As someone who has spent most of my professional life as a communicator – English teacher, author, radio/TV announcer, editor, performing musician – I have become afflicted with that awful disease, “Former English Teacheritis” …it’s incurable, by the way! I groan when I hear people say, “Me and her went to the movies;” “I climbed off of the horse as fast as possible;” or “It don’t make no difference.” I begin to swoon when I hear an “offender” profess, “But they know what I’m tryin’ to say; what difference do it make?”
It makes an enormous “difference!” says Junior.
Now please, don’t tune out. Give me a moment. I promise you this brief essay will not be a boring grammar lesson from your old 7th Grade textbook. Rather, I want to share with you three simple practices you can perform every time you write (or even speak) anything! These practices will improve the effectiveness of your communications – written or verbal – in every situation, professional and personal. I might even boldly suggest that implementing these three practices will increase your bottom line … but if I say that (“increase your bottom line”), I am violating one of the practices!
Generally speaking, we have two types of language usage: formal and informal. Safe use of language in your business writing (and speaking) falls somewhere in between. You don’t have to be writing your college thesis, nor are you speaking or writing in some highly specialized, regional or professional dialect. However, you should be trying to communicate with brevity, clarity, and precision.
So, let’s take a look at these three simple practices.
When Colonel Al Stone, Sr. served at the Pentagon at the start of WW II, he worked for General Code, ironically, the head of the US Army Signal Corps! Dad told me about the first time he submitted a report to General Code on some important subject. “I worked hours on the report; I typed and retyped and retyped. I checked my spelling. I made sure every sentence was grammatically correct. I was impressed with myself. I walked into General Code’s office and handed him my 25-page report, standing at attention, awaiting his praise."
“But there was no praise. General Code stood up, with my report in his hand, walked around his desk and handed it to me. He said, ‘Colonel. Go back to your desk and rewrite this report. Make sure it is no longer than two pages!’”
In this age of Twitter, Facebook, Email, Texting (especially texting!), and Emojis, people simply don’t have the patience to read long reports, letters, and other documents. They’re busy. You’re busy. So, every word counts. To achieve brevity, here’s a simple formula:
- Reduce paragraphs to sentences.
- Reduce sentences to clauses or phrases.
- Reduce clauses and phrases to single words.
Would you like an example? Ok. Try this.
Dear Mrs. Smith,
I want to thank you, sincerely, for allowing me to visit with you and your children recently to show you our fine line of personal care and household cleaning products. I really enjoyed our meeting, and I hope that you did too! Accordingly, as I mentioned to you at our meeting, I am going to prepare a personalized report showing you how you can actually purchase any of our sensational products – without any cost whatsoever – for you and your children to read and review, at your convenience of course. Me and my associates here at ABC Home Products are really excited about working with you and your children so that you will be able to have any or all of our products that you want and need for as long as you want and need them! As you read and review our personalized report, please feel free to make notes of any questions or concerns that you might have. I will give you a call in about a week to answer any and all of your questions and concerns.
Again, thank you for meeting with me. I look forward to speaking with you soon!
Pretty awful, right? Repetitive, boring, uninspired, grammatically inaccurate – simply too long and awkward for anyone to read. So, let’s apply the three steps from above. I’ll keep a little bit of the “sales sizzle” in the note, but I will cut out the garbage.
Dear Mrs. Smith,
Just a quick note to thank you for meeting with me Tuesday morning to discuss our personal care and household cleaning products. Please check your email for my brief report that describes our New Customer Program through which you can obtain our products without any cost. I will call you within a week to answer any questions you may have.
Obviously, you may have to include more information in your writing than this example; however, once you have written your first draft, take a close look. Are there paragraphs you can shrink to sentences; sentences that can become clauses or phrases; or clauses and phrases that could be just single words? Think “be brief!” And you’ll be well on your way to more effective, safe writing.
Check out our next Safe Money News for Part II: Clarity!