Author Archives: Marco

Before You Send Out That Memo…

Before You Send Out That Memo…

Before you send out that memo, email, report, summary, letter, or any other business document, you will want to make sure that it represents your best effort. Of course, you will have checked your sources and verified your information. You know that your statistical data is correct and up to date. You have double-checked your figures and dates and every other conceivable detail.

But…wait. Is it really ready for submission? Is it possible that your document contains clunky sentences? What about those spelling demons? Those are the words that you never remember how to spell or that you confuse with other words. Then there’s punctuation! Apostrophes, commas, quotation marks, etc., etc.

What about missing words and repetitive words and inappropriate changes of tense, number, or subject?

How about tone and voice? Have you written this document so that the few or dozens or hundreds who might read it are able to understand what you are attempting to convey?

Is it ready for prime time?

What should you do? The first step in terms of proofreading a document is to read the paper to yourself, out loud, if that helps. Don’t read what you think you wrote or what you meant to write. Go through the paper line by line, word by word, as if you are a neutral reader, and not the one who put so much in terms of blood, sweat, and tears into it.

Use the spell check function on your word processing program. It will not catch every error, but it will detect most spelling and usage mistakes.

Here’s a good tip: You might want to print a copy of your work, and read it in black and white on paper. You may find that, even after carefully proofreading your work by reading it on your computer screen, you come across additional errors when you read a hard copy of it. Seeing the writing on paper may allow you to notice errors that you did not detect when you read the document on your computer monitor.

When all is said and done, if you are not sure that your document is completely correct and ready to be distributed or emailed or published, you can always refer it to a document editing and proofreading service, such as Proof-Reading.com.

Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Individualisms

Using abbreviations, acronyms, and individualisms can save time, but they must be utilized properly and, generally speaking, sparingly. The inappropriate use of these shortcuts may, in some circumstances, lead to problems. Abbreviations are, technically speaking, shortened versions of words that are universally known and recognized. They must be followed by periods. They are not the same as acronyms, which are new words that are created by using the first letter of each word in a longer name. They are not followed by periods. Individualisms are the same as acronyms, except that they are pronounced by reading each letter in turn, as will be explained below.

Let us examine abbreviations first. Two of the most commonly used are Mr., which is the shortened version of Mister, and Mrs., which is the abbreviation for, believe it or not, Mistress. (By the way, Miss is not an abbreviation, so it should not be followed by a period, and Ms may be followed by a period, but is generally not.) Those abbreviations should be used only before a name, as in Mr. Roberts or Mrs. Robinson, as opposed to a reference to an unnamed mister or mistress. The abbreviation for corporation is, of course, corp. It should be used after the name of a particular corporation, as in General Motors Corp. If you were referring to a corporation, and not naming it, then the abbreviation should not be used. By the way, when ending a sentence with an abbreviation, it is not necessary to add a second period. The following example is written correctly:

For the past seven years, I have worked for the Ford Motor Corp.

Now, for acronyms. Some common examples are NATO, which stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and AIDS, which is used in place of Acquired Immune Deficiency Disorder. Acronyms are not be followed by periods. They are pronounced as new words, so that NATO is pronounced nay-toe.

Individualisms are just like acronyms, but, as in the case of CIA, they are spelled out. So, CIA is pronounced C-I-A. Individualisms are not followed by periods.

There are two problems with the use of abbreviations, acronyms, and periods. The first involves the pluralized and the possessive forms. For example, the following sentence contains a common error:

The United States will be sending 21,000 more GI’s to Iraq.

In that sentence, the apostrophe after GI is being used to pluralize the acronym GI, but look at the following:

The GI’s injury was not life threatening.

In that case, the apostrophe is being used to show possession. The varied uses of apostrophes in those sentences may be confusing to some readers. The situation becomes even more complicated when you attempt to use the plural possessive form of an acronym or abbreviation, as in the following:

All of the GIs’ injuries were minor.

It is best to use apostrophes for possession only, and not to pluralize abbreviations, acronyms, or individualisms. Just as you would not pluralize doctor by writing doctor’s, neither should you pluralize its abbreviation by writing Dr.’s. To pluralize an abbreviation, acronym, or individualism, simply add an s, as in the following:

We invited the Drs. Jones, Smith, and Reynolds to the luncheon.

The other problem with the use of abbreviations, acronyms, and individualisms is that they tend to lend a casual appearance to a document. If your report, memo, or email is intended to be impressive and formal, then those shortcuts should be used sparingly, and only when they are more appropriate than the long form of the word.

Look at the following example:

The three Drs. decided to visit the hosp. They were impressed with the widespread use of tech., and they referred to it as the most efficient med. corp. in the USA.

That usage would be acceptable in note form or in a casual email, but not in a formal business document.

To sum up, abbreviations, acronyms, and individualisms should be used sparingly and when appropriate, and, when it comes to pluralizing them, do not use apostrophes.

Five Business Writing Tips

Five Business Writing Tips

Business writing must be lucid and unambiguous. Readers of a proposal, report, memorandum, or any other type of business-related document must be able to glean the essential information rapidly and without impediments. The writing need not be literary or clever, but it must exemplify clear, concise, correct composition skills.

Although developing good writing skills requires time and practice, and even though there are dozens of types of errors that even a good writer may fall victim to, the following five writing tips should prove to be helpful in terms of turning out a good piece of writing every time:

1. Think about what you want to convey before you put fingers to your keyboard or your pencil to paper. This may be obvious, but many writers, those in and out of business, sometimes write before they think. Of course, one of the many benefits of Microsoft Word and other document processing applications is that the writer can easily rework documents over and over again, but, still, it is a good idea to allow the ideas that you want to transmit to percolate for a while before you actually start writing. Some people find writing an outline to be helpful, whether it is a formally designed one or simply a list of ideas. Others prefer to write from notes. Some people are able to put together cogent, well-written documents without the aid of any planning. However, you should always stop, and think before you write.

2. Use paragraphs. In other words, at some point during the writing process, you should make sure your document, unless it contains fewer than 300 words, is divided into paragraphs, each of which addresses a particular idea or focus or topic. A page-length document that is composed of one paragraph may look intimidating to the reader. It may also cause confusion on the reader’s part, if several issues are discussed. Each individual idea should be the topic sentence of its own paragraph. For example, if the main issue of your piece of writing is the new employee health insurance plan, then the first paragraph should be the introduction, in which you explain, in general terms, the fact that there is going to be a new plan. Your second paragraph should explain why the change is occurring, and subsequent paragraphs should discuss specifics, such as dates for the changeover, differences between the old plan and the new one, the process of changing plans, etc.

3. Use capital letters only where they belong. Some writers think that every important word or every work-related position in a sentence should be capitalized, as in the following example:

There will be Two Tiers in the Pharmacy Benefits Plan in the New Medical Plan. All Auditors in the Billing Department and all Section Heads will be enrolled in the Gold Tier Plan, while all other employees will be members of the Silver Tier Plan.

In terms of the use of capital letters, only proper nouns need to be capitalized. In the above example, only Gold Tier Plan and Silver Tier Plan should be capitalized because they are unique names which designate the specific plans.

4. Use proper punctuation. Do not overuse commas. They are used mainly for the following purposes: to separate clauses, when listing objects, and when writing dialogue. Quotation marks are not needed and are, in fact, incorrect when they are used to frame important words, as in the following:

All employees must fill out the “Employee Health Insurance Changeover Form” during the “Designated Employee Assignment Period.”

Quotation marks are used for dialogue and for the titles of short creative works, not to emphasize important ideas.

5. Do not assume the reader knows what you are trying to say. Carefully read what you have written as if you had not written it. Are you ideas clear and forthcoming? Have you provided enough explanatory information for your points to be understood? Have you given examples, where necessary? If not, then you must amend your document. There is no point writing something, if those who read it do not understand what you are trying to say.

When you have completed your writing, carefully, very carefully proofread what you have written. Read your document word-for-word. That is the only way in which to catch spelling, punctuation, usage errors, missing words, repetitive thoughts, and dozens of other blunders that can cloud the meaning of what you are trying to say. Of course, you should use the spell check function on your word processing program. It will catch most, but not all of your errors.

This list of Five Writing Tips is only, of course, a cursory attempt to help you to write carefully. Referring to a writer’s handbook or a high school English usage book may be helpful. If, when all is said and done and written, and you are not sure that you have gotten your points across clearly or if you think you may not have caught all of your English usage errors, you may submit your document to Proof-reading.com for expert editing.

Writing the Titles of Sources

Writing the Titles of Sources

Generally speaking, business writing does not necessitate the same strict adherence to the rules for citing sources that must be followed when composing academic papers and research studies. Business documents are usually forwarded to other people in business, who are interested solely in the content, and not to university professors and academic committees, who pay a great deal of attention to format and the rules of source citation. Nevertheless, for the sake of the clarity of your business documents, it is important to know how to properly write the names of newspaper articles, full-length books, and other sources.

Full-length books should be written in italics, as in the following: Achieve Maximum Success at Work by Marcus Buckingham. Although italicizing is the preferred method, it is also acceptable to underline the name of a full-length book, as in the following: The Strategy Paradox by Michael E. Raynor. In either case, the name of the author should always be included. In fact, the name of the writer, if available, should be included when citing any and all sources. The names of periodicals and newspapers should also be italicized or underlined, as in The Wall Street Journal.

The titles of lengthy reports and other long business documents, whether or not they have been published, should also be italicized or underlined, as in Five Year Strategy for Effective Growth for ABC Corporation.

Shorter business documents may be enclosed in quotation marks, as in “Short Summary of March 2007 Training Session” or they may be written without any special notation or punctuation.

Newspaper and periodical articles should always be enclosed in quotation marks, as in “Big Money Still Learning to Lobby” by Jenny Anderson (The New York Times, March 13, 2007, page C1).

Even though it does not happen often in business writing, in the event that the title of a short story, play, musical piece, movie, television or radio program, or piece of art is to be included, it should be enclosed in quotation marks, as in the following example: “The New Colossus.”

As noted earlier, even though the rules for citation that are so strictly observed in academic writing are followed much more loosely in business writing, it is still important to follow the suggestions for the writing of sources as indicated in this article.

Creating a Readable Website

Creating a Readable Website

Beyond the graphics and the music and the jazzy links to other sites and all of the considerations in terms of the mechanics and usability of a website, when you are in the process of creating one, you must consider the vitally important aspect of its readability.

What is readability? Well, simply put, it means that the text should be well written, error free, and easily understandable. This is the easiest aspect of the creation of a website to implement. There are a number of ways of making sure that the writing on your website is clearly and carefully done. The easiest is to follow the Five Step Method.

Step One: Plan what you want to say. Some people find it helpful to compose an outline. Others simply jot notes from which to refer when it is time for writing. Other people like to allow the ideas to float from brain to fingers to keyboard to document.

Step Two: Compose your written piece. Don’t be too concerned about sentence structure or spelling or other English usage rules. Get your ideas out. Be creative. Be clear.

Step Three: Read what you have written. That’s obvious, right? It is intuitive that you should read what you have written, but the way in which you read it might not be so obvious. You must read what you have written as if you are an outsider, a visitor to your website who does not know what you want to say. Sure, you know what a word or phrase or sentence means. But, will a visitor to your site understand? Now is the time to clarify your thoughts and substitute better language. You might also want to enhance your writing with punchier, stronger phrases that grab the reader’s attention.

Step Four: Proofread. Read every sentence with great deliberation. Do not read what you expect to be there. Read what is there word for word. You may have used an incorrect word or spelling or you may have left out a word or repeated a word. It happens. After you have read carefully, use your spell check function. Then read it again.

Step Five: Print, and then read your text again. Sometimes it is easier to spot an error on a printed page than it is by looking at your computer monitor. Another good idea is to ask someone else to read what you have written. Another pair of eyes might spot errors that you have missed. In addition, another person might be able to suggest another, more interesting way of stating what you have written.

Another alternative is to submit your text to a professional editing service, such as Proof-reading.com

Writing Complete Sentences

Although you would imagine that all writers know that it is important to write complete sentences. They do not always follow the rule.

That’s true. In fact, only one of the phrases above is a complete sentence. Which one? If you chose the second one, you are correct. The first one is a sentence fragment. Most of the time, it is obvious whether or not a phrase is a complete sentence. At other times, it may be a bit more difficult to tell.

A complete sentence does not need to be long. The following, for example, are complete sentences:

I am listening.

She is coming.

John is home.

He won.

It arrived.

What makes those very short sentences complete is the fact that they each have a subject and a predicate. Simply put, a subject is the who or what of a sentence. In other words, it designates who or what the sentence is about. The subjects of the sentences above are, in order, I, she, John, he, and it.

A predicate is what the subject did or does or will do or what happened to it or is happening to it or will happen to it. The predicates of those sentences above are, in order, am listening, is coming, is home, won, and arrived.

Sometimes, recognizing a complete sentence or differentiating between a subject and a predicate is not simple. In the case of the two phrases at the beginning of this essay, the first one is only a subject. It needs a predicate in order to be a complete sentence. Even though the second phrase is, in actuality, a complete sentence by itself, if it is added to the first phrase, a new, complete sentence is formed: Although you would imagine that all writers know that it is important to write complete sentences, they do not always follow the rule. In this case, the predicate, the part that indicates what is happening to the subject is do not always follow the rule. All of the words preceding that phrase make up the subject of the sentence.

So…how does this information help in terms of writing full sentences? The truth is, most of the time, you can tell, upon re-reading your writing, whether or not the sentences are complete. If you are not sure, then, by all means, look for the who or what (the subject) and the what happened or is happening or will happen to the subject (the predicate).

If you are still not sure about this or any other writing skill or if you want your paper to be professionally proofread or edited, then submit it to proof-reading.com.

Making That Presentation

How do you prepare for your business presentation, lecture, or speech? How prepared should you be? Is it better to over plan or are you better off simply knowing your material, and letting the words flow freely? If it is a PowerPoint or other kind of video presentation, how much should you say?

Those are all good questions, and there is no one answer. But, in general, it is better to be more prepared and polished rather than less. In other words, it will not hurt you to have every word that you plan on saying on paper, even if, while you are speaking, you decide to vary from your plan. You should have the script of your electronic presentation on paper and in front of you while it is running, just in case of mechanical failure.

To begin with, before you write a speech, organize a lecture, or create a PowerPoint or any other type of presentation, you must thoroughly know your subject. Whether this means collecting and organizing notes, reviewing files, or spending time researching your subject, you should know it inside and out. And…be prepared to answer questions, should they be asked. Do not be lulled into believing that you are bulletproof just because you have put together a graphics presentation. What if your software fails or the hardware does not work? You should be prepared to fill in, if you have to do so.

Even if all of your electronic components work, including audio files that may be part of the presentation, you cannot simply stand there as if you are part of the audience. You must know each and every frame that is about to appear. This is true of a slide or overhead projector presentation also.

Recently, I attended a PowerPoint presentation about retirement plans. The presenter stumbled and fumbled over almost every picture, graph, and chart. And…that is besides the fact that much of the text contained grammatical and spelling errors! Needless to say, I was not impressed with his presentation or his product.

If you are speaking, as opposed to an electronic presentation, you cannot simply read from your note cards. You must practice until you sound relaxed, self-assured, and professional. That does not mean you must be a tower of unyielding seriousness. A few well-placed bits of humor never hurt. Of course, if your subject is a grave or solemn one, then you may want to leave out the comedy.

The most important point in terms of preparing a presentation is that you must be organized, both in terms of your research and your approach. Nothing is more of a turn-off than having to listen to a speaker who is uncomfortable and unsure of what he or she is saying. So…be prepared!

Varying Your Vocabulary

Varying Your Vocabulary

There is an aspect of writing business documents that is even more important than merely getting your point across. It is maintaining the interest of the reader. After all, what is more counterproductive than putting together a well-written email, proposal, report, or any other business-related document, if your intended audience is not interested in reading it carefully?

One way in which to write in an appealing manner so that your document is read with care and concentration is to vary your vocabulary. This need not be difficult or time-consuming. All you need to do is to be just a bit imaginative. Instead of referring to persons or people throughout your document, for example, how about using individuals, personnel, or staff members? Rather than repeating the word plan, you might want to substitute strategy, idea, or proposal.

This is pretty obvious, right? Unfortunately, all too often, writers of business documents rely on the same old tired set of words. They just do not think about alternatives. Besides your own mental storehouse of options, you can find a wide choice of substitute words in the Microsoft Word Thesaurus. To activate this function, go to Tools, then click Language, and then Thesaurus.

Business writing need not, and should not be dull. Why not get your point across and put together a vibrant piece of writing that holds the attention of the reader all the way through to the end? After all, you do want the message that you are putting into writing to be read carefully. Otherwise, why would you write it?

How Do I Make My Point?

How Do I Make My Point?

Business writing is not meant to be fine literature. That is not to say that it should be dull or poorly written. Certainly, if you want your audience to read your email, memo, business plan, or other business-related document, it should be well written and interesting, but the heart of the matter must always be the content that you are attempting to communicate.

In a nutshell, you want to make your main point or points early on in your document, without a lot of background information or a long, drawn-out introduction. Busy people do not have the time to read extensive, tedious introductory paragraphs or mildly humorous anecdotes that do not quickly lead into the main topic of the paper. They want to determine the pertinent information in what they are reading as rapidly as possible.

On the other hand, beginning a business document with a bit of humor or an interesting angle is a good idea. The trick is to make it short and sweet, and to make sure your introduction does, in fact, lead to your main point.

A good way in which to write clearly and to make your content easily identifiable is to write your main idea first. Make it as simple as possible. That is the heart of your document. Then, if necessary, add additional information to clarify the point. Look at the example below. The sentence in boldface is the main point. The rest of the paragraph contains additional information that is used to clarify that point.

In an attempt to protect vital company information, a new procedure will be effect as of 9 AM tomorrow. All written documents (computer printed, fax generated, and those written by hand) will be stored in a labeled black folder, which will you will find on your desk in the morning. At the end of the day, your folder, containing all written documents which you have retained, must be brought to Mr. Jenkins in the Human Relations Office for overnight safekeeping. Do not leave the folder until he has logged it in. You will be able to retrieve the folder the next day by requesting it from Mr. Jenkins.

Once you have written that, you may, of course, write an introductory paragraph. In the above example, it would explain the reason for the new security procedure. It should clearly lead into the main content paragraph.

When all is said and done, of course, you should carefully proofread your document. Look for spelling, English usage, punctuation, and grammatical errors. Even a simple email or memo should always be written well.

Getting your point across is easy to do as long as you do not allow extraneous information to interfere. Remember: the point of a business-related document is to convey information. It is not meant to be great literature or a source of entertainment.

How and When to Use Pronouns

How and When to Use Pronouns

Business writing could be and should be as interesting as other types of writing. In fact, since it generally has to do with making money, spending money, enhancing business, or other related matters, it should be of interest to whomever is reading it. Of course, if the email, evaluation, or other business-related document is dull and redundant, then reading it becomes a chore.

One way of making a piece of writing more interesting to read and, sometimes, easier to understand, is to use pronouns.

“Pronouns…yes,” you may be thinking. “I know what pronouns are. They are those small words that take the place of nouns in a piece of writing and in conversation.” The following words are pronouns: I, he, she, it, you, they, we, who, my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose, me, him, her, us, them.

Here’s how the correct use of pronouns can make writing more interesting (or less tedious) and more readable. Look at the following example: “According to Brown’s resume, Brown has a great deal of experience in terms of the position in question. Brown speaks well and Brown’s ability to listen is a good trait.” Of course, it is obvious that the repetition of Brown and Brown’s makes this excerpt dull and barely readable. Replacing Brown and Brown’s with he and his or she and her would make it more enjoyable to read.

Two important rules must be observed when using pronouns:

1) Do not use a pronoun in a document until you have used the actual noun first. That allows the reader to recognize which noun the pronoun is replacing.
2) Do not use a pronoun more than two sentences after the use of a noun. After that point, the reader may not be sure which noun the pronoun is replacing.

This is, of course, only one good writing tip. There are many others. If you would like your business documents to be proofread and edited by a team of professional editors, you may want to visit proof-reading.com.