How to write a sentence that gets straight to the point Ponderisms by thebest11


                                                                                   FALL, 2006 VOL. 10 ISSUE 3

How to write a sentence that                                                       Ponderisms
gets straight to the point                                                         Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
                                                                                   Those who live by the sword get shot by those
We believe most business writing needs to be more precise and
concise. We think too many people write with strokes that are too broad            who don't.
and choose words and phrases that say too little with too much. Consider           Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries.
this advice from Henry David Thoreau:
                                                                                   The shinbone is a device for finding furniture.
   We like that a sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough
                                                                                   A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for
   instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.
                                                                                   doing well.
It takes discipline to write a sentence that is true and straight. But even if     There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick
your first draft is too broadly drawn and wordy, you can edit for clarity and      and the dead.
brevity. Here’s a paragraph that is typical corporate speak:
                                                                                   When your case goes to trial in court, you are
   I am part of the Operations Team for Golden Investor Services. My               putting yourself in the hands of 12 people who
   current role as an Operations Team Administrator entails the processing         weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.
   and quality control of new accounts, financial and non-financial client
   transactions and various reconciliation tasks. In addition, I also provide      I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned
   client service duties to assist our client with any questions or concerns       that most people die of natural causes.
   that they may have with the product or their client accounts.                   The easiest way to find something lost around the
And here’s how we’d edit it:                                                       house is to buy a replacement.

   I am part of the Operations Team for Golden Investor Services. My               Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive
   current role aAs an Aadministrator with the operations team, I entails          anyway.
   the add new accounts to the system, and processing and quality                  Garden Rule: When weeding, the best way to
   control of new accounts, financial and non-financial client                     make sure you are removing a weed and not a
   transactions. and various reconciliation tasks. In addition, I also             valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of
   provide client service duties to assist our client with answer any              the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.
   questions or concerns our clients that they may have with about the
                                                                                   Health nuts are going to feel
   our products or their client accounts.
                                                                                   stupid someday, lying in
After editing, the paragraph is pared down to:                                     hospitals dying of nothing.
   As an administrator in the operations team I add new accounts to the            Nothing is foolproof to a
   system, and process financial and non-financial transactions. I also            sufficiently talented fool.
   answer any questions clients have about our products or their accounts.
                                                                                   Thanks to our friend
Stripped of its non-essentials, it’s easier to see what this paragraph is trying   Joel Birnbaum for these.
to say. And although we might want more detail, the writing has
greater energy and focus. When you edit your own writing, make
sure you are saying precisely what you mean and that you are saying
it only once.
Great stories
about kids and…
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nudity: I was driving with my three young          you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, call us and we’ll
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children one warm summer evening when a
woman in the convertible ahead of us stood up
and waved. She was stark naked. As I was           Courses
reeling from the shock, I heard my 5-year-old      Effective Business Writing: This two-day course is ideal for
shout from the back seat, “Mom, that lady isn’t    anyone who needs to write letters, short reports, or emails that
wearing a seat belt!”                              are clear, concise and persuasive.

the elderly:      While working for an             Writing Basics: This is a one-day version of Effective Business
organization that delivers lunches to elderly      Writing. It pairs well with Grammar and Proofreading.
shut-ins, I used to take my 4-year-old daughter
on my afternoon rounds. She was unfailingly        Rédactions d’affaires efficaces: Our first French business
                                                   writing course is a big success. It’s a one-day version of Effective
intrigued by the various appliances of old age,
                                                   Business Writing.
particularly the canes, walkers and wheelchairs.
One day I found her staring at a pair of false     Report and Proposal Writing:This two-day course is for people
teeth soaking in a glass. As I braced myself for   who need to write long, complex documents. It’s perfect for
the inevitable barrage of questions, she merely    anyone who writes reports of any sort, proposals, business cases,
turned and whispered, “The tooth fairy will        or briefing notes, and it makes a great follow-up to Effective
never believe this!”                               Business Writing.

dress up:      A little girl was watching her      Email Writing for Results™: This popular 1/2 day course gives
                                                   participants practical strategies for writing email effectively. It’s
parents dress for a party. When she saw her dad
                                                   perfect for anyone who communicates electronically to internal
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shouldn’t wear that suit.” “And why not,
darling?” “You know it always gives you a          Email Management: This new 1⁄2 day course teaches more than
headache the next morning.”                        just writing email. Participants also learn how to manage the
                                                   volume in their inboxes and be more courteous senders.
school:     A little girl had just
finished her first week of school.                 Grammar and Proofreading: This lively one-day course provides
“I’m just wasting my time,” she                    a review of grammar and punctuation rules. Participants practice
                                                   repairing sentences and proofreading longer documents. It’s ideal
said to her mother, “I can’t
                                                   for anyone who wants greater confidence with grammar.
read, I can’t write, and they
won’t let me talk!”                                Technical Writing and Documentation: This two-day course
                                                   will help anyone who documents procedures, writes specifications
opinions:      On the                              and requirements, or generates online reference material.
first day of school, a first-
grader handed his teacher a                        Self-study Effective Business Writing: This self-study Effective
note from his mother. The                          Business Writing program is perfect if instructor-led training is
note read, “The opinions                           inconvenient for your learners.
expressed by this child are not
necessarily those of his                           Services
                                                   Licensing: Your trainers can be certified to deliver any of our
Thank you to Lorraine Kerzner                      courses. Call us to learn more about this opportunity.
for sending us these.
Writing Contest
This paragraph appeared as a challenge to members of the Plain Language Association’s listserv. See if you can simplify it.
          When unpacking the qualifications and looking integratively at the fundamental, core and elective components, it
          became evident that there are more commonalities than differences in the qualifications and it was possible to
          identify a number of cross-cutting skills programmes that apply to most, if not all, Learnerships. The project hopes to
          prove that by implementing cross-cutting programmes across various Learnerships, we can achieve economies of scale
          in the delivery of learning and so drive the cost of learning down.

(Learnerships are like apprenticeships. They last a year and while the ‘learner’ is apprenticed,
they undergo some training in business skills. It is a scheme evolved to help many unemployed
young people in South Africa.)

Send your rewrite to us at We’ll publish the winning entries
in our next newsletter.

Winning Entries from Last Issue’s Writing Contest
In our last newsletter we challenged you to rewrite this excerpt from the Canadian Labour Congress’s constitution:
          The Executive Council of the Congress shall issue rules governing the conduct, activities, affairs, finances and
          property of federations of labour and local labour councils and provide procedures for the discipline of such bodies or
          their officers. The rules shall further provide for appeals to the Executive Council and to the Convention, but shall
          provide that decisions appealed from shall remain in full force and effect pending the appeal.

This winning entry is from our lawyer, Yeti Agnew, who writes
          The Executive Council of the Congress shall regulate all aspects of the operations of federations of labour and local
          labour councils including: property ownership, finances, activities, operating procedures, and discipline of these
          bodies and their officers. Regulations concerning discipline shall provide for appeals to the Executive Council and/or
          the Convention and also stipulate that disciplinary decisions shall stand until final disposition is determined.

A close second goes to Ab Massaad, who writes
          The Congress appoints/elects the members of the Executive Council. The Executive Council is responsible for
          governance of all labour federations and local labour councils by issuing rules on conduct, performance of duties,
          fiscal responsibilities and appeals to these rules. The rules will be supplemented by procedures to discipline the
          federations, the councils and their officers. The rules of the Executive Council shall remain binding while an appeal
          to the Executive Council and the Convention is being heard.

And third place goes to this cheeky entry by Melody Grant, from RBC Dexia Investor Services, who writes
          Whatever The Executive Council of the Congress says is law. Like it or lump it.

       Here’s the official Canadian Labour Congress revision:
          The executive council must issues rules governing the affairs, finances and property of federations and labour councils
          and provide discipline procedures. The rules must provide for appeals to the executive council and the convention,
          but decisions remain in effect until the appeal is settled.
Q U I Z. . . . . . . . . . .                                                You Asked Us
                                                                            Q: Is it acceptable to split an infinitive?
Our participants enjoy word puzzles like these that we give them as
energizers. See if you can find a common link among these word              A: Yes, it is. English grammar was created using Latin
groupings:                                                                  grammar as its model. In Latin, infinitives are single
                              1. envelope, crack, lips                      words and impossible to split. In English, infinitives
                                                                            are two words (to go, to be, to sing, to dance) and can
                              2. chocolate, poker, potato
                                                                            be split at least some of the time. To arbitrarily enforce
                              3. traffic, theatre, plane                    such a rule is to rob writers of choice.
                              4. boat, door, hair
                              5. trunk, dishwasher, gun                     Here’s what George Bernard Shaw wrote to the editor
                                                                            of a local newspaper:
                              6. tractor, movie, park
                              7. pencil, camera, detective                        If you do not immediately suppress the person
                              8. door, cow, school                                who takes it upon himself to lay down the law
                              9. basketball, hockey, fish                         almost every day in your columns on the subject
                                                                                  of literary composition, I will give up the
                              10. food, cars, friends
                                                                                  Chronicle. The man is a pedant, an ignoramus,
                              11. admirer, code, password                         an idiot and a self-advertising duffer…Your
                              12. wall, crepe, writing                            famous specialist…is now beginning to rebuke
                              13. napkin, nose, circus                            “second-rate” newspapers for using such phrases
                              14. movies, partner, night                          as “to suddenly go” and “to boldly say.” I ask
                              15. cat, phone, curtain                             you, Sir, to put this man out…without
                                                                                  interfering with his perfect freedom of choice
                                                                                  between "to suddenly go," "to go suddenly" and
ANSWERS                                                                           "suddenly to go...." Set him adrift and try an
1. They can be sealed; 2. Types of chips; 3. Types of tickets; 4. The             intelligent Newfoundland dog in his place.
word lock; 5. You can load them; 6. The word trailer; 7. They can have
a case; 8. Bell can describe each; 9. The word net; 10. They can be fast;
11. Secret can describe each; 12. They are types of paper; 13. The word
ring; 14. They can be silent; 15. The word call.
                                                                            Call, fax or email
                                                                            Thanks         for staying in touch. We value your
                                                                            comments, suggestions and questions—keep them coming.

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