WordAbilities Blog

August 26, 2016

Who Will You Vote for: Liver & Onions or Anchovy Pizza?

Filed under: Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 9:58 am

In a few short months, our country will elect a new leader, a process that takes place every four years. As in years past, many of us feel we’re faced once again with the choice of “the lesser of two evils.” Having to choose between one candidate with narcissistic personality disorder and no filter and another candidate whose big fat lies keep getting bigger and fatter isn’t much of a choice.

Some people have expressed their dissatisfaction by planning either not to vote at all or to write in a candidate of their own choosing. They want to “send a message” to the powers that be that they’re unhappy with the two-party system or with the entire political process in general. I understand the frustration, but both those choices are no-wins: it’s like having to decide whether to eat liver and onions with a side of mashed potatoes, or St. Louis-style (thin crust) pizza with anchovies and provel cheese every day for the next four years . . . possibly eight, although I can’t wrap my head around that possibility just yet.

Most people have pretty strong feelings for or against both. I, for one, would never willingly eat liver and onions, but if they won the election, I could live on mashed potatoes. I love St. Louis style pizza and provel cheese . . . the anchovies, not so much, but I could pick them off.

But what if you hate liver and onions (even with mashed potatoes) AND St. Louis style pizza, regardless of the toppings?

Sure, you could choose to not vote at all, but that’s not really going to make a difference, is it? Liver and Onions or STL Pizza is going to win, and you’re going to be stuck with one or the other. At least if you vote and your candidate doesn’t win, you can say, “Don’t blame me! I didn’t vote for it!”

If you aren’t happy with either choice and want to make sure your voice is heard, you can certainly write in a candidate, like cheddar cheeseburgers with all the fixin’s, or Chicago-style hot dogs, or Southern Fried chicken, or . . . the list is endless, which is my point: you’ll never get enough people to vote for any one write-in candidate. Sure, you’ll be making a statement, but will anyone really listen . . . or care?

It seems to me we’ve missed our chance to be heard. Our time to speak up is gone. The candidates are in place and now we must choose . . . between fishy pizza with runny cheese, and organ meat topped with a slimy, tear-inducing vegetable.

Which can you swallow for the next four-to-eight years?


May 26, 2016

Lost in Translation

Filed under: Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 4:47 pm

When we cover writing in my Technical Communication classes, I stress the importance of (1) knowing your subject (obviously), (2) knowing your audience, (3) writing clearly and concisely, and (4) making sure you proofread before publishing.

When writing information that will be translated into another language, the proofreading step takes on added significance. Not all literal translations say what the writer intended to say. For example, several years ago, I ordered some bath salts via the internet. When I received the product, the label was printed in Japanese symbols followed by the English translation, “Humanity are fighting against tired. Charley support you.”

And I’m reminded of the Dairy Council commercial “Got Milk?” which when translated for the Mexican market became “Are you lactating?”

Both are great examples that I share with my classes, but I wanted more.

I wanted to find something that would illustrate the translation issue as effectively as the marketing letter I received from a well-known “performance improvement company” exemplified, albeit unintentionally, how not to sell a product. The writer of that letter refers to “a state-of-the-art personal training system designed to help bring the secrets of stress-free and prosperous living home to you” and makes vague promises, like “. . . achieve the success you deserve . . . live your dreams . . .  managing the events in your life is the key to success and prosperity for you and your family.” Never once does she mention what the product is. I’ve shown this letter to my students for the last several years, and based on the “personal training system” reference, most of them think she’s talking about a body-building or exercise program. If that were true, it would be a first for this company, which until now has focused on leadership and productivity.

I’ve kept my eyes open for such an example of translation gaffes. The universe came through for me last week after I ordered a no-bark collar for my lovable-but-loud canine companion, or as the neighbors know him, “Shut-Up-Spike!” This is the third collar I’ve purchased; the first one worked okay, but the batteries are expensive and only last one or two days at most. The second one emitted a piercing sound which annoyed him for a while until he got used to it and just barked over it. I had high hopes for the new one, which came with a rechargeable battery and was supposed to give off a sound followed by a mild “zap.” Alas, it didn’t work at all, so I sent it back for a refund . . . but I digress.

My high hopes started to diminish when I noticed the package said “No Bark Collar . . . For Dogs.” I’m glad they didn’t send me the one for seals.

The instructions were entertaining, if not very informative. It’s apparent it was written in another language and translated into English; unfortunately, in the translation they changed the name of the product, starting with “No Bark Collar” and switching to “Petrainer,” and in several instances, they left out the name altogether. They also omitted punctuation, like periods at the end of sentences, and capitalized words that didn’t need to be.

Here are some examples from the Owner’s Manual:


The sensitivity Dial is to adjust the sensitivity to the Dog Bark according to the environments the dog is in

This Dial is to turn the (word missing) on/off and select the intensity level of stimulation.

Off position is to turn off the (missing word).

Level V: the (missing word) will vibrate only.

If the petrainer keeps activates for 5 times, it will enter into auto-protection mode The LED indicator will turn to a blinking red and green for 1 minute and then it turns off which means the petrainer goes to sleep mode.

Fully charged with 3 to 4 hours.

Turn the (missing word) on by turning OFF & Intensity dial and set to the V mode.

Level T is the most sensitivity and Level 1 is the lest.

Test by scratching the rough surface of the test tool on the (missing word) (as shown in the diagram) using a fingernail or pen. The (missing word) will emit a vibration for 1.5 seconds. Then repeat the same process if you want to try it again.

When the No Bark Collar emits a vibration, a stimulation is not emitted at the same time.


Clear as mud, and I’m not even sure it covered the ground.

Clearly, English was not the writer’s first language, so even if he or she had proofread it, it probably wouldn’t have helped. In cases like that, it’s imperative to find a proofreader who speaks and writes the language fluently to read the material and make sure it says what it’s supposed to.

Otherwise, you might end up with humanity fighting tired while Charley supports lactating dogs.

May 12, 2016

No Field Trip for Old Women

Filed under: Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 1:53 pm

Yesterday I accompanied my fourth-grade granddaughter and her class on a field trip to the Old Courthouse and the Arch in downtown St. Louis. I love filling in for Mom and Dad whenever possible, and I’ve done so at several school events. This one, however, just about did me in.

As a grandmother, there’s roughly a 30-40 year age difference between me and the teachers and parents who are the other participants in these activities. I’m convinced that age doesn’t matter; I’ve been told I don’t look or act my age, and I take that as a compliment. (And that’s a far cry from when I was a kid and always looked and acted older than my years, which often got me into trouble. But that’s a story for a different day.) I don’t usually have trouble keeping up with the young’uns, but I think chronology is catching up with me.

My first clue was at the Courthouse. The first thing we did was sit on the outside steps and eat lunch. Although getting up is harder than getting down on the floor, I managed to do it without attracting too much attention. Next, we went inside and listened to a presentation on the history of the Courthouse and the Arch. I actually remembered some of it from my own school days—proof that at least my long-term memory is holding up pretty well.

I was also able to enjoy the beauty of the interior of the Courthouse, especially the paintings in the dome. My bifocaled eyes continue to bring things into focus for me.

My legs, however, tell a different story.

Next on the agenda was a walk up thirty-three winding stairs to the courtroom where the kids reenacted the Dred Scott Trial of 1846. I’ve never been a fan of stairs; when given the choice, I’ll take the elevator or escalator every time. Maybe that’s why when I don’t have a choice, I can almost hear my legs screaming in defeat. (Sometimes “de feet” scream too.)

It looked like a short stroll from the Courthouse to the Arch; still, I was grateful for the bus that would keep all of us contained. Alas, when we arrived, we had to walk nearly as far as we would have if we’d started at the Courthouse—at least, that’s how it seemed to my old legs. Then we had to stand in line outside for fifteen minutes before we could enter the building and go through security, just like at the airport. And did I mention the humidity? It was humid, so much so that rivulets of sweat ran down my face and neck, and my hair, which I had so carefully flat-ironed that morning, began its descent into spirals of frizz.

Traveling to the top of the Arch inside a cramped seated “elevator” with four ten-year-olds in various stages of awe and panic was a welcome respite from all the walking and standing. Of course, when we came to a stop, we had to maneuver several more steps to the apex, but the view from the top was worth it. At a combined seven minutes, the ride to and from the top was longer than our actual visit, and soon we were headed back to the waiting bus. By this time, wouldn’t you know it, raindrops were falling on our heads, and my hair officially gave up the fight.

There’s nothing like a little rain to turn everyone, with one obvious exception, into speed walkers or runners. I had to threaten Carli with no “early out” if she didn’t wait for me. If I’d been with relatives instead of relative strangers, I would have just let them get ahead and caught up with them at my own pace. I didn’t want to embarrass my granddaughter any more than necessary, so I made a valiant effort to stay as close to the rest of the group as possible without keeling over from exhaustion.

The bus driver had thoughtfully closed all the windows to keep the seats dry, and now it was like a 60-person sauna. Half the kids re-opened their windows and the rain once again pelted us. In a futile effort to keep from getting soaked, Carli and I covered our heads with her sweatshirt. Any idea of salvaging my ravaged hair went out the open windows.

By the time we got back to school, the rain had stopped, the humidity had multiplied, and my legs were numb with fatigue. As I signed Carli and her year-younger sister Olivia out for the day, I announced to both of them that for next year’s fourth grade field trip, I’d be happy to relinquish my spot to their mother.

Her feet and legs are younger . . . and she has straight hair.


February 3, 2016

What we have here is . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 6:56 pm

I’ve decided that being an “expert” communicator (I teach various communications topics to college students) is only helpful if everybody involved is playing by the same rules. My experience today indicates one of three things: the rules have changed and no one bothered to tell me (“failure to communicate”), some (hopefully, not all) sales associates don’t receive enough (if any) training in how to talk to customers, or I’m not the expert I thought I was. In fact, maybe it’s all of the above.

Today I spent 4-1/2 hours trying to get a replacement for my Windows cell phone. I’ve had it about three years. The battery died (at least that’s what I thought) last Thursday. On Friday I went to the batteries & bulbs store. When they told me it would take a “minimum of 6 days” and cost me $39, I told them no thanks. On Saturday, I ordered one from Amazon for $19.99 and received it Tuesday. I installed it and charged it and the phone still wouldn’t work, so I decided to go to the AT&T store and get a replacement.

“Replacement” seems to be the key word here. The sales rep asked me the problem, and I told her I needed a replacement for my phone because it had stopped working, even after I installed a new battery. “What kind do you want?” she asked me. I told her I just wanted to replace the one I had and asked her if she could recommend anything. “I could, but you need to tell me what you want.” I repeated that I wanted a replacement for the one I had. “Well, I need to know what you want on your phone, like the camera—do you need a really good camera?” “I just want what I have,” I responded. “What kind of phone is it?” I told her the brand and said it’s a Microsoft phone. She asked me what kind of platform and I told her Windows. “All Microsoft phones are Windows,” she said. “Then I’m not sure what you’re asking me,” I said. By this time, I was starting to feel like I was being pranked.

“We’ve only got two similar to yours,” she said, and showed me one for $299 and one for $599. I chose the cheaper. She looked up my account information and told me that since it’s a “go phone” and not a contract phone, I’d have to pay for it at the time of purchase. While I was mulling that over (I was really hoping not to spend more than $100), I asked her if I could transfer the old SIM card and she said no. It suddenly occurred to me that I was going to be spending a heck of a lot of money and not getting a heck of a lot in return. I told her I changed my mind and wouldn’t be needing her “help.”

I went home and went to my online AT&T account. I couldn’t remember my four-digit password, and when I clicked on “can’t remember password,” they sent me a one-time code to . . . you guessed it, my cell phone! So I decided to use my landline to call go phone customer service. That in itself was a challenge. As usual, everything was automated, but there was no option for speaking to a live person. I hung up, went to Amazon and tried to find the same phone—the problem there was that I didn’t know the model #, plus phones that looked similar were $200.

So I made a second call to the automated go phone customer service. After listening to all the prompts, I finally blurted out “Operator, please!” fully expecting to hear “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.” Instead, Ms. Friendly Automated Responder said, “Please hold while I connect you with a Representative.” HALLELUJAH!

The heavily-accented representative sounded like she was a million miles away, so I didn’t have a lot of faith that I’d get any resolution. However, she was extremely helpful and polite. After having me read her the IMEI # inside the phone (now that was a feat—I wear bifocals, but I really needed a magnifying glass to see the numbers), she informed me that the phone was under warranty until March 27 and I qualified for a free phone! I didn’t even know there WAS a warranty on the phone . . . and wouldn’t it have been nice if the sales associate at the store had asked me that? My new best friend told me to go back to the AT&T store and tell them I qualified for a new phone.

You might as well get comfortable because I’m just getting started.

Of course, I didn’t want to go back to the first store and face Ms. Not At All Helpful again, so I went to the next closest AT&T store. I told my story to the sales rep there. He explained that the warranty can only be honored at their Creve Coeur store. Heavy sigh. I told him I didn’t want to drive that far, so he said I could purchase a similar phone for $29 . . . and yes, my SIM card would transfer. Alas, when he went to look for it, they were out of stock. He checked with a store about 5 miles away and they had two left, so off I went.

I went through the whole story at Store #3. The sales rep found the phone, but it was $59.99. “Why the $30 difference?” I asked. He didn’t know so he went to talk to a manager. It seems that the $29 price was only good if I were willing to change phone numbers; it would cost me twice that to keep my existing number. I asked for the address of the Creve Coeur store. I had already been to three; why not make it four if I could save $30?

Okay, we’re coming to the end now . . . almost. I get to the fourth store, explain everything to the guy behind the counter. Of course, they don’t have the phone at that store; I’d have to send away for a replacement, which will take four to five business days, unless I want to spend $15 for priority shipping. I do. And they’ll have to put a hold for $100 on my credit card until they get the old one back. Fine. Do it.

In the meantime, the rep’s been charging my phone, which according to him, “seems to be working now, although I did have to wake it up. It was in sleep mode.”

“Who told it to go to sleep? I sure didn’t!” (At least I don’t think I did. How do you put a phone to sleep anyway?)

This entire saga took 4-1/2 hours out of my day, which I had planned to spend working on my taxes. I could have saved at least half of that time if the first sales associate had been astute enough to ask the right questions—like “Is it under warranty?” instead of “What do you want?”

All’s well that ends well, I guess. I mean, even if the new battery would have worked if the phone were awake, I’m getting a new phone, just like the one I had, and I’m saving anywhere between $29 and $300. Thank you, Ms. Not At All Helpful! Your failure to communicate just saved me a bundle!


April 5, 2014

Too Many Questions?

Filed under: Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 9:33 am
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I once received a performance appraisal in which I was told I asked too many questions. I should explain that, although I had been working for this company for several years, I had recently been promoted into a job (Marketing Assistant) for which I had the educational requirement but no real-life experience. I had, however, worked with the Product Managers and knew them quite well, so I assumed (incorrectly, as it turns out—at least for one of them) that they would be willing, maybe even flattered, to share their knowledge with the “newbie.”

Apparently, that individual thought I should just know what to do. In fact, I had earned A’s in my marketing classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My instructors wrote comments like “Excellent analysis and resolution” on my papers. But when it came to segueing from the classroom to the workplace, I was hesitant. Blame it on my low self-esteem or my fear of failure, I believed that seeking advice from the experts was the way to go. I was wrong.

I vowed never to doubt myself again; from that point on, when I had a decision to make, I would go with my gut and “just do it.” Unfortunately, that didn’t work either because a few months later, my position was eliminated, which everyone knows is the politically correct way of saying “Your services are no longer required.”

So now my question is: is there such thing as asking too many questions?

My granddaughter is an extremely bright, articulate college student who has been highly praised by her professors for speaking up in the classroom, stating her opinion and asking questions when she’s unsure or simply wants more information. More than one college instructor has told her how much they appreciate her curiosity.

Yet this same curiosity garnered very different reactions from her elementary school teachers. (High school was when the situation turned in her favor.) In grade school, teachers often criticized her for asking questions. Sometimes they even ignored her raised hand the entire class period. I don’t know if they thought she was being impudent or if they didn’t appreciate having to go “off-script”; maybe they had their lessons planned to the minute and didn’t have time to address her questions. Whatever the reason, she got the distinct impression that the teachers didn’t like her. Fortunately, she didn’t give up, and now she’s reaping the rewards.

So, what’s the answer? Is it only okay to ask a question when someone specifically gives you permission? If someone does give you permission, is it only lip-service or do they really mean it?

I just asked three questions. Is that too many?

March 10, 2014

Speak Up!

Filed under: Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 5:53 pm

As an oral communication instructor, I’ve noticed some bad habits when it comes to speaking, not only in my students, but in the general population as well. The most common are mumbling, running words together, talking too fast or too softly, and using poor pronunciation and enunciation.

Some of these habits might be due to laziness. I sometimes think people don’t want to exert themselves by opening their mouths when talking. I call them “mush mouths.” In all fairness, though, “mush mouth” might also be a sign of shyness or introversion. People who are insecure might be hesitant to speak up. In those cases, I’d encourage individuals to practice speaking with family and friends or into a digital recorder. Reading aloud is an easy (some might even say fun) way to practice speaking.

Other times, people seem to be in a hurry to get their message across, so they talk fast and/or run all their words together. This can make it really difficult for the listener to keep up and to understand.

Remember the “low talker” from Seinfeld? In that episode, Jerry’s new girlfriend speaks so softly that he misunderstands her and winds up humiliated, wearing a “puffy shirt” she designed for his appearance on the Today show.

How many of us have ever agreed to do something we later regretted simply because we misunderstood the speaker? Usually it’s not as major as the “puffy shirt” faux pas, but it can still be embarrassing for both the listener and speaker.

Many people think “pronunciation” and “enunciation” mean the same thing; however, they have similar but discrete meanings.  Dictionary.com defines “pronunciation” as “an accepted standard of the sound and stress patterns of a … word.” The word “pronunciation” is correctly spoken as “pruh-nuhn-see-ey-shuh-n. “

The definition of “enunciation,” again according to dictionary.com, is “to articulate or pronounce (words), esp. clearly and distinctly.” It implies correct pronunciation along with an obvious distinction between words.

In an effort to correct these types of mistakes, I have my college students practice tongue twisters. Each day before class starts, I show the students a tongue twister, say it aloud myself, and then have them say it together. (Having them say it together prevents singling out and embarrassing individual students.) There are a lot of moans and groans the first few times, but before long, they’re looking forward to the “twister of the day.”

For people who are serious about improving their speaking abilities (to qualify for a better job or a job promotion, for example, or possibly to correct a bad case of “mush mouth”), I recommend Toastmasters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people develop better communication and leadership skills. Founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, California, today there are Toastmasters clubs in more than 100 countries. Local groups meet weekly for one-to-two hours. Members give prepared and impromptu speeches and provide feedback to each other regarding areas of strength and areas of improvement. Local clubs can be found at toastmasters.org

Remember, communication requires a sender (speaker) and a receiver (listener). The intention is for the listener to receive the message sent by the speaker. If the listener can’t hear or understand what the speaker is trying to say, though, that will never happen. Speakers have to do everything in their power to make sure they say what they want to say clearly and distinctly, at the right pace, and the right volume.

July 9, 2010

Apostrophe Angst

Filed under: Confused and Misused,Uncategorized — WordAbilities @ 9:39 am

Lately, we’ve been seeing a lot of apostrophe errors; i.e., apostrophes used incorrectly or not used where they should be.

There are two reasons to use apostrophes: to indicate possession (ownership) or a contraction of two words (showing that a letter or letters are missing).


This is my mom’s office. (Possession)
I don’t like your attitude. (Contraction of “do not”)

When considering whether to use an apostrophe, ask yourself “What does this noun own?” or “What two words have been contracted?”

If more than one noun is showing possession, make the noun plural first. Examples:

The boys’ bikes were parked in the driveway.
The firefighters’ fundraiser was held at the hotel.

If the plural form of a noun does not end in “s,” add the apostrophe and then an “s.” Example:

Men’s room
Women’s room

DO NOT write mens’ or womens’.

In a contraction, make sure to put the apostrophe where the letters are missing. Examples:

Do not = Don’t (not Do’nt)
Would not = Wouldn’t (not Would’nt)

The word “its” confuses many people. The only reason to use an apostrophe with “its” is when the word is a contraction of “it is” or “it has,” NOT when showing possession. Remember, “Possessive its never splits!” Example:

It’s too bad the dog doesn’t have its own house.

Possessive “its” is an example of a personal possessive pronoun. Personal possessive pronouns NEVER have apostrophes. Examples:

Yours (not your’s)
Hers (not her’s)
His (not his’)
Theirs (not their’s)

We found the following website very useful for breaking apostrophe use into its most simple rules – http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/

May 21, 2010

Stop Sexism!

Sexism is defined by dictionary.com as “attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.”  Everyone knows that sexism is a big no-no in today’s politically-correct society, and most of us do a pretty good job of adhering to the new rules.

But some people have a harder time applying the “non-sexist” policy when it comes to writing. Somehow, when we’re referring to an unknown or generic individual and need a pronoun, that person suddenly becomes “he.” Are all business executives or airline pilots or professors male? Not anymore (if ever).

One of the problems with the English language is that there is no generic singular pronoun. And when we personify individuals as “he,” we’re subconsciously eliminating the idea of a female as a business executive, airline pilot or professor.

So, what can we do to avoid sexism in writing? Here are a few ideas:

1.  Make the noun and pronoun plural. Instead of “An individual must pass a rigorous test before he can become a pilot,” change to “Individuals must pass a rigorous test before they can become pilots.” NOTE that all referenced nouns and pronouns must be plural.

2. Replace “he” with “one.” Instead of “He should come prepared for the interview,” change to “One should come prepared for the interview.”

3. Use second person (“you”), if appropriate. Instead of “An individual must pass a rigorous test before he can become a pilot,” change to “You must pass a rigorous test before you can become a pilot.”

4. Use “he or she.” Instead of “A new employee must go through orientation before he reports to work,” change to “A new employee must go through orientation before he or she can report to work.” Caveat:  Overusing  “he or she” or its derivatives, including “he/she” and “s/he” (we suggest you avoid that at all costs) can be annoying to the reader. Use sparingly.

5. Eliminate the pronoun. Instead of “A new employee must go through orientation before he reports to work,” change to “A new employee must go through orientation before reporting to work.”

Before finalizing any document, re-read it, replacing sexist terminology using the above suggestions. It will take some time and effort to get used to, but until we come up with a gender-neutral pronoun, it’s the best we can do.

April 28, 2010

The Rules of Two in Business Writing

There are two components of every communication, written or oral: a Sender and a Receiver. Both are mandatory. If you have a Sender, but no Receiver, it’s like the proverbial tree falling in a forest–if no one is there to hear or read your communication, it doesn’t mean anything.

In oral communication, it can be argued that both sides are equally important–the Sender (the speaker)  and the Receiver (the listener). Speakers should do their best to communicate clearly. If listeners aren’t sure they understand, they are responsible for seeking clarification.

In written communication, however, the onus is on the Sender (the writer) to make sure the Receiver (the reader) gets the intended message. In most cases, writers and readers aren’t in close proximity while the document is being read. If readers have questions, most of the time, they have to figure them out by themselves. If they have too many questions, they may just quit reading, and the message is lost forever.

This applies to all types of writing, but in business writing it is especially important. Business writers don’t write to entertain (at least, we hope, not intentionally); they write to inform, record, instruct, request, or persuade. If their writing is unclear, in the short-term, they may lose a sale or otherwise fail to make their point;  in the long-term, they may damage their and/or their companies’ credibility.

Business writing has two goals: Clarity and Readability.

CLARITY–the message must be easy to understand:

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms unless you’re certain readers will understand
  • Don’t use a quarter word when a nickel one will do
  • Keep paragraphs to about 10 typed lines
  • Keep sentences to about 12-17 words in length

READABILITY–the document must be easy on the eyes:

  • Make sure there is plenty of white space (top, bottom, left, and right margins)
  • Use a ragged right margin
  • Double-space between paragraphs, OR indent first lines of paragraphs
  • Use headings to break up long documents into sections
  • Use bullet points to draw attention to important information

As business writers, remembering these two rules of two will help ensure that our readers get the right message.

April 5, 2010

KISS Your Documents

Brief, concise, and to-the-point is what we want from our business documents, both those we write and those we receive.

People today are over-communicated. Think of the last time  you were away from your computer for a day or two. How many emails were waiting for you when you finally logged on? How long did it take you to go through them? What made you sigh with relief when you opened it–a half-screen message or a message that you had to scroll down to read in its entirety?

The problem is that many of us, particularly those of us who like to write, think that the more words we use to make our point, the better. Better for us, maybe, but not for our readers. Most of the time, they want us to KISS our document–Keep It Short and Simple. Brief, concise, and to-the-point messages are easier to read and easier to process. Besides having WTMI (Way Too Much Information), long documents often require a second and even a third reading just to be understood.

There are several things you can do to make sure your document is Short and Simple:

  • Make sure there is adequate white space. In hard-copy documents, that means top, bottom, left, and right margins. In emails, keeping paragraphs to 10 or fewer lines ensures white space. One sentence or one-line paragraphs are also effective, but only when you want something to stand out.
  • Use bullet points to highlight important information. It’s easier to read items in a numbered or bullet-pointed list than reading those same items within a paragraph.
  • Anticipate and address any questions your reader might have if you can do so briefly and concisely. When that’s not possible, let the reader know how or where they can get additional information.
  • Don’t use jargon or acronyms unless you’re sure your reader understands them. If there is any doubt, define the terminology the first time you use it.
  • Eliminate redundancies and clichés. Instead of referring to a “consensus of opinion,” just say “consensus.” Rather than asking the reader to “take into consideration,” ask them to “consider.” And it’s not necessary to thank someone “in advance.” Just thank him or her.

Remember, when it comes to business writing, there’s a good chance that if you “KISS it,” they will read it.

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