March 2013  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Test Your Writing Acumen

Irregular verbs do not follow the usual pattern of adding ed to make the past-tense and past-participle forms. Test your knowledge by writing the correct form of the irregular verb in parentheses for each of the following sentences.

  1. We had already ______________ to the mall when we heard the news. (go)
  2. The burglar ________________ down the door. (break)
  3. That argument has_______________ us closer to a solution. (bring)
  4. By August, the new project had already ___________. (begin)
  5. We ___________ his word about the project’s importance. (take)
  6. We were surprised when he ______________ up. (speak)
  7. Susan ___________________ the book on the table. (lay)
  8. I wish we had _______________ with the problem sooner. (deal)
  9. I could have ______________ we’d finished the research. (swear)
  10. We _____________ all day and were exhausted. (ride)
  11. He thought we ______________ he was joking. (know)
  12. We learned that they _____________ the person responsible. (catch)

Answers can be found at the end of this newsletter.

Writing with Purpose: Bad News

In February’s Mid-Month Mini, we recommended using an inverted pyramid structure for most written messages. Nancy Gray, a writing instructor in Madison, Wisconsin, responded with this idea:

I would have to slightly disagree with your inverted pyramid approach. When sharing bad news, I subscribe to the "break it to them gently" approach, where a neutral opening paragraph starts the message, proceeding to a paragraph where supporting details are presented (to back up the bad news), and then a tactful bad-news message is shared. Finally, a gesture of goodwill is a nice way to end most of these messages. This is especially important when dealing with clients or customers. The goal is for the reader to accept the bad news because it's presented in a professional manner without abruptly "hitting them in the face" with the news.

Ms. Gray makes an excellent point, and it serves as a worthy introduction to this month’s tip. The structure she describes uses the BEBE organization described here:

  1. Open with a Buffer, a neutral statement that connects with the reader in a positive way: a thank-you for the reader’s previous business, a comment on some common ground, or a statement of understanding. We appreciate your proposed plan for the downtown park.
  2. Present an Explanation for the situation. Give solid support for the decision, building up to the final news. Over a dozen proposals were submitted, many equally valid, differing only in a few details. The decision was very difficult.
  3. State the Bad news. Be brief and clear. If possible, present alternatives or a possible positive result. In the end, the board approved a different proposal than the one you submitted.
  4. Exit graciously. Close with a polite ending. Don’t apologize, and don’t leave the reader with false hope or impossible expectations. We do hope that you will consider submitting proposals for future downtown projects.

Your objective is to deliver the news in a clear, firm manner while showing how it is necessary, fair, and reasonable. Use a sincere tone and sensitive wording that conveys understanding and encourages a future relationship.

Delivering bad news is never easy, but the format above can produce a sympathetic message that the reader will appreciate.

You can find more information about writing bad-news messages beginning on page 107 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace.

Trainer Tip

Has your company considered ethics training to help workers deal with moral issues they encounter on the job? One useful project might engage trainees in a point-by-point discussion of corporate ethics. Afterward, the group can develop a handbook for distribution. Remember to list all contributors to build corporate unity and pride.

That Little Extra

If you use social media in your business, you know how messages can pile up and become overwhelming. Organization is key here, and creating lists for your target groups will save you time and effort. For example, if you use Twitter to update your contacts, make one list for clients and customers, one for suppliers, one for distributors, and so on. By doing so, you can be sure the right people get the right messages.


March Writers' Forum Topic

Here’s your chance to tell us how your work environment operates. Send us your responses to the forum question below, and we’ll print the most interesting in our eTips Mid-Month Mini.

How do you manage personnel conflicts in your business? Does writing play a role in the process? How so? Share with us your experiences and tips for restoring and maintaining harmony in your workplace.

Email your response to Write “March Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Answers to This Month’s Quiz

  1. We had already gone to the mall when we heard the news. (go)
  2. The burglar broke down the door. (break)
  3. That argument has brought us closer to a solution. (bring)
  4. By August, the new project had already begun. (begin)
  5. We took his word about the project’s importance. (take)
  6. We were surprised when he spoke up. (speak)
  7. Susan laid the book on the table. (lay)
  8. I wish we had dealt with the problem sooner. (deal)
  9. I could have sworn we’d finished the research. (swear)
  10. We rode all day and were exhausted. (ride)
  11. He thought we knew he was joking. (know)
  12. We learned that they caught the person responsible. (catch)

We Want to Hear from You!

This is your chance to be part of the UpWrite Press newsletters and blogs. What writing topics do you want to hear about? Have you any favorite communications tips you’d like to share? What words do you constantly mix up? Send us your ideas and you could see your name in Writing eTips or the Mid-Month Mini.

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Coming in April

Writing with Purpose: Writing to Persuade

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