Archive for June, 2011

How to Correct Two Common Mistakes in Business Writing

The way something is written can say as much about the subject matter as the content itself. Applied to business communications, writing style and tone help reinforce a brand or company culture, while a logical flow of information creates both understanding and credibility.

To keep your readers’ eyes on the content you create—whether it’s a blog post, newsletter, or simple internal communication—proofread (at least twice) for both clarity and correctness.

You don’t need to know all the rules of grammar (and their wonderful exceptions) to edit your own content, and it won’t take much time. All you need is to recognize the most common mistakes, and know what trips you up as a writer and a reader.

Writing: If you’ve collaborated with someone on a document, were changes made to your portion of the writing? What feedback do you receive?

Reading: As a reader, what do you find jarring? Where do you get lost? Confused? Do you feel lost and confused right now?

Chances are that the prose suffers from one or more of the two most common mistakes in business writing –homonyms and sentence structure.

Homonyms

These are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. In the sounds-like category, the “it’s,” “you’re,” and “they’re” offenses get the most attention. Other examples of homonym errors, briefly, include board/bored, where/wear/ware, lessen/lesson, to/too, hole/whole, role/roll.

The homonym errors involving contractions are most common because those are the words used most often in our communications (or, um, intended to be used). A good way to figure out the proper usage and spelling is to read the sentence as though the contraction were written out, mindful of whether there is a verb that would indicate two words joined together, as the contraction form.

Reading the entire sentence, or clause if you’re confident, is important because it gives context for proper usage. Here are some examples:

Its

Its is possessive; it’s is a contraction for “it has” or “it is.”

It’s (it is) a lovely day.

The dog licks its paw. (No contraction here. Adding the apostrophe [it’s form] would mean The dog licks it is paw. No.)

Your

You’re (you are) going to be so excited when you see your new walk-in closet.

Their

With their tutus and ballet slippers in hand, the little dancers sit backstage, waiting there until they’re called for dress rehearsal.

Their is possessive, there is a place, and they’re is a contraction for “they are,” whether you’re writing about tutus or technology.

Whose

Who’s (who is) going to the game? Whose vodka is this? The latter is the possessive form. And the vodka is mine.

Run-ons, Comma Splices, Sentence Fragments

Sometimes writers have a lot of ideas and they to cram them into a single sentence it makes it difficult for the reader to take in all those words without a breath between them but somehow meaning is agreed upon between writer and reader and the reader responds to the writer but may address only one of the ideas presented in the original communication because the other ideas got lost in the need for a single sentence per idea and a break between them whether it’s a semicolon to separate clauses that can stand alone or the use of a coordinating conjunction or breaking the content into separate sentences and for fuck’s sake a few different paragraphs too.

Independent clauses (ideas) need to be treated as such. Does the content read as a complete sentence? Two sentences? Can you make three? If the sentence (the thought) isn’t complete, make it so. Read the sentence aloud—how often did you pause for breath? Add commas and coordinating conjunctions (and/but/so) in those places to separate ideas.

Here’s how to untangle the unintelligible:

This is getting to be a long post_maybe I should create a checklist instead. {fused sentence—two whole sentences joined together}
This is getting to be a long post, maybe I should create a checklist instead. {comma splice—two complete and independent thoughts on either side of the comma}
This is getting to be a long post, so maybe I should create a checklist instead. {corrected using a coordinating conjunction}
This is getting to be a long post. Maybe I should create a checklist instead. {corrected by creating two separate sentences}
This is getting to be a long post; maybe I should create a checklist instead. {corrected with a semicolon}

In just about every industry where writing and communication play a key role in bringing a product to market, the subject matter is highly technical, scientific, subjective, or abstract, making it even more difficult to convey information clearly to create meaning with a target audience.

Simple business communication tools like email and instant messaging mean everyone creates, contributes to, or writes a business communication or two, no matter their role in a company.

Keep homonym errors and faulty sentence structure out of your communications, and you can keep jackasses like me from deleting you’re sales pitch because it’s grammar steels clarity from it’s message.

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A Three-Minute Guide to Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Advertising

This article was originally published on Avenue Right’s Media Buying Automation Blog.

All advertising is, most fundamentally, an attempt to persuade an audience. We want those people to buy our products, to enlist our services, to support an organization or cause.

The media we use to deliver these messages should match the habits of our target audience, and the message needs to remain consistent, however it’s presented within the media mix.

Just as the media buyer needs to incorporate multiple media channels to reach an audience, the ads need to blend a combination of rhetorical appeals to be effective.

It’s not good enough anymore to tell the audience that a treat from Peggy’s Pie Palace is a guilt-free experience—we need some evidence telling us why it’s a low-calorie snack option.

The art of persuading an audience means using the three basic appeals that Aristotle first described: ethos, pathos, and logos.

This means using the appeal of personal character, emotion, or logic, respectively.

Ethos

Ethos is the appeal of a speaker’s/actor’s character or authority, such as the use of local celebrities or the business owner/employees in a company’s advertising.

This appeal gives character and personality to the message, making it easier for the audience to relate to, trust, or place authority in the figure represented.

Ethos may be represented differently in different media. Visual media has the benefit of using images, such as that of sports hero, where text-only ads and auditory media such as radio rely on style, tone, and name recognition to convey ethos.

Pathos

Perhaps the most powerful tool in advertising, pathos is an appeal to the audience’s emotions. It can be used to create feelings of confidence and intrigue in a brand (“established in 1915”), to reinforce value (“find more time for you with Acme Widget”), or to promote a sense of urgency (“don’t spend another night with bedbugs”).

The emotions to which the message appeals may be many and varied: safety, well-being, pride, anger, insecurity, desire.

Logos

Logos is a logical appeal typically marked by facts, figures, and data. This information is quantifiable and helps us rationalize our decisions through hard data on money saved, time saved, higher status, and so on.

One tactic that combines all three rhetorical appeals is telling the audience how many people, just like them, have purchased a product or service. This social proof approach

  • helps lower perceived risk and lessens our insecurity about the purchase (pathos),
  • paints a concrete picture of market share through data (logos), and
  • introduces like-minded characters and personalities through testimonials (ethos).

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