August 2013  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

“One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.”

—Quintilian

Word Pair of the Month: than, then

As is so often the case in English, one letter can make a big difference in the meanings of two similar words. With than and then, two words that are often mixed up, it’s the vowel that makes the difference.

Than, with an a, is a conjunction that signals a comparison:

That model is far more user friendly than this one is.

Then, with an e, is an adverb that refers to time:

Please finish those reports; then we can discuss next month’s conference.

Here’s a tip for remembering the difference between these words. Then, which refers to time, rhymes with when, which also refers to time. Just say to yourself, “When? Then!” (It’s easier than looking the words up in the dictionary every time.)

August Writers’ Forum Question

Does your business have a unique voice? How did you come up with that voice, and how do you maintain it through your written materials?

This month, almost all of our responders followed similar pathways to a particular business voice. Each needed to present a company, a product, or a service in a winning way. Here are a few that explained it best.

To start, Gail Chang of Los Angeles operates a high-end boutique, and she writes about the importance of language to attract and hold her upper-class clientele:

I deal in fine jewelry for an exclusive clientele. My store location and environment is key, but an upscale image is also crucial in my print advertisements. I use lush photography and a dense, rich vocabulary to present the idea of luxury. Every word has to suggest exclusivity, and while it would be over the top in a different market, I know it’s right for my image and the clientele I want to attract.

Gabrielle Rodriguez-Ochoa, an attorney with a family-law practice near Dallas, emphasizes the importance of presenting her firm properly:

We deal with sensitive situations, from divorce to child custody to interfamily contract disputes. Our clientele is comprised of mainly working-class people, many for whom English is a second language. From the first, we knew we needed to present a warm, welcoming face that lets our clients know that we will treat them with respect and concern. Keeping this in mind, we work to assure that all our letters and legal materials are edited to the clearest, plainest legal language possible. We want our clients to know that we really care, that we want them to understand everything, and that we are working for them and with them through every step of their legal journeys.

Our favorite response came from Joel Goldstein, who manufactures and markets gag novelties:

When my grandparents began the business, they sat down and considered the proper approach to advertising. Someone, probably my grandmother, said, “Our stuff is funny, so we should sound funny.” Consequently, they hired my uncle, an unemployed comedy writer, to create our first catalog blurbs, which were hilarious. Our catalogs were a hit, our sales boomed, and we’ve stayed on that path for 40 years. Although the descriptions are factual, they are designed to get a giggle from the reader as well as share information. Our philosophy is, if a product looks like fun, it’ll sell, and the language we use plays a big part in presenting this outlook. It’s important for us to let our customers know that we are serious about being funny.

A Final Thought

One of our friends used to suffer terribly every time he had to write something. His writing always ended up sounding cold and stilted. Then one day he had to write a very important letter and decided to dictate it into a voice recorder first. After listening to it, he could hear it needed a little punching up, but it sounded like him—natural, not stilted. After that, he dictated all his letters, rewriting them as needed, but keeping his personal stamp. Are you one of those people who can speak easier than you can write? Try our friend’s method to create writing that sounds like you.

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