I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Answer the question when replying

One simple way to improve your business communications is to ensure that every email you send in reply to anyone (staff, suppliers, customers and even friends and family) actually serves you both well.

So if someone has taken the time to ask you a question, make sure you answer it, and answer it clearly, when you reply. Sounds obvious but as it often doesn’t happen, it is worth checking before you hit send…

  1. read their email again – did you miss a second question? Are you sure you understood the real question being asked?
  2. does your answer stand alone? That is, did you give a full answer that anyone could understand – there is nothing worse than an email “Dear Fred, the answer is yes. Regards, Barney”. “Dear Fred, Yes we do deliver to Devonport. Regards, Barney” is much more effective as Fred doesn’t have to remember or think about what his question was.
  3. is your answer as simple and clear as possible? “Yes we do deliver to Devonport” is much better than “Yes, we deliver to all major cities in Australia” (is Devonport considered a major city?) or “Our delivery areas are all listed on our website and we cover most parts of Tasmania and Queensland” (how is Queensland relevant? Why couldn’t you give a direct answer?)
  4. if you can’t answer the question, say so rather than be obscure or ignore the question. I know I would prefer to hear “I’m not sure but will find out for you” or “we haven’t done that before so I’ll have to ask my manager to call you back” rather than having to ask again or risk making a guess.
Not only are clear replies to questions a good communication strategy, they can save you (and those you email) time and frustration.

Writing enticing headings

The headings you use in blog posts, tweets, articles, ads, media releases and the like are a critical aspect of your ongoing success. This also includes sub-headings, titles of tables/images and other stand-out text.

Busy people will only read on if the heading promises something they value right now.

People surfing the internet will only read more if your heading catches their attention, and holds it.

So it is worth putting some effort into making your headings enticing so you maximise the number of people reading whatever your heading leads to. Here are some tips on making your headings more effective:

  • where feasible, use ‘you’ to personalise and catch attention. It also helps you to remember to make your message aimed at your audience
  • apply ample alliteration 🙂 Repeating a letter is attention grabbing which gives your headings more impact.
  • use questions – it is like building some suspense as people are interested in learning the answer
  • be interesting or unusual, possibly even a little controversial, within the bounds of the message and brand you are portraying. This can be as simple as choosing a less common word such as Clydesdale instead of horse or scoop instead of update, or taking a different approach to a common subject (eg. ‘finding quirky blog content ideas’)
  • include a number to introduce a list, such as 5 tips to support email marketing
  • make an offer they can’t refuse like “the secret of getting twitter followers” or “meaningful posts people love to read
  • keep it short – two-part and too long headings are not as visually appealing and don’t belong in any form of marketing, especially not digital media where short works best (consider the 140 character limit on Twitter!)

Can you remember any effective headings? Do you know why it was effective?

Match questions and answers…

Recently I wanted to make a complaint to a company and was directed to their online form (hmm, is it telling that their products come with a prominant page about how to complain??) and saw this as the opening sentence:

“already been attended to by phone or other means would you please advise YES/NO”

How does it help them to know I will (or won’t) advise them on whether my issue has already been dealt with? Wouldn’t the better question be ” Have you already told us about this issue? YES/NO”

Whenever you give people a choice of answers in a survey or form, you have to give answers that actually give the information you are after. Remember that the words ‘would you’ are what people will try to answer, so put them at the start of your question or don’t use them at all.

Generally, use active verbs and phrase questions as simply as possible to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.

PS I could go on to say how important it is to get your promotional materials right – and not use old materials after you make changes. My original complaint was about their promotional brochure offering 4 things in a set but their website offering two things for the same price. Putting these two issues together has totally destroyed that company’s credibility and I don’t trust a thing they say now – and won’t be returning there.

Genuine Choices

I have just been to my ip provider’s website to lodge a complaint after 2 days of emails not arriving. Their online complaint form has many fields (too many in my opinion but I’ll let that go!) and most are marked compulsory.

One questions, marked as compulsory to answer is “Would you like ABC to contact you? Yes Email Address”

In other words I have to say yes I want you to contact me in order to submit the form! Why bother asking if I have no choice but to agree to it?

So if you are preparing any sort of form or questionnaire, make sure you give people a choice rather than pretending to give a choice. If you are not going to give them a choice about something, be honest enough to say there is no choice – anything else just makes you look foolish and/or deceitful.

Use your words and questions wisely!

Surprise mention in survey

I did a survey today which was ok on the whole but question 5 had a surprise element in it. Note I did not know who was behind the survey (deliberately to get unbiased answers).

The question was in effect “Are you primarily a business or personal customer of these services?”

The answer options were “personal/business/equal/I am no longer a customer of Company X”

So the anonymous-to-get-unbiased-answers aspect was thrown out the window with that answer which is not so good. It also didn’t mean a lot as I never said I had been a Company X customer, nor even acknowledged I’d heard of company X before. The fourth answer didn’t even answer the question so was completely irrelevant.

The lesson is to read every answer with the question before you finalise a survey or any other multiple choice list – this also applies for a bulleted list in that each point must complete a sentence from the introduction.

From the above example…

“Are you primarily a business or personal customer of these services?” “personal” works
“Are you primarily a business or personal customer of these services?” “no longer a customer of Company X” doesn’t work.

If you are writing or editing a survey, ensure you read each answer with the question in this way to get a polished, sensible result.

Which punctuation mark do I use?

Sometime when using quotation marks at the end of a sentence or phrase, it would seem that two punctuation marks are required (one for the quote and one for the sentence).

However, you only ever use one punctuation mark, whether it is a full stop, exclamation mark, question mark, or anything else, at the end of a sentence.

In order to know which one to use, consider which is more powerful and use that one.

Some examples:

The teacher yelled out ‘Quiet!’
Did you say ‘John will fix my car’?
Someone might wonder ‘why did he choose that colour?’