August 2014  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Gobbledygook may indicate a failure to think clearly, a contempt for one’s clients, or more probably a mixture of both.

—Michael Shanks, former chairman of the National Consumer Council (Great Britain)

Word Pair of the Month: metal/mettle, medal/meddle

This month we look at two separate word pairs that are often confused:

First we have the pair metal and mettle. Both are nouns, but they represent very different things. Metal, with one “t,” refers to a solid substance such as gold, aluminum, or iron. By contrast, mettle is an abstract term referring to courage or disposition.

  • The casing was covered in a shiny metal we realized was pure gold.
  • He showed his true mettle when he raced into the fire to save the dog.

Now let’s look at medal and meddle. Medal, with one “d,” is also a tangible thing, an award (usually made of metal). Meddle, on the other hand, is a verb that means to interfere.

  • For his service, he was awarded the bronze medal signifying bravery.
  • She always seems to meddle in our business.

Remember to consider your t’s and d’s when using these words, along with their very different meanings.

Writers’ Forum Question

What is the most important writing rule you use in your business communications?

Francis D. Chambers of Phoenix finds prewriting crucial to a good finished piece.

I find that prewriting is my most important writing tool. I use an outline to put my thoughts in order. While I don’t always use prewriting for a quick email or other short forms, I always use it for major pieces. They require careful organization, and for me, that means making an outline.

For Mimi Chin of Chicago, voice is key.

I always reread a finished bit of writing to make sure I am using active voice. I look for telltale signs such as the “be” verbs and switch them to active verbs. It always gives my writing more pizazz and life, making it stronger, more interesting, and more likely to be read through. After all, writing that isn’t read achieves nothing.

Rosa Rodriguez of San Diego remembers that any writing she does for work represents the company.

I always try to keep in mind that I’m not writing for myself. I’m representing my company. So I write from the company’s point of view—it’s not “I” but “we.” I think this gives the company a friendlier face and shows that we care about the reader. Whenever possible, I also try to use the reader’s name in the body of the letter, creating an important personal connection.

Kyle Davis of Newark is also concerned about connecting with the reader.

Our biggest rule in company writing is this: Make it sound natural. We try to connect on a human level, and that means writing in a plain, friendly manner. Not that we’re totally casual, but we aren’t stilted or overformal either. We want to sound like a friend.

Jessica Santiago of Houston takes the rule idea literally.

All the writing rules are important. We all have style guides to help us write correctly. That means proper grammar—no split infinitives, dangling modifiers, or misused words. Accurate spelling is significant as well. We not only use spell-checkers but also proofread every piece of writing that goes out. Clear, correct communication is very important in the business world, so we take it seriously.

A Final Thought

Want to produce the cleanest, clearest writing possible? Don’t use the “I am writing because” phrase. It’s pretty obvious that you are writing, so you can cut to the chase, as they say, and state your purpose immediately: Stutgaards is having its best sale of the year . . . Our shipping department has reported a backlog that will affect your order . . . and so on. Then move on by sharing necessary information and details.

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