Welcome to “The Word Doctor!”

Hello friends,

Writing can be a pain for many who hit the keyboard to write a letter, report or even the simplest e-mail.

But good writing counts. It impresses the boss, helps advance careers and brings in new business. For a leader, good writing communicates key messages effectively and inspires the team to act.

“The Word Doctor” is here to help you. My blog will offer tips on how to break the logjam of writer’s block, organize and plan your writing assignment, and what snags to overcome.

Visit often. Your comments are welcome. Feel free to suggest topics you would like “The Word Doctor” to cover.

“The Word Doctor” is at your service. Now, let’s get writing!

Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

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Job seekers: Beware of those pesky typos!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

First impressions become lasting impressions when an employer receives a grammatically incorrect résumé.

In a poor economy, you need every edge you can muster to stay competitive in the job market. Misspellings and incorrect word choices are the kiss of death for eager job seekers.

A Scripps Howard News Service survey turned up these gems from résumés:

• “SKILLS: Work well with both managers and colleges.”
• “PROFILE: I am a hardworking, medicated professional.”
• “OBJECTIVE: Seeking a marketing job. Willing to travail.”
• “OBJECTIVE: To to be employed by you.”

Résumés aren’t the only problems created by careless applicants. Cover letters can also leave a bad taste in an employer’s mouth—especially from a cocky candidate.

To wit:

“Don’t keep me dangling. The more you delay the hiring process, the greater the chance you will hire a real looser.”

H-m-m-m….I wonder who the real loser is?

Be watchful for proper grammar and accurate spelling when you’re angling for employment. It’s Job Number One!

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Fellow writers: We can learn from others’ mistakes!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Doctors love to scribble into their charts. Patients trust the information to be accurate. But what about clear and grammatically correct?

Here are some notes from medical charts. They’re funny, but on the serious side need revision. Check ‘em out:

1. “Patient was struck by an auto while she was walking across the street at approximately 45 miles per hour.”

The “auto” is the subject of the sentence, not the patient.

Reword: “The auto was traveling 45 miles an hour when it struck the patient walking across the street.”

2. “By the time she was admitted to the hospital, her rapid heart had stopped, and she was feeling much better.”

The patient’s heart didn’t actually stop!

Reword: “She was suffering from a rapid heartbeat prior to admission. She is well on her way to full recovery.”

3. “Discharge status: Alive but without permission.”

Revise: “Patient, still in a fragile condition, discharged himself against my medical advice.”

4. “Patient referred to hospital for repair of hernia by a social service worker.”

A social worker isn’t qualified to perform surgery.

Rewrite: “A social worker referred the patient to the hospital for a hernia repair.”

We all make gaffes in our writing. But the best writers get out the red pen and mark up their prose until they get it right!

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3 tips to launch a Facebook fan page the right way!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Jumped on the bandwagon with a Facebook fan page?

It’s never too late to use this social media tool to promote your business or organization, one “like” at a time. A Facebook fan page can raise your visibility, create some buzz, and generate a whole new group of loyal customers and supporters.

But before you take the plunge, take a deep breath. A fan page is easy to launch, but hard to maintain. You will be making a long-term commitment trying to build an online community of backers. But success can be achieved if you have a plan to keep your fans engaged.

Three tips for you as you venture in this exciting new venue:

1. Plan ahead. Put two to four weeks’ worth of content into the pipeline. It’s very common to find fan pages languishing in obscurity. The problem? No fresh content that encourages fans to interact week after week after week. Keep the momentum going.

2. Brainstorm with your colleagues. What’s new in your business or organization? Special event approaching? New hires to announce? An award recently bestowed? All of these, and more, are grist for the mill on a Facebook fan page.

3. Designate two or more page administrators. Leaving the content replenishment to one person can lead to fan page fatigue. Think of your page as a collaborative effort. The more ideas the better!

Now, get on out there and knock their socks off. Facebook will never be the same!

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Website copy—keep it fresh and grammatically correct!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Looked at your website lately?

You might be surprised at what you find. Misspellings, incorrect word usage and grammatical errors are common on even the best websites.

In my last post, I cited a Stanford University study, the “Web Credibility Project.” It found that typos are one of the top 10 factors reducing a site’s credibility.

It’s not a far stretch to conclude that loss of credibility means potentially lost business.

Here’s my five-step action plan to correct and freshen up your web copy.

1. Cut and paste all of your website copy and run it through a spell-check and grammar check. As you catch the misspellings, you’ll find places where some rewording is in order.

2. Assign at least two people to read all web text. You may consider hiring an experienced proofreader or copywriter to bring a fresh pair of eyes to your site.

3. Check for consistency of messaging and tone and ensure the text is clear and concise.

4. Check for industry jargon; too much of that could be a big turn-off for non-technical people who visit your site.

5. Be aware of homophones (its versus it’s, their versus they’re) and use the correct word. Homophones are very, very common on websites.

Think of your website as your window to the world. You want it to accurately reflect who you are and what you’re all about.

Your website should be letter-perfect, presenting a professional image for your company!

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Typos cause a loss in credibility—and business!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

I always get a kick out of reading resume bloopers. It’s amazing how many goof-ups are made when people apply for work. It’s a goldmine for good belly laughs.

Here are five resume examples from Accountemps, a national staffing agency:

• “Proven ability to track down and correct erors.”
• “Spent several years in the United States Navel Reserve.”
• “Excellant at people oriented positi9ons and organizational problem solving.”
• “I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0, computor and spreadsheat progroms.”
• “Reason for leaving: maturity leave.”

Funny stuff, but costly for the job applicants. Employers are often unforgiving when it comes to those who haven’t mastered spelling or make the wrong word choice. Loss of credibility means a lost employment opportunity.

Credibility issues also crop up on business websites where improper spelling and grammar are left for all customers or prospective customers to see.

A Stanford University study, the “Web Credibility Project,” found that typos are one of the top 10 factors reducing a site’s credibility.

“…the findings suggested that typographical errors have roughly the same negative impact on a website’s credibility as a company’s legal or financial troubles,” according to the study.

A major university hired me to catch typos and I found dozens—including a misspelling of the word “university.” It came out “univeristy.”

Lately, I’ve noticed companies big and small with gaffes on their sites.

A national restaurant chain billed itself as the “mosted trusted food brand.” A jobs site misspelled two openings: “Convenicen Store Clerk” and “Custome Service.” The same site asked job applicants to submit their resume through its web “porthole” (they meant “portal”).

What impression are you leaving your website visitors? Good impressions really do count. And that includes using proper English!

Next post: How to spot errors on your website.

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Jack ‘n Jill: Nursery rhyme teaches simpler writing

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

“Jack, accompanied by Jill, ascended the topographical increase in altitude. Jack became overbalanced and succumbed to the laws of Newtonian physics, incurring severe cerebral trauma.

“Jill likewise descended the topographical phenomenon in a most precipitous manner, sustaining injuries of much less severity.”

We all know the famed nursery rhyme of “Jack n’ Jill” reads quite differently than that. The original is written simply and directly so it can be easily understood.

In much the same way, our writing needs to be simple and direct. Yet, we all fall into the trap of confounding our readers. So what’s a writer to do?

The Word Doctor offers two tips before you send your message:

1. Make a clarity check. Does your writing flow nicely from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph? Do your key messages stand out prominently? Clarity is best achieved through efficient organization. Revise and you will clarify!

2. Make a jargon check. Are you using industry parlance that your non-technical audience may not thoroughly understand? Use a commonplace term instead. Plain English rocks!

Plain language expert Cheryl Stephens advises us not to write as follows:

“To err, whether willfully or through carelessness, is human, whereas, however, to forgive is divine or an approximation thereof.”

Instead, Cheryl says, we should be writing succinctly:

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Err on the side of simplicity!!

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Watch for homophones: Words that sound alike, but are vastly different

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Its a crying shame how often writers use the wrong word!

Oops, I just used “its” instead of the correct word, “it’s.” I’m just trying to see if you are paying attention!

Homophones such as “it’s” and “its” are words that are pronounced the same, but have different meanings and spellings.

How do you guard against falling into the homophone trap? The best way is to study sentences with both words used properly in context.

Carefully examine what distinguishes one from another. Then you can prevent the embarrassment that comes with this kind of goof-up.

I’ve prepared a few for you, putting them in context to allow you to make the correct distinctions:

Principal, principle

The assistant principal at our high school read the essay, “Principles of Effective Study,” to the assembly.

Compliment, complement

The guest’s compliment about my dinner party complemented a delightful evening.

Altar, alter

Her life certainly will be altered after saying her vows at the altar. (Thanks to Gail Ross)

Reign, rein

During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian tsar kept a tight rein on his people.

Foul, fowl

A foul odor emitted from the pen where the fowl were contained.

Capitol, capital

We’re heading for the nation’s capital where our Congressman will give us a personal tour of the Capitol.

Lose, loose

Our pet dog is out on the loose. I’m afraid we’ll lose him in this fog.

Hope this has helped you. Check out this site for an exhaustive list of homophones: http://www.homophone.com/index.php

One last word: Homophones are hear to stay, but you can master them. Yep, I tried to trick you in that last sentence. It’s “here” instead of “hear.”

Sorry ‘bout that!

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Writing clearly: Learn from folks who have messed up!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

How do you write more clearly?

One great way is to study others’ writing—especially those who goof up. Want to laugh it up and learn? Keep reading!

Ever had an auto accident? You file a claim to pay for repair costs, sending it to an insurance adjustor. These guys have seen it all. One claim read:

“The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go, so I ran over him.”

We all know the claimant did not intend to hit the pedestrian.

My revision:

“The pedestrian suddenly walked in front of my car, and I had no chance to avoid striking him.”

Or how about this claim:

“I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.”

Of course, the motorist was talking about being found “near” some stray cows, but these bovines have nothing to do with the claim. Rewrite:

“The accident forced me off the road into a farmer’s field. I was thrown from the vehicle and knocked unconscious. Some passersby found me and called 911.”

Another claim:

“I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.”

A vehicle can’t be stationary and moving at the same time. My rewrite:

“Traveling south down Fifth Street, I lost control of my car and struck a truck parked northbound at the curb.”

And, finally, this doozy:

“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”

Let’s revise:

“I became distracted as I pulled from the side of the road, losing control of my car and heading over the embankment.” Let’s let the mother-in-law off the hook!

So, back to the original question: “How do you write more clearly?”

Clear writing comes with time and patient revision. Writers have to exercise humility. The first draft is only that, just a start, and you build from there. Rewrite with your key message clearly defined and effectively presented. If you don’t, you’ll end up writing an accident claim like this:

“I had been driving for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”

That man needs a nap!

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You can love Yogi Berra, but don’t write like he talks!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Yogi Berra is as much a national treasure for his verbal gaffes as he is for his storied baseball career.

“We made too many wrong mistakes,” the great Yankees catcher said in his trademark fashion. Another time he mused, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

I love Yogi for his slips of the tongue. Writers can learn a good deal from him in their quest to be clear and correct and to avoid repetition.

“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious,” Yogi said. Naturally, he meant “ambidextrous” or, in baseball lingo, “switch-hitter.”

Like Yogi, do you use the wrong word? When writing, carefully check everything before hitting the “send” button. Do you mean “its” instead of “it’s” or “they’re” in place of “their?”

Or you might be repetitious, as Yogi was in saying, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” The best way to avoid repetition is to revise your writing as if you were a plastic surgeon. Nip here, tuck there, until you have it letter-perfect!

Is your writing unclear? Yogi sure was when he remarked, “I never said most of the things I said.” Clarity comes with a solid outline coupled with enough revisions to fill a wastebasket.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else,” Yogi said.

That’s excellent advice for writers, especially when the words don’t fall into place easily. But a clear course combined with efficient organization spells success for writers.

Remember what Yogi said: “When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.”

Just be sure to choose wisely!

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Let’s play around with the language—just for fun!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

You don’t need to be a wordsmith to love word play.

Every year, the Washington Post asks its readers to redefine words to comic effect. The newspaper’s word-repurposing contest generates some doozies.

Let your funny bone decide your favorite:

1. Abdicate (v.) to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
2. Lymph (v.) to walk with a lisp.
3. Coffee (n.) a person who is coughed upon.
4. Flatulence (n.) the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
5. Frisbeetarianism (n.) the belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
6. Reintarnation (n.) coming back to life as a hillbilly.

I am tickled pink we haven’t lost our sense of humor. With a jobless recovery, wars without end and pain at the pump, we have lots of reasons to frown. But we still need to laugh, and one sure way is to play around with our language.

The Washington Post asked its readers to alter a word by adding, subtracting or changing one letter. Then they were to supply a new definition. Judge for yourself that cleverness is not yet dead:

1. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the reader who doesn’t get it.
2. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously.
3. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very high.
4. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Smiling yet?

One of best places to find a chuckle for language gone sideways is in newspaper headlines. You wonder how some passed muster on their way to the newsstand. But they do slip through the cracks. Six examples:

1. Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
2. Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
3. Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
4. Stolen Painting Found by Tree
5. Typhoon Rips through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
6. Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years at Checkout Counter

Take that last example. Don’t know about you, but I might wait for my sibling at the checkout counter for 18 minutes. But 18 years?

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