March 2013  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”

—James Boswell, from Life of Johnson

Word Pair of the Month: criteria, criterion

Criteria is the plural form of criterion, and while many people use them interchangeably, that isn't really correct. A criterion is a trait or standard by which something is judged; criteria are a collection of such traits.

The top criterion for the job was a working knowledge of Linux.

Other criteria included familiarity with JavaScript, PHP, and SQL.

The word criteria has been used as both the singular and plural form since the middle of the twentieth century, but this is still not wholly acceptable. Here, then, is a simple trick for remembering the difference between this month’s word pair: The singular form ends in “on,” the very two letters that begin the word “one,” indicating a single thing.

March Writers’ Forum Question

How do you manage personnel conflicts in your business? Does writing play a role in the process? How so? Share with us your experiences and tips for restoring and maintaining harmony in your workplace.

Timothy R. Grand, an office manager in Tulsa, writes:

The two biggest personnel issues we’ve experienced are harassment and discrimination, and in both cases we have to tread lightly. We interview each party separately and record responses both on camera and in writing. Then we ask both persons to fill out a form and make their own statements about the issue. Following this, we talk with the parties together to figure out a resolution. Finally, we follow up with regular meetings. The company also keeps a file of all complaints and responses. The key is to keep the doors of communication open.

MaryAnn Harper, an administrative assistant in Bayonne, New Jersey, has this to say:

If the issue is a clash of personalities, we simply separate the parties and limit the amount of time they must spend together. If they are on the same project, we try to establish physical distance by having them work remotely from separate offices and communicate only through memos and email. In the rare case, we will reassign the workers to different projects, shifting both so no one feels picked on.

Jackson DeWitt of Memphis tries to head off problems with training:

We train all of our managers to recognize and defuse possible interoffice problems. This way we can head off most difficulties before they get out of hand. As far as writing goes, we keep detailed written reports on any disputes that do happen, including the resolutions and follow-up comments. The managers are also trained to write these reports and coached to use clear, unbiased language.

Anupa Patel, a sales manager in Chicago, writes:

We recently had a problem with some grumbling over an employee’s promotion. Certain workers felt, because they had seniority, they had been discriminated against when they were passed over. We were able to answer the objections satisfactorily because we had kept clear records that supported the decision. In this case, it was the written record of worker performance and the laudatory letters from customers that indicated the promotion was warranted.

Jim McKay of Seattle finds personal disagreements annoying:

Whenever you have a large group of people working together, you’re going to have a few personality conflicts. I make it clear that petty problems have no business in the workplace. If I find such issues are affecting the workflow, I speak privately with each of the combatants and explain that I will not stand for personal friction causing a disruption. If the issue is intense enough, I assign people to counseling through HR. I try to be sensitive, but frankly, I’m running a business and have to do what’s best for the whole company.

A Final Thought

The world of communications has been inundated with the 140-character message, clipped to its very essence and often using truncated spelling. It seems that readers no longer have time to waste on long, full sentences. We agree that incorporating brevity (minus the creative spelling) into business writing is a good idea. But while you are getting to the heart of your message quickly and making clean, clear points, always remember to check that your communications are complete, informative, and correct.

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