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Using Performatives in Business Writing: Words that Act

I’m sorry.It’s okay.
We need the paperwork by Friday.
The holding tank might explode.
I think that restructuring is a good idea.

What do these statements have in common? They are weather reports, informing the reader of feelings, needs, situations, and thoughts. Whether stated explicitly or not, their purpose is to inform. If all you are doing is reporting the weather, informing is fine.

But if you want people to think, feel, or act differently, simply informing is weak.

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Learning to Overcome Pride of Authorship

Let’s face it: No one likes to have work corrected. We dream that people will say, “It’s brilliant! It’s perfect! Let’s run with it.” But that doesn’t always happen. In fact, it is much more common to be corrected than to be unconditionally praised. This is part of the writing process. Remember the adage, “Writing is rewriting what has already been rewritten.”

So if you have sweated over your verbiage and then some senseless monster says that your work is not perfect, how do you cope? Here are a few suggestions:

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How to Avoid Death by Email

When I teach “Email Best Practices,” the first principle does not refer to directly to email. Rather, it suggests that people determine whether email is the best medium for their message. In many cases, the phone is a better option.

Email is quick and easy to use and, even better for many people, it does not require you to directly confront your reader. Because of this paradoxical combination of immediacy with non-confrontation, people often opt for email when they are trying to communicate emotions or  sensitive subjects. This is a mistake. If you need to have a dialogue with someone, you are probably better off with the phone.  When both individuals take turns venting their feelings through their keyboards, conflict is more likely to escalate. Lacking nuance and tone, email is a poor choice for highly charged discussions.

Have you ever sent an email to someone asking them to get back to you immediately and then started tapping your foot, wondering why they haven’t responded already? Again, email is paradoxical. You as the sender can make your message instantly available, but your receiver is under no compulsion whatever to pick up your message. You have no control over when your reader will pick up your email or respond to it unless you sidestep the process by calling him on the phone. So if you need an answer or response immediately, follow your email with a phone call.

How annoying is it to run through five or six emails just to set a time for an appointment or meeting? Most people would agree that it’s pretty irritating to have your inbox clogged with “9:30 works for me” and “Where?” and “Sorry, can’t make it”.  Although email feels like a quick, efficient choice, in some cases you will get your questions resolved more quickly with a phone call. If you work in a large organization, hopefully everyone is on Outlook or some other calendaring program; this would enable you to set appointments for groups without multiple “reply all” blasts about who is available when. Even if you can’t use Outlook, a quick phone call with both people looking at their calendars can eliminate the process of going back and forth with multiple one-line emails.

So here are a few situations in which email might not be the ideal choice: If you are dealing with strong feelings or sensitive information, avoid email. If you need an immediate reply, use the phone. If you’re setting up an appointment, try the phone first. As a general rule, figure that if you have exchanged three emails on a topic, it is time to pick up the phone or go to the person’s office. Hash out your communications in a context that enables you to access vocal tone, nuance, volume, and other vital elements of expression. Email is a great tool, but like all tools, it should be used for what it’s best at: Quickly conveying non-emotionally charged, non-time-sensitive information.

For more information on Worktalk’s Email Best Practices seminar, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Using Simple Language in Business Writing

The December 2011 issue of National Geographic contains a fascinating article by Adam Nicolson about the genesis of the King James Bible. (A link to the article appears at the end of this post.) While the history surrounding the document is intriguing, I want to focus on the fluidity of the language.  In choosing the final versions of every verse, the translators put the manuscripts in their laps and simply listened to how the words sounded when read aloud. In the Worktalk writing trainings, we emphasize the importance of using this powerful editing tool.

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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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