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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    As You, Like, Like It

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    "Like" is a frequently misused word nowadays. Basically, there are just two correct uses: as a preposition when presenting a comparison…

    "Time creeps like a turtle."

    and as a verb meaning "to have positive feelings for"…

    "Bears like honey."

    Often, however, "like" is misused as a conjunction, when "as" should be used instead. Consider the old cigarette advertisement that erroneously declared, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." While the ad campaign was memorable, the grammar was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that you can use it as a memory aid for how not to use "like."

    In recent decades, "like" has also become used as a casual "filler" word in popular vernacular, especially among the young: "So we were, like, going to meet, like, at the park. But then it, like, started to rain." It is also often coupled with a form of "be" for use in place of "said": "So I was like, 'I don't believe it,' and he was like, 'It's totally true.'" Neither of these uses is acceptable for business.

    That casual employment has, however, led to one possible permanent addition to "like's" repertoire. In a Vanity Fair article a couple of years ago, Christopher Hitchens quoted novelist Ian McEwan as suggesting that as an interjection, "like" creates hyperbole and emphasis, as in the statement, "It was, like, the worst movie ever." Still, we would not suggest this usage for business communication.

    So why bother discussing these casual usages of "like" at all? Well, language does slowly shift and change, especially spoken language. (See our blog entry, "Not Just One but Four Grammars—And Why That's Good.") So what might be unthinkable in one context (such as a report or a formal speech) might be more acceptable in another (a casual brainstorming session, for example). Only by understanding the difference between formal rules and casual usage can we be certain to communicate effectively.

    —Joyce Lee

    P.S. As a fun exercise, count how many times a construction with "as" appears above. In which of them might someone mistakenly use "like"? J.L.

    Photo by Paolo Camera

    What Was She Thinking?

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    I have a friend who has a quick temper and a quicker computer. She will read something that makes her angry and dash off a quick e-mail reviling the writer, or post a scathing comment on the writer's blog. With one quick click, the message is sent on to shock the writer - frequently someone she doesn't even know. Needless to say, there have been repercussions. She has lost business and even friends, just because she doesn't take time to cool down before sending.

    This is one of the great perils of our electronic age - the gut response. Now we can react to anything immediately, through e-mail, blogging, and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and the rest, all promoting - nay, encouraging - instant communication with no muss…no fuss…(no brains). We have become doers in lieu of thinkers, sometimes in the worst way. And in the process, we risk embarrassing ourselves and alienating others.

    When communicating with people - especially in business - we need to slow down and think a little more. Before hitting "send" on that irritated e-mail, consider the possible results. Do you want that client to believe you think he's an idiot? Probably not. Yet even the smallest negative word can carry big consequences.

    Therein lies the crux of the matter: Even small words carry power. They can hurt, insult, and destroy; or they can compliment, placate, and inspire. So choose your words with great thought, and weigh them with utmost care. Let your message sit for an hour. Take a break and come back to re-read your words with a fresh mind. Only after you are certain you are sending the message you really want to convey should you click "send."

    - Joyce Lee

    Photo by Zinaad

    A Contest Can Make Your Business a Winner

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Hand-drawn sweepstakes ticketLooking for a creative way to drive traffic to your Web site, maybe introduce your product to new customers? Of course you are. One idea might be a contest or sweepstakes, offering the chance to open your product to new markets.

    The advantages of having a contest are many, including driving people to your Web site where they will learn more about your company. Most contest entries require an e-mail signup as well, giving you an expanded list for marketing purposes. A contest also humanizes a company and can lend it the rosy glow of being fun. It establishes your brand and gives you a wider audience.

    To prepare, consider the type of contest you are running, and the prizes being offered. Your contest should be related to your product, of course. For example, if you manufacture vacuum cleaners, your main prize might be cleaning related and might be anything from your top-of-the-line vacuum to a month of cleaning service. Naturally, your budget will determine the size of the prize, and your company's purpose will determine the audience. If you run a family theme park, for instance, your prize should be family oriented, but if you are a prestige liquor distributor, your prize would be geared more toward adults.

    Next, write the text to announce the contest on your Web site. This shouldn't be just an explanation of the rules. Use it as a chance to project your company's personality. A contest or sweepstakes should be exciting and fun! Your Web copy should capture that excitement, while also providing the essential facts about how to sign up.

    Follow that friendly information with any legal requirements and contest rules, such as requiring winners to participate in advertisements. You'll want to establish those rules before you post the contest, so that there isn't any confusion later on. Fortunately, the Web is full of contest examples both good and not so good, so that you can best prepare your own text. Oh, and check with your IT people to make sure your system is set up to receive the responses and the increased traffic.

    Remember, too, that a main purpose of having a contest is to spread your brand awareness and draw more people to your site. So make sure the rest of your site is inviting, that menus and text links make visitors want to explore and learn more after they've submitted their contest entries. In effect, your contest is a Welcome mat, but your true goal is to show visitors around the rest of your home. If you need to do a bit of "housekeeping" to prepare your site before launching the contest, that's time well spent.

    Finally, when you do launch your contest, keep the duration short, or people will forget about it or lose interest. Announce all winners and make sure the prizes are delivered in a timely fashion. Generally it's better to run several small contests at intervals than to attempt one long one—even with a bigger prize.

    Here's hoping your contest goes well. Let us know!

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by jma.work

    Power to the Pointer

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

     The first time I created a PowerPoint presentation, I went a little crazy. I overdid all those neat little bells and whistles - animations, colors, patterns, sounds - so my presentation ended up like a carnival midway.

    And my message was lost in the tumult.

    Learn from my mistake. When preparing a PowerPoint presentation, don't get all caught up in the technology. Animations and such are great, but only if they serve a purpose.

    Now you might ask yourself, so what's the attraction of features like animation anyway? Think about a time you sat through a long, boring lecture that was nothing but a single speaker reading from notes. Do you remember anything from that presentation? Chances are your brain shut off from monotony. Now imagine if the same speech had been presented in colorful bites with movement that woke up your brain. The benefits of a colorful, zesty presentation include grabbing and holding audience attention and connecting main points to visuals so that they can be remembered.

    The trick is to not go overboard and dazzle your audience with so many pyrotechnics that they lose the point of your presentation. Choose interesting but subdued backgrounds for your slides. Make your transitions practical and cohesive, allowing them to signal a wake-up without getting the listener off track. And most important, follow the standard pattern of a good speech: "Tell them what you're going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you told them." Using attractive, muted colors, start with a quick overview; give your main points and supporting details; and then wrap it all up with a crisp and efficient listing of your main points.

    That's it. When it comes to PowerPoint, opt for interesting instead of dazzling, and let your message show through.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

    Oh Those Meetings...

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    I recently sat in on a meeting the made my eyes droop and my toes curl. The purpose of the meeting was clear—it was the regular assembly of a civic organization with established goals—yet it dragged on, veering from topic to topic and back again. One member was consistently breaking into the discussion with information, relevant or not, and what could have been a one-hour meeting was doubled.

    This isn't an isolated incident, of course. All too often meetings fall prey to the random commentator, eating into the other attendees' time (even extending their workday). However, when calling or chairing a meeting, there are a few things you can do to avoid it crumbling into a disorganized, inefficient mess.

    First, decide on a clear purpose for the meeting. This might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many meetings wander into nether regions, failing to work toward specific outcomes. Decide what actions should come out of the meeting for each subject, and don't let a topic go by unresolved. Focus on those outcomes, and you can steer rambling speakers back on track.

    Next, prepare an agenda. This includes a listing of each topic to be discussed, from most to least important (the way a news story is written). This ensures that should the meeting have to break up early, you will at least have covered the essentials. If possible, distribute the agenda to attendees well before the meeting, and allow them to suggest additions to be added where appropriate. A clear agenda, reviewed beforehand, will help to focus attention item by item, preventing disruption by off-topic comments.

    At the beginning of the meeting, set a time limit on discussion per topic. This can help to keep the more talkative from rambling on. You might even bring a timer to help the group stick to that limit. By the way, this is also a good idea for any speakers invited—let them know beforehand that you would like them to work within a specific time frame. With this done, stick to the schedule as closely as possible. The participants will thank you.

    For a regular meeting of an ongoing civic, charitable, or non-profit organization, you might consider adding the topics “old business” and “new business” at the end, allowing participants to bring up their topics in an orderly fashion. Otherwise, you'll find random topics thrown in throughout the meeting. This way, you can simply defer non-relevant discussions until you get through your main business.

    Finally, and most importantly, if you are in charge of the meeting, Take Charge. Tactfully steer non sequiturs and off-topic comments back to the subject being discussed. That is the true role of a meeting chairperson—the ability to keep things on track.

    If you have further questions on how to run a meeting, you can't do wrong by referring to Robert's Rules of Order, the quintessential reference for any meeting. Although developed in 1876 by Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert, who was disgusted with the lack of order in military and governmental meetings, it is still excellent and has been revised to reflect modern meeting practices. You can check the official site, www.robertsrules.org, for some basics.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Brett Jordan