by Barbara McNichol
Have you crossed that line? There are some common phrases to avoid if you don’t want to come across as arrogant or condescending.
It’s important that you temper your language when writing. You don’t have the benefit of voice intonation, hand gestures, emotions…all the things that impact a face-to-face encounter with your audience.
If you give off the wrong signals in person, you have an immediate opportunity to correct your misstep.
That can’t be said of your writing. Once you’ve pressed “Send”, mailed the letter, circulated the memo or published the book, your opportunity to explain your intent has passed.
You don’t want to set a tone that can be misconstrued if you’re not there to explain what you meant.
There are several phrases you can avoid – they pad your writing with extra words but don’t add any meaning to your message.
Here are 12 phrases to avoid that will save you from sounding pompous:
- Not to mention… Okay, then don’t mention it.
- It goes without saying… Right, then don’t say it.
- If I may say so… Well, since you’re the author, of course, you can say so.
- I believe that… Now the reader wonders if your message is based in facts.
- In my humble opinion… An automatic signal that you’re not feeling humble.
- To tell the truth… Implies you’ve lied to your reader in the past.
- To be honest with you… Again, a suggestion that you’ve been dishonest.
- For the record… If you’re not under oath you don’t need this qualifier.
- Let me be perfectly clear… Usually followed by complete bafflegab.
- This may sound stupid but… Check yourself, the rest of that sentence probably sounds stupid.
- With all due respect… The prelude to an insult, no respect implied or taken.
- In other words… The worst culprit. Just use the right words the first time.
Take these pompous-sounding “fillers” out of your writing to avoid confusion and gain clarity in your writing. This is particularly helpful in business communication, approach your reader assuming they’re pressed for time. They need information, not prose or poetry.
Are there other “filler phrases” that make writing sound pompous? Share them in the comments section below or send them along and I’ll add them to the list.
Did you find this article helpful? Here are three others you’ll enjoy:
This article was originally published on September 22nd, 2016, and has been updated.
by Barbara McNichol
When polishing your sentences, pay attention to the nuances of word order. Yes, it matters!
Here’s a simple example from a recent book I edited:
“He was well respected and loved in the academic community.”
I changed it to:
“He was loved and well respected in the academic community.”
Because “loved” is 5 letters and “well respected” is 13, it makes for a smoother read if the longer phrase follows the shorter word. See if you agree.
“Good leaders don’t waste time, effort, financial resources, or opportunities.”
“Good leaders don’t waste time, effort, opportunities, or financial resources.” This shift creates a tidy parade of words from short to long.
Word Order in Lists
In addition, a list is visually easier to follow when the line length goes from short to long. This example is from a leadership newsletter:
It would be counterproductive if you:
- Take the time to plan your day, but you don’t follow the plan.
- Hire people to do a job but don’t take time training them to do that job.
- Have slow-moving products in your inventory that generate low margins.
- Conduct an employee engagement survey and do nothing with the results.
- Attend a trade show to network with customers but spend your time on the phone.
To get a feel for how adjectives line up best in a sentence, this blog post summarizes it beautifully: http://barbaramcnichol.com/2017/11/02/order-place-adjectives-sentence-explained/
For even more tips, go to http://barbaramcnichol.com/2016/03/06/5-writing-tips-to-improve-your-readability/
Key message: Better writing means paying attention to the best use of word order!
by Barbara McNichol
In wanting to cover many aspects of a topic, business writers sometimes throw down so many variables that readers have no way to gauge the importance of each. They feel weighed down trying!
Look at these examples in business writing:
- The professor included and provided a methodology for continuing the effort.
- The state and local leaders developed and drafted numerous statutes.
- We need to appreciate and understand the factors affecting the time and place.
The “Pick One” Principle
You can lighten your readers’ load by applying the “pick one” principle. You’ll find it works for all kinds of business writing—emails, reports, manuscripts, and more.
The “pick one” principle asks: “Which word better describes what you want to say—the word before or after the and?” Then pick the one that adds more emphasis and accuracy to your meaning.
In Example 1, which word better conveys the meaning—included or provided? In this context, provided can cover the meaning for both—that is, if something is provided, we can assume it’s included. Pick one: provided.
The professor provided a methodology for continuing the effort.
Example 2 has the word and in two places, making the sentence long-winded. For developed and drafted, the more apt word is drafted because something can’t be drafted without being developed first. Pick one: drafted.
“Pick one” also applies to making a single-word substitution. For example, state and local could be changed to government without altering the meaning in this context.
The government leaders drafted numerous statutes.
In Example 3, because appreciate and understand are so close in meaning, using both is like saying it twice. “Pick one” to streamline the writing. For time and place, we could substitute a single word: situation.
We need to understand the factors affecting the situation.
Rule of Thumb in Business Writing
When you reread anything you’ve written, find all the places you’ve used and, then apply the “pick one” principle wherever possible. That way, you won’t dilute the meaning of your message or needlessly weigh down your readers.
Give them a break. Pick one!
Want more tips like this to hone your writing skills? You’ll find 18 Days to Become a Better Writer an easy-to-use e-guide. Start your journey today by clicking here. Use code 18DAYS at checkout for a discount.
Share examples of “pick one” from your own writing here.
In the ’60s, a movement started to encourage people to share in conscious expressions of Gratitude on one day of the year. World Gratitude Day was born. How can you celebrate World Gratitude Day this September 21st?
I suggest setting aside time to express appreciation for your family, your community, your friends, your business associates, and anyone or anything that makes your life better—even animals and technologies.
Express gratitude to people who source, prepare, and serve your food and deliver your mail. Thank community leaders and employees who imagined, built, and continue to provide the systems that serve you. Thank those customers who put money in your pocket so you can live well. What would you add that’s specific to your life?
I am grateful for opportunities to spread light, love, and kindness every day. And I’m especially grateful to you for allowing me to help you make your dreams stronger through better writing.
Happy Gratitude Day.
P.S. Don’t forget to celebrate National Punctuation Day on September 24th!
By Dianna Booher (used with permission)
In today’s world, we work, live, and die by email. Okay, I exaggerate. But it’s hard to get through a week without weeding your way through an overflowing inbox. How do you make your emails stand out—positively rather than negatively—from competitors?
For starters, correct these problems…
3 Common Email Mistakes
Vague Subject Lines
Subject lines should be a condensed version of your message and the action you want. They should be informative, not mysterious—unless you’re an email marketer. And even then, marketers often find that vague headlines don’t always intrigue buyers.
A quick scan of a week’s inbox reveals subject lines like these:
A Quick Question (About what?)
Following Up (On what?)
Last-Minute Details (Is the reader asking for them or giving them?)
Can you imagine reading newspaper headlines as vague as these: “Stock Market.” “Taxes.” “Blizzard Conditions.” You wouldn’t know where to begin reading. Unless you’re a novelist—a mystery writer at that!—turn your subject lines into informative headlines.
Subject lines should be specific, useful, brief:
How to Register for the Upcoming RW Conference & Expo
New Dates for Denver New Product Orientation: Aug 12-13
Stopping Work on FTD Coding: Glitch in Step 7
Available Friday for Call About Licensing Extension?
Unclear Actions and Timeframes
Don’t hint or imply. State exactly what you want the reader to do and when. You can soften a request by stating the action as a question or by adding a courtesy word. For example: “Would you please send me your feedback on the demo equipment by Friday, May 6?” Such a statement sounds friendly, yet still sets expectations.
Never equate courtesy with vagueness. Phrases such as “at your earliest convenience” or “as soon as possible” simply leave your reader guessing. You can be both pleasant and precise.
Openings That Close Doors
In the classic movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise barges into his home after an argument and long separation from his wife, starts an explanation meant as an apology, and makes a romantic plea: “You complete me… You…”
She interrupts, “You had me at hello.”
In case you don’t recall the movie plot, let me just say the similarity to email greetings stops there: Your email readers are not in love with you. (Okay, maybe your family members love you. Possibly a few favorite customers love you.) But even if emailing best friends, chances are they already have an overflowing inbox and may not want another email from you.
So your email greetings should warm clients and prospects up—not put them off.
Another thing about greetings: Stand out by “mixing It up.” My colleague Bill Lampton has mastered this principle well. Every email from him sounds as though he has just walked into my office with a fresh comment of the morning. Here are some recent greetings from his emails:
Very good, Dianna. The next thing….
How about Tuesday, Dianna?
Good morning, Dianna!
For sure, Dianna… Mid- to late-May fits my schedule…
I totally agree, Dianna, about the need to …
See how these greetings pull you right into the email as if we’re in a relationship and the conversation is just continuing?
That’s exactly the feeling you want your customers to have as they see your email in the preview window—that they’re in an ongoing relationship with you and should respond as if face to face.
So how to break through the email barrier and get quicker responses? Be specific. Say it in the subject line. Make sure your greeting warms buyers up—not puts them off.
Learn more ways to improve your email communication in Faster, Fewer, Better Emails: Manage the Volume, Reduce the Stress, Love the Results by Dianna Booher. Click here for details.
by Barbara McNichol
Reading through a book or report or email with lots of word clutter makes me feel like I’m swimming in Jell-O. My mind goes into slow motion. I lose attention. I start thinking about picking dead leaves off plants.
I’m sure you know what I mean by “word clutter.” It’s those long-winded phrases that the writer didn’t take the time to pare down.
Well, I have a magic trick for cutting out dead words and leaving my plants for another day.
Word Clutter Pop Quiz
What is the #1 way to make sentences less verbose and more direct?
Answer: Change long noun phrases to short verbs.
Consider the differences in these 3 examples:
- “They remain in contradiction with themselves” vs. “They contradict themselves.” (“Contradiction” is the noun; “contradict” is the verb.)
- “He made an acknowledgement of her success” vs. “He acknowledged her success.” (“Acknowledgement” is the noun; “acknowledged” is the verb.)
- “She initiated an implementation of the plan.” vs. “She implemented the plan.” (“Implementation” is the noun; “implemented” is the verb.)
See how less wordy and more direct the second version is in each sentence?
And Here’s Another Cagey Trick
If you’re not sure whether you can turn a long-winded noun into an active, lively verb, a dead giveaway is nouns ending in “ion” and “ment.” Notice in these examples the words contradiction, acknowledgement, and implementation. All those nouns have been successfully turned into shorter, more action-oriented verbs.
So the next time you edit your own work, use this magic trick and add more BAM! to your writing.
Even More BAM! for Your Buck
A few years ago, I launched my Word Trippers Tips ADVANTAGE Program. It took off and customers reported better writing skills almost immediately.
This past year I created three options, which make it even easier to use and more AFFORDABLE.
Not a course … but a source … Word Trippers Tips ADVANTAGE Program is an interactive resource that takes almost no time every week to absorb.
Curious to know more? Go to www.WordTrippers.com for full details.
What writing tricks do you use to reduce word clutter?
by Barbara McNichol
Using figures of speech in our writing make it fun. Truly my favorite figure of speech is the chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus). That’s when words in a sentence mirror each other.
Politicians have made them famous (e.g., Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. – John F. Kennedy). Experts have made them accessible and even fun (e.g., Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book: Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You: Chiasmus and a World of Quotations That Say What They Mean and Mean What They Say)
My contribution to the joy of words is a 4-page Chiasmus Collection I’d like to share. Simply email me with Chiasmus Collection in the subject line.
The ones I’ve included come from years of gleaning them from authors, clients, and subscribers in my daily editing work.
A few choice examples:
It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Write only what you love, and love what you write. – Ray Bradbury
New York is the perfect model of a city, not the model of a perfect city. – Sir Lewis Mumford
What is your favorite chiasmus? Share it here!