Monday, September 1, 2014

Strategies for making your sentences clear

Here’s an online page of strategies for improving sentence clarity. The page is part of The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.

The Takeaway: If you are having trouble making your sentences clear, visit the OWL’s “Improving Sentence Clarity” page. Like the rest of the OWL, it is well thought out, well organized and well written.

See disclaimer.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Another business boss who judges people by their grammar

Earlier this month, we discussed a Wall Street Journal article on grammar in the workplace. And in 2012, we discussed Kyle Wiens, a CEO who will not hire anyone whose grammar is weak. Now here’s another businessperson who respects good grammar: entrepreneur Cheryl Conner. In an article she wrote for Forbes, Ms. Conner says,
“Actually, I do tolerate poor grammar; I just don’t do it willingly. I have never fired an employee for poor grammar or hired for grammar and writing alone (although like Kyle, I now screen language ability heavily in anybody who walks through our door.) I’ve never corrected anybody in public or in front of a client. But I cringe inside on a daily basis when I edit the same mistakes in the same kinds of writing again and again.” (Italics in original.)
Notice that Ms. Conner is polite and considerate; she does not correct her employees in public or in front of clients. But notice also that she (1) privately corrects her employees’ grammar, while editing their work; (2) cringes at incorrect grammar; (3) uses grammar as a standard while screening new employees. In other words, she does judge people by their grammar.

The Takeaway: Not everyone judges you by your grammar. However, the smart people do, and aren’t those the people whose judgement you most care about?

See disclaimer.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The New Newspeak

A recent article, “The New Newspeak,” discusses how some politicians “twist English for political gain.” It gives seven examples of twisted terms:
“at risk”


The author says, “There is far more here than wooly thinking. Each term arrives with ample, almost invisible baggage that infiltrates the brain and ultimately shapes behavior.”

The author appears to have an anti-Left bias. Take that bias into account when reading him, but also try to judge his points on their own merits.

The Takeaway: We writers should always be especially alert readers. For example, we should be aware of the “baggage” that some terms carry, and avoid delivering that baggage unintentionally. As Oscar Wilde said in a different context, “A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude.”

See disclaimer.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Instant Credibility Boost 001 – Do not uptalk

From the 1983 movie Valley Girls

This is the first in a series of instant credibility boosts: techniques for rapidly increasing your professional credibility by demonstrating that you are an intelligent, knowledgeable and prudent grown-up.

Boost 001:  Do not uptalk

Uptalking (demo here) is the habitual use of “a rising note of apology or inquiry” at the ends of declarative sentences. In other words, making all your sentences sound like questions. For example:

Declarative sentence
“Hi, I’m Jason, from the PR department.”
Declarative sentence, with uptalking at the end
“Hi, I’m Jason, from the PR department?”
The hearer wonders: “Isn’t this guy sure of where he works?”
Declarative sentence, with uptalk at the end and in the middle
“Hi, I’m Jason? From the PR department?”
The hearer wonders: “Isn’t this clown even sure of his own name?”
What’s so bad about uptalking?

The affectation was started, in the early 1980s, by valley girls (pampered bimbos living in the San Fernando Valley of California). Since then, many other girls and women (apparently wishing to sound like pampered bimbos) started uptalking, too. Recently, even a few men have started. But intelligent grown-ups disdain the affectation and refuse to imitate it.

One lawyer explains it to his witnesses this way: “If you uptalk on the [witness] stand, you will sound like a valley girl, which means you will sound like an idiot, which means you will not be a credible witness. Do not uptalk.”

The Takeaway: Uptalking will make you sound fatuous. To find out whether you are uptalking, record a few of your phone calls and meetings (where legal) and listen to yourself. If you are uptalking, stop. If you are not uptalking, congratulations; don’t start. Best wishes.

See disclaimer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Emotional reasoning in the National Journal

Recently the National Journal ran an article titled “Ron Paul Is Putin’s New Best Friend,” by staff correspondent Lucia Graves. The article is an example of emotional reasoning, immaturity, subjectivity and misquotation.

On his YouTube channel, Canadian author and philosopher Stefan Molyneux posted an entertaining, instructive video critique (21:18) of the article. In the critique, he proceeds line by line and discusses several examples of the author’s faulty thinking and writing, including:
“blaming America”
“folk wisdom”
“quick to attack”
“pointing fingers”
“conspiracy theories”
Although he occasionally indulges in redundancy and histrionics, Mr. Molyneux is a very effective teacher. Especially if you are a beginning writer, I recommend you watch this video critique.

The Takeaway:  As writers, we must develop the habit of reading critically, because many articles today, like “Ron Paul Is Putin’s New Best Friend,” appear to be innocuous gibberish or prattle but are actually deliberate attempts to insinuate or manipulate. Try not to unconsciously absorb and unconsciously imitate that kind of writing.

See disclaimer.