Sleepy Readers

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A recent article on the HBR’s blog was very interesting. Bad writing not only confuses and fails to achieve its goals, it’s downright boring!

Dull presentations, insipid reports and blah websites make zero impact on the readers, wasting writers’ and business’ time and money. Bryan Garner‘s article offers several great strategies that keep you from putting others to sleep and I’d like to add a few more:

Vary Verbs: Often, you’ll need to repeat the same nouns again and again (for instance, when discussing a project title). You can, however, use a variety of verbs to add interest to your writing.

Highlight what’s Not Obvious: You want to make everything crystal clear to your readers, but not so simple that it seems obvious. This makes readers think that they already know everything and, then, tune out quickly. Showcase the interesting and complicated issues instead of boiling them down too much.

Highlight what’s Unclear: Don’t shy away from challenging topics. Take them on. Discuss pressing questions, concerns and opportunities for changes.

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4 Ways to Avoid Confusion with Commas

The punctuation mark comma

Image via Wikipedia

As punctuation devices go, commas are often the most useful. They separate the structural elements of a sentence into more manageable segments of information, preventing confusion. The rules surrounding comma use, however, can be vague and flexible. Unlike semicolons, for example, there are few hard-and-fast rules.

Most writers, including business writers, don’t use commas enough to make their writing easier to understand. Here are a few strategies to help make your writing perfectly clear:

Use a comma to:

1. Address someone directly:

Wrong: Thank you Sheila! or Will you commit James?

Right: Thank you, Sheila! or Will you commit, James?

2. Separate a sentence’s introductory clause:

Wrong: Yes I received the report.

Right: Yes, I received the report.

3. Separate a sentence’s contrasting elements:

Wrong: My role includes these responsibilities not yours.

Right: My role includes these responsibilities, not yours.

4. Separate two distinct clauses: 

Wrong: Our department chose to support the Boys and Girls Club of America and Human Resources chose the Humane Society.

Right: Our department chose to support the Boys and Girls Club of America, and Human Resources chose the Humane Society.

Without the use of a comma, these sentence’s meanings are generally understood. However, with a comma, they are crystal clear and avoid any confusion.