Have you ever thought about how much of each day you spend writing? Not just writing copy forWriting marketing materials, a newsletter or other business-related activities, but changing text on web sites, sending e-mail, blogging, texting and perhaps even handwriting an old-fashioned thank you note. As much of what used to be oral phone conversation is now written and marketing is done online, the need for more writing is evident.

This has increased the pressure on everyone within an organization to write well, from customer service representatives using e-mail to communicate with customers to marketing executives developing content for printed materials and the company web site. Bad writing calls attention to itself, causing the reader to miss the point of the communication. It also conveys an unflattering picture of the individual and by extension, the business.
Why is it so hard to write well? Because writing requires a coordinated effort involving memory (to correctly apply the rules of spelling, capitalization and punctuation); language ability (grammar, vocabulary, word order and sentence structure); and higher-order cognitive skills (planning, organizing, reasoning, logic, abstract thinking). All three must be developed equally and used simultaneously for good writing to result.{slider Read more of the Article|closed}
The mechanics of writing: spelling, punctuation, capitalization
The effectiveness of any written communication, from the most sophisticated marketing piece to an e-mail, will be compromised if it has errors in the mechanics – spelling, punctuation, capitalization. Some readers may even form an opinion about the writer or the business (sloppy, doesn’t care, unprofessional) based on these errors. So the first way to become a better writer is to spell words correctly and to follow commonly-accepted rules for punctuation and capitalization.
A spellchecker is a useful tool for finding misspelled words, typos and oversights. But it will not find a word that is spelled correctly yet used incorrectly. The English language is filled with word pairs that sound alike but have different meanings – like its and it’s or who’s and whose. Become familiar with the most common (see the Tips & Tricks section of this newsletter) and know when to use each.
Punctuation has two functions: to convey intended meaning, and to provide tone and nuance. For example:
• A period shows that a thought has been completed.
• A semicolon indicates that two thoughts are closely related.
• A colon indicates that an explanation of a previous thought is coming.
• A comma signals a pause and keeps thoughts from becoming confusing.
Misuse of punctuation can completely change the meaning of a thought, as in these examples:
• Don’t stop. Don’t. Stop.
• Eats shoots and leaves. Eats, shoots, and leaves.
• Let’s eat, Grandma. Let’s eat Grandma.
• A woman without her man is nothing. A woman: without her, man is nothing.
Capitalization makes reading easier by indicating the beginning of a sentence, and separates proper nouns – names, specific places and things – from other words. Without capitalization, sentences can run together, making reading slower and more difficult.
It is customary to capitalize
• the first word of a sentence;
• proper nouns and the adjectives derived from them (Alaskan from Alaska);
• the major words in a headline or title;
• personal titles when combined with a person’s name (Mrs. Patterson, Dr. Adams); and
• all letters in an acronym (NASA).
Language skills: grammar and vocabulary
Grammar is the set of rules governing the way the sentences of a language are constructed. Closely related is syntax, the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences. Regardless of the type of writing – a sales letter, a blog post or a newsletter, for example – the rules of grammar and syntax apply. Here is a brief review:
• Parts of speech: these are the building blocks of grammar; each part has a specific function in a sentence. The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, articles, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunction and interjections.
• Sentences: sentences are composed of three parts: a noun, a verb, and a complement (such as a direct or indirect object).
• Sentence types: sentences may be simple, compound or complex.
Word choice is a crucial part of good writing. To avoid ambiguity and confusion, readers need the writer to select words that convey meaning precisely and are appropriate in the context. A strong vocabulary enables this function, promotes effective communication and strengthens the power of persuasion. Good writers tailor their vocabulary to the audience and the circumstances.
Effective writing: clear, concise, organized, elegant
Effective writing requires an understanding of the audience, knowledge of the subject, and the ability to bring the two together in a clear, concise and organized manner. Good writing begins with a purpose – a thesis or argument – that the writer explains, supports and logically develops using good language skills.
Clarity in writing means choosing specific, descriptive words to convey meaning and activity. Using action verbs instead of forms of to be, active instead of passive voice, and avoiding unclear pronoun references contributes to clarity.
Concise writing avoids wordy phrases when a single word can convey the same meaning (allow, give or let in place of provide an opportunity to); uses shorter, simpler words (so instead of accordingly); and eliminates redundancy (concluded for arrived at the conclusion).
Good writing follows an organizational structure:
• An introductory paragraph that sets out the thesis
• Supporting paragraphs that support the thesis
• A concluding paragraph that provides a summary, draws a conclusion, makes a prediction or does a combination of these.
Similarly, each paragraph has a topic sentence representing its controlling idea. All other sentences in the paragraph are related to and advance the idea of the topic sentence. Within the paragraph, sentences are structured so that the important words and ideas stand out.
Finally, good writing is elegant. The writing flows gracefully in a smooth rhythm and pace. The thoughts are coherent and logically developed with appropriate emphasis and style.
Writing is an important business skill
Understanding the elements of good writing has many benefits. Besides helping you improve your writing skills, it will make you a better editor and a better communicator. The expansion of writing from printed materials and correspondence to the digital world means that customers and prospects have more opportunities to form an impression about your business based on your writing. Even if writing is not central to your business model, it is one measure of your company’s professionalism.

coffeeIdea Corner

There is a way to improve good writing for a printed document: with good design. Good design uses color, type and images to attract and hold the reader’s interest, improve comprehension and lead the reader to the important topics. It may also induce a sense of trust and satisfaction.{slider Read more of Idea Corner|closed}
Good design follows rules and best practices but is not a formula. A good designer introduces creativity while working in a style that is compatible with a business’s or organization’s brand. A good designer takes the personal preferences of a business owner or manager into account, keeps to the agreed-upon schedule yet can, if needed, meet a tight deadline.
We are happy to report that our designer, Brenda, has all of these qualities. For your next brochure, direct mail piece or newsletter, let us provide a quotation for design. We think you’ll be surprised at how affordable good design can be.

cherryTricks & Tips

English vocabulary contains many easily-confused word pairs or trios that are commonly misused because they sound alike, look alike or have similar meanings. Test yourself on these:
Accept/except: accept is a verb meaning to consent to receive. Except is a preposition that means excluding.
Affect/effect: affect is a verb meaning to alter or influence. Effect is a noun meaning result. Occasionally effect is used as a verb meaning to bring about.
Among/between: Both words are prepositions indicating place. Use between for two things; among for more than two.{slider Read more of Tricks & Tips|closed}
e.g./i.e.: both are abbreviations for Latin phrases – e.g. for exempli gratia meaning for example; i.e. for id est meaning that is. The two are not interchangeable.
Good/well: good is an adjective that describes a noun (someone, something, or someplace) that is good. (Bob is a good student.) Well is an adverb that comments on how an action is performed. (Bob did well on his test.)
Farther/further: Farther refers to additional distance. Further refers to additional time, amount or other abstract matters.
Imply/infer: imply is a verb meaning to suggest. Infer is a verb meaning to intuit or assume.
It’s/its: it’s is a contraction for it is. Its means belonging to it.
Less/fewer: Less refers to bulk amounts. Fewer refers to separate, countable items.
Lie/lay: lie is a verb meaning to recline. Lay is a verb that transfers action to something else. Further confusion results from the fact that lay is the past tense of the verb to lie.
Who’s/whose: who’s is a contraction for who is. Whose means of whom or belonging to whom.
1980s/1980’s: the apostrophe indicates possession (ownership). Lack of an apostrophe indicates more than one (i.e., plural).

qa2 Q&A

Q: Can you suggest ways to build my vocabulary?{slider Read the Answer|closed}
A: Here is a simple and classic way to build your vocabulary gradually and naturally.
Step 1: Read. Reading provides the opportunity to encounter new words. Sometimes you can tell the meaning from the context; sometimes you’ll need to consult a dictionary.
Step 2: Listen. Children increase their vocabulary by listening to others talk. You can do the same thing. Again, you may be able to tell the meaning from the context, or you may have to consult a dictionary.
Step 3: Write down new words. As you read and listen, write the new words down in a notebook or put in your smart phone.
Step 4: Consult a dictionary. Use a dictionary to determine the meaning each word in your notebook or smart phone, then write the definition in a vocabulary notebook. Also enter a phonetic spelling of the word so you remember how to pronounce it.
Step 5: Use it. To help you remember the new word, use it several times in conversation as soon as you can.