Softening the blow when you deliver bad news

All business owners need to deliver bad news You may need to give a reprimand, remind a staff member about policies and procedures, say ‘no’ to a prospective client, inform job applicants that they weren’t successful, or any number of potentially bad news messages Bad news is not an absolute: it’s interpreted differently by different people and at different times It’s the individual aspect of interpretation that’s most important: remember that the recipient is not inside your head...

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In sentences: put together ideas that belong together

Sentences with awkward or confusing structure – particularly sentences that separate ideas that should be kept together – create all sorts of problems for readers Sometimes they lead to misunderstandings that can undermine the purpose of their document Sometimes they cause the reader to trip – which slows reading, creates momentary confusion, and draws attention to the writing rather than its content Sometimes, they’re simply good for a giggle Here’s an example of an awkward...

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Long live the singular they

I’m currently enjoying Steven Pinker’s excellent 2014 book ‘The sense of style: The thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century’ But there’s something about Pinker’s writing style that’s a great irritation to my Australian sense of style In each chapter, Pinker alternates the gender of his imagined readers and writers Early in the book, Pinker provides this explanation: ‘To avoid the awkwardness of strings of he or she, I have borrowed a convention from...

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Why writing is like cooking

I love a good metaphor And in my new life as café-owning writer, I can’t help but see the metaphorical parallels between writing and cooking As a writer, I’m confident in my ability to turn out (reasonably) good copy, on time, every time My confidence comes from my understanding of my writing processes I know how I work and I have a set of techniques that I can apply to any writing task Because I understand the way I work, I know how to begin, how to work through each stage, and how to...

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Making messages that are understandable and noticeable

I’m fascinated by why it is that some people notice and understand messages and other people miss them Yesterday, a new customer walked into my shop and ordered a coffee and some breakfast After placing his order, he quietly offered me some feedback about our signage: ‘I’ve been working over the road for several weeks, and I’ve been wondering about what you do in here From your sign, I couldn’t work it out I didn’t know that I could just come in here and buy a coffee The sign...

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Text over faces = graffiti

Anyone who works in any aspect of communication knows that words and pictures work well together But working well together is not the same as working well on top of each other Why would the designer of the Brisbane Writers Festival program graffiti over the faces of the presenters The result is unrecognisable faces and illegible copy I'm left with a sense that the people in these images are somehow being silenced by their own words These people are authors who are coming to Brisbane to talk...

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Taking a risk with venue hire

  As an independent consultant, I’ve often found myself in the position of wanting to run a workshop about a topic that interests me, but not being confident of selling enough tickets to cover the cost of venue hire For most consultants, committing to a venue hire and catering package is a big risk You might need to commit to minimum numbers to secure the venue, which could set an almost impossible ticket-sales target Forget trying to earn some money, you might not even cover your...

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When informality breaks convention

We live in informal times when many of the conventions of the written form are breaking away Emails are more likely to start with 'Hi'  than 'Dear' And the sign-off 'Cheers' is now more common than 'Regards' I quite like a chatty, informal email For me, email sits in the space between a formal letter and a phone conversation But what about a printed letter And particularly, what about a printed letter or notification from a bank I received a notification from ANZ last week, attached to...

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Sweat the small stuff by all means, but don’t lose sight of the big picture

  The latest issue of Offpress (the newsletter produced by the Society of Editors (Qld)) includes an article on ‘The false precision of fetish editing’ by John E McIntyre It was originally published in McIntyre’s regular column for The Baltimore Sun McIntyre makes a point that is easy to miss in the detailed work of editing: ‘… there is the problem when copy editors fetishize minor details; the big errors can be overlooked’ It’s an easy trap to fall into: as editors, we...

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