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“Get to the Point” People vs. “Have a Nice Day” People

There are two kinds of people in the world. I call them get to the point people and have a nice day people. Get to the point people want you to lead with your main point. They do not want you to wish them a nice day. In fact, they might not even care whether they are having a nice day. They just want results. For these people, opening with your main point is best.

However, have a nice day readers feel put off by having the main point thrust in their faces before you establish a feeling of friendly relationship. For these readers, a sentence or two that acknowledges their humanity and emphasizes a shared experience will open them up to your message.

When your reader needs you to establish a relationship before pursuing results, starting with the main point may be a mistake. Hard-driving Americans, especially Northerners and Westerners, often feel that all that matters is to get to the business at hand. However, outside the United States, and in some regions of the United States, the get-to-the-point mentality is considered rude. Have a nice day people need you to wish them a nice day.

In a training I led in the American South, a woman stated that if an email did not open with a polite greeting and comment, she would delete it without reading it. “If the person doesn’t respect me enough to greet me kindly, I don’t want to know what he says,” she announced. While this position may be extreme, the fact remains that getting straight to the point is off-putting to many people.

Getting to the point vs. having a nice day attitudes vary among cultures. When the reader’s culture prioritizes relationships, she may feel insulted if you get straight down to business.  As Lanie Denslow of World Wise, an expert in global communication, says, “Americans are all about communicating data and facts quickly. We get to the point and move on. However, for our colleagues from most of the rest of the world, maintaining a polite, pleasant relationship between the parties is as important as sharing information.” Many Americans feel the need for connection as well.

Denslow recommends that when writing outside North America and most of Western Europe, you take the time to write a few sentences at the beginning of the communication to build toward your main point. She advises, “Begin with something else that you share with the reader; then move to the problem you need to discuss.” In other words, assume that outside the US and Western Europe – and even within many areas of these regions – the person you are writing to is a have a nice day person.

When writing to these readers, start out slowly. Comment on some positive event or a shared experience. You can even comment on the weather. Your opening comment need not be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize; it just has to humanize your communication. Remind the reader of your relationship. Once you have established your connection, you can start getting to your point. For example, if you have to share some bad news with your reader, you could start by writing:

Dear Alexandra, 
I hope you are enjoying this lovely springtime. I remember fondly when I visited your office last year, and we took a walk through the public garden. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already! 
I need to write to you about a problem we have been having, which I hope you can help with…

Remember, everything in writing comes down to the reader. If putting your main point first will make your reader feel assaulted or insulted, why do so? Focus on your communication goal, which is to convey your ideas into your reader’s mind with as little resistance as possible. If you know your reader needs you to get straight to the point, don’t make him wait for it while you dither in useless greetings.

But if your readers are have a nice day people, whether because of their culture or their personality, open your message gently and lead up to your main point. And if you don’t know what kind of person your reader is, err on the side of caution by using the have a nice day approach. You can always become more get to the point later.

As we say in Worktalk writing programs, “Write for your reader!”
 


 ©2017 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

See our recent Writamin on when you should NOT get to the point.
See our recent Writamin on getting to the point.

Read Writamins on these topics:

Emailing Effectively
http://www.worktalk.com/business-writing-tips/emailing-effectively

Writing Well
http://www.worktalk.com/business-writing-tips/writing-well

Choosing the Right Word
http://www.worktalk.com/business-writing-tips/choosing-the-right-word

Thoughts on Writing
http://www.worktalk.com/business-writing-tips/thoughts-on-writing

Writing Within Organizations
http://www.worktalk.com/business-writing-tips/writing-within-organizations

Costs of Poor Writing: Wasted Time

Lost time is never found.

 

  • Have you ever read something that was so muddled, you had to read it three times before you understood it?
  • Have you ever received a long rambling email and spent ten minutes trying to figure out what the point of it was?
  • Have you ever received a letter or email composed of a solid block of text and decided, “Forget it! I’m not reading it”?

In all these cases, the writers contributed to one of main costs of poor writing: wasted time. When people write garbled, rambling, dense documents, they force their readers to spend unnecessary time decoding their messages.  Poor writing wastes time.

In the Worktalk trainings, we teach several tools that allow readers to use their time effectively:

Know your point before you start.

                We’ve all had the experience of slogging through a long email and finally seeing the writer’s “aha” moment --- the moment when the writer realized her own main point. There’s nothing wrong with taking a while to figure out what your main point is – just don’t drag your reader through your mental discovery process.

In reading the writing samples of hundreds of business writers, I have also seen cases when the writer never did seem to figure out his own point; he just threw a bunch of points on the page and let the reader figure out what was important. Here’s an example:

Dear Mr. Ritz,

                Downs High School is at the corner of Polk Street and Downs Avenue. I remember it well from my days a student there so long ago. The senior citizens park adjoining the school is also so lovely.  The senior center is leased to Jonesville School District, I believe.

                Someone has reported that the benches in the senior center need to be repaired. We don’t have the current lease agreements, although we do have a site map and some notes from a meeting discussing the leases from many years ago.

                Any information you can send would be most appreciated.

The point is that the writer needs the reader to send him the current lease agreements before the district can repair the benches. However, he did not make his request.

Before you start to write, take a moment and say or write, “What I really want my reader to know/do is…” That way you do not make your reader stop and think about what he is supposed to do. He will read your document once and understand your message.

Put your main point first, in most cases.

If the main point is buried in the middle of a document or email, your reader is likely to overlook it. People are paying most attention at the beginning and at the end of documents

The main point generally belongs at the top of your document.

If your main point is positive or neutral, remember the acronym BLUP: Bottom Line Up Front.

Putting your main point at the top enables the reader to just read that and then decide how much of the remainder to read.

Break up the page with plenty of white space.

What’s your reaction to a long block of text?

If your impulse is to skip that document or email and move onto something that looks friendlier, you are not alone. That is what most readers do.

It takes longer to read a dense block of text than it does to read a series of three- to four-line paragraphs separated by beautiful white space. White space rests the eye. It enables readers to read, blink, look up briefly, look down, and be able to find their place. You could put the winning Powerball numbers in the middle of a dense block of text and be confident that no one would claim the prize.

Break up the page with moderate-sized paragraphs so that your document takes less time to read.

Using these three simple tools will save your readers time:

  • Know your point before you start.
  • Make the point early in the text
  • Keep the format friendly.

The Worktalk writing trainings enable organizations to save time, reduce miscommunication, and avoid negative branding caused by poor writing. Contact Elizabeth Danziger at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to learn more about our customized programs. Visit www.worktalk.com for more information.

Rumma’ging through Apostrophes

During a recent road trip across southern Utah, I passed a store with the name Rumma'geI assume that the owner wanted to stand out from the crowd (which was pretty small to begin with) and dress up her store name to “Rumma’ge” instead of the dowdy “rummage.”  Unfortunately, her use of the apostrophe was laughable. 

Wherever you go, you see apostrophes used in painfully incorrect phrases, such as:

  • “Please wear shoe’s in the pool area.”       
  • “Visitor’s are kindly requested to sign the register.” 
  •  "Ask cashier for this weeks’ list.”

            

Why this compulsion to apostrophize?  Do people vaguely recall that an apostrophe sometimes goes before the ‘s’ -- so they pop them into words at random and hope they get it right?   That’s what the Rumma'ge lady did. These grammar gaffes make me grumpy. 

Okay, so when DO you use an apostrophe? 

*          To form a contraction. 

The apostrophe shows where a letter or letters have been omitted.  For example, instead of let us see, you could write, “let’s see. 

Watch out here, this gets tricky--- instead of it is, you could write it’s.

*The word its is not, repeat is not a contraction.  It is a possessive form of the word it.  Please remember to use it’s only when signifying a contraction between it and is.

 *          To show possession. 

Instead of having to write, “This shoe belongs to John,” we can write “John’s shoe.” Instead of saying, “Hey – I think that is the car that belongs to John!,” you can say, “Hey – I think that’s John’s car.” What a deal!

There is no grammatical basis for using an apostrophe-s ending to signify a plural.  One cat, two cats.  One shoe, two shoes.  Or if you want to get fancy, one company, two companies.”  But NEVER write shoe’s if what you mean is that there are two shoes. 

What if the word ends in s, and you want to show the possessive s?

This is a conundrum.  According to the Chicago Manual of Style, it is now proper to use the ‘s´ apostrophe just as if the word did not end in s.  Thus, you would have words like the princess’s tiara or the business’s quarterly report.  The stylebook goes on to say that using a simple apostrophe to signify a possessive is reserved exclusively for major cultural or religious figures.  This would leave us with words like Xerxes’ rule, or Jesus’ teaching or Moses’ law.  Of course, this opens the question of who decides whether a person is worthy of the simple apostrophe. (What about Saint Francis?)

 *          To show BOTH a plural and possession. 

If you have one cat, and the cat has a bowl, then you could write, “The cat’s bowl is in the kitchen.”

But suppose that your cat got out one night and visited some tomcat that didn’t even remember her name in the morning – and that now you have six cats.  First, you must buy a much bigger bowl.  Then you could write, “The cats’ bowl is in the kitchen.”  Many cats possess the bowl. We convey this by putting an ‘s apostrophe’ at the end of the word.

In brief:

  • Nouns that are plural have an extra  s.
  • Nouns that show possession possess an apostrophe followed by an s ('s).
  • Plural possessive nouns have the extra s followed by an apostrophe. (s')

 

I hope this lay’s to rest anyones lingering doubt's about apostrophe's.  Its simple! Apostrophes’ are only confusing when you don’t know whi'ch is whi'ch. 

 

Please email me the most galling apostrophe mistakes you have seen and remember to tell me what other writing errors gall you.

© 1999-2016 Elizabeth Danziger  All rights reserved.

 

Worktalk Communications Consulting can help you communicate powerfully and purposefully.  Bad writing is costly. Let us train your staff to write clearly and correctly, or do the writing for you.

Call us at (310) 396-8303, e-mail us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit us at http://www.worktalk.com to learn more about how WORKTALK help you get to the point!

A Common Grammar Gaffe: Don't Let This Undermine You

Grammar! The word itself makes some people’s eyes glaze over. Shades of elementary school make eyelids droop. But think about it: When you receive an email or document that contains grammar and punctuation errors, how does it affect your opinion of the sender? When I ask this question in the Worktalk writing trainings, people use words like, “incompetent, unprofessional, uneducated, careless…” The list goes on and on. When we disregard basic grammar, we risk undermining the good impression we have worked so hard to build.One grammar error that has cropped up in recent writing trainings is a lack of singular-plural agreement. Wait — don’t go to sleep yet. Disregarding this point can make you look ignorant. So take a look.

What is wrong with these sentences?

Read more ...

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Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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