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WRITING FITNESS Practical Exercises for Better Business Writing Jack Swenson A FIFTY-MINUTE™ SERIES BOOK CRISP PUBLICATIONS, INC. Menlo Park, CaliforniaWRITING FITNESS Practical Exercises for Better Business Writing Jack Swenson CREDITS Editor: Michael Crisp Designer: Carol Harris Typesetting: Interface Studio Cover Design: Fifth Street Design Artwork: Ralph Mapson All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means now known or to be invented, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without written permission from the author or publisher, except for the brief inclusion of quotations in a review. © 1988 by Crisp Publications, Inc. Printed in the United States of America by Bawden Printing Company. Distribution to the U.S. Trade: National Book Network, Inc. 4720 Boston Way Lanham, MD 20706 1-800-462-6420 990001 02 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 87-72478 Swenson, Jack Writing Fitness ISBN 0-931961-35-1Writing Fitness LEARNING OBJECTIVES FOR: WRITING FITNESS The objectives for Writing Fitness are listed below. They have been developed to guide you, the reader, to the core issues covered in this book. Objectives 1) To give techniques for spelling accuracy 2) To discuss punctuation and capitalization rules 3) To explain principles of usage 4) To suggest ways to write memos, letters, and reports Assessing Your Progress In addition to the learning objectives, Crisp, Inc. has developed an assessment that covers the fundamental information presented in this book. A twenty-five item, multiple choice/true-false questionnaire allows the reader to evaluate his or her comprehension of the subject matter. An answer sheet with a chart matching the questions to the listed objectives is also available. To learn how to obtain a copy of this assessment, please call 1–800–442–7477 and ask to speak with a Customer Service Representative. Assessments should not be used in any selection process. iiiWriting Fitness CONTENTS PART I—INTRODUCTION 1 PART II—SOME BASICS OF STYLE 5 Exercises for Better Spelling 7 The Apostrophe 13 Common Comma Faults 15 When to Capitalize 17 More on Mechanics 19 A Usage Quiz 21 PART III—STARTING WITH THE SENTENCE 23 Active Versus Passive Sentences 25 Use Familiar Words 27 Eliminate Unnecessary Words 29 More on Wasted Words 31 Avoid Redundancy 33 Use Adjectives Sparingly 35 Short Words Are Better 37 Avoid Cliches 39 Pay Attention to Detail 41 Misplaced Words 43 Weakling Verbs 45 PART IV—EXERCISES TO HELP YOU WRITE BETTER MEMOS 47 Examples of Good and Poor Memos 48 Exercises 51 PART V—THE BUSINESS LETTER 55 Structure and Style 56 Checklist 57 Exercises 58 PART VI—THE .BUSINESS REPORT 64 Organizational Tips 65 Do’s and Don’ts 66 Exercises 67 PART VII—NOW YOU TRY IT 73 Writing Sample Memos 74 Business Letter Exercises 78 A Final Challenge—The Business Report 84 iiiPART I—INTRODUCTION ivWriting Fitness 1 INTRODUCTION Writing Skills Are Essential Anyone who earns a living at a desk knows how important it is to have good writing skills. A good letter can get you a job interview or win you a new client. An ability to write clear, concise memos and reports can help you move up the ladder in your organization and win you a better job. On the other hand, poor writing wastes time and costs money. As one consultant recently said, “Profits improve only when our correspondence is read. No sale is made when a business letter ends up in the wastebasket.” A High-Tech World There has always been a need for clear communication in business. A poorly worded letter will either cause confusion or leave a poor impression. A muddled memo can result in misunderstanding or lead to employee grievances. A sloppy report will often result in lost business. Part of the challenge of clear writing is the nature of business communication. Business writing is often necessarily technical and complex. This kind of writing makes special demands on a writer. A writer who has not yet learned to have sympathy for the reader is bound to create problems for himself or herself. Has something like this ever happened to you? It’s a true story. An accountant sent a letter to a client explaining a service that had been performed for the customer. A few days later the client called. “Thanks for the letter,” the client said. “Now tell me what you said.” Embarrassing? Yes. And worse. No wonder business executives are concerned about the effect of poor writing skills on profitability. But isn’t writing ability less important in today’s high-tech world of computers and electronic data processing? Don’t we now depend more on machines for precise, accurate communication? The experts say no. They maintain that good communication skills are more critical than ever. The spread of electronic communication devices makes better writing imperative. Size, too, is having an impact on today’s business needs. As Business Week pointed out (July 6, 1981), “the ability to write simple direct prose that says precisely what you want it to say in the fewest words…has become rare—just when business and social organizations have grown too large for anyone to be effective face-to-face.”2 Writing Fitness This book can help you develop the business writing skills you need to succeed. It is a book of exercises for busy people who want to write better memos, letters, and reports. The exercises are designed to tone and strengthen a writer’s style, just like physical exercise and diet are used to build a healthy body. This book explains how to slim down sentences to make the meaning clearer. It shows how to choose stronger words. Writing Fitness can help anyone learn to write a clear, concise memo, persuasive letter, or well-organized report. Better Writing Now Some readers may have reservations about the length of time it takes to develop good writing habits. You may believe it takes years to become a good writer. You may be reluctant to commit yourself to the time and effort you feel are necessary. Let’s give that myth a decent burial right away. True, it takes time and energy to become an accomplished writer. No professional writer ever got to that level without using up a lot of pencils, paper, and ink. But it does not take years or even months to become a good writer. Most people can make remarkable progress in a few weeks. Indeed, you should expect to see significant improvement quickly. The principles of effective writing are simple and easy to apply. You can prove to yourself that it is possible to learn to be a better writer by performing this simple test. Dig a letter or memo out of your files; it doesn’t matter if you wrote it or it was written by somebody else. Then, pen or pencil in hand, go over the document sentence by sentence, crossing out any words unnecessary to make the meaning clear. When you have finished, compare the two versions. Read them aloud. Which looks and sounds better? Odds are it will be the one that is shorter and more concise.Writing Fitness 3 Some Helpful Resources If you want to begin developing better writing skills, you don’t have to sign up for a course or wade through a grammar book. All you have to do is apply a few simple principles of effective writing. This book will help you do that. For readers who have the time and desire to pursue the matter of writing improvement further, I strongly recommend the entire series of articles printed as advertisements by International Paper Company. Of particular interest to business writers are “How to Write with Style” by Kurt Vonnegut, “How to Write Clearly” by Edward Thompson, “How to Write a Business Letter” by Malcolm Forbes, and “How to Punctuate” by Russell Baker. Doubleday has now published 13 of the two page articles in a book titled How to Use the Power of the Printed Word. For information write to International Paper Co., Dept. 16Z, P.O. Box 954, Madison Sq. Sta., N.Y., NY 10010. Some other books that will also help you build your skills as a writer are Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and Better Business Writing by Susan L.Brock. A grammar handbook is also handy. An excellent, brief manual that contains all you need to know about English grammar and usage is English Simplified by Blanche Ellsworth. About the Organization of This Book Writing Fitness will get your writing muscles in shape. It will help tone your prose style and get rid of the fatty deposits in your sentences. It will help you select words that make your writing more vital. This book contains a series of exercises and activities in a “self-study” format. Suggested answers and model responses follow the exercises for immediate reinforcement. Parts II and III will help you improve the wording of phrases and sentences. Parts IV, V, and VI contain sample memos, letters, and a business report for you to revise, and Part VII contains a series of assignments to help you produce improved business correspondence. 4 PART II—SOME BASICS OF STYLE Writing Fitness 5 SOME BASICS OF STYLE Building a Foundation Many writers have trouble with basics such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, and mechanics. It’s no disgrace to be a poor speller, just a handicap. A good beginning point for a self-improvement course on writing is with the basics of the language. If you are weak in this area, the first step is to admit it. Then begin to build a foundation for improved skill with the language. A grammar handbook is a useful reference. You can also benefit by making it a habit to look up words you don’t know how to spell in the dictionary and writing them several times until you learn them. One Step at a Time If your basic skills are weak, don’t despair. Learning how to write is like everything else: it must be learned one step at a time. Isolate your biggest weakness and deal with it first. This section of the book will help you start building the basic skills you need. The purpose of this section is to point you in the right direction. You will discover how to use the dictionary correctly. You will also learn some spelling shortcuts and review the four most important spelling rules. Punctuation and mechanics are also covered, including the correct use of apostrophes, when to use capital letters, use of italics, and placement of commas and periods in quotations. Finally, there is a quiz on usage. Have some fun and give this quiz to your friends: see how smart they are 6 EXERCISE SECTION The following exercises will provide you with an opportunity to answer questions related to various writing skills. Answers to the questions for individual exercises will be found on the page following the exercise. At this stage, it is not important how many you answer correctly. The primary purpose for the exercises is to provide you with some instant feedback about problem areas where you may need additional help. In addition to the suggestions given in this book about how to improve your writing skills, don’t forget other (more comprehensive) resources are available. A few of the best were noted on page 3. Writing Fitness 7 EXERCISE 1—SPELLING Are you a poor speller? Here’s an easy way to fix the proper spelling of a word in your mind. First, look up the problem word in the dictionary. Note that the word is broken down into syllables (psychology). Look at the word; look at each syllable one at a time. Next say the word aloud, pronouncing each syllable (“sigh-kol-oh-gee”). Next, close your eyes and visualize the word in your mind’s eye. Again, say the word aloud. Finally, write the word correctly on a sheet of paper. If necessary, write the word several times. The sentences below contain ten words commonly misspelled in business communication. Correctly spell the word in brackets. (Note: hyphens may or may not indicate missing letters.) Compare your answers with the correctly spelled words on the next page. Look up any words you misspelled. Memorize the correct spelling using the procedure outlined above. 1. Your request is not (consist-nt) with company policy. 2. The meeting will be in our branch office near the (capit-1) building. 3. An (exten-ion) of benefits will be offered to all employees. 4. Compensation and benefits are (sep-rate) issues. 5. The new policy will (super-ede) the old one. 6. Please refer to the instructions on the (pre-ding) page. 7. The manager said that it (oc-ur-ed) to him that the employees needed more information about the project. 8. What they (of-er-ed) was unacceptable. 9. How will the new plan (ben-fit) the organization? 10. Another study is an (un-ec-es-ary) way to spend money. (Answers on page 8)8 ANSWERS TO EXERCISE 1 1. consistent 2. capitol 3. extension 4. separate 5. supersede 6. preceding 7. occurred 8. offered 9. benefit 10. unnecessary Writing Fitness 9 EXERCISE 2—SPELLING SHORTCUTS Following are three handy shortcuts to improve your spelling. (1) If a word gives you trouble, deliberately mispronounce it, emphasizing the troublesome part of the word. To fix the spelling of words such as separate and benefit in your mind, say “sep-ay-rate,” “ben-ee-fit.” (2) Look for little words in big words. Noticing the word iron in environment can help you remember the longer, more difficult word. (3) Use gimmicks to fix the spelling of difficult words in your mind. For example, “Many capitol buildings have an ‘o’ shaped dome.” Correctly spell the words listed below. Use the memory devices suggested on the next page (or make up your own) for any words you misspell. 1. cred-bility 2. extr-m-ly 3. occur-ed 4. expl-nation 5. pron-nciation 6. cat-gory 7. priv-l-ge 8. gasol-ne 9. super-ede (s or c?) 10. contr-versial (Answers on page 10)10 ANSWERS TO EXERCISE 2 1. credibility I hope I have credibility. 2. extremely ex-trem-e-ly (pronunciation) 3. occurred The accident occurred on the railroad tracks. 4. explanation explanation 5. pronunciation pronunciation 6. category cat-e-gory (pronunciation) 7. privilege privilege 8. gasoline gasoline 9. supersede The word “supersede” has two s’s. 10. controversial Oh, so controversial Writing Fitness 11 EXERCISE 3—SPELLING RULES How are you on spelling rules? Here’s a quick review of four important ones. In the sentences below, spell the bracketed word correctly if you can, then check your answers (and which rule applies), on the next page. 1. We hope to (rec-ve) the shipment this week. 2. The new tariff will hurt our (for-gn) competitors. 3. The (financ-r) was charged with tax evasion. 4. Nothing is sure but death and (tax-). 5. His skill in diplomacy makes friends out of (enem-s). 6. Are you (accus-ng) the Japanese of chip-dumping? 7. In my (judg-ent), profits will be up significantly in April. 8. Be sure to include a (sum-ry) at the end of your report. 9. Some companies have (benefit-d) from the drop in the dollar’s value. 10. Mr. Wombat has been (transfer-d) to Minot, N.D. (Answers on page 12)12 ANSWERS TO EXERCISE 3 1. receive The rule is i before e, except after c. 2. foreign It’s i before e, or ei after the letter c if the sound of two letters combined is “ee”; if not the pattern is reversed. 3. financier Every rule has a few exceptions. Other examples are either, neither, seize, leisure, weird, sheik. 4. taxes Add s to form the plurals of most nouns; if the noun ends in an “s” sound, add es. Add es also to some nouns ending in o. (tomatoes, potatoes, vetoes, torpedoes). 5. enemies If a noun ends in y preceded by a consonant, change the y to i and add es. If a noun ends in y preceded by a vowel, simply add s to form the plural. Exception: proper nouns. The plural of Kennedy is Kennedys. 6. accusing Drop the final silent e when adding suffixes that begin with a vowel (accuse + ing). Keep the final silent e when adding suffixes that begin with a consonant (hope + less = hopeless). 7. judgment Exception. Some others are courageous, dyeing, argument, and truly. 8. summary Double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel if the consonant is preceded by a single vowel (sum + ary). 9. benefited With words of two or more syllables, double the final consonant only if the accent is on the last syllable. 10. transferred An exception. Since the preferred pronunciation is with the accent on the first syllable (trans’fer), you would not expect the final consonant to be doubled. Other exceptions are transferring excellent, excellence. Writing Fitness 13 EXERCISE 4—THE APOSTROPHE Test your knowledge of the proper use of apostrophes by circling errors in the sentences below. The apostrophe (’) is used to show possession or ownership, or to mark an omission. Correctly punctuated sentences and the rules that apply are found on the next page. 1. The office managers new rule was unpopular with the secretaries. 2. The secretarys chair was adjusted by the manager’s assistant. 3. Charles cap was the same color as his boss’s face. 4. The managers smiled when they read the salesmens’ reports. 5. Both speaker’s comments were greeted with applause. 6. Anyones guess is as good as mine. 7. Their report was more optimistic than our’s. 8. It doesn’t matter; its not our concern. 9. The accountant’s will meet with the manager’s on Friday. 10. She often forgets to dot her is. (Answers on page 14)