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    Perfect Correspondence, in Spite of the Weather

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    We blame a lot of things on the weather. Have you ever noticed that?

    "Gosh, my knee's been aching. I think it's the rain. And the kids are squirrely, too. Must be that low front." Maybe this tact could work for our writing: "This letter is awful. Must be the dew point." Nope, doesn't make it. When it comes to poor writing - from its sketchy content to the last misplaced comma, the weather is no excuse.

    Here's a story for you. My aunt, born in 1914, was a secretary all her life, and from all reports, she was a highly valued employee. She had attended a small business college in her hometown, and I bothered to dig up a copy of the institution's catalog. At the top of the page introducing the faculty, this quotation appears: "He who cares not to do a thing hides behind the excuse that it cannot be done."

    Well, Aunt Elsie took the challenge. No one was going to tell her that perfection in her correspondence was impossible. When she finished a letter or report, her facts were straight, her t's were crossed, i's dotted, and spelling impeccable - and this was well before the days of word-processing programs, and in all kinds of weather. I guess she was an expert of sorts, having taken 60 hours of Business English, 85 hours of Business Writing, 30 hours of Spelling (yes, spelling), and who knows what else.

    Today, as always, we arrive in the workplace with varying degrees of talent and preparedness for the writing we must do. But there is help available - from writing handbooks and aids, both in print and online, to the invaluable resource of our coworkers. The peer review (a.k.a. getting help) does actually work. And there are still Aunt Elsie types in our midst, ready to read the paragraphs and sections we're stuck on and offer a few helpful comments.

    So, assuming you've nixed the old excuse that it can't be done, and ignoring the weather forecast, how do you personally bring your business writing to that coveted point of perfection?

    - Lois Krenzke

    Photo by Jsome1