that the MTA is unconcerned with maximizing revenue or that the corporate world should not concentrate on safe, effective products and conscientious conduct; however, it is to say that different ends assume different means and expectations. For instance, we want our military (process-driven) to protect us at any cost, while we want our toothpaste company (profit-driven) to provide us with the best product at a competitive price.

How does this reality reflect in our writing? By how we set our objectives as we approach the writing situation, how we assert our purpose in the opening and closing of our messages, and how we decide which supporting details to include in the body of our messages. As a writing consultant to both worlds, I appreciated Mr. Gengo's gentle reminder.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Recommended Reading: Writers on Writing

If you want insight into a writer’s life, one of the best ways to get it is from working writers themselves. Beginning in early 1999, The New York Times began publishing a series of commissioned essays by American novelists, essayists, journalists, poets, and playwrights to explore literary themes, approaches to writing, and just about any creative idea that can come from topics as seemingly mudane as walking a dog or as controversial as engaging in politically subversive activity. The result was nearly a hundred lucid, succinct, and engaging essays covering an impressive range of topics, including writers' responsibility to their world, how ideas become the seed of a full-length novel, what it takes for a writer to survive financially from one book to the next, and tips to overcome writer’s block.

Those essays are available in book form. Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times (Times Books, 2001) and Writers on Writing, Volume II: More Collected Essays from The New York Times (Times Books, 2003) comprise a collection of 92 pieces from the eclectic likes of Russell Banks, Saul Bellow, E.L. Doctorow, William Kennedy, Jamaica Kincaid, Elmore Leonard, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Anna Quindlen, Amy Tan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and some eighty more celebrated American authors.

The contradictory viewpoints expressed by these writers are often striking. Take Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress), who begins his article by noting, “If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. The consistency, the monotony, the certainty, all vagaries and passions are covered by this daily reoccurrence,” and contrast it with Carolyn Chute’s (The Beans of Egypt, Maine) observation, “Usually it takes three days to get into writer mode. Three days of quiet nonlife mode, lots of coffee and no interruptions.”

For aspiring writers these collections have plenty of fodder. Consider the observation from teacher and novelist Nicholas Delbanco (The Martlet's Tale): “To engage in imitation is to begin to understand what originality means. … Imitation is deeply rooted as a form of cultural transmission; we tell our old stories again and again.”

Both books are well worth the $11 cost from for anyone looking for fresh thinking or inspirational ideas.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 8: Brief Briefly

The ironic adage, “Be brief, brother, be brief,” seems to smack of the problem that the speaker admonishes others to avoid. Why couldn’t he state the imperative in two words (“be brief”) instead of five? The answer is quite simple: He could—if speaking to those inclined to listening; however, the five-word version adds emphasis for those inclined not to. I say this not to suggest that you repeat yourself in the executive summary, but to reflect on what your readers consider to be brief. President Ronald Reagan preferred just the high-level briefing to decide on issues and left the details to his trusted associates; Senator John Glenn liked delving into the details before taking a position. Clearly, you would have to write different executive summaries of the same report if either man were your chief executive. As I’ve said on this blog before, knowing your readers should precede knowing what to write—if you are to write with ease and precision.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 7: Style

When writing executive summaries, remember these four tips to make every word count!

1. Prefer general language to jargon to reach all your readers. Try your executive summary with readers who may be familiar with your audience but unfamiliar with the technicalities of your subject matter. If those readers can understand your executive summary, so will your audience; if they cannot, then edit it for clarity.

2. Limit transitional phrases and prefer content language over context language—but not at the expense of clear expression. For example, note the context, or helpful-to-know, language that the writer strikes out in the interest of brevity and highlighting the content, or need-to-know, language:

DRAFT 1 (51 words)
Investors Plus should hire three account executives in Region 3. In doing so, the Company will effectively achieve its stated objective to increase sales by $1.5 million within 18 months. As a result, it will succeed in and recovering sales lost to increased competition from Surety Banking over the past year.

DRAFT 2 (30 words)
Investors Plus should hire three account executives in Region 3 to increase sales by $1.5 million within 18 months and and recover sales lost to increased competition over the past year.

3. Summarize information rather than repeat it verbatim. This is tricky. You do not want to recreate your story by changing its meaning; rather, you want to find words and phrases that better serve the readers’ need to capture information efficiently. For example, say the original report stated:

An 8-square-centimeter area of polyvinyl chloride tubing triple-coated with Color R203 exhibited a 75% patina loss when exposed to 1 milliliter of Xylol over a 30-second period.

The executive summary may make the same point by stating:

Polyvinyl chloride coated with Color R203 suffers significant patina loss when exposed to Xylol.

4. Use bullets wherever possible to broadcast key points and reduce verbiage. Let the following example speak for itself.

DRAFT 1 (62 words)
Moving the Creedwell Production Facility will reduce operating expenses by saving $25,000 on rental space annually. In addition, the move will make commuting easier by an average of 30 minutes each way for more than 75 percent of our existing staff. Finally, the move will substantially increase our labor pool because of the higher number of available workers in the new area.

DRAFT 2 (36 words)
Moving the Creedwell Production Facility will:
  • reduce annual rental expenses by $25,000
  • reduce commuting by approximately 30 minutes each way for over 75 percent of current staff
  • increase the number of available workers

Using bullets positions writers in a brevity-focused mindset. By placing key details into bullets, the writer keeps whittling away until every word counts and the ideas presented are conceptually parallel.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 6: Substance

When considering content for the executive summary, remember these tips:

Condense what you’ve already said in the lengthier document. Add nothing new. If your document has an informational flavor, do not use the executive summary to editorialize. Moreover, do not use this precious space to evaluate what you have written. Resist the urge to write, “Our Company stands at the threshold of a monumental decision which could explode profits and trigger a new era of unprecedented prosperity.” Leave that chatter for your upcoming interview with the reporter from The Wall Street Journal. In short, claim only what you have already claimed in the document.

Include only information relevant to the report or proposal. Cutting sections entirely is advisable if they do not advance the key sentence you established when beginning the executive summary.

Remember the 10 percent maximum rule.
Keep the executive summary to fewer than 100 words for a 1,000-word report, to fewer than 1,000 words for a 10,000-word proposal, and so on. While this may not be a hard-and-fast rule, it makes for a sound guideline. Most executive summaries that sparkle meet this criterion.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 5: Structure

When organizing the content of an executive summary, follow these guidelines:

Design the structure of the executive summary based on your argument. Doing so provides a virtual table of contents for those readers interested in a more detailed examination of the document.

Limit the executive summary to a few paragraphs, each of which can stand alone as a coherent, unified idea. You’ll know that your paragraphs are rock solid if you can give each a one- or two-word title (e.g., recommendation, background, principles, observations, conclusions)—with each sentence in the paragraph relating to that title.

Place the executive summary at the front of the document on its own page or pages. Occasionally, writers place the executive summary at the end of the document. This practice defeats the point of its function—to summarize quickly and easily for the intended reader. Placing it in the front as a separate document enables the reader to separate and catalogue it for easy reference.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 4: Strategy

Approach the executive summary keeping in mind with the following tips:

Consider the executive summary as a whole new document requiring a whole new writing process. First, write the major document without regard for the executive summary. Next, read the document with the summary in mind.

Find the main point and the supporting points. First, reduce the entire document to one concise sentence. Examples:

This proposal recommends an expansion of the Northwest Packaging Facility by 50,000 square feet to accommodate the robotic packagers planned for acquisition in June 2003.

This audit report summarizes the three key operational deficits of the ACFJ Corporation’s accounts payable system, discusses their impact on the business and root causes, and suggests corrective actions for management to consider.

In the first example, an educated reader would assume that the report will offer some detail on the space requirements of the robotic packagers, the limitations of the packaging facility’s current layout, and the proposed floor design for the new 50,000 square feet. In the second example, the reader will likely expect the audit report to follow a set organization:

  • Finding 1, impact, cause, conclusion, and recommendations
  • Finding 2, impact, cause, conclusion, and recommendations
  • Finding 3, impact, cause, conclusion, and recommendations

After you have created that main sentence, find the necessary supporting material. The main headings, subheadings, and paragraph beginnings and endings of a well-written document often provide solid clues as to what you should include in the executive summary.

Ask why the information is important to your audience. You’ll find answering this question a major time and space saver because sometimes management doesn’t want a summary of the entire document (including background, methodology, results, discussion and conclusions), but only of the suggested actions they should take. This may also require you to combine sections and exclude minor points.

Keep whittling away. One publishing executive told me that all executive summaries should pass the elevator test. For instance, imagine that you enter the elevator on the thirtieth floor office of Easy Enterprises, your employer. In your hand is a 100-page proposal that you have labored over the past month. Into the elevator walks your CEO. The following dialogue ensues:

CEO: (Pointing to proposal.) Is that the Busybody proposal I’ve been expecting from you?
You: (Handing it him.) Yes, sir.
CEO: (Not accepting it.) Not now. I’m heading to a meeting. What does it say?
You: Acquiring Busybody Corporation offers Easy Enterprises excellent opportunities to expand market share in the Latin American market by at least 20 percent, or $25 million, within the first year. Since Busybody seeks to liquidate its United States debt and secure much-needed cash before the fiscal year’s end by selling its profitable franchises in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico, Busybody Latin America is ripe for a well below-market purchase price of $10 million. This acquisition would expand our market knowledge, product line, and profit margin in Latin America, establishing Easy as the predominant leader in that region (The elevator door opens on the ground floor.)
CEO: (Rushes away.) Well said. Please give it to my secretary, and I’ll discuss it with the CFO sometime next week. Thanks.

That last statement you made probably contained all the CEO would have needed if he had read your executive summary.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 3: Function and Form

The executive summary should work for your readers in both function and form.

In function it should:
  • provide a complete but brief synopsis of facts stated in the document
  • serve as the first place in the document where most readers would go
  • appear in the beginning of the document
  • work as a stand-alone document

In form it should:

  • reflect the larger document (e.g., issue, discussion, conclusions, and recommendations)
  • consume, on average, less than 10 percent of the entire document
  • use paragraphs to divide summaries of the document’s sections

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 2: Executive Summary vs. Abstract

For people more familiar with writing abstracts than executive summaries, we should start with a brief discussion of both.

The executive summary and the abstract share two purposes:
  • Summarizing. Both documents index for readers the key points of a document.
  • Usefulness. Both help readers decide whether they should read the entire document.

The executive summary and the abstract differ in two significant ways:

  • personal connection
  • professional expectation

Personal connection. The abstract works best in technical fields where the reader understands the complex material in the document. For example, a biochemist friend recently showed me one of her published articles. As soon as I read the abstract preceding her article, I realized that its subject, a thermodynamic analysis of intramolecular electron transfer in trimethylamine dehydrogenase, was intended for the consumption of her fellow researchers or subject-matter experts, not for readers like me who lack the basic knowledge of the principles, particulars, and positions of her field. However, if a drug manufacturer expressed interest in designing artificially engineered proteins, its executives would likely want the biochemist to rewrite the article as a report, tailored to the scope of their business, and to include with it an executive summary of the research to suggest whether they should invest funds in intramolecular electron transfers. Therefore, an executive summary may speak to non-technical audiences about their specific business needs.

Professional expectation. In the scientific or technical world, an abstract may expect nothing from the reader other than to gain the knowledge contained in the article or report. At most, it updates the reader on a breaking development in a specific field of research. True, some researchers may write a rejoinder to the article, but the implied purpose of the abstract is purely to transmit information. On the other hand, an executive summary does expect a reader response. It analyzes a business-affecting issue, draws conclusions about it, and specifically recommends a course of action for management in response to the issue.

Because of these divergent needs of their readers, abstracts tend to fit a formula better than do executive summaries. Words counts are often mandatory for the abstract, regardless the length of the article it describes. In contrast, while executives like to insist that writers keep executive summaries to one page or even one brief paragraph, they may run anywhere from a 50-word précis to a 10-page document—depending on the readers’ needs.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 1: Focusing on the Highest Point

Before the start of an Executive Summary Writing class that I was conducting for City of New York managers, one of the participants, Maurice M. Kempis, introduced himself as a sergeant of the New York Police Department working in Quality Assurance (QA). I assumed that by its title, Quality Assurance had something to do with the Division of Internal Affairs (IA), renowned for its investigative work on corruption within the Department.

Sergeant Kempis quickly explained the distinction between QA and IA: “NYPD has three checks: Inspections deals with quality issues like uniforms, Quality Assurance works on contractual issues like vendor requirements, and Internal Affairs deals with criminal issues like corruption.”

What a way to begin an Executive Summary Writing class! In only 29 words, or 13 seconds, Sergeant Kempis successfully explained to a moderately informed audience the division of internal auditing responsibilities within a large, complex organization. With one information-packed sentence, he clearly classified the workings of three alternately autonomous and interdependent units within a bureaucracy.

Executive Summary Writing focuses precisely on this skill of reducing an entire proposal, technical report, or project description to one comprehensive, clear, and concise statement. After hearing Sergeant Kempis’s introduction, I thought he would be a good candidate to help me teach the class!

The next seven installments of WORDS ON THE LINE will provide tips for summarizing successfully. Judging from the increased demand of my clients for teaching summary writing, I trust that you'll find useful information here—so stop by again.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Shred or Shredded?

Here’s another grammatical conundrum for the WORDS ON THE LINE archives. A client, Ms. Terri Kalkiewicz, First Vice President of Investors Savings Bank in Short Hills, New Jersey, recently wrote:

Hi Phil,

Could you settle a dispute for me? Which sentence is correct?

The documents must be shred.


The documents must be shredded.

Thanks for your help!

In my reply, I deferred to some dictionaries, which say that either shred or shredded as the past participle of shred is acceptable. However, most of us—including Ms. Kalkiewicz—prefer shredded because as a regular verb, shred forms its standard past tense by adding ed. After all, would you eat Shred Wheat? Of course not! So if you prefer Shredded Wheat, then prefer shredded documents.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

This What?

In step with the WORDS ON THE LINE entry of February 11, beware of using the pronoun this. For clarity and impact, follow this with the noun it represents. Below is an example with an improved revision.

Weak: Sales rose by 12 percent last quarter. This proves that our company is on a promising upswing.

Better: Sales rose by 12 percent last quarter. This unprecedented growth proves that our company is on a promising upswing.

Sure, the second draft runs two words longer, but remember that being concise means clarity first and brevity second!

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Following What?

The next time you create a bulleted or numbered list, remember to place a key word after the word following in the lead-in sentence. Example:

Please bring to the Revision Committee meeting the following documents:
  • Employee Handbook, 2002 edition
  • 2005 Annual Report
  • 2006 Strategic Plan, Draft 3
  • Revision Committee Meeting Minutes, January 3, 2006
The addition of the word documents is not excessive; it keeps the writer’s list organized and focuses the reader on the content.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

On Being an Unconscious Writer

Here’s a gem from another of my course participants, Walter George, a manager for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. When asked to introduce himself to his classmates and me by stating a goal for the writing course he was about to take, he replied, “I feel that I write well enough, but I want to be an unconscious writer. Right now I’m a conscious writer.”

Now there goes a moment that can take a teacher’s breath away. Mr. George succinctly said what many brilliant minds before him have asserted—that laboring slowly through a draft is not the way to go in a high-pressure work environment. Chapters 2 and 3 of The Art of On-the-Job Writing discuss in detail ways to achieve this unconsciousness by planning and drafting as a writer, not a worrier.

For more words of wisdom from my previous course participants, see what people from New York State Insurance Department, International Flavors & Fragrances, and Investors Savings Bank said in postings on this blog of June 17, October 15, and November 2.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Even the Pros Need Practice!

This past week, I had the pleasure of working with both engineers from New York City Transit and lawyers from the New York City Department of Homeless Services. As divergent as their fields are, these highly educated professionals share at least three challenges:
  1. They have to write a lot quickly.
  2. They have to keep their writing brief without sacrificing relevant content.
  3. They have to be clear about complex ideas for readers who may not share their expertise.

Much easier said than done. I designed the courses to address these issues (Executive Communication for NYC Transit and Legal Writing for the Department of Homeless Services), and I came away impressed by the course participants. They did not put on airs of superiority or excuse themselves from participating actively; rather, they focused on improving their skills for the eight hours we were together. They asked trenchant questions about tough writing situations and worked hard through all the course activities.

What does all this tell me? That all of us can stand a course designed to help us reflect on the writing problems we face at work. I thank the management that inspired and supported these programs and especially the participants who committed themselves to sharpening their skills! I am sure they know that I learned as much from them as they learned from me.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Could You "Not Care Less" or "Care Less"?

I just had to follow the previous post (try and vs. try to) with a look at a commonly heard careless expression: When declaring disdain about someone or something, some people say, “I couldn’t care less” while others say, “I could care less.” Which is right?

In both cases, the speakers mean “I couldn’t care less.” If we could care less, then maybe we care at least a little, right?

On the other hand, if you care more and have a question about expressing yourself properly, send it to me at I may post your name and question with my response on this blog, and I will definitely write back to you directly.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"Try And" vs. "Try To"

Once again, my friend Marco D. DeSena, a former New York City Urban Fellow, appears on this blog with the following observation and question:

When people write and speak, they usually say, “I'll try and do this for you ...” Is the word and correct there, or should the word to be used? There are numerous instances where writers use try and do. It seems like it snuck into our vernacular, or mine, I should say, but to me something doesn’t fit. What’s your take on this? Can you try and give me an answer

Very funny.

Though Mr. DeSena was not sure of the answer, he had the right linguistic instinct here. I answered:

"Try and” has become an idiom, like “hurry up” for “hurry”; however, “try to” is proper.

So if you're e-mailing a buddy on a personal level, as Mr. DeSena did when he wrote to me, you should try and write as you like; however, in formal writing, try to write properly!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006


First Books, Inc. will be giving away a free copy of my book The Art of On-the-Job Writing to the winner of its first "Worst Writing at Work" contest. For the fun of it, I encourage you to enter.

What you'll need is a good sense of humor and a thick skin because you'll have to admit to an embarrassing mistake that you made in an e-mail. (If you go the contest website,, you can read a humbling mistake that I made.) Just entering the contest entitles you to a 10% discount on the book, so in a sense everyone who enters is a winner.

Visit for contest details. Have fun!

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

How to Tone It Down

The great American composer Irving Berlin once said, “Life is 10 percent what you make it, and 90 percent how you take it.” With this thought in mind, I mention in almost every writing class I present that how you write something (tone) is as important as what you write (content).

During one of my recent courses, Rita Hein, an analyst in the Worker’s Compensation Unit for the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, proved that she has a deep understanding of tone. Ms. Hein wrote a proposal for changing certain work responsibilities to her manager. In her first draft, she wrote in a style reflective of her personal relationship with her manager; in her second draft, she wisely chose a less personal style in case the proposal would go to upper management. Notice below in an excerpt from the justification section that she removes herself from the second draft to create a more appropriately bureaucratic feel:

First Draft (personal): This change would enable me to allocate more time for preparing files for Workers’ Compensation Board hearings.

Second Draft (impersonal): This change would enable the allocation of more time for preparing files for Workers’ Compensation Board hearings.

In the second draft of her concluding statement, the writer once again removes herself from the sentence and chooses the passive voice to make the narrative more objective and impersonal.

First Draft (personal): Upon your approval, I can set aside one hour a day for the next four days to train Colleen in the procedures of her new assignments.

Second Draft (impersonal): If this proposal is approved, one hour a day for the next four days would be set aside to train Colleen in the procedures of her new assignments.

Careful writers like Ms. Hein judiciously use active or passive voice and add or remove personal pronouns to keep the writer focused on the point and not on the egos involved. The result will surely mean faster action.

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