Category Archives: Business writing

Need to apologize? Speak plain English.

There are good ways and bad ways to address a customer service fiasco. Courtesy of Southwest Airlines, here’s one of the bad ways: “We are working directly with the family after sincerely apologizing and issuing a full refund for their … Continue reading

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Look your reader in the eye

Copywriter Nick Usborn says that the fundamental advice given to speakers applies to writers: Look your audience in the eye. So far, as I sit here writing, I’m looking you in the eye. Hopefully, you can hear my voice through … Continue reading

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A call for help: Teaching unmotivated learners to write better

I recently received this plea for help from P, a friend and former writing colleague, and with her permission, I’m sharing it with you: I am being asked to come up with some course or online topics or some such … Continue reading

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The Ability to Write Well is “Unobsoletable”

Do you ever worry that your hard-earned skills might become obsolete? That someday, the knowledge that you have worked so hard to attain, the abilities you have toiled to hone and polish, might suddenly lose their value in the workplace? … Continue reading

Posted in Business writing, Growing as a writer, Writing is good for you | Tagged | 3 Comments

If communication fails, figure out where

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” –Captain in Cool Hand Luke Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will find that you failed to communicate. Your message did not come across to your audience. When that happens, step one … Continue reading

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Document Testing: The Missing Step

You can’t be confident that a document will meet it’s goals until you take one final step: testing. Here are some methods you can use. (PDF format.)

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10 Tips for Effective E-mail

Since its inception as a tool used by a few computer users in the mid-60, e-mail has risen to be a dominant business communications medium. Surveys show that workers spend anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours a day writing, … Continue reading

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Bah, Humbug! Business Jargon Needn’t Be a Done Deal

Editor’s Note – I’m trying something different with this article: It’s a downloadable Adobe Acrobat file. It’s licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License, which means you are free to distribute copies of the work. … Continue reading

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Scholar Champions Clearer Legal Writing

Legalese is ubiquitous. It’s the fine print on the back of credit card statements, the license agreements for software, the warranties (and warnings and disclaimers) for new products. It often requires a magnifying glass and is considered to be convoluted, impenetrable, jargon-laden writing that is reviled by hapless readers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Joseph Kimble, a Thomas Cooley Law School professor and editor-in-chief of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, as well as the author of Lifting the Fog of Legalese: Essays on Plain Language (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2006). Kimble spoke to the Eye about his advocacy of plain language writing.

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Posted in Articles, Business writing, Law, Plain Language, Usage | 2 Comments

Delivering Bad News

On January 24, 2003, a team of NASA engineers held a briefing to warn about the potential hazard to the space shuttle of flying debris. They had found that foam insulation on the external fuel tank could cause catastrophic damage to the heat shield during a launch. Because the key points of their warning were obscured by jargon and buried in the final bullet point of a hard-to-read PowerPoint slide, the message never got through the NASA bureaucracy. One week later, the Columbia broke up on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board.

We may not be in a similar position, with lives depending on our messages. More often, we’ll be called on to draft a message to employees about impending layoffs, or a letter to stockholders about recent financial problems. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but when the task falls to us, professional ethics demand that we not flinch from laying out the message as clearly as we can. Doing so takes honesty, sensitivity, and humanity.

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