True professionals write in the slow lane!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

When I made a suggestion to a company CEO, I was quite surprised at his answer. His message contained a misspelling and a missing word. Hurriedly, he emailed:

“Thank you for your good wishes, and for you marketing idea. We many ideas under review right now to help us weather this difficult economic storm, and we will add your proposal to that list.”

The CEO should have written:

“Thank you for your good wishes, and for your marketing idea. We have many ideas under review right now to help us weather this difficult economic storm, and we will add your proposal to that list.”

Fellow writers, take a long, deep breath before hitting the “send” button. Slow down and take good care to ensure the accuracy of your message.

Here are three tips that will help minimize mistakes:

1. Use the draft folder in your email. Before I send most messages, I take a time-out. I simply place the message into the draft folder, take a break and come back to review and revise.

2. Use a buddy system. Ask a trusted colleague to read the message, especially if it addresses a sensitive topic or concern. Craft your messages carefully, tending to both content and tone. A second set of eyes is a real plus.

3. Read the message aloud, mindful of how it flows. Is it clear enough? What’s missing? Could it be shortened? When in doubt, hold onto it overnight. Your mind will wrap itself around the doubts, and you’ll find a better way to rephrase it in the morning.

Not all messages are urgent. Writing in the slow lane will pay off. Clear communication sends a clear signal: You are a true professional who cares enough about the reader to dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s.”

Write on!

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The Word Doctor’s ‘3 B’s of better writing’

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

English is hard enough. However, when folks abroad mess it up, it can have hilarious results.

A sign at a Paris hotel read: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”

In Bangkok, a dry cleaners directed customers to “drop your trousers here for best results.”

And a Copenhagen airline ticket office promised: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”

Is your writing getting “lost in translation”? Are you conveying your message in the clearest possible terms?

I’ve developed the “3 B’s of Better Writing” to help ensure your writing will be understood and appreciated.

1. Be brief. In a world of tweets, our attention span is shrinking. Write short. Try to limit your sentences to 10-15 words and your paragraphs to two or three sentences. Identify your core messages and stick to them.

2. Be clear. Clarity comes with good planning and organization. Write a rough outline before you begin writing. I like to scratch mine out on notebook paper. Simply list your key words or central ideas in bullet points. Think of your outline as made of clay, not stone. Shape and reshape your outline as you write the first and subsequent drafts of your piece.

3. Be compelling. Make your reader sit up and take notice. Draw him into your message. Write in a way that will command attention. As author Anton Chekhov urged, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Plain language should be your goal.

As Professor Robert Eagleson, an internationally famed linguist, writes so convincingly:

“Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction….Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language.”

Use plain English, writing briefly, clearly and compellingly. It will pay off and reduce your risk of getting lost in translation!

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Plain language is most impressive!

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Why write this…

“Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.”

…When you can write this:

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

My writing students ask, “Why not use a big word or phrase? After all, big words impress people.” But they’re missing the point.

Write to be understood, not to impress or show off your education. Dazzle with your message, not your vocabulary. The reader wants it simple, direct and concise.

Even the U.S. government has gotten into the act. Last October, President Obama signed the “Plain Writing Act” into law. The law requires that federal agencies use “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” (More details at

Now, granted, this may be a lofty goal for the nation’s capital, where doublespeak is a way of life. But the point is, Washington is at least trying to help citizens to find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs.

Let’s follow Washington’s road map for better writing. The next time you hit the keyboard in search of an apt word or phrase, put yourself in the reader’s shoes and ask, “Can I substitute a shorter, simpler word for the big one I just used?”

You could say, “Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrous projectiles.”

But it’s far better to say, “People who throw stones shouldn’t live in glass houses.”

Use plain language. Your reader will love you for it!

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4 tips to whip writer’s block

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Anybody who puts pen to paper suffers from it. It is frustrating and humbling. And it can halt a writing project dead in its tracks.

But writer’s block need not be a fatal disease. Don’t panic. It’s your brain freezing up. Using a few “thawing” techniques, in no time you’ll be happily back at the keyboard again composing your letter, speech, article or book.

Four tips:

1. Take a well-deserved breather. Go for a walk. Listen to soothing music (Mozart works for me). Check your Facebook page. Watch an episode of “I Love Lucy” on cable, or a scene from your favorite Marx Brothers movie; comedy is good for brain-thawing!

2. Venture into the quietest space in your office with a small note pad or tape recorder. Or visit a nearby park where Mother Nature will serve as your muse. Chances are, your writing project can be jump-started with a new outline. Jot down the key words or messages of your piece, and then move them around where they’ll fit snugly.

3. Writer’s block may pop up because we’re overwhelmed with the enormity of the project. Break up the project into bite-sized chunks. You could set deadlines to complete 200 words the first hour, 300 the next hour, etc. That will keep it flowing.

4. Switch off the lights and head home for the day. Leave the disarray behind, if only for overnight. Even when it’s out of sight, your writing project is not out of mind. Your brain will be turning over a new phrase, thinking of a new angle or rewriting the lead or ending. Have that notebook or tape recorder handy. Then tackle the piece, red pencil in hand, with a fresh cup of coffee the next morning.

Feel better now? Let’s get back to writing again, with renewed energy and fresh purpose. Works every time!

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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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