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grammar & details

Correct details in tests are critical

I came across another example of errors in details being an issue.

Our daughter’s school sent out an email including ‘(1 of 2)’ in the subject. The attached pdf explained they were testing the communications system for parents so we should expect two emails – if only one arrives, contact the school.

Testing communications seems like a good plan and the test seemed simple enough.

Then I got a second email which referred to being the first email of two and had the same attachment. Was it an error to get this email twice or did they accidentally send it twice? Should I reply to say I got it twice, possibly like hundreds of other parents, or give them a chance to explain the duplication first?

Flurry of envelopes flying into a laptop to represent incoming emails

Responding to a mistake can lead to a flurry of emails – avoiding that is one good reason to check details before hitting send!

Then, I got a third email asking me to log into the school’s site to read a letter. The letter was the same attachment as in the original email (which clearly states ‘this is the first email and please contact us if you don’t get a second one’).

Which detail is wrong – the letter stating a second letter was coming or the sending of the same letter twice?

Where does that put their test?

On one hand, I got both types of email so the systems are working and my contact details are correct.

Do they have my email address in the system twice so I will get two versions of every group email they send?

Was it human error to get the same attachment in the second email type or is that a failure of the system?

I can not reply as I got both emails or I can reply and explain I got three emails and the same attachment.

Which do you think will help their testing process more? What would you do?

 

Get the details right

Are you a details person?

Many people are bored by details (probably all of us really – we just like details in some things, not all things) and that includes details of grammar and good writing.

You can’t convince me with poor attention to details

I received a letter a few days ago.

Images of sample letters from Word Constructions

A nicely presented letter has little value if the details in the letter are wrong.

I like getting letters, and it doesn’t happen as often now we have so many electronic options available to us. So it’s disappointing when the letter turns out to be spam or a scam rather than something interesting.

This particular letter I recognised as spam straight away as I’ve received rubbish from this group before (and so have clients who luckily ask me if it is legitimate before acting).

However, standing in the sun was nice so I actually read their letter and found numerous reasons to not act as they wished.

  1. they were using an email address I have never used so obviously made it up – to convince me you are credible, use my real email address
  2. they missed the .au in my email and website addresses – and coming from an Australian company wanting to promote me in an Australian directory makes it even more pathetic to my mind. It wouldn’t take long to look at my website to discover the .au in the URL
  3. it was sent to my home address but addressed to Word Constructions – a detail that made me instantly suspicious anyway.
  4. paragraph one includes “This now includes additional subscriber benefits listed below” which is grammatically poor; paragraph three includes “… entitle you to additional subscriber benefits (see below).”
    However, the letter does not contain any subscriber benefits.
  5. a smaller detail is lack of consistency such as “The Internet reaches 15 million… (internet analysis…” (Internet or internet – they need to choose one and list that in a style guide)
  6. multiple sentences were missing words or just didn’t make sense – one will be discussed and improved in my March newsletter I think!
  7. two sentences in a row ‘kindly’ requested me to do something – is it kind of me to sign a form to (supposedly) get promotion via their directory?

 Businesses need to watch the details

Get the details right and people are not distracted by the mistakes – meaning they can focus on your call to action or message.

Get the details wrong and people doubt your professionalism and worry whether you pay attention to details when they are paying you. That is, if you throw together a letter instead of putting effort into every word of it, will you also rush through fixing my car, cutting my hair, building my house, designing my website and so on?

It’s nice to think people will ignore errors because we’re nice people with good intentions.

But first impressions count and if those incorrect details are the first thing a potential customer sees, it can be enough to give your competitor the job.

So how does your business avoid errors in the details?

How does your business react to potential suppliers if they get details wrong?

A rose by any other name

Last week my father-in-law died.

A red rose with dew drops

A red rose is beautiful and simple – nothing more is needed to be said.

So it’s been a hard week and I haven’t posted in the meantime.

I also haven’t listened to all the Problogger sessions thus haven’t shared any more ideas nor implemented any myself.

But it has made me think about choices of words and the hidden context of words we sometimes need to be aware of when we communicate to people. Especially to people we may not know well so may not know what context they will use to understand our words.

Similar words convey different messages

The day Tony died, we went to the nursing home he had been in.

A lovely staff member spoke to us and would only refer to Tony passing. She was obviously very uncomfortable with saying someone had died.

Conversely, other people I spoke to during the week commiserated and mentioned people they had lost in the past.

While most of us would understand what someone means with ‘ we lost my father-in-law last week’, it doesn’t feel right to me. At least in part because it reminds me of a comedian routine giving responses such as ‘was he labelled so someone could return him’ and ‘that was careless of you’.

Having written many things for superannuation funds, I have had to write about death (that is, explain their life insurance policies). And again it is interesting how different people react to this topic.

In my usual less-is-generally-best style, I write ‘if you die’. Various fund staff wanted words like ‘in the event of your death’ because it seemed softer or less ‘in your face’.

A few years ago, I interviewed Robyn O’Connell for an article. As well as having written a book on death for children (which I made use of with my children leading up to the funeral), Robyn is a celebrant and has done a lot of work around bereavement.

Robyn was strongly of the belief that saying die/dead is better than any euphemism because it is clear (which appeals to me!) and makes it easier to accept the reality to aid the grieving process.

Choosing the right word

It’s not just about the obvious meaning. We need to choose words that give the right meaning without the incorrect hidden message or the wrong emotional reaction.

What thoughts and feeling do you have to die compared to passed away compared to lost or any other euphemism you know?

Someone calling a rose by another name puts the wrong images into our minds. Of course, if a rose actually had a different name it may be perceived differently – who knows!

I wish I had taken a photo of the roses we had on the coffin on Monday. They were beautiful and would have suited this post perfectly.

But I didn’t think of taking photos during a funeral and wasn’t really in that emotional place anyway.

Interestingly, someone did take photos at the funeral – perhaps not at the church but certainly at the cemetery and wake. I was surprised to see him doing so but not offended by it. How would you feel about someone taking photos in an unexpected setting such as a funeral?

In memory of Tony

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

It has been a tough week. And this is where I indulge in something more personal in the form of a mini tribute to a lovely man.

Tony was a gentle man, a very generous man who gave a lot. For one thing, he was president of the E W Tipping Foundation for 21 years. Intelligent and respectful, Tony was a man of few words.

A loving father and grandfather, Tony will be missed by many. The number at his funeral showed that, too.

Rest in peace, Tony.

Don’t distract with a misplaced capital

Do you find the use of capital letters bewildering or frustrating?

girl and megaphone distracting a boy trying to read

Distractions made it hard to read – and poor grammar can be a distraction

Some people struggle with the questions ‘does this word need a capital letter?’ and others use so many unnecessary capital letters that just frustrate readers – excess capital letters actually make text harder to read (and more time-consuming to write, too!)

Poor capitalisation distracts

Some competition terms I recently read confused me because of a poor capital letter use. By adding a capital letter mid-sentence, I thought it was missing a full stop and a new sentence had started  – but reading it as a new sentence didn’t make sense.

 Entry is open to all Client bookings made with…

What do you think – did the capital C for client distract you?

In my mind, if you have to reread a sentence to understand it, the writing has failed. Good writing is easy to read and lets the reader focus on the message, not the words. {Obviously it’s different if you reread it because you can’t understand a difficult concept!}

Presumably, lack of clarity in something like competition terms or a contract has potential legal implications.

 

 * Photo courtesy of 123RF

Writing and grammar: Valentines Day is almost here

It is February and we’re almost at Valentines Day. I love (love heart) writing

Personally, I don’t care about the commercialism of the day. I consider it a reminder to acknowledge those people we care about, both romantically and otherwise, in a way we probably don’t think of throughout the year.

I aim to send a note, letter or email to people close to me for Valentines Day, just so they know I care all year, even when I forget to tell them.

For those romantically inclined, I wrote an article on writing love letters, and another on how to present love letters in a special way. I also wrote a number of Valentines articles for Save Time Online, including Valentines ideas for singles!

Writing Valentines Day

And for those interested, Valentines Day, Valentine’s Day and Valentines’ Day are all grammatically correct! It depends which grammar rule you believe is more important as to how you write the word!

Valentines Day – the name of an event, such as Good Friday or Christmas Day

Valentine’s Day – the day owned by or relating to Valentine

Valentines’ Day – the day owned and celebrated by valentines (lovers) everywhere

The same answer applies to Mothers and Fathers Day, too.

So what is your preference for writing Valentines Day? Is that just what feels right or have you thought about what is ‘correct’?


A funky gift is
nice without sending inappropriate romantic messages!

Checklist for finalising an annual report

Producing an annual report is a huge job – there are so many details to co-ordinate. Before signing off a final draft, I always get the following items checked at least once, often using different people for specific list items so they can focus and are more likely to spot any errors.

Annual report checklistchecklist for an annual report project

  • company data
    • ABN and similar numbers
    • phone number
    • address
    • online addresses
  • logo is present and used according to the style guide
  • contents page numbers
  • spelling (especially company, people and product names)
  • technical details (eg is it $36 per 100g or 100kg?)
  • figures and data (eg financial tables, returns data)
  • people in photos are named correctly
  • labels on images are correct and with the appropriate image
  • mandatory details are included (various industries have specific items that must be included)
  • images and graphics are appropriate for the brand and ok to use (copyright, model permissions, etc)

THEN

  • report flows from cover to cover (ie read every word in order)
  • check everything fits correctly (eg remove orphans and align page breaks)

 

If all the above have been checked thoroughly, your annual report is correct and can be signed off ready for publication.

It’s easy to rush through this section because time is running out nad everyone’s a bit over the whole project by the end. However, it is such an important part of the process and needs to be carried out diligently (such as having multiple people involved).

When planning the annual report process, I always allow a week and preferably two weeks for the review. Not only does this reduce the rush, it gives me spare time if changes are required and a second review becomes necessary.

Do you have a checklist for finalising an annual report or similar large project? Do you involve multiple people in the review process?

Poor spelling impacts on your content

Quality content is more than the message – it also has to be presented in a way that is easy for people to read and understand.

Many people will tell you that the message is more important than spelling or grammar – and it is, but only to a point. A great message is lost if the spelling and grammar are poor.

Last night, I saw a page on a website that shows how important spelling can be – as even one wrong letter can make a big difference.

We make real-estate CD’s. [Business] can also make and host your web site, with promotion as the key fucus.

Using a u instead of an o is not just a typo we can ignore – the new word is too close to another word and that is what now catches our attention – not the original message.

It also changed the reader’s interpretation of the ‘presenting in a unique way’ in the following sentence, creating giggles instead of interest in their professional services.

It comes back to proofreading your work – not just a quick glance or use of a spell check, but a genuine check of what you have written. And the best proof reading is done a day or so after the writing or by another person. The quality of your content will improve through this simple process and maintaining a ‘focus’.

The grammar of blog headings

It may seem like a strange blog heading, the grammar of blog headings, but I was asked the question so here is my answer!

Headings and gramamrThe heading or title of a blog post is usually the first thing someone will see and has a huge impact on whether anyone reads the actual content of the post, and therefore on the success of that blog post. Making it enticing is worth spending some time on, and you don’t want to undo those efforts by using inappropriate grammar and spelling.

So what is the correct format for a blog heading?

  1.  Do not write it all in capital letters – that is considered to be yelling and therefore arrogant, plus it is harder to read anyway
  2. Unless you have a formal and old-fashioned brand style, use sentence case rather than title case for the heading – that is, use as few capital letters as is necessary
  3. Use basic grammar and punctuation rules such as a capital letter for a noun, match plural/singular nouns and verbs, and put apostrophes in the correct places
  4. Check all words are spelt correctly
  5. Make sure the title makes sense. Titles can sometimes have fewer words than an equivalent sentence (e.g. ‘the grammar of blog headings’ is fine for a title but in the body of a post I need to add more such as ‘the grammar of a blog heading can impact on your credibility.’) but include enough words to convey the meaning (I couldn’t use ‘The grammar blog headings’ for instance)
Have you noticed bad grammar in any titles? How did that impact on you reading that blog post (or article)?

Does a suite suit you?

I was happily reading a blog post nicely laid out with tables and sub-headings when I came across a sentence “change your pricing strategy to suite your business needs.”

I’ll say no more other than to give a new pair of misused words…

business woman lying on a lounge suite with her laptop

A business woman in a suit on a lounge suite – one little letter makes a world of difference.

suit: (verb) to be acceptable to or enhance something
Will it suit you to meet at 10am on Wednesday?
Does your pricing strategy suit your business needs? 

suit: (noun) a set of clothing, generally consisting of a jacket with pants or skirt; legal action; one of four divisions in a pack of cards club, diamond, spade, heart); a romantic interest.
Most men wear a suit to a funeral.
Jason was very pleased when he won the law suit against his competitor.
Rachel’s hand of cards included every suit.
After three years, Elizabeth accepted his suit. 

suite: related things together as a set, such as a group of rooms in a hotel or a set of furniture for one room; music in one key but several parts
Jane ordered a new bedroom suite at the sales.

These are the types of errors I spot naturally and instinctively correct for clients so if you are concerned about your word usage don’t worry about showing your writing to a professional writer/editor – apart from the fact we’ve seen it before, it is better one professional sees it and fixes it than you publish it and your prospective clients see it, don’t you think?

 

Unintended meanings

I was recently reminded that it is important to take care not to communicate anything different to your words and intentions. That is, your words may tell one story but the context will also communicate a message and you want them to match.

A sign in our motel during last week’s trip to Canberra read

Due to “health regulations” no pets allowed in rooms

The quotation marks are completely unnecessary and mean either the person writing the sign didn’t know that (not a great message to send out, but common enough) or they were making a point about the regulations. That is, the writer thinks the regulations are silly, inappropriate, ineffective, irrelevant or such and therefore calls them “regulations’ to point out they are not well accepted.

Maybe disagreeing with the regulations shows some support of pets and pet lovers, but to me it is not very professional or reassuring. If you have no respect for the regulations, how can I be sure you are sticking to them in ways I would want you to? If a health inspector visits, how will they respond to implications of inferior regulations?

When you consider every word you write, remember to also consider the surrounding details such as punctuation, images and placement so that you are not giving any unintended messages.