Write for Business - Blog

UpWrite Press understands the importance of writing skills in business: We're business people just like you. On this blog you'll find tips to improve your writing, along with topics of interest to our staff.

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    Avoid Email Pitfalls

    Tuesday, February 26, 2013

    Email has become the communication standard in business. It’s a fast, inexpensive way to keep connected. Yet email can also pose hazards, ranging from merely embarrassing to outright catastrophic.

    Here are four critical things to remember in your own use of email:

    • Email is not private. Many companies have employees sign an agreement that email will be subject to viewing by the management. Even your wireless devices are not necessarily exempt, as Wi-Fi can also be monitored. Sound like “electronic surveillance”? It’s actually just “risk management,” an important part of modern business.
    • Email is forever. As news stories often remind us, off-color or inappropriate emails can return to haunt a person. Emails sent or received on your company computer may be archived and could resurface later. Even if you use a cloud service, your messages can become subject to public scrutiny.
    • Email can be used as evidence. The judicial system has accepted email as proper evidence in such cases of libel, defamation, and even poor practice habits. It’s entirely possible for a “joke” sent in an email to fall into the wrong hands and be construed as harassment. Such allegations can reflect badly on an entire business.
    • Email can be infected. Just like mutating flu strains, new and more dangerous computer viruses are popping up every day. Unless you diligently keep up with the latest anti-virus software, your business computers can be attacked and your vital information and records corrupted or destroyed. And spam often carries infected attachments that may not be recognized by your anti-virus software. So be careful what you open.

    Other “hazards” of email may be less severe, but they’re still worth noting:

    • Missing or misleading subject lines: A good subject line provides a precise indication of the message content. Not only does this help convince the receiver to open the message in the first place, it also makes finding that message again later much easier.
    • Unproofed copy: Sloppy writing suggests a lack of concern about details. That’s not a good impression to convey with your message. Don’t let the speed and ease of email tempt you to click “Send” before rereading for typographical errors and other problems.
    • Incomplete information: Although email is fast, that speed can be undermined by a back-and-forth exchange to answer questions or clear up misconceptions. When writing, make your original message as clear and complete as possible before sending. When receiving, read the message thoroughly before writing back with questions. A little care on both ends can avoid time wasted in an exchange of further emails. 
    • The wrong tone: It’s difficult to convey emotion in writing—especially in email, which is often written and read more quickly than other text. Studies show that while most writers think they’ve done a good job of expressing a feeling, and most readers think they’ve done a good job of interpreting it, the actual percentage of understanding is abysmally low. So it’s generally best to reserve email for factual communication, and to use phone, voice chat, or video chat for other messages. If you must convey a potentially emotional message in writing, write a draft, let it sit, revise it, and ask someone else to read it and comment, before you send a final draft.

    Despite predictions that email is dying, supplanted by text messaging and voice or video chat, it remains a powerful tool in the business world. And like any tool, it performs best when used expertly. May your own use of email reflect well upon you.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by infrogmation

    Is Your Writing Reader-Centric?

    Friday, February 08, 2013

    Focusing on the reader is key in business writing. Unlike speech, where vocal emphasis helps deliver the message, the business writer must rely on the written word alone. Knowing where to place importance can make the difference in the way your message is perceived. Here are some hints for delivering the most effective message.

    First, make your message “you-centric.”

    What do your readers need to know about your message? More importantly, what do they want to know? Address any needs or questions they might have and stress how your message will affect them.

    Instead of:

    We are offering our best customers a new service option featuring enhanced coverage at a low introductory price.

    Write:

    Because you are a preferred customer, you have the opportunity to try our latest service options, featuring enhanced coverage at a low introductory price.

    Next, emphasize the positive aspects of your message.

    Avoid negative language, and focus on any benefits the reader will gain.

    Let’s say, for example, you are writing to your customers to inform them of an upcoming price hike of your service. This is a negative message, but you can soften the impact through your choice of language.

    Instead of:

    This letter is to inform you that as of March 1, our monthly rate will increase by 3 percent. This is regrettably necessary to cover our rising costs. Thank you for your continued patronage.

    Write:

    This letter is to inform you that as of March 1, your monthly payment will increase by 3 percent. We regret this necessary increase and remain dedicated to offering you the very best service at the lowest possible price. Your business is appreciated, and we look forward to serving you in the future.

    Note that the second letter sounds more positive and places emphasis on the reader’s importance.

    Finally, choose your words carefully to get your message across.

    Your words should be strong and clear but should also carry the tone you wish to communicate. For example, you can convey a relationship beyond business by changing:

    Thank you for your business

    to something more like:

    We have enjoyed partnering in your financial journey.

    Or perhaps:

    Your collaboration has meant more to us than just a business deal.

    In “you-centric” writing, your main focus is on your readers. Make your message important to them, make it pleasant, and make it positive. Your results will be gratifying.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Filippo

    Parallel Writing for Clarity

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    Unparallel construction uses words, phrases, and sometimes clauses that are inconsistent in form. This inconsistency can result in jarring, confusing, choppy writing. Here are some examples and corrections of unparallel writing.

    • Verb forms. The verb forms in a series should be consistent.

    Unparallel: We emailed, faxed, and had texted our customers to alert them of the change.
    (Verb forms shift from past to past-perfect tense.)

    Parallel: We emailed, faxed, and texted our customers to alert them of the change.
    (All verbs are past tense.)

    Famous example: “I came; I saw; I conquered.” —Julius Caesar

    • Phrases. The types of phrases used in a series ought to be consistent.

    Unparallel: After networking all day, talking to many customers, and then to seal several big deals, the team was tired.
    (Verbals shift from gerunds to an infinitive.)

    Parallel: After networking all day, talking to many customers, and then sealing several big deals, the team was tired.
    (All verbal phrases use gerunds.)

    Famous example: “[G]overnment of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” —Abraham Lincoln

    • Clauses. When two or more clauses are used to make an overall point, parallel construction can add emphasis and clarity to the message.

    Unparallel: The board met every day for two weeks, they would pore over the financial reports, and the members had to make some hard decisions.
    (The clauses use different subjects and verb forms.)

    Parallel: The board met every day for two weeks, they pored over the financial reports, and they made some hard decisions.
    (Using parallel subjects and verb forms unifies the three clauses into a strong point.)

    Famous example: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” —Benjamin Franklin

    Keeping elements parallel gives them equal weight, creating balance and rhythm in your writing, which sends a clear message to your reader.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by far closer

    Big Trouble in Little Commas

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Consider the little things that often cause trouble—the speck in your eye, the pebble in your shoe, the drip in your sink, and so on. In writing, one such trouble is the omission or misplacement of commas. Here are quick reminders of three places commas should be used.

    • Following introductory clauses and phrases: Commas are needed to set these off from the rest of a sentence.

      Example introductory clause: Although we had gone over the company’s requirements, the advertising campaign fell woefully short of our needs.

      Example introductory Phrase: By my reckoning, we needed to obtain at least three more sales to finish the year in the black.
    • Between independent clauses: A comma is needed to separate two or more complete thoughts in one sentence. Place the comma before the coordinating conjunction.

      Example 1: Madeleine spoke about making the office more environmentally friendly, and then she introduced our new energy plan.

      Example 2: You can elect to go with the company insurance plan, or you can select the HMA option.
    • Around nonrestrictive modifiers: Use commas to separate modifying phrases that aren’t critical to understanding the sentence.

      Example 1: Chris introduced the new hire, a recent college graduate, to the rest of the team.

      Example 2: The contract, which had been extensively revised, was finally signed.

    Want more? Check out page 258 of Write for Business for more information on using commas to set off different elements in sentences.

    —Joyce Lee

    Image by Brett Jordan

    S or ES? Plurals of Nouns Ending in O

    Friday, August 03, 2012

    Sometimes things that appear to be the most confusing…are really the simplest.

    Take, for example, spelling the plural form of nouns ending in “o.” We are often stuck in the “s or es” quandary, wondering, “Is adding s enough, or should I add es?”  

    Don’t overthink it.

    The fact is, for most nouns ending in “o,” you simply add s. These include cases in which…

    • the letter before the final “o” is a vowel—studios, videos, kangaroos;
    • the letter before the final “o” is a consonant, but the word is a shortened version of another word—typos (short for “typographical errors”), photos (short for “photographs”), autos (short for “automobiles”);
    • the letter before the final “o” is a consonant, but the word is a proper noun—Navahos, Picassos;
    • or the word has come into American English from another language—burritos and tangos (from Spanish), kimonos (from Japanese).

    So when do you add es instead? Actually, there are very few nouns ending in “o” that need an es to make them plural, and you can just memorize them. The most common are potatoes, echoes, heroes, torpedoes, vetoes, and embargoes.

    Finally, many nouns ending in “o” can be spelled either way; for example, tornados/tornadoes, zeros/zeroes, and mosquitos/mosquitoes. Check your dictionary for the preferred spelling, but know that either is correct. 

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Jeremy Keith