Get Results by Following the Five C’s of Writing

When you’re buying diamonds, you need to know the Four C’s (color, cut, clarity, and carat). That little trick tells you what to look for, or at least what to ask about. Diamonds aren’t the only things that can be discussed in terms of C’s. Writing has some C’s of its own.

Maybe you’re a business person trying to get a reader to buy your product, agree to your terms, or meet your deadline. Maybe you’re with a charity, non-profit, or political group that seeks contributions or involvement in a cause. In any case, when you need results, your job is to convince your reader to take action.

To make that easier, I suggest following the Five C’s of writing. I hope they help you create business letters that are worth their weight in diamonds.

Case: When your purpose is to sell products, services, or ideas, you need to build a case. Line up a strong set of arguments – your selling points – to convince the reader that what you’re saying has merit. Give him good reasons to buy what you’re offering or agree to what you’re asking. You’re trying to create desire, need, or consensus. No matter what you want the reader to do, you have to address the thought “Why should I?” The better you know the answers, the better you can express them. So think carefully about the points that support your goal, and use them to build your case.

Choose: Be selective about what you write. You don’t need to include everything you can think of. If you’ve got many selling points, select the best ones. Overkill works against you. Choose your strongest, most convincing arguments, and present them effectively.

Clear: Your message should be completely clear. Usually the simplest way to say something is the best, so go for the straight- forward approach. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation are your enemies. It’s to your advantage when the reader knows exactly what you’re asking for.

Compel: This one may be the most difficult. People are busy, or lazy, or they just don’t care about the same things you care about. When you want your reader to take action, you’ve got to compel him. Give him a reason to write the check or head for the store. Push him out of his inertia. If you can’t think of a compelling reason, you’re not ready to write the letter. A deadline may work (limited time offer, on sale Wednesday only, penalty for late payment); so may a call to conscience (we need the roar of a thousand voices, if each of you sends just one dollar). Your reader has choices: the garbage pail, the “later” pile, or taking action. If you want results, it’s not enough that he agrees with you. You’ve got to give him a compelling reason to act.

Correct: Find and correct your mistakes. Mistakes are distracting and undermine your credibility. I talked about a few of the most common writing errors in my last post (Ten Common Writing Mistakes Your Spell Checker Won’t Find) and will feature more of them in future posts. Many mistakes occur simply through haste. If you write or type quickly, that’s great. But proofread slowly, and do it more than once.

Remember, you can influence the response by carefully controlling what goes on the page. Applying the Five C’s should increase your influence, and help you get the results you want.

*****

Does your company need my “writing repair” services? Contact me at rose@jlrco.com.

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Ten Common Writing Mistakes Your Spell Checker Won’t Find

Here are ten of the most common writing mistakes people make. Because they involve use of incorrect words, and not misspellings, your spell checker won’t see them. So you have to catch them yourself.

There is much more that can be written about each of the following examples, and academic grammarians will gladly oblige. But my intention is just to give you some easy hints for how to tell, in most cases, which word to choose. I hope they help.

1. Less/Fewer: (The fewer mistakes, the better!)
People often use these words interchangeably, but each has its own correct usage. It helps to think of it like this: Less is for items that can’t be counted. Fewer is for items you can count. There is less pollution in the air, but there are fewer particles of dust. You can’t count pollution, but you can count particles (at least somebody somewhere in a lab can count them). After a storm, there is less sand on the beach, but there are fewer grains of sand. Get it? You can’t count sand, but you can count grains. (If you want to spend your day at the beach that way, it’s up to you.) Another example: This checkout line is for people with ten items or fewer. (Darn right! And if you can’t count the items in your cart, get in another line, because I’m in a hurry.)

2. Two/Too/To -tsie, Goodbye!
OK, I’m showing my age. It was an old song by Al Jolson. Trust me on this, there was a song called “Toot-Toot-Tootsie, Goodbye.” Really.

Two is the number. Most people get this right.
Too means also or overly. You like potatoes, and I do too. I ate too many French fries. This shirt is too big. (Well, maybe not, after all those French fries.) Too is also used as an emphatic, especially on the playground. You won’t catch that ball. I will too! (Oh yes I will. You just watch me! Oops!)
To means…everything else. According to my old Webster’s dictionary, to has about 20 usages. The first few listed are: (1) In the direction of, towards (I’m going to the kitchen); (2) toward a condition of (her rise to fame); and (3) on, onto, against (apply the lotion to the skin). It’s also part of the infinitive form: To be, or not to be. To sleep, perchance to dream.
Which two/too/to is the correct one in any given situation? That is the question!

3. They’re/Their/There (It’s all going to be okay.)
They’re is the contraction of “they are.”
Their is the possessive – things that belong to them or that they have. Their hats are on their heads. (They own hats and they have heads – which is a good thing, otherwise the hats would have been a waste of money.) It is their intention to get to class on time. (They have an intention, and it includes getting up when the alarm rings. They may not pull it off, but they mean well.)
There answers the question “where?” It refers to place (I live there) and direction (I’m going there). There is also used with the verb “to be” (wasn’t I just there?), as in: there is very little time; there are several options; there be whales here (Okay, nobody says that last one any more).
There can be used to express satisfaction (There! I finished it.); or dismay (There! Now you’ve done it!); or sympathy (There, there. It’s all going to be okay.) And that’s where we came in…

4. The Who’s Who of whose and who’s
This is really simple.
Who’s is the contraction for “who is.” That’s all.
Whose is the possessive of “who.”
The reason people get confused is because they think all possessives need an apostrophe. Not true. Possessive pronouns don’t have apostrophes (mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, whose). So just learn it. Who’s going to pay for dinner? (Who is going to pay for dinner?) Whose money is on the table? (Not mine.)

5. Its and it’s (It’s the same story as whose/who’s.)
It’s is the contraction for “it is.” That’s all.
Its is the possessive of “it.” (Are you seeing the similarity here?)
Just as in the example above, there’s no apostrophe used in this possessive. It’s another one you just have to learn. It’s high time everybody started getting this right. I hope this example does its job. When it comes to which word gets the apostrophe, the contraction wins and the possessive loses.

6. I and me (You’ll have to deal with both of us.)
When you’re talking about yourself and someone else, be careful to use I and me correctly. Many people think it’s classier to always use I, and they end up getting it wrong half the time. The best way to know which one to use is to eliminate the other person from the sentence and see what you’ve got left.
Jenny and I went to the store. I went to the store. (That’s right.)
Grandma gave the cookies to Jenny and I. Grandma gave the cookies to I. (Nope.)
Grandma gave the cookies to me (that’s right), and I didn’t save any of them for Jenny. (That’s probably right, too.)

7. You’re/Your (It’s as easy as apple pie.)
You’re is the contraction of “you are” – nothing else.
Your is the possessive of “you.”
You’re the apple of my eye. (Yes, you are!)
Your apple just squirted juice in my eye! (Use a napkin!)

8. Bad/badly (Sorry if this makes you feel bad.)
Many people think badly is a more genteel form of bad, so when they’re expressing hurt, sympathy, or regret, they’ll say “I feel badly about that.” That’s bad writing. These two words are not interchangeable. When someone hurts your feelings, you feel bad. You don’t feel badly. If you felt badly, that would mean that your emotions weren’t working well, or that you were numb. It would be about your ability to feel. If your emotions are working just fine, then when you hear something sad, or someone insults you, or you do something wrong, you’re going to feel bad. (It’s a shame that you have to go through all that, but at least your usage will be correct.)

9. Imply/infer (or be careful who you call fat!)
The speaker or writer implies. The listener or reader infers. This is all about who’s putting it out there, and who’s taking it in. When you imply, you express something. When you infer, you understand something. There’s interpretation going on. When a speaker/writer implies something, he’s not saying it outright. He’s leaving some meaning for the listener/reader to pick up on his own. It’s also a tricky way to say something about somebody that you can later deny.
Jane: Didn’t those pants used to be looser on you?

Sally: Are you implying that I’m fat? Because that’s what I inferred from your question.
Jane: Oh no, I must have them confused with a different pair of pants.
Judyrose: (Yeah, right!)

10. A lot is two words.
That may not be a lot, but that’s all I have to say about it.

All of this will be on the test.

Three Important Ways Good Writing Affects Your Bottom Line

Good writing can do many things for a business. Here are three important ones:

1. Increase Sales: Customers are like air. You can’t stay alive without them. Unless you have more customers than your business can handle (not a good thing, by the way) you’re always on a quest for new ones. If your marketing strategy includes appealing to potential customers in writing, you may have just a few precious moments of attention in which to make your sale. Well written sales letters have a chance to persuade. The better they’re written, the more of a connection you make with the reader. That immediate gut response (“I like the way this sounds”) can be the difference between a person who buys your product, and one who throws your letter away.

2. Enhance the Image and Credibility of Your Business: Customer confidence is a key component of success. You want to be credible to your customers. While good writing doesn’t increase the reliability of your products or services, it shows that you care about communicating with people, and make the effort to do it well. It shows that quality matters to you. In my last post, I mentioned that the problem of bad writing is especially noticeable when it is in direct conflict with the promise of excellence. When letters and documents are thoughtfully written and well executed, they say several things about your company: (1) we strive toward excellence in all things; (2) we know what we’re talking about; (3) you can be confident in our abilities. If you can make that kind of an impression on the people you do business with, you’ve done your company a valuable service.

3. Add Clarity to Documents That Define Relationships and Agreements: Businesses produce many documents that define relationships and set the terms for agreements. Every contract, every proposal, every warranty, and every employee handbook, contains representations that form the basis for how parties deal with each other. They define the expectations under which people do business, and they are generally enforceable in court. What could be more important than making sure every term and condition is understood by all parties to mean the same thing? The construction of each sentence, the choice of vocabulary, and the punctuation all contribute to the clarity of such documents. When documents really say what they are meant to say, they have a better chance to do what they are intended to do. Sometimes, disputes happen despite the best preparation. If your documents are well written, you’re more likely to prevail when disagreements occur.

If you can’t honestly say that the writing done by your employees is good enough to achieve these objectives, then it’s time to consider doing something about it. It will be well worth the effort. Good writing affects your bottom line. Whether its job is to bring in new revenue, or prevent expensive problems, good writing can help put (or keep) the money in your pocket.

*****

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

Good Writing – It Makes A Difference

How much does the quality of the writing on your website really matter? Let’s take a look at some before and after samples. The before samples are portions of text taken from actual websites. (I’m guessing the companies would rather remain anonymous.) The after samples show the benefit of a little “writing repair.”

I’ll start with one of my favorite examples. The company is a website design firm that offers content writing and technical services to international clients. They’re selling good writing!

Before

For the purpose of retaining in the international markets, it becomes important for the organizations to have a creative and optimized website. This is being accomplished by hiring experts who can write the contents for their websites that can be used globally with the contents being optimized as per the local needs.

This helps the companies to reduce the coordination effort in addition to ensuring that quality is maintained. Since, content/technical writing is something very important, hence it involves a lot of effort also.

After

In order to succeed in international markets, organizations must have creative and optimized websites. This can be accomplished by hiring experts who can write website content that will be effective globally, and is customized to have the greatest impact on local targets.

Our service helps companies save time and effort, while ensuring that the end result is of the highest quality. Because content/technical writing is very important, sufficient resources must be dedicated to the task, and it must be done by people who have the requisite talent and experience.

If you want to increase business, which sample do you choose?

Let’s look at another one, from a manufacturer of food packaging:

Before

In addition, under the strong faith of “Even a single dirty is not permitted” we have continuously performed “zero defect movement”…

After

In addition, under the strong belief that “even a single germ is not permitted” we have continuously achieved a standard of “zero defects.”

This next one is part of a welcome message:

Before

Producing the first-class brands and satisfying our customers are made only possible by people. If our employees are not capable to make such products or if they have no will to do so, not only such goal cannot be achieved at all, but also there can be no room for promise, growth and development.

After

Achievement of our primary goals – producing first-class products and satisfying our customers – is only made possible by our employees. If our people are not capable of making fine products, or if they haven’t the will to do so, then not only will we fall short of our goals, but there will be no hope of growth and development.

If you think the kind of writing I’m showing you only occurs on websites of foreign companies, take a look at these samples from the site of an internet services company right here in California:

Before

Instead of creating a cool looking web site (what is nice to show your friends) we will create a functional web site to achieve the company’s goals and satisfies the visitors.

After

Instead of creating a cool looking web site (that will impress your friends) we will create a functional web site that achieves the company’s goals and satisfies your visitors.

Here’s more from the same site. In this section, the company is offering tips for selling on Ebay:

Before

You can sell you products as an auction, a “Buy it Now” or sell it in your Ebay store.
Can I make a lot of many selling on Ebay?
There is still a lot of potential, however there is significant more competion entering this market daily.

After

You can sell your products by auction, “Buy it Now,” or sell them in your Ebay store.
Can I make a lot of money selling on Ebay?
There is still potential, although many competitors enter this market daily.

What’s your reaction? When you read the before samples, is your attention diverted by obvious errors? Does your brain disengage when it’s too much work to understand what the writer is saying? Does the promise of excellence fall flat when the company hasn’t taken the trouble to make sure its own website content is correctly written? More importantly, when you read the after samples, are you better able to focus entirely on the message?

If you want to inspire confidence and attract customers, you need to be sure that the writing on your website is compelling and effective. It can’t be either of those things if it’s not also correct.

For more information about “writing repair” for websites, brochures, and regular business correspondence, go to my website, or contact me at rose@jlrco.com.

“Writing Repair” – Because Bad Writing Costs You Money

writing-erasing_edited-double.JPGI’m going to tell you about my “Writing Repair Service” in a moment. But first, a little history:

In 1976 I began working as a secretary for a large Japanese trading firm. Quickly, and quite unin- tentionally, I became more than just a secretary.

All of the department managers were from the Tokyo home office, assigned to work in the U.S. for several years before moving on to other locations. There were sales people from Japan and other countries, including China, Korea, and the Philippines. A few of the support people originally came from Latin America or Asia. Most were American born and educated. In short, I was in the midst of a mini-United Nations.

While the bulk of the communication between our office and Japan was conducted in Japanese, correspondence with our customers and local suppliers was in English. The foreign employees had varying degrees of English proficiency, but most were rather fluent and it was easy for them to read and speak the language. Writing it was a different story. They could get something down on paper, but not something that was ready for customers or suppliers to see. This came as no surprise.

What did surprise me was that many of the American employees had serious writing deficiencies as well.

Word quickly got around the office that I was a good writer, easy to work with, and willing to help. My co-workers started coming to me whenever they had to write something important. Manage- ment saw this collaboration as a good thing, and encouraged us. Because of my help:

  • distracting grammatical errors were eliminated, allowing the reader to focus on the intended message;
  • employees were no longer sending out poorly written letters that challenged the reader to figure out what was being said;
  • the company image was no longer undermined by correspondence that was in direct conflict with our promise to provide the highest quality products and services;
  • poorly expressed ideas, capable of causing damaging misunderstandings, were identified and corrected before they could cause conflicts – or worse, lawsuits;
  • writing took fewer hours out of the workday, because it was no longer a struggle;
  • employees became more confident about their ability to do a good job, because they were supported in their efforts to communicate their best ideas to full advantage.

People started calling me “The Living Dictionary” and “English- to-English Translator.”

I was promoted several times and eventually became a project manager for sales of special-engineered machinery for waterworks projects. All the while, I was moonlighting, in plain sight, as a “writing fixer-upper.” Virtually every reference letter and evaluation I received in my career cited my writing ability as a significant factor in the smooth completion of our projects, and my willingness to assist others as an important contribution to the company’s overall success.

But circumstances are never static, and life takes unexpected turns. In 2004, I decided it was time for me to go on to something else. I took some time to adjust to the changes in my life, and then decided to go into business for myself.

* * * * *

My years of experience have taught me that every company has some employees who need a “writing repair service.” When companies acknowledge the problem, and decide to do something about it, I can save them lots of time, trouble, and money.

Here’s what I do:

  • I correct obvious mistakes;
  • I identify and clarify passages that could be misunderstood;
  • I organize the information so that it flows logically from one idea to the next; and
  • I make the entire piece effective enough to achieve the desired result.

I can work from completed drafts; I can help during the formulation process; or, if someone has an idea but just doesn’t know how to get it down on paper, I can do the writing from scratch.

I’m not a teacher. I don’t do training sessions, seminars, or writing workshops. I think the impact of these is very limited. My personal opinion is that past a certain point, it’s just too late. My goal is not to turn people into good writers; my goal is to make their writing good.

I work directly with individual employees, perfecting their actual business correspondence and documents. People are usually aware of their own limitations, and welcome my support. Some companies see the value in this approach right away. Some need more convincing.

* * * * *

I am offering a new and different way of dealing with the problem of bad writing. Most companies have never considered using an outside party as a continuing resource for employees who need help with writing. But I believe it is the best way to get immediate and significant improvement. I am offering them a cost-effective solution that can eliminate the problem from the very first day.

Many executives I have spoken with acknowledge that the problem exists, but believe they already have an adequate way of dealing with it. Perhaps employees who are better writers are asked to assist those who need help. Perhaps supervisors make corrections before written work goes out. But these measures are hit or miss.

My way is better – here’s why. If I am available as a resource:

  • The problem is handled on a consistent, company-wide basis.
  • Employees who are good writers can focus on their own work.
  • Supervisors and managers can address their attention to the strategy or completeness of a piece, and not on the writing itself.
  • Pieces that have solid thinking behind them can be ready to go on the first shot, reducing the need for rewrites.
  • People, knowing that the company has provided a dedicated consultant to support their writing, are much more likely to ask for input. This is especially important for employees who aren’t expected to check their work with higher management.

Some executives don’t think writing matters. They don’t see that poor writing can ruin the company image, damage relationships with customers and suppliers, and cause disputes or lawsuits. They just don’t get it.

Want an example? I wrote to the president of a large foreign- owned company, and here’s what I got back:

WE HAVE NO NECCESITY AT THIS MONMENT,PLEASE CONTACT OTHERS.

This is not a joke. Can you imagine how frustrating it was to receive that?

* * * * *

I know some of you reading this are business owners who have faced the kinds of challenges I describe. I’d love to have your comments and hear about your experiences. Even better, if you are thinking, “I could really use her services at my company,” then I especially want to hear from you.

This blog is a place to talk about my business and about issues related to writing itself.

I have much to say. You are welcome to join me in the discussion.

Judy Rose

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

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Key Concepts: business writing, writing, writing repair, employee communication, writing skills, education, basic skills, international, small business, marketing, clients, getting clients, consultant, grammar, spelling, text, organization of text, formulation of text, assisting management, writing mistakes, writing errors, employee support services, language, English, English writing, communication, effective communication, sales, sales pitch, customer relations, customer communication, lawsuits, disputes, conflicts, time-saving.