The big time?

No matter how corporate we are, we all have a personal side. Mine’s getting an outing on my new Huffington Post blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new project, and please keep those corporate writing peeves coming my way!

 

 

 

 

Or maybe it’s just a technicolor dream

It’s been a busy time for The Corporate Writer and her colleagues. We’re proud to have contributed substantially to a new website for a leading Midwest law firm, and are immersed in a similar project for another firm. We’ve also been working on a new website for a state university.

With so much going on, it’s been harder to chronicle the daily challenges facing writers of corporate communications. So I’m grateful to college pal Jeremy Epstein for providing today’s guest rant:

“I just saw a phrase referring to a variety of colors on a palate; of course, the opposite would be a mix of flavors on your palette or–even worse, but fortunately rarer–colors or flavors on a pallet. At least the latter gives a nice connotation of a forklift unloading a giant shrink-wrapped cluster of cardboard boxes, all filled with colors or flavors. Still annoying though.”

I will be posting more often in coming weeks. Meanwhile, please keep those peeves and whinges coming!

The devil is in the details

One lowly apostrophe separates a business that knows its shit from a business that knows it’s shit.

A single letter will turn my precious husband into my previous husband.

Many of us have left the “l” out of at least one public appearance.

The point is, small mistakes matter. Take this example from DamnYouAutocorrect:

What are your worst small mistakes?

Fight flab(by writing)

Helena Rubenstein famously said, “There no ugly women, just lazy ones.” The same applies to writing.

The worst work I’ve seen isn’t poorly written–it’s lazy. Language is overly general and stuffed with cliches. Sentence structure is juvenile and/or repetitive.

Here’s an example: “Higman’s Hideout offers fine wines and good food at prices that won’t break the bank. Higman’s has everything you need for a memorable night out.”

This is the literary equivalent of a beer belly: flabby and unappealing. Yet a couple of authentic details–the kind you’d know if, say, you’d been to Higman’s–would turn it around.

What kind of writer are you?

Some people labor like Sisyphus over their first drafts–others do the real work while they edit. Some start with talking points or notes on a sticky pad, while others work from memory. A few write drafts in longhand, then transfer copy to the computer for revision. Many work alone, but some do better in a group.

I keep folders for each of the projects I’m working on, and take longhand notes on yellow pads during meetings, phone calls and webcasts. I date each page and stick it in the folder, along with documents, schedules and comments from others on the team.

When it’s time to write, I go through the relevant folder and take notes. From here I develop a scratch outline, and then the writing begins.

After I have a draft, I edit once (usually in hard copy) and send it off to the working group. I’m lucky enough to have another writer I trust in my organization, so I try to get her input as well.

From here there’s usually one more edit before the client sees the document. It’s an arduous trek, but I’ve found that–even after 25 years–there’s no shortcut to good work.

What’s your process?

I say abrasive, you say concise

According to my wholly unofficial poll, emails are more likely to be misinterpreted than any other form of business communication. The writer dashes off a friendly note, but the reader perceives an abrupt tone. You soften the message with a smiley face, and I think “What a flake.”

Here are some guidelines for friendly but professional emails:

  • Say hello, but don’t get chatty. Pretend it’s a business call. You would greet me,  but you wouldn’t ask if I was enjoying the spring weather.
  • Don’t start with a name. When I see “Deborah:”, I assume I’m going to be lectured or instructed.
  • Break out the positive language. Don’t go over the top–I recently got a direct mail piece that said, “We were unbelievably excited to see you at the conference!” But let me know you care.
  • Don’t free-associate. Repetition and long sentences might sound endearing on the phone, but they look disorganized on the page.
  • It’s okay to be a little informal. Avoid stilted language and phrases like “As per our conversation, the attached….”
  • Don’t get personal. Ever. Imagine your email on the gigantic screen in Times Square, and make sure it won’t embarrass you if the whole world reads it.

Editor etiquette

When you critique other people’s work, it’s hard not to compare what you’re reading to what you would have done. “He should have started with a quote,” you think, shaking your head. Or “Oh God, not the passive voice!”

This attitude will not make you popular with your colleagues. More to the point, it doesn’t serve the project.

If the writer is guilty of poor grammar or word choice, awkward phrasing or other laziness, you need to call him on it. But before you do, think about what’s really bothering you. Is it the way he writes? Or the fact that he doesn’t write like you?

When the writer does make a mistake, your criticism should be constructive. Scrawling “AWK” all over the piece won’t help. Neither will rewriting it–he’ll be insulted and you’ll be angry that you had to spend so much time on someone else’s work. Try to offer concrete suggestions (“rephrase as an active statement,” “eliminate repetition”) and vent your frustration somewhere other than on the page.