January 2014  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Happy New Year!

We hope that your holiday season was bright, and that your new year is off to a great start.

The press of the holidays prevented us from publishing a December Mid-Month Mini, so this edition of eTips is slightly longer than usual. It includes responses to December’s forum topic.

But first, we’d like to share a comment from Sheryl Piening Keller of Milford, NE, concerning the December edition’s test about using numbers correctly. She writes . . .

I always enjoy reading your eTips.

In your first test sentence, I agree with the number rule; however, I would have taken off points because the sentence has an indefinite starter. I always make my students clean up their “there” clauses.

There were only six people at the meeting, too few for a quorum. (Correct. In general, spell out the numbers one through nine.)

Better: Only six people were at the meeting, too few for a quorum.

 Thanks much for the comment, Ms. Keller. You make a good point.

December Writers’ Forum Responses

Topic: As 2013 winds down, we’d love to have you share with our readers your favorite tips for growing your business and getting new clients. We may all benefit from trying some new ideas in 2014.

Several people commented on the importance of humanizing in order to sell. L’Shandra Franklin, a sales manager in Detroit, focuses on how best to reach the client:

We take the time to do the research. Before pitching to a potential client, we learn about that client as a human being. I don’t mean getting creepy and stalking anyone, but just finding out a little background. Ask questions to see where you fit into the client’s needs. Canned pitches are passé—listen to what the customer says and respond honestly. Frankly, if I can’t help a potential client, I say so, and try to recommend someone who can help. It may seem counterproductive, but that person will remember me and come back when we can match their needs.

Verne Castle, an HR manager in Dallas, writes this:

We have always been a quick-response company. When we are contacted or questioned on our Web site or through social media, we make sure to respond personally, and always with solid information and help. This personal service makes us seem less like a big, imposing corporate structure and more like a group of professionals who want to help.

Jilian Kirk of Boston sees another way of humanizing your company to grow your business:

Get your name out there by getting out into the community. Participate in a high school job fair, or talk to elementary classes about your job and your company. You never know, but the students’ parents may be interested, too. Sponsor a Little League team, or support a local charity. Ask your workers to create a float for the local holiday parade, or underwrite a show by the community theater. Developing your brand as a member of the community team will likely result in both business and personal growth.

Ming Lee of St. Louis stresses education as key for growth:

Keep learning. Explore the newest ideas through training and other educational options. If you have a business school or community college nearby, take advantage of their classes. Either go yourself or send an employee. Learn about the latest business methods, the newest Internet trends, and where to find various types of business help. Underwriting such training and education pays back manyfold.

Quite a few of our responses target the use of social media. Susan Thompkins of Indianapolis writes this:

Social media are key. You’ve got to have online presence, including a company blog and chatty bits on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites—as many as possible. Social media have become the great equalizer, and by creating a familiar, down-home presence, you make potential customers feel comfortable and ready to trust you with their business. Just don’t forget that you are a business. Stay within appropriate language and format boundaries. Casual doesn’t mean sloppy or obscene.

Yaelin Hirsch of Hartford, Connecticut, took it a little further:

Want to grow? Keep moving. Don’t let your Web site sit stagnant, but don’t hammer your message home with every byte, either. Give potential customers something new and fresh to come back to—interesting tidbits about the company, tips for improving their lives, even a silly joke. And if you use Twitter, be sure to Tweet advice and entertaining news as well as sales pitches.

Carla Bates, a freelance writer in Milwaukee, warns about the pitfalls of social media:

Social media are everywhere, but not every site will work for you and your product or service. If you appeal to Boomers, you probably won’t gain anything on sites like Snapchat, which is more for the seventeen- to twenty-five-year-olds who have no interest in, say, retirement strategies. Know what’s new and what’s trending, but more than that, know where you can best reach your intended audience. Then tailor your message accordingly.

Test Your Writing Acumen

Most people think capitalization is pretty easy: Remember to capitalize proper nouns and the first word in every sentence, and you’re set, right? Here’s your chance to see how well you know the ins and outs of the capitalization rules. In each of the following sentences, decide if capitals are needed, and where. (Hint: Not every sentence below requires a capitalization correction.)

  1. The senator will meet with congressman Foster at noon tomorrow.
  2. She explained the platform of the green party.
  3. The problem was caused by a faulty o-ring and was easily fixed.
  4. Tina will head our new office in the middle east.
  5. We’ll be moving the drill unit north, nearer to the country’s border.
  6. Here is the consensus about the plan: it will never work.
  7. The investigator from osha declared the situation unacceptable.

You can check your answers near the end of this newsletter.

Openings: Where to Begin?

The face of business writing has undergone many changes in the past few years. Texts, Tweets, and other social-media messages are quick, to the point, and devoid of any real formality. However, when you write a professional business letter, formality still matters, and that includes careful formatting and a structured opening. Whether your news is good, bad, or neutral, remember to prepare the reader for the rest of your message by using an appropriate opening strategy:

  • State the topic and, if necessary, identify yourself.

    As vice president in charge of customer relations, it is my privilege to notify the winners of our annual logo contest.

  • Explain the reason for the letter.

    We are aware of the job-overlap problems that have come up for our flex-time workers. The attached revised work schedule should alleviate the situation.

  • Present the key point as either a statement, a question, or a request, depending on the purpose of your letter.

    We have learned of your experience in public speaking and hope you will agree to participate on our panel regarding work-related injuries.

    (or)

    Would you be willing to serve on our training panel regarding work-related injuries?

    (or)

    I am writing to ask you to participate in the panel discussion on work- related injuries, which will be part of our upcoming interoffice training day.

Keep in mind that bad news requires more finesse. If the news is expected, you can state it right away. However, if the news is unexpected, be kind and lead up to it. Use your opening as a buffer to soften the blow, including any one of these types of neutral statements:

  • A thank-you to the reader for past business
  • A concern you’ve had about the reader’s work
  • A connection to a previous problem you’ve discussed with the reader
  • An acknowledgement of the reader’s positive points
  • A neutral explanation of a problem

You can learn more about the writing process beginning on page 71 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace.

Trainer Tip

Don’t think that your new hires will know instinctively how to do their jobs. Even coming from a similar position elsewhere, workers must acclimate to your company’s expectations and way of doing things.

What’s the best way to ensure success? Put it all in writing. Provide a thorough job description, preferably written by either a predecessor or someone else doing the same job. In addition, provide employees with a job manual that contains details about their positions—specific tasks, milestones, and expected outcomes. Finally, ask new hires to keep a journal of any questions or problems they experience and to arrange one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to answer those questions.

That Little Extra

Not sure how to arrange the details in a work document you must write? Try one of these structures:

  • Chronological arrangement works well for explaining a plan that involves time management.
  • Topic arrangement breaks information into specific areas and allows you to explore each thoroughly.
  • Alphabetical arrangement is a logical structure for writing that includes many specific items or terms.
   

January Writers' Forum Topic

Here’s your chance to tell us how your work environment operates. Send us your responses to the forum question below, and we’ll print the most interesting in our eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Well, another year has passed, and it’s time to make business resolutions for the new year. What did you learn last year, and how will those lessons affect the way you do things this year?

Email your response to writersforum@upwritepress.com. Write “January Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Answers to This Month’s Quiz

  1. The senator will meet with Congressman Foster at noon tomorrow.
    Capitalize a title that precedes a personal name.
  2. She explained the platform of the Green Party.
    Capitalize the name of a team or organization.
  3. The problem was caused by a faulty O-ring and was easily fixed.
    Capitalize letters that describe a shape and are connected to a noun.
  4. Tina will head our new office in the Middle East.
    Capitalize specific regions of the world that are used as proper nouns.
  5. We’ll be moving the drill unit north, nearer to the country’s border.
    Do not capitalize words that simply indicate direction.
  6. Here is the consensus about the plan: It will never work.
    Capitalize the first word in a complete sentence that follows a colon and deserves emphasis.
  7. The investigator from OSHA declared the situation unacceptable.
    Capitalize abbreviations of the names of organizations. When the abbreviation is an initialism, capitalize all letters.

We Want to Hear from You!

This is your chance to be part of the UpWrite Press newsletters and blogs. What writing topics do you want to hear about? Have you any favorite communications tips you’d like to share? What words do you constantly mix up? Send us your ideas and you could see your name in Writing eTips or the Mid-Month Mini.

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Coming in February

Punctuating Titles: Quotation Marks, Italics, and Underlining

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