Wednesday, April 21, 2010

He knows the importance of able writing

I was talking to someone from a huge national company the other day and what he had to say warmed my heart, soothed my mind and showed that some smart people in power know that effective communication comes through knowing how to write well.

His company is bringing on an internal communicator not only to help get across the company's message to those in and out of the company, but to offer employees of all rank -- including executives -- a chance at improving their writing skills.

I've been saying for a long time -- to anyone who will listen -- that we have a workforce in sad shape when it comes to communication. From poor grammar skills to muddled sentence structure, too many people are harming themselves and their companies by not accomplishing good basic writing. (And, don't get me started on bloggers. Many are fantastic communicators. Too many are wasting your time and theirs through incomprehensible wordage and phraseology. No matter what message they want to get across, they aren't doing it.)

Too many of my college students are coming to me unprepared to write a simple, clear cut, thoroughly understandable sentence, let alone an entire story. I can only imagine, and shiver at the prospect, of what lack of writing skills nonjournalism students are bringing into the class and beyond to the workforce.

From the trucker hauling a load to the entrepreneur staring a new business, everyone has something worthy to say and needs to have his or her writing stand up to the message. So, when my new acquaintence from the huge national company said he wants to give everyone in the company a chance to improve their writing skills, I jumped for joy.

Now there's a true benefit, one that will last a person the rest of his or her life. Little beats getting your message across -- be it memo, e-mail, white paper, report, policy statement, letter, press release, refrigerator note or blog.

Giving his employees the chance to learn new writing skills, or polish their old ones, shows a caring vision.

What are you doing for your employees?

Cheers from,

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don't be dense

Get to the point. Hit "enter" and start a new paragraph.

These two simple steps will improve any Web writing. Too much content is too dense to quickly understand, and darn dense just to look at.

I don't get it. Online is all about speed and efficiency in getting information. Yet, mostly I see writing that one has to wade through to figure out what's actually being said.

Don't obscure your point with needless lead-ins.

Don't try and impress your reader; reach your reader with a clear, concise, to-the-point message. Let readers know right off what you're talking about, or run the risk of losing them.

As non writers proliferate online writing, they tend to write within the comfort zone of their own jargon, often obscuring their message instead of presenting it clearly. Don't do that.

Make your first paragraph no more than 25-30 words. And, make it about what is the most important concept you want your reader to grasp.

Then, make sure to write in short paragraphs -- two to three sentences at the most. More than that, and you are visually challenging your reader. You're hurting their eyes and brain.

It's a case of word overload in too small a space. If it looks dense, the writer sounds dense.

Your words will have more impact if they stand out, not if they appear crowded.

This came home to me today when I was taking a mini vacation from work and actually reading my Twitter. My quest for calm and relaxation was fractured with the first item I linked to.

It was something I wanted to learn about, but when I clicked on to the page, the first two graphs were super long and I never did figure out what the writer was trying to say. Then, I just didn't care.

So, instead of being remarkable, it was forgettable. I don't think you want that as a writer. I certainly don't as a reader.


Monday, January 4, 2010


Too many commas make me seasick. I don’t do well with sudden and frequent near stops. Ocean waves and curvy roads can be my undoing. (I’m even getting a little nauseated just conjuring up these images).

You can imagine what too many commas do to me. Let’s not even get into semi colons, or I’ll end up in urgent care.

I love the smooth ride, the smooth read. Commas should be used sparingly and correctly. There are specific times to use a comma.

My husband says one of the worst things teachers tell students is to put in a comma to indicate a pause. “Let’s call it garbage,” my writer/editor husband says in keeping with the name of this blog. “The pause rule is just too damn vague,” he says.

Use a comma:

• after an introductory clause.
• in a series.
• between independent clauses that use a coordinating conjunction.
• to offset a non essential clause.

Otherwise you have disrupted your writing flow, and that’s never a good thing.

A buddy of mine wrote something along the lines:

“On Jan. 12 the University of Gibbonsville, will start its newest adventure. That day, a new class on writing will be offered.

I am very proud to say that I will be leading the efforts, of the new writing class.”

He would tell you that he put commas where he paused. Hmmm.

Of the three commas used in these three sentences, one is used correctly. (There’s a possible case to be made for using one after “On Jan. 12,” although I tend to leave commas out in two-to-three-word introductory clauses).

Do you know which commas are used incorrectly?

Unless it’s one of the four instances outlined above, and you’re in doubt, leave the comma out.

Yours in the new year,