March 2010  
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"Writing well means never having to say, 'I guess you had to be there."

- Jef Mallett, Frazz

Word Pair of the Month: personal, personnel

One way to keep this month's words clear in your mind is to hear them in your head. The word personal, pronounced with the accent on the first syllable (PER-son-al), means "related to an individual or PERson; private."

My journal is extremely personal and not meant to be read by others.

On the other hand, the word personnel, pronounced with the accent on the last syllable (per-son-EL), means "a group of people staffing an organization."

We called a meeting of all personnel involved in the product's development.

Here's another hint: Remember that personal has only one n, suggesting its relationship to the individual, while personnel has two n's, relating it to several people. Whichever strategy you use to keep these words straight is fine - it's your personal choice.

March Writer's Forum Question

In a global economy, businesses have to move away from insular practices in order to better compete on an international scale. This may require changing the ways in which businesses communicate. What has your office done in this area to give your business a more effective global presence?

Vanessa Sanchez, an administrative assistant for a Los Angeles accountant's office, had this to say:

Based in Los Angeles with its huge Hispanic population, our office has always spoken both Spanish and English. In the last year, however, we noticed an increase in business from the large Korean population in the city, and we wanted to be able to better communicate with those customers. So we bought several copies of home language lessons on Korean, which our employees are encouraged to sign out. We reward their efforts with bonuses at various levels of competency. Next year we might try another language, too. Got to get into the world, right?

Boz Stewart runs an import-export business in Boston, so the global market is his business. He has learned that understanding different cultures is critical to avoiding conflicts:

Because we deal with such a large number of countries and cultures, we've had to be careful to avoid misunderstandings or insensitivity to cultural requirements. This is especially important in dealing with Asian nations, whose level of formality is vastly different from that of the Western world. We rely on in-service training for new employees, teaching them how to speak and write in the appropriate manner to avoid insulting our business associates. The hardest part has been convincing our workers, especially the younger ones who grew up in more casual times, that recogizning and dealing with these formality issues is really important.

Rob Taylor began his catalog company in his Chicago basement, dealing only with local businesses. But times have changed for him!

I guess I'm an example of small-time going global, thanks to the Internet. I handle orders now from all over the world, and my catalogs are translated into several languages. I used to use humor a lot in my catalog descriptions, but I discovered that funny stuff doesn't translate well, and some of my customers were confused about the products. Now I hire readers for each language to make sure my copy is clear in the translation. I still use the jokes in my English versions, though, and sometimes my readers suggest humor that will play in their language. Laughter is great in any form, as long as it doesn't interfere with a sale.

Seems the key to global business is communication and understanding. Hmmm - same as within a company's home borders.

A Final Thought

We're all looking for ways to decrease our tax burden. One deduction area you may have overlooked is the expense of improving your business writing skills. Did you offer your employees a writing in-service or hire a consultant to help identify and correct problems in your written materials? Either could be totally or partially deductible. If you are self-employed, did you take a class on writing designed to improve your job skills? Did you purchase a new word-processing program to use in your business? Any of these costs may be tax deductible as a business expense. Check with your accountant, of course, but don't discount writing-related expenses in your business operations.

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Insights from our writing staff. March posts so far include:

Staff Articles

Using the Right Word

Writing Rules

 

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