You are currently browsing the Quality Business Communications blog archives for July, 2012.

Archive for July, 2012

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #3

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-31-2012

Get to the point quickly and keep it short:

Especially in apology letters.  Don’t beat around the bush or bury your point at the bottom of the letter. Say what you have to say and get out. State your point right up front and don’t give more information than necessary. Three short paragraphs is plenty of room to say what happened, what the reader needs to do and where they can call for questions. It’s not about what you feel they should know; it’s about what they need to know to act accordingly. And remember to apologize. Once is enough — and put it at the end.

In other texts, the reader wants to know exactly what’s crucial – and that’s it. Emails should be short and concise, even if that means you have to edit your work prior to sending. Many people do not spend a moment to reread an email; they just quickly press the send button. Unfortunately, there may be useless information in the email. Remember, time is money, and when the recipient of an email or letter has to peruse around to find the key facts, it’s a waste of time. Plain, concise, and honest is the best method for time-saving correspondence.

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #4

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-30-2012

Write to your audience, not about them

In keeping with the start of the 2012 London Olympics, you want your business documents to be gold.

Just like verb tenses, first, second and third person can be confusing. But when written correctly, writing to your audience can be an effective strategy to ensure action is made by the reader. A fiction novel is generally written in the third person, because the story is about other characters. Business documents written for people like you and I, should be written in the first and second person.


Instead of: General Company provides the consumer with many programs to propel their business forward.

Write this: We provide you with many programs to propel your business forward.

Writing in the first and second person makes it personal. The reader feels like it was written to them.

Here are many of the pronouns used in each person. Refer to this when writing!

First Person: I, me, my, we, mine, us, our, ours, ourselves

Second Person: you, your, yours,

Third Person: he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, their, theirs

The reader will know your company because your logo will be easily found somewhere on the document. Why restate your business name over and over again? A quality logo should take care of that. If you want your reader to actually read the documents associated with your business, take the gold and silver – use first and second person.

Fiction philosophies meet corporate creativity

 :: Posted by Jeanette on 07-27-2012

I know a lot of business writers who are closet bards, secretly tapping out the Great American Novel during the off hours. Meanwhile, whether freelance or as a hired hand, corporate writing pays the bills until we can one day replace our day jobs with a full-time career in fiction.

Sadly, I know from experience that mentioning a corporate writing background does precisely zero for your fiction selling efforts. I suspect there’s a misconception out there that the two genres are so vastly different that one cannot even be counted in the same industry as the other.

I am of a different opinion.

Fiction and corporate writing are more similar than you think

As a (prepublished) fiction writer, I pay attention to what the experts tell me. I go to writers’ conferences. I read all the important How-to-Write-a-Book books. I pay attention to feedback from agents and editors. I listen and I learn. Then I apply all that wisdom to improve my fiction craft.

As a corporate writer, I gather similar wisdom, but from different sources, like college, seminars and focus groups.

After fifteen years of serving both gods (fiction and corporate), I have observed some startling similarities in the rules of writing.

The details may be a bit different, but the skill level is the same. Take a look:


Fiction:           Show, don’t tell

Corporate:     Use at-a-glance charts, images and other tricks to show rather than long explanations that tell.


Fiction:           Don’t open with back story. Jump right into the action and weave your back story into the plot. (Or leave it out completely.)

Corporate:     Don’t open by describing your company. Put your bottom line on top and cleverly hide your corporate descriptions in the details. (Or leave it out completely)


Fiction:           Break up lengthy chapters into smaller ones. It will help keep your reader turning the page long into the night. You’ll get, “One more chapter won’t kill me” instead of, “No way am I starting another long chapter!”

Corporate:     Insert headers and subheads every time you introduce a new thought. Long blocks of copy are intimidating and your reader will lose interest — or not read it at all.


Fiction:           First-person draws the reader in and makes her feel like she is in the heroine’s shoes.

Corporate:     Don’t refer to your company in the third person. Say “we,” “us” and “our” or, if at all possible, use “I” to really connect with your reader. This makes your company seem human. Also, use second person to speak TO your reader, instead of third person, which speaks ABOUT him. Say “you” instead of “member” or “customer.” It shows that you see him as an individual. Together, these techniques will put you across the table sipping coffee with the reader instead of high up in a corporate tower looking down on your reader.


Fiction:           Use stronger verbs instead of adverbs. Use short, punchy sentences in high-action scene.

Corporate:     If the reader must perform an action, begin the sentence with a verb. Use active voice instead of passive voice. Use short, clear sentences so the instruction doesn’t drown in a sea of noise.


Fiction:           Don’t use big words just because you know them. Unless you’re a poet, story is more important than vocabulary. I want to enjoy a good novel. I want to lose myself in the fantasy. I do NOT want to hear the record player skritch every time I stop reading to decipher a word. And I refuse to carry a dictionary to the beach.

Corporate:   Don’t use big words just because you know them. If your purpose for writing is to impress your readers with your vast vocabulary skills, then carry on. If, on the other hand, you’re writing to inspire action or inform, then check your thesaurus at the door. It’s not about insulting anyone’s intelligence. It’s not about dumbing down the copy. It’s about respecting people’s limited time. Everyone — doctors, lawyers and CEOs too— want to get in, get out and get on.


See what I mean?

This is by no means a dissertation on the subject, but perhaps worthy of more exploration. Either way, one rule is for certain: It’s always about the reader!


Author: Jeanette Juryea

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #5

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-26-2012

Don’t over-complicate the sentence

Too many thoughts in a single sentence can cause grammatical errors and confuse the reader. It also contributes to a higher Flesch-Kincaid score. Break it up to ensure your audience comprehends the information. Run-on sentences are sentences that do just that: go on for what seems like forever. When there are two independent clauses in a sentence that are not separated by punctuation or a conjunction, then the sentence is probably a run-on, and difficult to understand.

Run-on sentence: The butterfly flew over the garden it landed on a beautiful flower.

 Fixed: The butterfly flew over the garden. It landed on a beautiful flower

 Or: The butterfly flew over the garden and it landed on a beautiful flower.

When reading a run-on sentence, the reader is confused about the subject of the sentence. In plain language, it is best to fix the issue using a period. Start a new sentence. Get the point across simply. Instead of trying to get all the thoughts out in one sentence, separate ideas for clarity. The reader will find it easier to read and understand. Rather than tossing the text aside, they’ll gladly continue reading.

Test your grammar skills and see if you can repair some run-on sentences here:

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing #6

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-25-2012

Use plain English!

This topic is somewhat of an extension of the previous post.

Write conversationally as if you’re talking to your mother over coffee. Save the impressive prose for your Great American Novel. Spread the word to your legalese-speaking lawyer friends and, while you’re at it, check any 1950’s stilted business-speak at the door. Readers want to cut to the chase and get on with their busy lives. Nothing should be open to interpretation.

Instead of this A member shall be entitled to the medically necessary covered benefits as specified in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Certificate of Coverage which you will receive after enrollment in the plan.

Write this: Once you enroll, we will mail to you a Certificate of Coverage, which includes all the details of the plan.

If you are a small business trying to establish a larger presence in your neighborhood, the community will be attracted to how easy it is to understand your documents, rather than with your ability to use multisyllabic terminology (big words!)

Have you ever come across legalese or giant sentences that mean something quite simple? We’re always interested in a good laugh, please share!

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #7

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-24-2012

Avoid utilization of esoteric verbiage: (Oops – I mean, Don’t use big words.)

If the purpose of your writing is to “impress readers with my amazing vocabulary skills,” then by all means, break out the fancy prose and five syllable words. But, If you want your readers to act on what you’re writing — to absorb and completely “get it” — then check your prose at the door.

Aim for a 5th to 8th grade reading level. Even if your audience consists of rocket scientists, brain surgeons, lawyers and other high-vocabulary readers, they would still appreciate a nice simple read once in a while. The busier the reader, the more likely he or she will merely skim the content. Break it up, use plenty of headers and subheads, and knock it down to 6th grade.

It’s simple to check the reading level. For step-by-step instruction, refer to a previous post here:

When you’re done, a results window will display. The last line shows the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. If this is between 5 and 8, you’re doing great! To learn more about Flesch-Kincaid, check out the Wikipedia article:

One big word or complicated sentence can throw off your reading level. If you’re coming in high, read over your text to see where you can simplify. Choose every day words. Break up large sentences into two or more. And use bullets whenever possible. By the way, this article is scoring a 6.3 reading grade level.

A quality writer is able to write for their audience. Know your audience and their needs. There are certain statistics and data floating around about how humans generally only comprehend 10% of what they read. I believe it depends on the person and whether they chose to read a certain text or not. Regardless, it’s important to keep your reading level down so you know people comprehend what you are writing. How do you feel about the chart below, and keeping reading level down for the public?

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #8

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-23-2012

Write Active sentences: Active sentences specify who must do what. Passive sentences only say that something must be done. And they leave the reader wondering if he’s the one that must do it.

Instead of this: The application file needs to be reprocessed with the updated information.

Write this: Please update your application so that we can reprocess it.

In business writing, documents sent to the reader (a patron, member, prospective client, etc.) usually require something of the reader. They may need to send a form back, enroll or reenroll in a program; whatever they must do, use active voice so they know how to do it!

If you have read other posts in our blog, you’ll know we love Microsoft Word and everything it offers. There is a feature that allows you to check if you have any passive sentences. Although this is not the final element in editing your work for passive sentences, it certainly helps!

You can review the percentage of passive sentences in your document under readability statistics. To find out more on readability statistics, including how to find and open, check out a post from earlier this month:


A green squiggly line will appear under the passive phrase. If you don’t have a grammar checker, scan your manuscript for any form of “be” (“be,” “being,” “been.”) They’re usually a good indicator of a passive sentence. Try to rewrite these sentences to state the subject (you, our representative, I, Mr. Smith), a clear verb (process, send, call) and the description of what the subject must do (or has done.)

In order to keep with plain language, use active voice. It will make for a happier, more informed reader with fewer questions – which is the true goal of plain language.

Top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing: #9

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-20-2012

Begin with verbs: To keep a sentence short and to the point, verbs make a great sentence opener. I use them wherever possible – especially in headers and websites. When you being a sentence with a verb, the subject is “you, the reader” and you’ll know what will result if you click those words or read about what follows. Verbs that require the reader to take action or complete a quick task are effective. For instance:

  • Complete the enclosed form and return it to the address below.
  • Learn more about our products at
  • Call us at 1-800 xxx-xxxx to talk to a customer service representative

Verbs communicate directly to the reader. Remember to use active voice and tense correctly!


Scholarship essay for versions leading learning ideas everywhere in the overall planet

 :: Posted by Keith on 07-20-2012

Scholarship essay for versions leading learning ideas everywhere in the overall planet

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One tip a day for ten days straight: The top ten tips for professionals who get stuck writing

 :: Posted by Josh on 07-19-2012


Cite up-to-date and accurate sources

Check how old a statistic is before you use it. One corporation had a tendency to reuse old language, which also meant reusing old statistics. Old statistics can lessen the impact of your statement. There’s nothing wrong with going 3 or 5 years back, but if newer information is out there, find it and use it. There are exceptions, of course. For example, if you’re quoting television usage in the 1950s. Or you’re pulling data from a U.S. census, which is only taken every ten years and may take another 2 or 3 to release the information, then your 12-year-old citation might actually be the latest information.

Also, make sure the person or organization you are citing is the originator of the statistic. Don’t give credit to a blogger or newspaper reporter for a statistic that they should have cited to someone else. Drill down to find the original source. For that matter, make sure your source is reliable. There are many web writers out there and the information on the website is only as good as the knowledge of the author. Check credentials.

It’s also important to include the footnote when citing a source. It seems silly to mention, but it happens! Quotation marks aren’t always necessary to include around your statistic or fact, but the asterisk or footnote number is! The reader will generally look to that footnote to see where your information is coming from. If you are ever wondering whether the information you’re writing is, in fact, a citable statistic, spend the few minutes to find out! Readers enjoy learning new and exciting information and that statistic or fact will ensure they continue reading!

Remember, never just copy and paste the citation – research it to ensure it is up-to-date, accurate, and relevant to your text.