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The Power of Brevity

The power of brevity means writing less to be more effective.


In Write Now, I point out that “the  purpose of business writing is to get your point across clearly and concisely, without wasting your reader’s time.”

Check out Danny Rubin’s amazing article, “Write less, say more: the power of brevity.” It gives you useful advice on improving your writing.

When it comes to great writing, less is more. But even if you’re familiar with the mantra to “omit needless words,” tightening your writing is harder than it looks. Which words should you omit? How can you write more clearly? Danny Rubin, a national news consultant and former television news reporter, demonstrates—with examples—the power of brevity.

Power of brevity

Power of brevity

There is a common misconception when it comes to writing that is professional in nature that a person must write in a verbose manner to come across as intelligent.

I am sorry. Let me do that again.

People often make a mistake in thinking that writing long-winded sentences with big words makes them appear smart.

Actually, let me try this one more time.

You don’t need to write a lot or use big words to sound smart.

Now, that’s better.

Too often, people write sentences like the one at the top when they should choose version #3. The main culprit, in my view, is the loathsome college essay. Only in college are we forced to write a paper a certain length. We develop strategies that balloon our paragraphs so we can fill out eight, 10 or 12 pages and pick up our gold stars on the way out.

In the real world, most people don’t enjoy reading cover letters, resumes and presentations. It’s extra work and burdensome. Worst of all, trying to write beyond our skill level screams ‘I’m in over my head.’

When you write with brevity, you make your points quickly and shrewdly. You don’t waste words and, in doing so, you don’t waste a person’s time. An employer or hiring manager, for instance, then sees you as sharp and courteous.

The secret to brevity (and, in turn, clarity) is something we are rarely taught growing up and may appear anathema to a professor of English lit:

Write like you are talking to a friend.

I don’t mean write in Internet jargon or shorthand. Whenever I am stuck on a sentence, I step back from the computer screen and ask myself, ‘OK, what am I trying to say here?’ Rather than come up with the most eloquent way to make my point, I write it out in plain English as if talking to a buddy. And once I have my conversational sentence, then I go and attack it with a red pen.

Let’s use the examples from the top.

The before:

There is a common misconception when it comes to writing that is professional in nature that a person must write in a verbose manner to come across as intelligent.

The after:

You don’t need to write a lot or use big words to sound smart.

First things first, I switched the voice from passive to active (from ‘there is’ to ‘you’). Always locate your subject and lead with it. Active voice feels confident; passive does not.

To write the shorter sentence (version 3), I literally sat up from my computer and asked, ‘What am I trying to say?’ I stopped trying to be clever with it, and the words found their way onto the page.

I also have a habit of being very critical with the number of words I use in each sentence. Once I write something, I go back and decide if each andevery word I just wrote deserves to be there. Say to yourself: if I remove this word, would the sentence still make sense? If I removed this sentence, would the paragraph make sense? And the ultimate: do I really need this paragraph?

Speed is key. When people read your cover letters and resume, you need to be very respectful of their time. Don’t write five huge paragraphs that go on and onBe tough on yourself and really give them just what they need to know. You are better off making one or two main points (or telling one great story) rather than trying to jam your entire life into an employer’s brain.

And when you finish editing your work, go back and edit again. After that,go back and edit some more. A boss may never tell you he/she loved your cover letter or resume, but ones that are tightly written and well-composedwill leave an impression.

Most of all, you will stand out. College did not prepare us very well for the process of job applications. But those who take it upon themselves to learnto harness the power of brevity will have an edge every time.

Danny Rubin is a national news consultant for media research firm Frank N Magid Associates. He is a former television news reporter, lives in Washington, D.C. and tweets as @dannyhrubin.

Image source: http://www.johnmurphyinternational.com/blog/for-high-performance-organizations-less-is-more/


Incorrectly Used Words

I often find incorrectly used words everywhere in my students’ writing. In Write Now, I show how difficult it easy to make the right word choice.

Check out Jeff Haden’s excellent article, “75 Incorrectly Used Words That Make You Look Dumb.” 

Refer to the list regularly to improve your writing.

How many of these do you get wrong?

Using the right word can matter. Using the wrong word can matter even more. I once lost a potential writing gig because I used “who” instead of “whom” in a proposal letter.

(And I still have trouble getting “who” and “whom” right.)

Even just one incorrectly used word–especially when you’re trying to make a great impression–can ruin everything. Is that unfair? Yes… but it does happen.

To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, I’ve collected some of the most common incorrectly used words from other posts into one epic post. (Thanks to all the readers along the way who offered their own examples, many of which are included here.)

Here we go.

Adverse and averse

Adverse means harmful or unfavorable: “Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed.” Averse refers to feelings of dislike or opposition: “I was averse to paying $18 a share for a company that generates no revenue.”

But, hey, feel free to have an aversion to adverse conditions.

Advise and advice

Aside from the two words being pronounced differently (the s in advise sounds like az), advise is a verb while advice is a noun. Advice is what you give (whether or not the recipient is interested in that gift is a different issue altogether) when you advise someone.

So “Thank you for the advise” is incorrect, while “I advise you not to bore me with your advice in the future” is correct if pretentious.

If you run into trouble, just say each word out loud and you’ll instantly know which makes sense; there’s no way you’d ever say “I advice you to…”

Affect and effect

Verbs first. Affect means to influence: “Impatient investors affected our roll-out date.”Effect means to accomplish something: “The board effected a sweeping policy change.”

How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them and can effect changes by directly implementing them. Bottom line, use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: “Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects.” Affect refers to an emotional state, so unless you’re a psychologist you probably have little reason to use it.

Aggressive and enthusiastic

Aggressive is a very popular business adjective: aggressive sales force, aggressive revenue projections, aggressive product rollout.

But unfortunately, aggressive means ready to attack, or pursuing aims forcefully, possibly unduly so.

So do you really want an “aggressive” sales force?

Of course, most people have seen aggressive used that way for so long they don’t think of it negatively; to them it just means hard-charging, results-oriented, driven, etc., none of which are bad things.

But some people may not see it that way. So consider using words like enthusiastic, eager, committed, dedicated, or even (although it pains me to say it) passionate.

Award and reward

An award is a prize. Musicians win Grammy Awards. Car companies win J.D. Power awards. Employees win Employee of the Month awards. Think of an award as the result of a contest or competition.

A reward is something given in return for effort, achievement, hard work, merit, etc. A sales commission is a reward. A bonus is a reward. A free trip for landing the highest number of new customers is a reward.

Be happy when your employees win industry or civic awards, and reward them for the hard work and sacrifices they make to help your business grow.

Between and among

Use between when you name separate and individual items. Take “The team will decide between Mary, Marcia, and Steve when we fill the open customer service position.” Mary, Marcia, and Steve are separate and distinct, so between is correct.

Use among when there are three or more items but they are not named separately. Like, “The team will decide among a number of candidates when we fill the open customer service position.” Who are the candidates? You haven’t named them separately, so among is correct.

And we’re assuming there are more than two candidates; otherwise you’d say between. If there are two candidates you could say, “I just can’t decide between them.”

Bring and take

Both have to do with objects you move or carry. The difference is in the point of reference: You bring things here and you take them there. You ask people to bringsomething to you, and you ask people to take something to someone or somewhere else.

“Can you bring an appetizer to John’s party”? Nope.

Compliment and complement

Compliment means to say something nice. Complement means added to, enhanced, improved, completed, or brought close to perfection.

I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings you have a full complement of staff. Or your new app may complement your website.

For which I may decide to compliment you.

Continuously and continually

Both words come from the root continue, but they mean very different things. Continuously means never ending. Hopefully your efforts to develop your employees are continuous, because you never want to stop improving their skills and their future.

Continual means whatever you’re referring to stops and starts. You might have frequent disagreements with your co-founder, but unless those discussions never end (which is unlikely, even though it might feel otherwise), then those disagreements are continual.

That’s why you should focus on continuous improvement but plan to have continual meetings with your accountant: The former should never, ever stop, and the other (mercifully) should.

Criterion and criteria

A criterion is a principle or standard. If you have more than one criterion, those are referred to as criteria.

But if you want to be safe and you only have one issue to consider, just say standard or rule or benchmark. Then use criteria for all the times there are multiple specifications or multiple standards involved.

Discreet and discrete

Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment: “We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company.”

Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct: “We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels.” And if you get confused, remember: You don’t use “discretion” to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.

Elicit and illicit

Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract. If one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses.

Illicit means illegal or unlawful, and while I suppose you could elicit a response at gunpoint, you probably shouldn’t.

Everyday and every day

Every day means, yep, every day — each and every day. If you ate a bagel for breakfast each day this week, you had a bagel every day.

Everyday means commonplace or normal. Decide to wear your “everyday shoes” and that means you’ve chosen to wear the shoes you normally wear. That doesn’t mean you have to wear them every single day; it just means wearing them is a common occurrence.

Another example is along and a long: Along means moving in a constant direction or a line, or in the company of others, while a long means of great distance or duration. You wouldn’t stand in “along line,” but you might stand in a long line for a long time, along with a number of other people.

A couple more examples: a while and awhile, and any way and anyway.

If you’re in doubt, read what you write out loud. It’s unlikely you’ll decide, “Is there anyway (say it fast) you can help me?” sounds right. “Is there any (small pause) way you can help me?” does.

Evoke and invoke

To evoke is to call to mind; an unusual smell might evoke a long-lost memory. To invoke is to call upon something: help, aid, or maybe a higher power.

So hopefully all your branding and messaging efforts evoke specific emotions in potential customers. But if they don’t, you might consider invoking the gods of commerce to aid you in your quest for profitability.

Or something like that.

Farther and further

Farther involves a physical distance: “Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee.” Further involves a figurative distance: “We can take our business plan no further.”

So, as we say in the South (and that “we” has included me), “I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you,” or “I ain’t gonna trust you no further.”

Fewer and less

Use fewer when referring to items you can count, like “fewer hours” or “fewer dollars.”

Use “less” when referring to items you can’t (or haven’t tried to) count, like “less time” or “less money.”

Good and well

Anyone who has children uses good more often than he or she should. Since kids pretty quickly learn what good means, “You did good, honey” is much more convenient and meaningful than “You did well, honey.”

But that doesn’t mean good is the correct word choice.

Good is an adjective that describes something; if you did a good job, then you do good work. Well is an adverb that describes how something was done; you can do your job well.

Where it gets tricky is when you describe, say, your health or emotional state. “I don’t feel well” is grammatically correct, even though many people (including me) often say, “I don’t feel too good.”

On the other hand, “I don’t feel good about how he treated me” is correct; no one says “I don’t feel well about how I’m treated.”

Confused? If you’re praising an employee and referring to the outcome say, “You did a good job.” If you’re referring to how the employee performed say, “You did incredibly well.”

And while you’re at it, stop saying good to your kids and use great instead, because no one — especially a kid — ever receives too much praise.

If and whether

If and whether are often interchangeable. If a yes/no condition is involved, then feel free to use either: “I wonder whether Jim will finish the project on time?” or “I wonder if Jim will finish the project on time?” (Whether sounds a little more formal in this case, so consider your audience and how you wish to be perceived.)

It gets trickier when a condition is not involved. “Let me know whether Marcia needs a projector for the meeting” isn’t conditional, because you want to be informed either way. “Let me know if Marcia needs a projector for the meeting” is conditional because you want to be told only if she needs one.

And always use if when you introduce a condition. “If you hit your monthly target, I’ll increase your bonus,” is correct; the condition is hitting the target and the bonus is the result. “Whether you are able to hit your monthly target is totally up to you,” does not introduce a condition (unless you want the employee to infer that your thinly veiled threat is a condition of ongoing employment).

Impact and affect (and effect)

Many people (including, until recently, me) use impact when they should use affectImpact doesn’t mean to influence; impact means to strike, collide, or pack firmly.

Affect means to influence: “Impatient investors affected our rollout date.”

And to make it more confusing, effect means to accomplish something: “The board effected a sweeping policy change.”

How you correctly use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them and can effect changes by directly implementing them. Bottom line, use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: “Employee morale has had a negative effect on productivity.” Affect refers to an emotional state, so unless you’re a psychologist, you probably have little reason to use it.

So stop saying you’ll “impact sales” or “impact the bottom line.” Use affect.

(And feel free to remind me when I screw that up, because I feel sure I’ll backslide.)

Imply and infer

The speaker or writer implies, which means to suggest. The listener or reader infers,which means to deduce, whether correctly or not.

So I might imply you’re going to receive a raise. And you might infer that a pay increase is imminent. (But not eminent, unless the raise will somehow be prominent and distinguished.)

Insure and ensure

This one’s easy. Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure.

So if you promise an order will ship on time, ensure that it actually happens. Unless, of course, you plan to arrange for compensation if the package is damaged or lost — then feel free to insure away.

While there are exceptions where insure is used, the safe move is to use ensure when you will do everything possible to make sure something happens.)

Irregardless and regardless

Irregardless appears in some dictionaries because it’s widely used to mean “without regard to” or “without respect to,” which is also what regardless means.

In theory the ir-, which typically means “not,” joined up with regardless, which means “without regard to,” makes irregardless mean “not without regard to,” or more simply, “with regard to.”

Which probably makes it a word that does not mean what you think it means.

So save yourself a syllable and just say regardless.

Mute and moot

Think of mute like the button on your remote; it means unspoken or unable to speak. In the U.S., moot refers to something that is of no practical importance; a moot point is one that could be hypothetical or even (gasp!) academic. In British English, mootcan also mean debatable or open to debate.

So if you were planning an IPO, but your sales have plummeted, the idea of going public could be moot. And if you decide not to talk about it anymore, you will have gone mute on the subject.

Number and amount

I goof these up all the time. Use number when you can count what you refer to: “Thenumber of subscribers who opted out increased last month.” Amount refers to a quantity of something that can’t be counted: “The amount of alcohol consumed at our last company picnic was staggering.”

Of course it can still be confusing: “I can’t believe the number of beers I drank” is correct, but so is, “I can’t believe the amount of beer I drank.” The difference is you can count beers, but beer, especially if you were way too drunk to keep track, is an uncountable total and makes amount the correct usage.

Peak and peek

A peak is the highest point; climbers try to reach the peak of Mount Everest. Peekmeans quick glance, as in giving major customers a sneak peek at a new product before it’s officially unveiled, which hopefully helps sales peak at an unimaginable height.

Occasionally a marketer will try to “peak your interest” or “peek your interest,” but in that case the right word is pique, which means “to excite.” (Pique can also mean “to upset,” but hopefully that’s not what marketers intend.)

Precede and proceed

Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue. Where it gets confusing is when an –ing comes into play. 

“The proceeding announcement was brought to you by…” sounds fine, but preceding is correct since the announcement came before.

If it helps, think precedence: Anything that takes precedence is more important and therefore comes first.

Principle and principal

A principle is a fundamental: “Our culture is based on a set of shared principles.”Principal means primary or of first importance: “Our startup’s principal is located in NYC.” (Sometimes you’ll also see the plural, principals, used to refer to executives or relatively co-equals at the top of a particular food chain.)

Principal can also refer to the most important item in a particular set: “Our principal account makes up 60 percent of our gross revenues.”

Principal can also refer to money, normally a sum that was borrowed, but can be extended to refer to the amount you owe — hence principal and interest.

If you’re referring to laws, rules, guidelines, ethics, etc., use principle. If you’re referring to the CEO or the president (or an individual in charge of a high school), use principal.

Slander and libel

Don’t like what people say about you?

Like slander, libel refers to making a false statement that is harmful to a person’s reputation.

The difference lies in how that statement is expressed. Slanderous remarks are spoken while libelous remarks are written and published (which means defamatory tweets could be considered libelous, not slanderous).

Keep in mind what makes a statement libelous or slanderous is its inaccuracy, not its harshness. No matter how nasty a tweet, as long as it’s factually correct it cannot be libelous.

Truth is an absolute defense to defamation; you might wish a customer hadn’t said something derogatory about your business, but if what that customer said is true, then you have no legal recourse.

Stationary and stationery

You write on stationery. You get business stationery, such as letterhead and envelopes, printed.

But that box of envelopes is not stationary unless it’s not moving — and even then it’s still stationery.

Sympathy and empathy

Sympathy is acknowledging another person’s feelings. “I am sorry for your loss” means you understand the other person is grieving and want to recognize that fact.

Empathy is having the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and relate to how the person feels, at least in part because you’ve experienced those feelings yourself.

The difference is huge. Sympathy is passive; empathy is active. (Here’s a short video by Bren Brown that does a great job of describing the difference, and explains how empathy fuels connection while sympathy drives disconnection.)

Know the difference between sympathy and empathy, live the difference, and you’ll make a bigger difference in other people’s lives.

Systemic and systematic

If you’re in doubt, systematic is almost always the right word to use. Systematicmeans arranged or carried out according to a plan, method, or system. That’s why you can take a systematic approach to continuous improvement, or do a systematic evaluation of customer revenue or a systematic assessment of market conditions.

Systemic means belonging to or affecting the system as a whole. Poor morale could be systemic to your organization. Or bias against employee diversity could be systemic.

So if your organization is facing a pervasive problem, take a systematic approach to dealing with it — that’s probably the only way you’ll overcome it.

Then and than

Then refers in some way to time. “Let’s close this deal, and then we’ll celebrate!” Since the celebration comes after the sale, then is correct.

Then is also often used with if. Think in terms of if-then statements: “If we don’t get to the office on time, then we won’t be able to close the deal today.”

Than involves a comparison. “Landing Customer A will result in higher revenue than landing Customer B,” or “Our sales team is more committed to building customer relationships than the competition is.”

Ultimate and penultimate

I once received a pitch from a PR professional that read, “(Acme Industries) provides the penultimate value-added services for discerning professionals.”

As Inigo would say, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Ultimate means the best, or final, or last. Penultimate means the last but one, or second to last. (Or, as a Monty Python-inspired Michelangelo would say, “the Penultimate Supper!”)

But penultimate doesn’t mean second-best. Plus, I don’t think my PR friend meant to say her client offered second-class services. (I think she just thought the word sounded cool.)

Also, keep in mind that using ultimate is fraught with hyperbolic peril. Are you — or is what you provide — really the absolute best imaginable? That’s a tough standard to meet.

And now for the dreaded apostrophes:

It’s and its

It’s is the contraction of it is. That means it’s doesn’t own anything. If your dog is neutered (the way we make a dog, however much against his or her will, gender neutral), you don’t say, “It’s collar is blue.” You say, “Its collar is blue.”

Here’s an easy test to apply. Whenever you use an apostrophe, un-contract the word to see how it sounds. Turn it’s into it is: “It’s sunny” becomes “It is sunny.”

Sounds good to me.

They’re and their

Same with these: They’re is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn’t own anything. We’re going to their house, and I sure hope they’re home.

Who’s and whose

Whose password hasn’t been changed in six months?” is correct. Use the non-contracted version of who’s, like, “Who is (the non-contracted version of who’s) password hasn’t been changed in six months?” and you sound a little silly.

You’re and your

One more. You’re is the contraction of you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you’re doesn’t own anything.

A local nonprofit in my area once displayed a huge sign that said, “You’re Community Place.”

Hmm. “You Are Community Place”? No, probably not.

Now it’s your turn: What words would you add to the list?

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.


42 Daily Writing Tips by Mark Nichol  /  2d  //  keep unread  //  hide  //  preview

English sentence length

English sentence length

A few years ago, I wrote a post titled “How Long Should a Paragraph Be?” which argued that various pronouncements that dictate paragraph length (expounded for the benefit of beginning writers, who presumably are aided by the introduction of a circumscribed formula for success in composition) should be ignored in favor of a commonsense approach to organizing paragraphs according to the ideas expressed within; the correct answer, I argued, is that a paragraph has to be long enough to reach its end, meaning that a paragraph can be as short or as long as is required for a writer to express an idea.

Did the preceding paragraph seem too long? It’s not especially lengthy, but if it exhausted you to read it, that’s because it consists of a single sentence that is more than a hundred words long. Although I am known to write long, complex sentences, that one, which I deliberately stretched out to an excessive extent, is an example of a statement that could use some reorganization.

How long should a sentence be? Like a paragraph, it should be long enough to reach its end, but, as with a paragraph, that objective should be balanced with aesthetic considerations. A sentence can consist of one word or be infinitely long, but what will serve the reader while expressing a complete thought?

Generally, it’s more productive to provide a sequence of sentences of naturally varied length than to dictate how many words one is permitted to use in a given sentence; a succession of sentences of equal or similar length will distract readers, as will a series with wildly divergent word counts. Take care not to repeatedly overwhelm sentences with multiple forms of parenthesis (interjecting words or phrases—or entire sentences, for that matter, using commas, parentheses, or dashes). The previous sentence includes the three basic forms, but note that, aside from a single semicolon, I have refrained from introducing anything more complicated into this paragraph.

Don’t overthink the issue, of course. Write naturally, but when revising your work, attend to sentence length and combine or separate sentences that seem too abrupt or unwieldy (unless that is the effect you want to create). If you want a ballpark figure, go with a range of twenty to twenty-five words as a benchmark, though average length will vary depending on the literacy of your readership.

You’ve read the theory, now put it into practice! Get access to 800+ grammar exercises.

Image source: http://www.really-learn-english.com/parts-of-a-sentence.html


20 Common Grammar Mistakes

20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes

I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward. If there’s one thing I amgrateful for — and it sure isn’t the pay — it’s that my work has allowed endless time to hone my craft to Louis Skolnick levels of grammar geekery.

As someone who slings red ink for a living, let me tell you: grammar is an ultra-micro component in the larger picture; it lies somewhere in the final steps of the editing trail; and as such it’s an overrated quasi-irrelevancy in the creative process, perpetuated into importance primarily by bitter nerds who accumulate tweed jackets and crippling inferiority complexes. But experience has also taught me that readers, for better or worse, will approach your work with a jaundiced eye and an itch to judge. While your grammar shouldn’t be a reflection of your creative powers or writing abilities, let’s face it — it usually is.

Below are 20 common grammar mistakes I see routinely, not only in editorial queries and submissions, but in print: in HR manuals, blogs, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and even best selling novels. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve made each of these mistakes a hundred times, and I know some of the best authors in history have lived to see these very toadstools appear in print. Let’s hope you can learn from some of their more famous mistakes.

Who and Whom

This one opens a big can of worms. “Who” is a subjective — or nominative — pronoun, along with “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” and “they.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with “him,” “her,” “it”, “us,” and “them.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence. When in doubt, substitute “who” with the subjective pronouns “he” or “she,” e.g., Who loves you? cf., He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns “him” or “her.” e.g.I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him.

Which and That

This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring. e.g., I don’t trust fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. Here, I’m referring to all non-organic fruits or vegetables. In other words, I only trust fruits and vegetables that are organic. “Which” introduces a relative clause. It allows qualifiers that may not be essential. e.g., I recommend you eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. In this case, you don’t have to go to a specific grocery store to obtain organic fruits and vegetables. “Which” qualifies, “that” restricts. “Which” is more ambiguous however, and by virtue of its meaning is flexible enough to be used in many restrictive clauses. e.g., The house, which is burning, is mine. e.g., The house that is burning is mine.

Lay and Lie

This is the crown jewel of all grammatical errors. “Lay” is a transitive verb. It requires a direct subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is “lay” (e.g., I lay the pencil on the table) and its past tense is “laid” (e.g., Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table). “Lie” is an intransitive verb. It needs no object. Its present tense is “lie” (e.g., The Andes mountains lie between Chile and Argentina) and its past tense is “lay” (e.g., The man lay waiting for an ambulance). The most common mistake occurs when the writer uses the past tense of the transitive “lay” (e.g., I laid on the bed) when he/she actually means the intransitive past tense of “lie” (e.g., I lay on the bed).


Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion. e.g.,The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.

Continual and Continuous

They’re similar, but there’s a difference. “Continual” means something that’s always occurring, with obvious lapses in time. “Continuous” means something continues without any stops or gaps in between. e.g.,The continual music next door made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking prevented him from concentrating.

Envy and Jealousy

The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, often present in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons over your good-looking friend.


“Nor” expresses a negative condition. It literally means “and not.” You’re obligated to use the “nor” form if your sentence expresses a negative and follows it with another negative condition. “Neither the men nor the women were drunk” is a correct sentence because “nor” expresses that the women held the same negative condition as the men. The old rule is that “nor” typically follows “neither,” and “or” follows “either.” However, if neither “either” nor “neither” is used in a sentence, you should use “nor” to express a second negative, as long as the second negative is a verb. If the second negative is a noun, adjective, or adverb, you would use “or,” because the initial negative transfers to all conditions. e.g., He won’t eat broccoli or asparagus. The negative condition expressing the first noun (broccoli) is also used for the second (asparagus).

May and Might

“May” implies a possibility. “Might” implies far more uncertainty. “You may get drunk if you have two shots in ten minutes” implies a real possibility of drunkenness. “You might get a ticket if you operate a tug boat while drunk” implies a possibility that is far more remote. Someone who says “I may have more wine” could mean he/she doesn’t want more wine right now, or that he/she “might” not want any at all. Given the speaker’s indecision on the matter, “might” would be correct.

Whether and If

Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if.” It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.

Fewer and Less

“Less” is reserved for hypothetical quantities. “Few” and “fewer” are for things you can quantify. e.g., The firm has fewer than ten employees. e.g.,The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.

Farther and Further

The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract lengths you can’t always measure. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The financial crisis caused further implications.

Since and Because

“Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to causation. e.g., Since I quit drinking I’ve married and had two children. e.g., Because I quit drinking I no longer wake up in my own vomit.

Disinterested and Uninterested

Contrary to popular usage, these words aren’t synonymous. A “disinterested” person is someone who’s impartial. For example, a hedge fund manager might take interest in a headline regarding the performance of a popular stock, even if he’s never invested in it. He’s “disinterested,” i.e., he doesn’t seek to gain financially from the transaction he’s witnessed. Judges and referees are supposed to be “disinterested.” If the sentence you’re using implies someone who couldn’t care less, chances are you’ll want to use “uninterested.”


Unless you’re frightened of them, you shouldn’t say you’re “anxious to see your friends.” You’re actually “eager,” or “excited.” To be “anxious” implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to something.

Different Than and Different From

This is a tough one. Words like “rather” and “faster” are comparative adjectives, and are used to show comparison with the preposition “than,” (e.g., greater than, less than, faster than, rather than). The adjective “different” is used to draw distinction. So, when “different” is followed by a preposition, it should be “from,” similar to “separate from,” “distinct from,” or “away from.” e.g., My living situation in New York was different from home. There are rare cases where “different than” is appropriate, if “than” operates as a conjunction. e.g., Development is different in New York than in Los Angeles. When in doubt, use “different from.”

Bring and Take

In order to employ proper usage of “bring” or “take,” the writer must know whether the object is being moved toward or away from the subject. If it is toward, use “bring.” If it is away, use “take.” Your spouse may tell you to “take your clothes to the cleaners.” The owner of the dry cleaners would say “bring your clothes to the cleaners.”


It isn’t a word. “Impact” can be used as a noun (e.g., The impact of the crash was severe) or a transitive verb (e.g., The crash impacted my ability to walk or hold a job). “Impactful” is a made-up buzzword, colligated by the modern marketing industry in their endless attempts to decode the innumerable nuances of human behavior into a string of mindless metrics. Seriously, stop saying this.

Affect and Effect

Here’s a trick to help you remember: “Affect” is almost always a verb (e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans), and “effect” is almost always a noun (e.g., Facebook’s effects can also be positive). “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression — to cause hence, an effect. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are some exceptions. “Effect” may be used as a transitive verb, which means to bring about or make happen. e.g., My new computer effected a much-needed transition from magazines to Web porn. There are similarly rare examples where “affect” can be a noun. e.g., His lack of affect made him seem like a shallow person.

Irony and Coincidence

Too many people claim something is the former when they actually mean the latter. For example, it’s not “ironic” that “Barbara moved from California to New York, where she ended up meeting and falling in love with a fellow Californian.” The fact that they’re both from California is a “coincidence.” “Irony” is the incongruity in a series of events between the expected results and the actual results. “Coincidence” is a series of events that appear planned when they’re actually accidental. So, it would be “ironic” if “Barbara moved from California to New York to escape California men, but the first man she ended up meeting and falling in love with was a fellow Californian.”


Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood.Stop embarrassing yourself.

If you’re looking for a practical, quick guide to proper grammar, I suggest the tried-and-true classic The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. A few of these examples are listed in the book, and there are plenty more. Good luck!

Frank Bonkowski, Ph.D.
Preview new online writing course:  “How to Write Crystal-clear emails

Critical Thinking Survey

Critical thinking: A must in today’s workplace

Critical thinking

Critical thinking

Mark Twain once said, “I never let schooling interfere with my education.”

But even Mark Twain would never downplay the Three R’s. They have always been the traditional building blocks of academic and professional success.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic – the Three R’s – are still essential in achieving success in life and business.

But now the Four C’s, particularly critical thinking, are becoming increasingly important to success in the workplace.

The American Management Association (AMA) did a Four C’s survey in 2012. They asked over 750 managers and other executives about the importance of the four skills in their organization. Let`s find out what they found.

10 Highlights of the AMA survey

1. Four Cs described

The AMA  defined the Four C’s as critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration and creativity.

Critical thinking – along with problem solving — is necessary for making good decisions.

Effective communication in writing and speaking are necessary for you to clearly express your point of view.

Collaboration is necessary for working effectively with others with different points of view.

Creativity and innovation are at the heart of personal and business growth and productivity.

2. Four C’s as priorities
Over 70% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that communication skills, critical thinking, and collaboration were priorities in the next one to three years.

These skills were essential for employee development, top talent management and succession planning. Creativity came in fourth place mentioned by just under 70% of respondents.

3. Four C’s in annual assessment
Respondents agreed or strongly agreed that
– collaboration (77%),
– communication skills (75%),
– critical thinking (69%}, and
– creativity (54%)

were used to assess the skills and competencies of employees.

FREE Bonus: Are You a Critical Thinker? Learn how critical thinking can help you.

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4. Four C’s used when hiring
Close to 70% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Four Cs are used to assess the skills and competencies when hiring new people.

5. Four C’s ever more important
Seventy-five percent of the respondents said that Four C’s will become more important in the the next three to five years.

6. Four C’s: reasons for importance
Respondents said that the Four Cs are somewhat important or most important for these four reasons:
– pace of change (92%)
– global competition (86%)
– nature of work (78%)
– organizational structure (67%)

7. Four C’s: importance for growing the business
The respondents reported the Four Cs are somewhat important or most important in helping to grow the business in this order.
1. critical thinking (97%)
2. communication skills (96%)
3. collaboration (93%)
4. creativity (92%)

8. Four Cs: employee rating
Respondents said that their employees were either above-average or of the highest ability for the Four Cs in this order.
1. critical thinking (51%)
2. collaboration (48%)
3. creativity (39%)
4. communication skills (38%)

9. Four C’s: experienced workers versus recent graduates
Respondents said that experienced workers were either above-average or of highest ability (56%) compared to recent graduates (36%).

10. Four C’s: training and development
On the other hand, respondents said that students were somewhat easy or very easy to train or develop the Four Cs (49%) compared to experienced workers (27%).

Look for my next post coming soon – Critical thinking: A Critical Skill



Online Business English

Online Business English

Meet a Special Online Business English Teacher

Chris Rush is not your ordinary online business English teacher. He is an extraordinary one.

To learn more about Chris Rush, see my interview with him.

He provides lessons through his company Better Business English for intermediate to advanced English speakers. He helps them to further improve their language skills to improve their job prospects.

Most of my students are entirely functional in an English-speaking environment,” explains Rush, “But they want to focus on their accent and small errors so they can, for example, improve their presentation skills at work.

Given the starting point of intermediate English skills, Rush has been able to work with pupils from 100 different countries. He can also work with pure beginners from Spanish-speaking countries as he also speaks Spanish.

FREE Bonus: A Must for Busy Business People
Tips on improving reading comprehension and speed

Listen to my brief video describing four tools to improve.

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Rush Works With HR People

Rush contracts with enterprise companies. He works with their HR departments to find employees that can benefit from his services.

  • Chris provides one-on-one lessons with executives in need of English tutoring. He tailors the lesson to exactly the parts of speech the student struggles with.
  • Chris also uses digitized textbooks. Lessons mostly cover speaking, but they also work on listening, reading, and writing.

Rush wanted to ensure that he provided the best, most frictionless experience to his clients during their online lessons. This came down, in large part, to the quality of the tools he uses, including his communications software.

“Most people in my business use a popular consumer-grade solution. But I wanted something more professional,” said Rush.

For a while Chris used another cloud solution, but it lacked white boarding and annotation. It was  a difficult experience for his users.

“How to turn on the audio was completely unintuitive, which was hard on my clients. So for a while I was using one solution for audio, and another for video. That was just unnecessarily complicated.”

Rush Uses Zoom

Zoom is the complete package! It has the video and audio quality, white boarding, it is simple for people to join, and it works well in low bandwidth, exclaimed Rush.

The last point being crucial because Rush teaches many of his lessons from low bandwidth areas such as national parks as he travels around the US in an RV.

Rush pairs Zoom with a wireless headset, mouse, and HD webcam from Logitech. Add in his Macbook Air and a wireless card, and he has a fully mobile, high quality teaching environment.

Business English with Chris Rush

Business English with Chris Rush

At anytime, Rush may have 10 to 30 students for whom he provides one-on-one English lessons. His clients are mostly executives from major enterprise companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and McDonalds.

His lessons are 100% online and getting new business relies on providing quality experiences and lessons for his students. That’s why he switched to Zoom and why he sticks with Zoom.

Find out more about Zoom. Note that Chris is an affiliate of Zoom.

To learn more about Chris Rush, see my interview with him.

FREE Bonus: A Must for Busy Business People
Tips on improving reading comprehension and speed

Listen to my brief video describing four tools to improve.

Click Here to SubscribeZoom blog post

Master a second language

Master a second language

Master a Second Language: A big advantage

Guest Post by Vanessa Fardi / NEUVOO, Country Manager LATAM, Team Leader US

Thanks to globalization, knowing other languages ​has forced us to be bilingual and almost forget our mother tongue. It is definitely a big advantage when looking for a new job.

Numbers do not lie. Right now, nearly 60% of the jobs require the candidate to master a second language.

English and German are taking the lead in the list of the most popular languages ​​for employers. This is especially true in regard to the sectors of engineering, finance, new technologies and health.

However, according to recent surveys from Adecco, infoempleo and the Center for Sociological Research (CIS) in Spain, five languages will prevail among job seekers in 2016.

To our surprise, these languages are: Italian, Portuguese, German, French, and the ever-present English.

Master a Second Language: Enroll in a language course

Eighty-nine and a half percent of current vacancies require a second language. So it is time to enroll in the course of their choice. French makes the list being the official language in more than 30 countries. It is one of the five official languages in The United Nations. It is also outstanding in the field of tourism and pharmaceuticals.

German is the second most spoken language in Europe. It is also highlighted in the tourism sector, as well as those mentioned above.

Perhaps most striking thing about this list is to meet with the mother tongue of all grandmas, Portuguese. It has has had an impressive boom in these recent years in Europe, especially in Spain.

The heyday of Brazil as the first power economy in Latin America led them to appear in this little list. Portuguese is the official language in six countries, the near future looks very good for this language.

Master a Second Language: Reap the rewards

Is there anything else we should say to make you hurry and learn a second language?

If you need a little extra motivation, Laura Centeno, Country Manager for People Working, indicates that a bilingual person could earn 20% more than those who speak only one language.

Your job search starts here: UK

Send us your comments.  Email: vanessa@neuvoo.com / frank@frankbonkowski.com

Join Us!

Image source: http://thinking.umwblogs.org/tag/second-language/


How to Avoid Plagiarism

If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research.

Wilson Mizner

Plagiarism is stealing

Plagiarism is stealing

Who is guilty of plagiarism?

Have you ever taken parts of someone’s writing without citing the source?

Have you ever used quotations without giving credit?

Well, we all probably have. It’s easy, simple to do and seems harmless. If you haven’t mastered the intricacies of English, the language of global communication, it may be tempting to plagiarize. This is true for both native and non-native speakers of English – my audience.

Plagiarism has, of course, increased dramatically with the widespread use of the Internet. In her book, Successful College Writing, McWhorter calls it “cyberplagiarism.”

It can take 3 different forms.:

a) “borrowing” information from online sources without acknowledging it,

b) cutting and pasting material directly without citing the source,

c) buying essays or papers online and using them as your own work.

Copying the ideas of others is not new. Two thousand years ago the Roman poet Martial complained about others stealing his poetry.

Plagiarism is not just a violation of another’s writing.  It’s also harmful to creators of music, videos, and graphics.   For example, songwriters commit plagiarism and sometimes get heavy fines if found guilty. Recently, the Marvin Gaye family was awarded a whopping $ 7.3 million for copyright infringment of a 1977 Gaye song by another singer (1).

Any way you look at it, plagiarism is theft — the stealing of somebody else’s ideas.

Plagiarism is dumb.

Plagiarism is dumb.

How to beat plagiarism?

So how can you avoid plagiarism or be more conscious of it?

The answer is simple. Learn and practice how to take notes, to summarize, to paraphrase, and to quote correctly.

Let’s look briefly at each of these skills separately.

Tip #1 Beating Plagiarism: Learn to Take Notes

It all begins with careful reading and good note taking. I’m pretty good at taking notes because I’ve done it all my life — as a student, academic and business person. In fact, I’m fanatic about it. I particularly enjoy taking notes at meetings and conferences or during webinars. See my article, The Art of Note Taking.

In my writing book, Write Now, I define note taking as “the art of synthesizing information and putting it in ways that you personally understand.”

One technique I use with my non-native English speaking students at college level is called the Two-Column Method.

  • First, divide a page – either on paper or in Google drive – into a large right column.
  • Then write down notes describing facts, key ideas and quotations in that column.
  • Next, write down keywords or questions in a smaller left column.
  • Finally, in a small block undernetath, write a summary presenting the main idea. Include the source as well.

More about summary writing later.

Here is a student example using the two-column method presented in an academic English course I teach. The student had to take notes on an online film review.

Film: “No Country for Old Men”

Keyword and questions

  • Unpredictable narrative
  • Breathtaking
  • Sanguinary film
  • Remarkably
  • Sharpest
Notes (key ideas and facts)A modern movie
Remains remarkably grounded in the everyday”
“Sharpest Coen Bros. film in years”
“Excruciating violence to ratchet up the tension”
“Shocks ’round every plot twist”
Review by Bob Mondello , art critic: A really great movie and even the best Coen’s Brothers film in a while.
The movie has a surprising narration and is remarkably authentic and realistic.
The violence keeps the tension high and shocks viewers at every turn in the plot.


Tip #2 Beating Plagiarism: Learn to Summarize

Beat Plagiarism

Beat Plagiarism

Summarizing is the art of stating the general ideas and main supporting ideas of a text in your own words.

Here are some techniques to keep in mind:

  • Practice identifying the writer’s thesis or focus.
  • Write the summary in as few words as you can.
  • Identify the topîc sentence or main idea of each paragraph in longer texts.

Let’s practice with an activity that appears in my blog post, “Summarizing: An Important Skill.”

Here is part of an article by Christopher McCormick entitled “Countries with better English have better economies” that appeared in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.

  1. Read the two paragraphs below and practice summarizing them.
  2. Write down your own summary for each paragraph.
  3. Then choose the best summary for each paragraph from the list below.
  4. Finally, compare your summary writing with my suggested answers (at the end of the post).

How did you do? How is your skill in summarizing?

Paragraph 1:  New Opportunities

Billions of people around the globe are desperately trying to learn English—not simply for self-improvement, but as an economic necessity. It’s easy to take for granted being born in a country where people speak the lingua franca of global business, but for people in emerging economies such as China, Russia, and Brazil, where English is not the official language, good English is a critical tool, which people rightly believe will help them tap into new opportunities at home and abroad.

Paragraph 2: Economic Performance

Research shows a direct correlation between the English skills of a population and the economic performance of the country. Indicators like gross national income (GNI) and GDP go up. In our latest edition of the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), the largest ranking of English skills by country, we found that in almost every one of the 60 countries and territories surveyed, a rise in English proficiency was connected with a rise in per capita income. And on an individual level, recruiters and HR managers around the world report that job seekers with exceptional English compared to their country’s level earned 30-50% percent higher salaries.

Possible answers:

A. A country like Sweden has one of the highest performing economies because the government realizes the importance of English.

B. Studies show a clear link between knowledge of English and higher salaries in most of the 60 places studied

C. People around the world, especially in countries with  growing economies,  such as Brazil,  realize that  learning English will improve their chances of success.

How did you do? Check your answers at the end of the article.

Tip #3 Beating Plagiarism: Learn to Paraphrase

The skill of paraphrasing is more challenging to master than summarizing. McGarell and Brillinger, authors of Writing for Results, define paraphasing as a restatement of an original text in your own words. It could be a restatement of an entire sentence, part of a sentence, or one or more paragraphs, written in about the same length as the original.

It requires a high mastery of the language because you have to rephrase the vocabulary and sentence structure of the original version.  It shows that you understand clearly the meaning of the original text. Paraphrasing is a useful way for all writers, but particularly non-native speakers of English, to improve their writing skills.

Here is a good example of paraphrasing from Writing for Results, p. 71:

Original text


“To development psychologists, the study of creativity is necessarily anchored in the study of human development.”  Gardner, H. (1993). Creating Minds. New York: Basic Books, p. 31. Psychologists who work in the field of human development believe that any research into creativity must be situated firmly in the study of human development (Gardner, 1993:31).

Notice the 3 major changes made to the original text:

Original text


to development psychologists becomes Psychologists who work in the field of human development
the study of creativity becomes research into creativity
anchored becomes situated firmly

Tip #4 Beating Plagiarism: Learn to Quote

Another good technique to avoid plagiarism is to quote from other sources. In Write Now, I recommend using direct and indirect quotes to support your ideas.

Direct quote: Frank wrote, “I also use books, newspapers, scholarly journals and magazines at the main city library.”

Indirect quote: Frank said that he also uses books . . . and magazines at the main library.

Note the change in the pronoun and the verb. Notice I also use ellipsis (3 points) to leave out words that don’t change the original meaning.

You can use in-line or blended quotations:

Example 1: Mohammed Ali, a figure larger than life, once said, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” (within a sentence)

Example 2: “So how can we stop plagiarism or at least raise people’s consciousness about it?” I asked earlier in this article. (at the beginning of a sentence)

Keep in mind, however, not to use too many direct quotations. It weakens your writing. The goal in good writing is to seamlessly weave quotations into your text.

For quotations longer than 5 lines, you want to indent the text.


So learn to use these 4 plagiarism beating tips: take good notes, summarize, paraphrase, and quote properly. You need to work at these skills often and continue to practice them.

These tips may save you a lot of embarrassment. If you do plagiarize, you could fail a course at school, get kicked out of school, lose your job or, worst of all, damage your reputation.


Answers to summarizing activity
Paragraph 1. C, Paragraph 2. B


1. “Hit Single Plagiarized 1977 Song, Jury Rules,” New York Times (National Edition): B1, March 11, 2015.

“Plagiarism is stealing”: courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net by iosphere.

“Plagiarism is dumb”: courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net by 1shots.

“Beat Plagiarism”: courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net by emily9.

Effective memo writing

Effective memo writing

Memo Writing: a common form of business writing often done poorly

Let’s look at what a memo is, why it is used and how to write a professional-looking memo.  Finally, you’ll have a chance to correct a poorly written memo in the role of the sharp-eyed editor.

First,  a memo is a short, informal, written communication used within a company.  Although it may be informal, it still needs to be done properly. Your colleagues as well as your superior may read it — and undoubtedly judge it.  Remember that anything you say, do or write should reflect well on you.

Second, a memo usually has three purposes:

1.  To show or explain important facts –  summary of a meeting,  a progress report,  or new information.

2.  To ask permission or let others know what you’re doing –  describe a new technique you are using, for example.

3.  To propose an idea or persuade others to do something –   start a new project or suggest improvements.

Third,  a professional-looking memo should be “SMART.”   Garrett and Dennis in their book, 10 Minute Guide to Effective Business Writing (not available on Amazon) define SMART this way:

Specific: focus on one, clear issue

Measurable:  show that the objective of the memo is achieved

Actionable:  demonstrate that to achieve the purpose of the memo is within your control

Rewarding:  achieve a purpose that is of value for you and your company

Terse:  state the purpose clearly and concisely

Let’s now look at the three-step process for writing clearly and effectively: 1)  know your  purpose, 2)  picture your audience,  and 3)  get your audience to do something.  It’s a process I describe in more detail in my writing book, Write Now: Business Writing That Gets Results.

Memo writing tip 1: Know your purpose

Ask yourself these questions:

–  Why am I writing?

–  What am I writing about?

–  What is my purpose or objective? Is it to inform or persuade?

–  Do I have a single, clear purpose?

Memo writing tip 2.  Picture your audience

Ask yourself these questions:

–   Who’s going to read the memo?

–   Depending on its purpose, am I sending it to the right people?

–   Will they have an impact on the issue I’m writing about?

–   What do they already know about the issue?

–   Do they have a point of view about your proposal or request?

 Memo writing tip 3:  Get your audience to do something

More questions to ask yourself:

–   What do I want my audience to do? (Take action,  approve the action I want to take, agree with my point of view)

–   Do I make it clear what I want my audience to do?

–   Do I respect my audience’s time?

–   Do I  understand my audience’s perspective on the issue?

–   Will my recommendations affect my readers’ success,  failure, or day-to-day actions?

Memo writing tip 4: Have impeccable style and layout

Other questions:

–  Is my memo “SMART”?

–  Am I using dates and capitals correctly?

–  Do I have proper alignment?

What’s wrong with this memo?

Match the number in the memo with the mistakes following the memo.


T0:         Frank

From:     liam [2.]

Date:     December 12 [3.]

Re:         New project [4.]

Cc:    Louise  [5.]

Jim Fox, the president of Lotus Communication, wrote me recently. He proposed that we create a webinar together. [6.]

Lotus Communication works with major universities around the world. It offers online learning programs aimed at non-native English speaking university graduates. Jim would like us to work together to offer a live webinar describing our new business writing course. [7.]

The details and content of the webinar are up to us. Let’s talk about it. [8.]

a.  Not clear about the value of the webinar
b.  Missing the year: 2015
c.  Alignment incorrect
d.  First letter of name not capitalized
e.  Not clear about the purpose of the memo
f.   Not clear about what action to take
g.  Capital letters missing
h.  Message not specific enough

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Suggested answers: 1. g, 2. d, 3. b, 4. h., 5. c., 6. e, 7. 8. f

{ 1 comment }

What is Learning for You?

Lifelong learning is essential to your growth as a person

Learning Myths

Learning Myths

As an established educator and writer I am of course biased. For me, lifelong learning has always been essential to my growth as a professional as well as a person.  Even if you are just finishing college or university, you need to have the same mindset.

On her soft skills list Lei Han refers to self-management skills.  The first skill she lists is having a “growth mindset” –  being able to “learn, grow, and change for the better.”

Why is this key?  Because your success in life depends on constantly learning and improving yourself.  I wrote a previous post on the communication skills most in demand. These skills, for example, include knowing how to interact with others, knowing how to listen actively, and knowing how to write well.

If you’re not naturally gifted or a genius – which I am not, you (just like me) need to LEARN these things.

Recently, I came across a fascinating book, How We Learn, by Monisha Pasupathi.  At the beginning of the book, she talks about learning myths.  Let’s see what you think about learning.

Let’s take a Learning Quiz

Read the following statements. Say whether you think they’re true or false.  Don’t look right away at the answers following the quiz. Read the comments first.

1. Learning is always purposeful and aware.

2. Intelligent people don’t necessarily know how to maximize learning.

3. When you feel you are really learning, you’re confident and successful.

4. Being too emotional doesn’t necessarily get in the way of or prevent learning.

5. If you’re not interested in something, you won’t or can’t learn it.

How did you do?

Here are some comments about each of the 5 points based on Pasupathi‘s work.  The answers to the quiz follow the comments.

1.  We are not always aware of what and when we’re learning.  We learn all the time without always realizing it.

2. People – even smart people,  often make the wrong decision when choosing learning strategies.  They don’t necessarily know what they learned well.  Also, they are not sure about know what to do or not to do to practice.

3. When we’re learning, we are often confused, frustrated and uncertain. This is a good thing. It forces us to reach a new level of understanding.

4. Emotions may help or hinder learning.  Emotions can narrow our focus or broaden and expand it.  They may be helpful in some situations.

5. This statement seems to make sense, but it isn’t so. It seems obvious that interest helps learning. On the other hand,  learning can help us develop an interest we didn’t know we had.

In my next post, I look at more myths about learning.


1.  False, 2. True, 3. False, 4. True, 5. False
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