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!
By Howard Robson, Guest Blogger
Great bloggers neither leave their content unpolished nor do they publish before their work is wholly refined. To bring traffic to your website and enlarge your targeted audience, it is essential to respect the proofreading process.
Whether you’re working on a paper, blog, article, e-mail, or other essential document, always be sure to proofread it and make sure it delivers the proper message. Here are seven ideas you can apply.
- Change Your Mindset
If you are always grumpy about revising your work and find no fun in it, your results will show it. You might lose readers, which won’t help in the long run. Here’s how to adopt a growth mindset:
- After you’ve created your piece, take time to reflect on your work. Is there anything you don’t feel unsatisfied about? Are you content with delivering this message to your niche? Is your grammar correct?
- If you have unanswered questions, write down ideas to address them. What would you like to improve, how, and in what time frame? Set goals and deadlines, then start working on them.
- Treat yourself kindly and take regular breaks. Nobody can work non-stop! Work 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. During your free time, meditate, dance, read, listen to classical music, or do something that loosens you up. Avoid getting sidetracked into social media.
- Practice Makes Perfect
Become a better proofreader through practice. When you don’t have any assigned tasks, write! Yes, simply write down your thoughts using the best language you can.
Dan Creed, content writer at AustralianEssays, shares this opinion: “You could write about your day, your plans, your goals, or anything else that goes through your mind. Search for synonyms for words you are displeased with. Rock that learning curve!”
- Reading Is Essential
To improve your writing skills, allocate at least 15 minutes a day or more to reading a well-written article. Sign up for The Economist, HuffPost, The New York Times, or any magazine that’s attractive to you. Pay attention to the writer’s approach and style. That will inspire you to progress—in both your proofreading and your writing.
- Find a Proofreading Buddy
Identify a colleague you can reach out to. Work with a person who’s specialized in your area of interest. You can trade tips, exchange ideas, and do each other’s proofreading projects. Help that person help you.
- Write Down Your Common Errors
Design a “mistake list” and go through it every time you’ve finished writing an article. For instance, I know that “affective” and “effective” are two words I always mix up, so I include them in my list. Every time I use these words in my articles, I check twice to see if I got them right. Use your mistakes as learning tools. (Excellent resource: Word Trippers Tips)
- Be Patient
Take things step by step, and don’t rush when you write, polish, or proofread your piece. Remember, you are not done until you’ve revised your content to your satisfaction. Be patient with your learning process. Read and write daily, and you’ll make fewer mistakes, write better (and faster!), and have more free time.
- Ask for Help
Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it. Ask your colleague or even a professional editor to re-read your piece after you’ve polished it and proofread it yourself. Take the feedback you receive into consideration and learn from your errors.
To become a great proofreader, I suggest you set a positive mindset, practice reading and writing daily, find a proofreading buddy, ask for help when needed, and be patient and kind with yourself.
What additional ideas do you have that would improve the proofreading process? Share them here.
by Lynne Franklin (used with permission)
Here’s the truth. No one wants to read what you write. Everyone is time-starved. For many, the best moments in the day are when we see an email we don’t have to read and can hit “delete.”
Because we’re overwhelmed, we write something, give it a quick look, and then hit “send.” We forget that we’re writing to persuade people to do something – not noticing that what we’ve created just made it harder for them to agree with us. One of our chief sins is …
Kill the Clichés. When you use these, you scream, “I have no original thoughts! I’m doing this on autopilot.” Why would anyone want to read further – let alone care what you think?
Make a better choice. Switch “at this time” to “now.” Change “attached please find” to “here is.” Drop “it has come to our attention” for “we understand.” You’ll notice this already makes your writing more succinct, which you’ll need to …
Stop Droning On. It’s neuroscience. Once a sentence passes the 25-word mark, you can’t remember the subject. (Or maybe you just no longer want to.) Aim for an average of 10- to 12-word sentences in reports and speeches, and eight-to-10 words in emails.
Don’t think that commas, dashes and semicolons can save you. It’s true: the first two give your readers a place to take a breath in their minds. But don’t abuse this tactic. Cut that longer sentence into two. And generally avoid using semicolons. They mostly confuse people – and could lead to arguments with English majors (who will be happy to tell you when you’ve used them incorrectly).
Watch the length of your paragraphs. Few things are as discouraging as seeing one that goes on for 20 lines. I once reviewed a document with a 265-word sentence, in a paragraph that lasted a page (single-spaced). I was the only person who read it. While I forgot the subject 10 times, I remembered the ire it engendered.
Get to the Good Stuff Fast. Before you begin, consider what your readers know. If you must, reference important shared knowledge quickly. But spend most of your time on new ideas. Telling people what they already know – at length – bores them or makes them think you’re talking down to them. They’ll either stop reading (because they’re not learning anything) or get angry with you.
A colleague once explained it this way: “Reading his writing was like taking the local versus the express bus.” Most non-engineers don’t need to get into the weeds on the hows or whys of something. Focus on what’s in it for your reader, then decide what to keep or junk.
It’s a Conversation
Read Your Writing Out Loud. Watch for the words that stumble off your lips – or when this is language you’d never ordinarily use. (“Pursuant” anyone?) Change those kinds of words.
Often your writing is the conversation you have with someone on screen or paper before you have the conversation on the phone or in person. Don’t bore them. You’ll miss the chance at that second conversation – and getting what you want.
What ways do you avoid boring your readers?