Judith Humphrey reports:
"Your job title isn’t the only thing that determines how influential you are...Overusing certain weak verbs can make you sound weaker, too. They can undercut your ability to inspire others and suggest to listeners...that you aren’t really sure of yourself...Who doesn’t use the expression 'I think['?] Your coworker might say, 'I think we should move ahead with this project,' or your boss may tell you, 'I think you’ve got a good idea.' Harmless enough, right? The only trouble is that 'think' doesn’t sound definitive. It subtly saps the power of whatever follows it. 'Think' derives from an Old English word ('þencan' or 'thencan') meaning to 'conceive in the mind, consider, meditate.' In other words, you’re subtly suggesting that you’re still considering the position you espouse–that you’re not sure of it. In ordinary conversation, 'I think' is a throwaway phrase that won’t even register on most people, but you may want to steer clear of it at work. While it’s fine to mutter occasionally...you’re better off axing any prefatory phrase in professional settings. Say, 'You’ve got a good idea' or, 'That’s an excellent proposal.' If you want a replacement verb, try, 'I’m confident your plan will work!'...When your boss says, 'I need this report as soon as possible,' she undercuts herself. Using 'need' conjures up a feeling of dependency on the part of the speaker, rather than of obligation and responsibility on the part of the team...Simply put, 'I need' makes you sound needy. To project more confidence, swap it with firm but polite phrases like, 'Please have this report to me by next Friday.'...'Want' is really similar to 'need': It suggests the speaker is wanting or lacking in some way. If a boss tells a subordinate, 'I want you to improve the quality of your work,' that statement suggests the boss is not getting what she wants–which maybe she isn’t. But the better way to get what you want is to simply set forth facts: 'Your work on this report needs to be higher quality.' That puts the onus on the employee. Similarly, if you tell your boss, 'I want a raise,' you’ve made an emotional appeal and signaled your lack of confidence. It’s better to bring together a verb of conviction ('I believe' or 'I’m convinced') and your reasons: 'I believe my pay and performance during the last year make a strong case for a raise.'...'Guessing' conveys tentativeness. I once heard a CEO tell analysts, 'Our best guess is that our profit for year’s end will be marginally better than last year’s.' There were so many ways he could have reframed that more confidently: 'We expect our profit for the year to be ahead of last year’s,' or, 'Our results should surpass last year’s.' If you aren’t sure of the results, that’s fine! Don’t lie or exaggerate. Rather than 'guess,' use the most confident expression you can...Leaders often begin statements with 'I hope': 'I hope we’ll get that sale' or, 'I hope you’ll be able to take on that assignment.' Rather than inspiring confidence, 'hope' has a prayer-like quality, suggesting that the speaker has little control over the outcome. What are some alternatives? Instead of saying you 'hope' that a team will bring in a client sale, tell them, 'I’m looking forward to a win,' or 'I know you’ll give it your all.' These statements are much more empowering. They show your confidence in what your team can already do, rather than subtly questioning their performance in the future...There’s no occasion in the workplace where conveying your indifference and inertia will improve your influence or authority. Instead, find something to express your passion for (even if it’s not the meeting experience itself): 'Yes, I’ll definitely be there–I want to hear what management has to say.' You may not think this matters when you’re talking to a teammate, but it does. News travels fast, and if the words you repeatedly use suggest a 'don’t really care' attitude, it’s only a matter of time before your reputation and influence begin to dip. Language is a powerful force in all your impromptu conversations. And because there are more chances to use them, the small words and phrases you resort to every day at work can have an outsized impact on your leadership ability. Cut these six verbs from your lexicon, and you’ll start to notice your power and confidence climb."
BBC Worklife reports:
"How much can a misplaced comma cost you? If you’re texting a loved one or dashing off an email to a colleague, the cost of misplacing a piece of punctuation will be – at worst – a red face and a minor mix-up. But for some, contentious commas can be a path to the poor house...[T]he slightest misstep in punctuating a clause in a contract can have massive unintended consequences. 'Punctuation matters,' says Ken Adams, author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. But not all punctuation is made equal: [C]ontractual minefields are not seeded with semicolons or em-dashes (here’s one: – ) waiting to explode when tripped over. 'It boils down to commas,' says Adams. 'They matter, and exactly how depends on the context.'...Commas in contracts link separate clauses in a non-definitive way, leaving their reading open to interpretation. While a full stop is literally that – a full and complete stop to one thought or sentence, and the signal of the start of another – commas occupy a linguistic middle ground, and one that’s often muddled. 'Commas are a proxy for confusion as to what part of a sentence relates to what,' Adams explains. The English language is fluid, evolving and highly subjective. Arguments have been fought over the value of so-called Oxford commas (an optional comma before the word 'and' or 'or' at the end of a list). There might be good arguments on either side of the debate, but this doesn’t work for the law because there needs to be a definitive answer: yes or no. In high-stakes legal agreements, how commas are deployed is crucial to their meaning. And in the case of Oakhurst Dairy against its delivery drivers, the Oxford comma is judged to have favoured the latter’s meaning. But just because you mean to say something, it doesn’t mean that a court will agree with you, says Jeff Nobles, a Texas-based appellate lawyer who was involved in an insurance case that hinged, in part, on the punctuation of a contract. According to Nobles, most US courts will say it doesn’t really matter what the parties subjectively intended; it’s the objective intent in the written terms of their contract. 'Punctuation sometimes will change the meaning of a sentence,' he says. Nobles represented an insurance company in a Texas Supreme Court case concerning insurance coverage for a worker who died on the job. Nobles argued successfully that punctuation mattered for a contractual indemnity provision, when the company tried to trigger coverage under its umbrella insurance policy after a subcontracted employee died on the job. It set a precedent in the state’s legal system, he believes. He says US courts have become increasingly textual – 'they’ve looked more and more at the words on the paper rather than the testimony of the people who used those words on the paper.' Yet arguments over commas have been raging for more than a century...In 1872, an American tariff law including an unwanted comma cost taxpayers nearly $2m (the equivalent of $40m today). The United States Tariff Act, as originally drafted in 1870, allowed 'fruit plants, tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of propagation or cultivation' to be exempt from import tariffs. For an unknown reason, when revised two years later, a stray comma sneaked in between 'fruit' and 'plants'. Suddenly all tropical and semi-tropical fruits could be imported without any charge. Members of the US Congress debated the issue and the problem was fixed – but not before the New York Times bemoaned the use of 'An Expensive Comma.' It wouldn’t be the last such error. 'Contract language is limited and stylised,' says Adams. He compares it to software code: [D]o it right and everything works smoothly. But make a typo and the whole thing falls apart. When errors are introduced into legal documents, they’re likely to be noticed far more than in any other form of writing, he says. 'People are more prone to fighting over instances of syntactic ambiguity than in other kinds of writing.'...Of course, in some circumstances, those drafting contracts may want to introduce ambiguities. Getting different countries to sign up to the same principles can be challenging, particularly for climate change agreements. Early climate change conventions included this line: 'The Parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development.' The sentence ensures those signing the agreement have the ability to promote sustainable development – and should do so. But in its original draft, the second comma was placed after 'promote', not before it: 'The Parties have a right to, and should promote, sustainable development.' Some countries weren’t happy with the original wording because they didn’t necessarily want to be locked into promoting sustainable development. Moving the comma kept the naysayers happy while placating those who wanted stronger action. 'By being slightly creative with punctuation, countries can feel like their interests have been addressed,' explains Stephen Cornelius, chief advisor on climate change with the WWF, who has represented the UK and EU at UN climate change negotiations. 'You’re trying to get an agreement that people can substantially agree with.'...Such linguistic flexibility happens more often than you’d think. 'In diplomacy, even though you try to have a single agreement, it’s very common to change the meaning for different parties,' says climate change negotiator Laura Hanning Scarborough. 'You can use terms like ‘inter alia’, or ‘this includes, amongst other things’ to blur the lines to include anything. You can use commas as part of that, too. There are so many language tricks you use to appease people.' For most people, however, making sure that contracts are unambiguous is important. For that reason, it’s crucial to test contract language to breaking point by giving it to someone who will test its limits – someone who will read it in the most awkward, unhelpful way, says Tiffany Kemp, a commercial contracting trainer for the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management. One of the biggest cases battled over a comma was a dispute between two Canadian telecommunications companies. Rogers Communications and Bell Aliant fought a legal battle worth CAD$1m ($760,000) over a contract to replace utility poles across the country. The argument stemmed from a single sentence: 'This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.' The two sides argued that the comma after 'five (5) year terms' meant something different: Bell Aliant said that the single year’s notice of termination applied at any time, Rogers that it only applied after the first five-year term ended. This was important as Rogers had struck a great deal under their reading of the contract: [W]hen they signed a contract to lease the poles from Bell Aliant in 2002, they were paying just CAD$9.60 per pole. By 2004, the cost had nearly doubled. Bell Aliant, understandably, wanted to terminate the contract and renegotiate at the new, higher price. Rogers didn’t. Successive courts were equally uncertain about the agreement: Canada’s Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission first declared in favour of Bell Aliant in 2006; a year later, it changed its mind after consulting the French language version of the contract, which didn’t include the same ambiguity. This dispute wasn’t brought about by wilful ignorance, reckons Kemp. 'Sometimes there are genuinely different understandings,' she explains. 'That little comma was put in a place that you would put in a place for a breath if you’re reading it out loud.'...How do these misplaced or misused commas make their way into complicated contracts that have been drafted by professionals? Part of the problem, says Adams, is technology. 'Drafting contracts has long been a function of copying and pasting from precedent contracts, and that results in a kind of heedlessness, a detachment from the nitty[-]gritty of how you’ve expressed what you want to express in a contract,' he says. 'It’s easy to miss this sort of problem.' In one extreme example, a misplaced comma was at the heart of a death-penalty trial. Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist, was hanged in 1916 under the 1351 Treason Act. He had incited Irish prisoners of war being held in Germany to band together to fight against the British. The debate over whether Casement was guilty hinged on the wording of the 14th Century Treason Act and the use of a comma: [W]ith it, Casement’s actions in Germany were illegal; without it, he would get away with it. Despite Casement’s lead counsel’s assertion that 'crimes should not depend on the significance of breaks or of commas', and 'if a crime depended on a comma, the matter should be determined in favour of the accused, and not of the Crown', the court ruled that the comma mattered. Casement was found guilty and executed. Though today life and death doesn’t hinge on the use of commas – but big money, insurance policies and environmental agreements certainly do. For that reason, it’s important to carefully check any contracts we sign, the experts say – and that means not just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts but also making sure every comma is in the correct place. People sign contracts not because they’ve negotiated their meanings, but based on their own understanding of what they’re agreeing to, explains Nobles. Contracts written by lawyers on behalf of a business might have a different meaning than what the lay person understands. So it pays to pay attention. If a piece of punctuation seems out of place or introduces ambiguity, speak up. 'The purpose of a contract is to help people get the outcomes they both expected, and to know what they’re supposed to do and get from the other side,' says Kemp. 'If there’s a misunderstanding, you owe it to both of you to get it sorted out. Have the argument today, rather than tomorrow.' It could prevent a lot of pain in the future."
Elle Smith reports:
"A well-written bio will highlight your expertise and is often the key to booking a conference in the first place. Many speakers confuse the bio with their CV or resume. The biography should be more client-focused and deliver dynamic and engaging content for the reader, not merely a dry list of accomplishments. Ask the event organizer what length the biography should be, if the speech has already been publicized and if the biography will also serve as your spoken introduction. A good rule of thumb is anywhere from three to six sentences in length. Length is particularly important if your biography will be included in a printed program, as there will be a limited amount of space for each layout. Try not to repeat too much information that might be included in other materials. Write in third-person narrative...You can include more facts and bring more substance to a biography in third person. Start with your first and last name, then use your first name for future references if the conference is friendly and informal. However, using your last name is more likely to impress...Know your audience and tailor your biography for each speaking engagement. Deliver what the audience wants to hear...Treat your biography as though it were an advertisement. Answer the questions of who you are, how your expertise is beneficial to the reader's problems or goals and why you're the perfect person to speak at the conference. Open with your most impressive accomplishment to make the biography 'pop.' Follow with your credentials to prove you are an expert...Bring your biography to a conclusion with the knowledge you will impart to the audience -- their sole purpose for being there. Aspire to give the inspiration they need to break ground in...their own careers. Ask yourself[,] 'What will I bring to this conference that nobody else can?'"
Sam Ashe-Edmunds reports:
"When writing a report about your business trip, stress how it was a good investment for the company to send you. This will help convince managers that future trips also will be money well spent. Creating a report on your trip to a seminar, conference or trade show should focus on showing a return on the company’s investment...Unless you are writing a long, formal report, skip the cover and contents pages and executive summary. Use a memo format if the document will only be a few pages long, and use a heading that lists the date, topic of the report, your name and who’s receiving it. Use section heads to organize the report, such as Trip Purpose, Overview, Benefits, Cost and Summary...Start the report with an overview that states facts but does not provide support or detail. Let the reader know what the trip was, why you were sent and the expected results...Describe what happened at the event in terms of how or if you met your goals for going there. Don’t be afraid to tell your supervisor any expectations that fell short -- if you don’t, and he asks later, you might look like you purposely left this information out of the report...Give specific examples of events relevant to your goals or anything that happened that will benefit your company. Rather than listing personal benefits you got from the trip, such as improving your knowledge of a specific software, discuss how those benefits will help the company...Use the summary to recap the highlights of the trip, including your expected benefits, whether or not you attained them or any others, the total cost for the trip, any expected financial benefit to the company and your recommendation for the future. The more specific you can be about the benefits of your trip, the easier it is for your superiors to calculate a return on their investment...Consider attaching your expense report to the document, rather than listing the details in the document. Include the total cost of the trip in your document, but save details, such as airfare, lodging, meals, tips, parking and other travel costs for the expense report."
Lainie Petersen reports:
"When an email, letter, text message or social media post is well[-]written, well[-]organized and grammatically correct, the reader will form a good opinion of the writer. On the other hand, misspellings, poorly organized thoughts and grammatical errors make the writer appear unintelligent and unprofessional. At the application or interview stage, this could cost a worker a job offer or result in a salary offer that is lower than what it might have been otherwise. In a business context, bad writing in external communications may reflect poorly on the company. Coworkers may also take notice of poor writing habits, which could affect how they perceive the writer's competence...Good business writing demonstrates that the writer values the reader's time. When a writer is able to organize his thoughts and concerns and present them in a way that is easily read and understood, the reader benefits. On the other hand, poor writing forces the reader to spend time and energy trying to understand what is being communicated. In many cases, the reader may have to ask the writer clarifying questions. Writing clearly shows that the writer respects the reader's time and doesn't want to waste it...Good business decisions depend on clear communication. This is true whether the communications are internal or external. It is far easier to coordinate internal projects and share ideas when all coworkers understand the ideas that are being put forth, as well as processes for completing the project. When employees understand what they can expect of each other, morale often improves. Similarly, workers will have far better relationships with people outside the company when their communications are easy to comprehend. Coordinating meetings, setting goals and negotiating agreements becomes far more straightforward when both parties are able to write clearly...In many cases, a person can improve their writing by taking extra time to compose messages and then to proofread them. Workers should not treat business communications as chores to be completed as quickly as possible, but as projects in their own right. When possible, it's advisable to write important letters and emails at least a few hours before they are to be sent out to allow the writer to take a break from the piece and then review it with fresh eyes...Word processing software usually includes a grammar checker, but there are standalone programs that can often provide more robust proofreading and feedback for even greater clarity...After writing a particularly important letter or email, it might be a good idea for an employee to ask his manager or a colleague to look over the piece and give feedback...There are many options for improving one's writing skills through educational programs. Community colleges and adult education programs offer courses in business writing, and many of these courses can be taken online."
Laura Agadoni reports:
"Use a capital letter to begin each bulleted item. You can use a period after the last bulleted item in the list if you like...Or, you don’t need to use a period at all. You would not put a period or a semicolon after each item you list. The only time you would use a period after each bullet would be if each item is a complete sentence, such as, 'I increased home equity loans. I created a self-mail brochure on certificate of deposits. I increased membership by 25 percent.'...Semicolons are tricky to use correctly, so you might want to avoid them altogether. If you want to use them, you would do so like this: 'I have completed the following functions as marketing director: I increased home equity loans; I created a self-mail brochure on certificates of deposit; and I increased membership by 25 percent.' If you are unsure of whether to use a semicolon or not, you can use periods instead...Choose whether you want to use a serial comma or not. A serial comma requires a comma to separate each item you list and using one before the word, 'and.'...Whichever you choose is correct, but you must stick with one style throughout the cover letter. You cannot alternate. You also cannot use a comma splice, which is separating two complete sentences with a comma. You can make two complete sentences using a period instead, you can add the word 'and' after the comma or you could replace the comma with a semicolon...Although it is not wrong to use parentheses or exclamation marks, it is better to avoid them in your cover letter. You might be burying an important thought by putting it in parentheses, or the sentence might be more cumbersome to read. It would be better to rewrite your thought without using parentheses. It is considered poor writing to use exclamation marks, and they are a distraction you don’t need in your cover letter. You should never use two or more exclamation marks to create even more emphasis as might be common in informal writing, because that is incorrect usage. Keep in mind what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about them: 'Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.'"
Elizabeth Stover reports:
"Choose a type or style of poetry based upon your assignment requirements or reason for writing. Traditional types of poetry include sonnets, ballads, odes, epitaphs, haiku, couplets, quatrains, free verse and an extensive list of others. Decide what type of rhyme, meter and verse, if any, your poem will use. Organize the flow of your poem. You might decide to describe fall through each of the five senses separately, in different lines or verses. As an alternative, different verses might describe a fall object, event, word or theme through all five of the senses. Brainstorm a list of fall words, themes, events and objects. Use this list when you begin to form sensory word and phrase ideas for your fall poem. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, look at pictures of fall events and occasions to help you create your brainstorm list. Create a verse or list of words to include in your poem regarding the tastes of fall...If you are creating a rhyming poem, begin to think of words that might rhyme with these words and fit with your poem. Create a verse or word list for words describing the smells of fall and words that you might rhyme with them, if you are creating a rhyming poem. Describe the smell of fireplaces burning, spiced cider simmering, hot chocolate sitting warm in a cup or fresh cookies baking. Use a thesaurus to find unusual substitutions for common words...Think of things you hear in fall and create a verse or word list for these. Find unique words to describe the way these things sound...Describe the feel of fall events and objects. Make a list describing the feeling of cool morning air, warm fuzzy jackets and soft fleece blankets. Write a verse or line to describe the feeling of hot, steamy cocoa against cold hands after being outside. Find words to describe the sights of fall in a verse or line. Write about the bold red, orange, yellow and brown colors of fall leaves against a bright, blue fall sky. Alternatively, write about the smiles and costumes of children at your door for Halloween trick or treating. Using your prewriting work of lists, words, rhymes and phrases, create your sensory poem about fall. Remember that a poem need not rhyme, but usually has some sort of organization or rhythm. Use the word lists, phrases or verses you have created to paint a poetry word picture of all that you see, hear, touch, taste and smell in fall."
Barbara Bean-Mellinger reports:
"When you need to clearly and succinctly explain an idea for a business, product, design or program – or for anything else that doesn't yet exist – then you need a concept statement. A concept statement can range from one sentence to one page in length, but no longer than that. It must be strong enough to hold its audience's attention – while explaining what your idea is, why it's important, who its customers will be – and how they'll benefit from it, all without sounding too much like a sales pitch...In many instances, a concept statement of one sentence is probably a bit too short, but in most instances, a full page is likely too long. After all, you're writing a statement, not an essay. A good goal is to try to make each point in one or two sentences - at most. Your concept statement should make four points:
Kristie Lorette reports:
"When you have a business where customers contract you to perform a service, you need a legally binding agreement to spell out...the terms and conditions of the business relationship. According to 'All Business,' a business agreement serves as a guide that all parties to the agreement must follow. Generally, one party draws up the agreement and both parties sign...it as an acknowledgment of the terms and conditions it contains...Write or type up the date on the agreement to establish an effective date...List the parties involved in the agreement, using full business or individual names and titles...Describe your obligations, including the service you must perform to fulfill your obligations under the contract and be as detailed as possible...Describe the other party’s obligations in detail. In the case of ou[r] brochure writing example, this might explain that the client is responsible for providing the copywriter with business information in a word processing document to describe the business and the information to be included in the brochure text...Describe the payment terms for the transaction, including the total amount for the service, how much and when the deposit is due and how much and when the final payment is due...Spell out a [timeline] or milestones. Include specific dates for the delivery of parts of the service or the final deadline for the service to be complete...Write a termination clause that explains the steps that one or both parties need to take in order to terminate the contract...Also, include payment terms for any work completed to date that the customer is responsible for paying for this portion of the work...Write a dispute clause to establish the handling of a dispute between the two parties...Establish ownership rights to the work. Even in service situations, a product is sometimes the result of the work, so you should also include which party retains ownership rights...Add signature and date lines. Be sure to provide a space for each party to sign and date...You may want to have an attorney review and make suggestions on a template of your business contract. An attorney can pinpoint issues for your particular business that you may need to include in the agreement. You can use a business agreement template and modify it to fit your needs, rather than writing the agreement from scratch."
Samuel Hamilton reports:
"Outline your proposal’s table of contents or 'superstructure['.] A formal proposal includes the following sections: an introduction, problem statement, objectives, solution statement, methodology, resources and schedule, management qualifications and structure, and conclusion. Write the introduction for your recycling proposal. Answer the questions 'What is this proposal about?' and 'Why should the reader care about this proposal?' Articulate the recycling problem that your proposal addresses...Conclude your problem statement by addressing the question 'Why is the proposed project needed?' List the objectives of your proposal. The objectives may include providing a detailed analysis of the problem and outlining a proposed recycling plan. Describe your proposed course of action in the solution section. Your solution statement provides specific methods for solving the problems to achieve the objectives outlined in you[r] proposal...Explain the methodology you employed to research the problem and solution, as well as the methodology for implementing the solution...List the resources required to implement your proposed solution. Resources include items such as equipment, facilities, personnel and money...Provide a schedule for your proposed plan. Provide milestones and deadlines between the date you expect that your proposal will be accepted and the date you expect to reach your goal...Explain your specific qualifications for writing the proposal and the management structure that your plan requires. Include other proposals or reports that you've written and similar projects [i]n which you've participated. Explain how you will organize and implement the plan, and how others will assist in the implementation of your proposal. Reiterate the significance of the problem that your proposal addresses and why your proposal offers the best solution for solving the problem."
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