August 2008
Writing eTips: mid-month mini UpWrite Press

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

—George Orwell

Word Pair of the Month: interstate, intrastate

These words offer an example of a common confusion: Hmm—is it “inter” or “intra”? You just have to remember that “inter” means between two or more things, while “intra” means within one thing. So “interstate” means a connection between two or more states, as in this sentence:

Highway 80 is the longest interstate highway in the nation, running from California to New Jersey.

On the other hand, “intrastate” indicates existence within a single state, as in this sentence:

My father’s business was strictly intrastate, dealing only with other Wisconsin companies.

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August Writer’s Forum Question:

Many offices have an open environment, either with or without cubicles that do little to block out extraneous noise. How does your office try to minimize such noise? How do you deal with a nearby coworker who plays music or talks on the phone in a loud voice? In short, how do you handle outside distractions when you are working? Share with us your experiences, hints, and advice.

Luci McNeill, a sales representative in Philadephia, says sharing an office can be pretty distracting:

Because there are three of us sales reps sharing a small office, it’s not hard to be distracted by each other. And the nature of our work demands a lot of phone time for all of us, which adds to the problem. We try to speak softly on the phone, which presents a nicer connection to the client anyway. For the most part, though, we’re so engrossed in our own work, we’ve pretty much learned to tune each other out.

Raina Danovich, an accountant in Seattle, has this to say:

We recently got new cubes with heavier padding, and that absorbs some noise. Still, you always hear other people’s conversations—especially if they are loud. I personally find it helpful to just plug in my earphones and play classical music—it blots out the noise and doesn’t distract me from my work.

Gregg Banning is an office manager for an art-materials supply company employing just eight people in the office. When his company reorganized its office into a large open area, he attacked the inevitable noise problems head-on.

When our office reorganized its space, I worried about potential noise problems, so I arranged for an in-service to instruct our people on the best ways to combat noise pollution. We talked about individual rights, cooperation, and consideration, and I established some ground rules regarding the use of radios and sound levels. We also rearranged desks so people who are on the phone the most are away from the others. These are mostly little things, but together they make a big difference.

Finally, Jason Baumann of Fort Worth broke it down into two separate issues:

First there’s the personal issue: Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about noise, and you just have to teach yourself to ignore everything except what you are working on. But the second issue deals with office dynamics. The best thing you can do is to establish a rapport with the rest of your coworkers. Get to know them, be friendly, promote a genial atmosphere. When people know you personally, they are more likely to be considerate. Plus, it’s easier to ask someone you’re friendly with if they can keep the noise down a bit.

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