by Barbara McNichol
In my recent post on the blog of Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), an author asked about confusing words this way:
Barbara, I’d love to see you do an article on the difference between “as” and “since” and “because.”
Here’s a summary of what my research told me.
Both “because” and “since” imply cause. They can be interchangeable when “since” means “for the reason that.” e.g., “Since my dog needs exercise, I take him for a walk.” e.g., “I walk every day because my dog needs exercise.”
One source suggests using “because” when the reason is the most important part of the sentence and “since” or “as” when the reason is already well known and is less important. e.g., “The match was cancelled because it was raining.”
I endorse this as an important distinction and use it myself.
Note that “since” also refers to a time frame. But look at this example. “Since we ate lunch, we had lots of energy.” Do you see how this statement is ambiguous? Does it mean “from the time we had lunch” or “for the reason that we had lunch”?
To avoid confusion, I recommend using “because” when your meaning relates to “cause” and “since” when it’s a factor of time. Keep the meanings distinct; it’s a good way to add clarity to your writing and power to your pen.
For clarification of commonly confused words, request a free reference guide at Word Trippers.com
What word pairings trip you up? Share them here.
by Joan Burge (used with permission)
Did you know that changing just a few of the everyday words you use while conducting business can actually enhance people’s positive impressions of you? Here are three highly effective tips you can start using today.
- “Do” or “can” instead of “try.” When you’re a pro at what you do, you understand the importance of managing expectations among the people you support and work with in the office. That’s why so many of us use the word “try” (as in, “I will try to have that report finished Tuesday”) to buffer our schedules and communicate parameters on tasks and projects. Problem: “Try” has a somewhat wimpy connotation, as if you’re unsure – even when you aren’t, of course! Solution: Replace with variations of the words “do” or “can” instead – and focus on what is definite: “I’ll do a preliminary outline by Tuesday for review,” or “I will complete a preliminary outline Tuesday.”
- “Believe” instead of “think” or “feel.” If you’re a careful listener, you’ll often hear people say something like, “I think/feel the best course of action is….” Communication experts agree that replacing “think/feel” with “believe” expresses even more assertiveness and self-confidence to management, colleagues and clients: “I believe you’re right.” Bonus fact: To communicate even more directly and succinctly, practice dropping the use of “I believe” and stick with the statement itself: “You’re right.”
- “And” instead of “but.” Here’s one of my favorites! See if you can tell the difference between these two statements: “I know you’ve missed the deadline, but…” vs. “I know you’ve missed the deadline, and….” The first sets up a negative “but,” which precedes bad news – and since people know this, they tend to get defensive or tune out whatever follows, regardless of its legitimacy. Conversely, the second statement acknowledges the bad news, yet skillfully avoids the sense that a shoe is about to fall. Result? The “and” says, “We can work on a solution, which is more important than the blame right now” – and people are far more likely to listen, meaning communication improves.
Successful professionals focus on what I call the Can you think of additional ways to change commonly used words or phrases so co-workers and clients respond even better? I encourage you to delve deep and test new ways to communicate verbally and in writing!
Known as the pioneer of the administrative training industry, Joan Burge is an accomplished author, professional speaker, consultant, and corporate trainer. She is the founder, CEO, and visionary of Office Dynamics International, an organization that provides high-performance executive and administrative assistant training and coaching.
How could you change commonly used phrases to increase the responses you get? Share your ideas here.
By Barbara McNichol
Do you experience email overwhelm?
Your emails can present problems to your recipients when stale subject lines, too many topics, and lack of clarity get in the mix.
But this single time-wasting practice can be big: not making the most of your email message. It causes people to walk back and forth a dozen times on the communication path.
Build in Extra Thoughtfulness to Prevent Email Overwhelm
Well, a dozen times might be exaggerating but no matter what, you can streamline the process by building in extra thoughtfulness. Take the example of setting up something as simple as a meeting. Messages could go back and forth annoyingly before you nail an agreed-upon day/time/place.
Try crafting your initial email with an “if then” option. You’d simply write, “I’m available Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday in the afternoon after 3 p.m. If any of these don’t work for you, then give me three times when you’re available.”
Use the “If Then” Technique
The “if then” technique has just narrowed down the possibilities to three afternoons. Recipients know those times are off the table and will suggest a different three options. You’re likely to come up with a workable time/place in fewer than two emails.
Compose your emails to serve you as efficiently as possible. This “if then” approach is an easy path to follow.
Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping authors add power to their pen. An expert editor of nonfiction books, she has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. It allows you to improve your writing through excellent resources, including a Word Tripper of the Week for 52 weeks. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
What paths do you follow to deal with email overwhelm? Share you ideas here.
By Kathleen Watson
Headlines provide never-ending examples of incorrect grammar, whether in word choice, word order or punctuation.
Reminder: I define grammar as the words we choose, how we string them together, and how we use punctuation to give them meaning.
News stories and their headlines should be examples of excellent writing. They also should conform to Standard English, defined as the way educated people write and speak. Writing in haste is no excuse for careless headline grammar errors.
1) How To Act When Someone Around You Loses Their Job
In 2017, the Associated Press proclaimed that nouns and pronouns no longer have to match in cases of gender sensitivity. I strongly oppose the change. In this headline, the indefinite pronoun someone is singular, but their is a plural possessive.
Rather than using the awkward someone loses his/her job, the headline could easily have conformed to standard usage if it had been phrased this way:
How To Act When Someone Around You Loses A Job
2) Look At Aaron Rogers Amazing House
Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers no doubt earns enough money to have an amazing house, but this headline lacks the apostrophe that shows the house belongs to him. When a name ends in s, show possession by adding an apostrophe:
Look At Aaron Rogers’ Amazing House
3) Students Walkout Across Country to Support Florida School-Shooting Survivors
To walk out is a phrasal verb; a walkout is a noun.
An earlier post, One Word or Two: Use Care With Your Shortcuts, has a list of other word combinations called phrasal verbs — a verb and a preposition that, when joined, often form a noun: set up/setup | break down/breakdown | start up/startup | cut back/cutback … and more. The headline should read:
Students Walk Out Across Country to Support Florida School-Shooting Survivors
4) Parkland Survivor Criticizes Laura Ingraham For Only Apologizing After Advertisers Fled
As so often is the case, the modifier only is misplaced. When only precedes apologizing, it implies that apologizing was not enough. Should she have done more than apologize?
The criticism underlying the report was aimed at the timing of her apology. Some thought Ms. Ingraham should have apologized immediately, rather than waiting until some advertisers withdrew their support of her program. A clearer headline would have been:
Parkland Survivor Criticizes Laura Ingraham For Apologizing Only After Advertisers Fled
5) What Does It Feel Like to Be Wrong? Our strong need to be right and it’s impact on our lives
The first line works, but the subhead is punctuated to read:
Our strong need to be right and it is impact on our lives
People continue to confuse it’s, the contraction for it is, and its, the possessive form of the pronoun it. Here’s how the line should read:
Our strong need to be right and its impact on our lives
I hear from plenty of people who lament the apparent lack of grammar knowledge in some media representatives who are considered professional communicators: print, electronic, and television journalists and commentators.
We’re all judged by the way we write and speak. Don’t let careless grammar or lack of grammar mastery detract from your credibility.
Kathleen Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. Knowing others do, too, she wrote an easy-to-use grammar book called Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help people write with authority and confidence.
Share examples of headline grammar errors you find.
by Todd Hunt, Business Humorist
In case the Easter punny misses you on Sunday, here are five April Fools puns to fathom:
1) Acupuncture is a jab well done.
2) If a clock is hungry does it go back four seconds?
3) Without geometry, life is pointless.
4) Corduroy pillows are making headlines.
5) I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words. (Barbara’s favorite)
OK – your turn. Write your worst puns in the comments below!
Business humorist Todd Hunt speaks to organizations that want to add fun to their events and send members back to work smiling—with tips to improve communication and success. Visit him at ToddHuntSpeaker.com
Editor’s Note: Todd tackles Word Tripper types of confusing words as I do. His latest video clears up the difference between “podium vs. lectern” (because you’re dying to know). And you can watch his past episodes here. Enjoy!
by Barbara McNichol
Whether it’s an email, a report, or a chapter in a book, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier to follow? What are ways to create a smooth flow that guides your readers?
Give these writing tips a try:
1. Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject and allow readers to find it quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.
2. Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you’d use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to distinguish each paragraph.
3. Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It helps the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: In a list, when the order of the points matters, use numbers; otherwise, use bullets.
4. Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string short sentences can feel disjointed. Add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers can follow the meaning more easily.
5. Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way, it might come across as monotonous. Along with varying sentence length, break out of the mold of standard sentence structure.
Practice these simple ways to make your writing easy to follow and enjoy better responses from your readers. Note YOUR favorite writing tips below or email me.
By Julie Perrine (used with permission)
Daylight Saving Time began in the U.S. recently. That means for the next eight months, our time zone abbreviations also need to change if we want our meeting invites to be accurate.
What am I talking about? Let me explain.
We are currently operating in Standard Time. In the United States, that means the time zone abbreviations for our meetings have been EST (Eastern Standard Time), CST (Central Standard Time), MST (Mountain Standard Time), and PST (Pacific Standard Time).
When Daylight Saving Time begins, the correct time zone abbreviations will be EDT (Eastern Daylight Time), CDT (Central Daylight Time), MDT (Mountain Daylight Time), and PDT (Pacific Daylight Time). The S changes to D to indicate the change from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time.
Why does this matter? Because not all parts of the world – or even the U.S. – switch to Daylight Saving Time. Hawaii and most of Arizona do not switch. And there are many countries around the globe that do not use Daylight Saving Time either. Even those places that do observe Daylight Saving Time don’t all switch at the same time. This makes time zone abbreviations crucial, especially when you have participants from multiple time zones.
Here are two examples of how this applies:
Example 1: EST is never the same as EDT.
Last summer, while Daylight Saving Time was in effect in the U.S., I was supposed to present an online training event for an international client at 6 p.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). I live in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States. If you plug 6 p.m. GMT into any time zone converter app, it will tell you that is 2 p.m. EDT (Eastern Daylight Time). However, the event organizers had advertised the event for 1 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time).
I was on time for the event at 2 p.m. EDT. However, most of the people from my region of the world who normally joined that online training event were not there because they assumed it was happening at 1 p.m. EDT – even though the abbreviation said EST. The event organizers could have avoided a lot of confusion and increased their event attendance significantly if they had published their event with the correct time zone abbreviation.
Here’s another application of this concept for meetings: One of my team members is in Mountain Standard Time. She stays in that time zone all year around because she’s in a part of Arizona that doesn’t switch at all. So if I send a meeting invite for the team call at 1 p.m. MDT (Mountain Daylight Time) and she is actually in Mountain Standard Time, then it occurs at 12 p.m. MST (Mountain Standard Time) because she doesn’t “spring forward” for Daylight Saving Time.
Example 2: Always publish meeting times with the time zone abbreviation for where the meeting is occurring.
Last fall, I was scheduled to present a webinar for an international association. We were still on Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. The country for the association hosting this webinar had already moved back to Standard Time.
I was nervous about being on the webinar at the right time, so I checked it frequently. With this event, I learned how important it is to publish the time of the event for the time zone in which the event is occurring, with the correct time zone abbreviation. That way when anyone plugs it into a time zone converter, they will know what time to join the event in their own time zone. This is especially important when dealing with companies on the other side of the International Date Line because the meeting may actually occur on the next day.
A few key takeaways here:
- Learn the time zone abbreviations and how to use them for the time zones you work with the most. If you aren’t sure, look them up!
- Always set the meeting time on your calendar invites for the time the meeting is scheduled to take place in the originating location, and let the calendar convert it to the respective time zone of each recipient. Then if the organizers update the time, your attendees get the updates, which is also important.
- Include the time of the meeting, with the time zone abbreviation in the originating location, in the subject line of your meeting invite so all invitees and their assistants can see it and do the manual conversion, if needed. It helps tremendously. If you update the meeting time, though, you need to remember to update it on both the invite and in the subject line.
The bottom line is to never assume which abbreviation is accurate if you don’t know for sure. Check it. Download the time zone convertor apps or save the links to your computer so you can check and get it right – every single time!
Julie Perrine is an administrative expert, author, and all-around procedures pro. She is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing innovative products, training, and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. She is the author of Author of The Innovative Admin, The Organized Admin, and Become a Procedures Pro.
Editor’s Note: Every day is National Grammar Day in my book. Still, I’m glad to have a day that draws attention to word misuses and what’s correct. Plus I never forget March 4th; it’s our wedding anniversary. I’m blessed to be married to a wonderful guy for 27 years!
by Barbara McNichol
I love watching the TV show “Dancing with the Stars” but even this escape doesn’t give me a break from grammar glitches. In one episode alone, I counted four times when participants and/or hosts misused the pronouns as they spoke.
As a society, if we repeatedly hear words used incorrectly on national TV (and all around us), how will we ever know what’s right?
Without attempting to overcome years of grammar neglect, watch out for certain common pronoun misuses so you get a feel for what’s correct—and what’s not.
“Me and Jack” finished the report. It should be “Jack and I” finished the report.
Rule: When the subject is more than one, you need a subjective pronoun (I, she, he, we, they, who). (“Subjective” refers to the pronoun’s place in the sentence—as a subject.)
Clue: Say the sentence without “Jack.” I finished the report. Now it’s easy to tell which pronoun is correct.
“Bob hired Peggy and I to draft the proposal.” It should be “Peggy and me.”
Rule: “Peggy and me” is the object of the verb “draft” and therefore requires an objective pronoun (me, her, him, us, them, whom). (“Objective” refers to the pronoun’s place in the sentence—as an object.)
Clue: Say the sentence without “Peggy and.” Does it sound right to say “Bob hired I to draft the proposal”? You know it doesn’t!
“Between you and I, we got the job done.” It should be “you and me.”
Rule: In this sentence, “me” is the object of the preposition “between” and therefore requires an objective pronoun (me, her, him, us, them, whom).
“Roger, Lloyd, and myself finished the drawings.” It should be “Roger, Lloyd, and I finished the drawings.”
Rule: You can’t use a “-self” pronoun (myself, yourself, himself, herself, themselves, ourselves) unless it refers to another noun or pronoun used earlier in the sentence.
Clue: Look for the referring word that precedes the pronoun.
To receive a one-page chart that shows at a glance which pronouns to use where in a sentence, email me with “Proper Pronouns” in the subject line.