I wrote about an officious bank letter that resulted in me closing my account.
There was more to that letter for teaching about good letter construction, so here are some tips for you…
Some years ago, I opened a saving account with a higher interest rate for the proverbial rainy day. I haven’t used that account much for some time but received a letter from that bank that I wanted to share.
With opening words ‘Inactive account’, the letter launched with a long paragraph about money in inactive accounts being transferred to ASIC. The paragraph ended with a ‘by the way, the Government recently changed the inactivity period to 3 years from 7 years’ message.
It went on to define in active accounts.
Followed by a sub-heading “Your inactive xyz account”.
At this point I was angry because I hadn’t been told about the change in law nor that my money would be transferred to ASIC so “how dare they do that”.
The letter then mentioned I could prevent the transfer by using my account before the end of January.
Why not tell me that first as it is actually the most important thing for me to know?
And encouraging me to make another deposit is surely in the bank’s best interests, too?
Why let me get angry and annoyed rather than show me they are trying to help my keep my money?
The harsh letter made me uncomfortable, and as I only had a small amount of money left in there, my response was to withdraw all my money and close the account myself.
Even if most people still closed their accounts, they would do so without negative feelings towards that bank…
In contrast I recently wrote a letter for a client along similar lines.
That letter effectively read:
You haven’t made a contribution for some time so your account is about to be classed as inactive.
If you make a contribution by xx, your account will be reactivated. Otherwise, your account will have to be closed.
Another option would have been to write:
Did you know that any account without transactions for 3 years are classed as inactive? And that we have to transfer money in inactive accounts to ASIC?
To avoid this for your account, please make a deposit or withdrawal by xx.
Or they could have focussed on the change in law as important news:
Did you know it’s been nearly three years since you used your account?
The Commonwealth Government recently changes the law so accounts are classed as inactive after 3 years rather than seven. That means your account could soon be classed as inactive.
By law, we must transfer money from inactive accounts to ASIC.
Of course, you can reactivate your account by making a deposit or withdrawal before xxx.
Which version would you prefer to receive?* Images courtesy of kozzi
In 2007, 28% of Victorian drivers aged 18 – 25 were killed.
What a terrible statistic.
It’s also pretty surprising – at 30 June 2006, 902,796 Victorians were aged 18 – 24. 28% of that is 252,782.
The Victorian road toll in 2007 was 333.
So I looked at a Victorian Government website and found this sentence:
While 18 to 25 year olds represent around 14% of licenced drivers, they accounted for approximately 28% of all drivers killed on Victoria’s roads.
28% of the state road toll was 93. Awful to lose that many young people, but significantly better than losing 252,782 of them.
That first sentence is perfectly acceptable in terms of grammar and spelling, and it makes sense when you read it.
But the authors and editors of that text book (yes, I found that sentence in my daughter’s current VCE text book on health) didn’t check that the correct meaning was being communicated.
There is a huge difference in meaning between 28% of young drivers were killed and 28% of killed drivers were young.
Somewhat detracts from the credibility of that text book, doesn’t it?
Do you think I should read the entire book and check every fact they state, or assume it was a one-off?
Is it just me, or do you have more tolerance of a small business making mistakes than a big business?
I think if you have the budget for huge campaigns, you have the budget to get a writer or editor to help you avoid stupid mistakes. A sole trader on the other hand often has less money to spend and more hats to wear so mistakes are a little more excusable.
I was asked by a major entity to complete a survey that they use to produce some data that can impact on the digital media and brands.
It was longer than I expected but more than that, it was very disappointing from a group that is producing such a report.
Having a poor survey through lack of attention to detail reduces their credibility – if they can’t get the questions right, is their analysis gong to be any good?
Compared to the time and money they have put into preparing and promoting this survey, and then turning the results into a report, it would have cost little to have had it reviewed by a writer or editor to ensure it would work. It’s like spending a million dollars to build your dream house but not checking the architect remembered to add a front door.
Some of the issues I came across in this particular survey were:
One better written question they included asked where I got inspiration for my blog posts. I could only select one answer, which is limiting as I find inspiration in many places. However, I again used the ‘other’ option and wrote I am inspired by poor communications efforts I see – such as surveys like this with poor questions.
So not a great survey (and I will struggle to trust their results) but it did inspire a blog post and gave me some amusement using their ‘other’ fields!
I have just finished reading a book my daughter has read a few times. I was actually keen for her to read books by this author as she is Australian, writes about the meeting of cultures and seems to give a positive outlook to teenagers.
Now, I’m not so keen.
I actually found parts of this book (and admittedly it was her first) unsettling – and I’m unlikely to read another. by this author.
The book is clearly set in Melbourne – the characters live in Camberwell, eat Vegemite, visit Lygon St for pizza and gelati, Acland St for cakes and belong to the Debating Association of Victoria (DAV). All those details are named and a theme of the book is a girl finding her identity as a ‘hyphenated Australian’.
So why does she ‘catch a streetcar’ to a ‘mall’ with her ‘mom’ wearing ‘flipflops’ or discuss clothing choices for a 58 degree day or ‘keep to the right’ when skating at St Kilda beach?
I’ve never caught a streetcar or worn flip flops in my life, but have been in many Melbourne trams and often worn thongs. Australia is metric so her 58 degrees farenheit would be known as 14 degrees (ah, now her comments about the girl being under-dressed make sense!) and if you stick to the right on our roads and paths you’re likely to get arrested if not killed!
I often read books that were written for other countries, including the USA. I mentally ‘translate’ them into my experiences. So someone is facing a difficult left hand turn in the book and I picture it as a right hand turn to understand the context. I read ‘mom’ as ‘mum’, ‘color’ as ‘colour’ and struggle over imperial references.
That’s okay when I’m reading an American book.
I resent it in an Australian book.
If you are sharing an Australian experience with readers, make it authentically Australian by using Australian terminology and spelling. To do otherwise alienates your Australian audience.
Maybe her purpose was to write for the American audience because it is larger. Then why make it so clearly about Australia? Why insult Americans to say they can’t read a book and ‘translate’ terms into their context?
In a book trying to show how cultures are different but can co-exist, I found it uncomfortable that she didn’t stay with the Australian culture. It felt hypocritical. And that she was demeaning Australian culture.
You may not be writing books about cultural clashes, or even in a business that has much cultural diversity to deal with, but the point is the same.
It’s important to know your voice and stick to it.
To know your audience and understand it – not just what they can understand but what could be insulting or offensive.
To really think about what you are communicating between the lines.
To realise that the USA is not the world and that it’s ok to do things in a locally appropriate way instead of copying the American way by default.
Although I have seen Russell many times on TV shows and the like, I hadn’t seen a full routine from him before. I really enjoyed it – he was funny and had us all laughing, but also showed he can do magic and sing.
Two of his jokes in particular were based on communications so I thought I’d share them today.
Russell apparently cannot see one of those signs without looking for a bucket of water (ok, I’m using a more appropriate source of liquid!) so he can wet the floor.
In this case, the signs are not incorrect but Russell spotted that ‘wet’ can be an adjective (as intended on these signs) or a verb (as the instruction Russell assumed).
For any important message, it is worth checking for alternative versions of a word to be sure you aren’t saying something you really don’t want to say!
Many cleaning products include the sentence ‘cleans and kills germs’ but Russell asked why would you bother cleaning the germs before killing them?
Do the germs say ‘I’m dying but I’ve never looked so clean, it’s great!’?
Ok, we all know they mean ‘cleans a surface and kills germs on that surface’. And it’s good they’ve gone for a shorter version to give their message clarity.
They could make their message much clearer simply by changing the order of that sentence – ‘kills germs and cleans’ is much clearer and doesn’t give comedians an opportunity to pick on it .
However, kill germs and cleans sounds wrong because we are so used to the other order - would you think that’s a negative or a positive for changing the order if you were producing a new cleaning label?
Do marketers want the emphasis on cleaning or killing germs? Would that be a factor in which order those words are placed?
Would your label aim for clarity or marketing emphasis or customer familiarity?
* images courtesy of 123rf and Tash Hughes
Have you ever added notes for a designer or typist? Are you sure they were removed later?
It’s an easy and obvious thing to do – add a note directly where it is relevant so someone else can make appropriate adjustments. I do it a lot, especially in pdfs that I send back to a designer for changes.
Today, I came across this image on Facebook:
It amused me because someone has asked the designer to add extra information - and the designer has added ‘please add’ as well as the required information. And no one noticed it to have it removed before publishing the banner.
At least it was a polite request that was overlooked!
Being a polite request, this has amused me and in no way detracts from me being a Cadbury customer (given I love their chocolate it would take a lot!) But it does have the potential to damage a reputation.
How do you feel about Cadbury making such an error?
I remember a similar experience in a training manual I once read. In amongst general text was a paragraph to the effect of “Chrissie the following graphic needs to add a break between a and b plus include x, use lower case letters and correct the categories”.
It is funny to tell but it isn’t a professional look for the training organisation!
Some years ago, I worked in an engineering company and wrote many Expressions of Interest (EoI). I generally took an old EoI and hand edited it, adding and subtracting text as well as moving things around.
The department secretary took my rough notes (and they were rough at times!) and typed up beautiful documents.
Just for fun, I would occasionally test her and write something like “The company has three experienced engineers and the cow jumped over the moon, The little dog laughed to understand this project’s timing.”
It’s just as well I did proof read those documents as the secretary faithfully typed up the cow jumping over the moon!
Can you tell I’m not a talented typist? There’s no way I could type pages of information without actually ‘reading’ and processing it!
Have you spotted live examples of editor comments that have been included rather than followed?
Clear writing is important for getting your message across, and often to help you make sales.
A poor message won’t attract as many sales nor earn respect or trust so it is worth getting help if you struggle writing clearly.
As a very clear example of this, I wanted to share the information on the back of a jigsaw puzzle box aimed at 3 year olds.
Give parents’ word:
In childhood there are per 80, the growth of human’s brain. At period the learning and attraction is most strongest in a life. So the parents pay attention to train your children.
Clever is not inborn, it’s gestated in the circumstance of growth. If the parents can choose more toys, that it can guide their hand and brain with together. Not only it trains their dexterity hands in the iteration, but also coordination function their brain, eyes and hands, It will breed a clever, health child.
Introduction of function:
Play the number train, it can train acquaintance and memory to color, material and English word, and enhance recognition to sight and total concept.
Play the number train, Must according to the order of the number, Then patch a intact number train, So it can advance the growth of child’s flesh and raising the custom of hand.
Beyond that, I’m struggling to find much positive about this example of writing! Although to be fair everything is spelt correctly! I’m not going to list all the errors, either, as it would become a very long post if I tried, lol.
Obviously English is their second language but if you’re selling to English markets it is worth getting someone who truly knows English to check your work first.
Luckily, I didn’t need any instructions to do a jigsaw but imagine if I had needed their instructions…
Theory has its place, but an example often makes learning something much easier. In many areas, an example of a mistake or poor quality is an even more effective teacher than examples of the correct technique.
Using examples to teach
For instance, I can tell you it is best to use the fewest words possible to give a message and to avoid repeating a word.
Or I can give an example: Leave as long as possible before proof reading your writing.
Or I can show you a bad example: Another effective way to increase the possibility of increasing your link building purposes… Then explain the issues with it and write it well: Another effective way of potentially increasing your incoming links…
Does it work for you?
Do you like seeing poor examples of something as a means of learning to avoid those same mistakes yourself?
The bad examples I use are real but I never identify who wrote them – if you searched hard enough you might figure it out, but I respect that the writers didn’t mean to provide us with bad examples and use discretion
I think it is an effective way of showing how to write well – but do you find it useful? Would you like to see more bad examples I spot to help you improve your writing?