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  Writing for Business and Pleasure

  Copyright 2014 by
Stephen Wilbers

Column of the Month



This column features one example of what you should do, and one example of what you should not do. Under any circumstances.


First published August 29, 2005

Writing skills determine success, failure

By Stephen Wilbers

In this column I feature a winner and a loser. The winner is Brian, who wrote to thank me for some advice I offered to sales people:

"You advised that ending a letter to a customer or future customer with the phrase, ‘If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me,’ does not show action, and you suggested that we end with a phrase like, ‘I will follow up with you in two weeks, but in the meantime feel free to call me with any questions.’

"Since reading your article, I have applied your advice to my letters. My call-backs have doubled! When I do follow up with the customers in two weeks, customers have replied, ‘Brian, I was expecting your call.’

"Keep up the good work. With all the success I am enjoying, I will invite you to my yacht some day. Thank you."

Imagine that. Something I recommended has made a difference in someone’s life. The thought makes me feel good. Not to mention my fondness for yachts.

Well, here’s the other side of the story.

The loser is Beverly, who was the recipient of the following example of egregious writing. The loser is also anyone who receives and tries to make sense of something so poorly written. The subject of the message has to do with changes in a cell phone plan:

"The monthly recurring charge will increase from $10 to $15 and the per minute rate will increase from $0.07 to $0.09 for calls beyond the 300 minute block."

It gets worse:

"This plan will also no longer be offered, however, until this plan is discontinued entirely, you may keep your plan unless you move or change service, which will require you to choose another long distance plan."

To quote Beverly: "Huh?"

I’ll say. How can so much pain and suffering be inflicted on the hapless reader in so few words? Is this jumble of syntax and disjointed thinking the result of poor education, carelessness, an inability to think clearly – or all three? And what kind of company would let something so poorly written go out to a customer without an editor along the line saying, "Whoa, hold on now. You can’t send that"?

Let’s set aside for now the comma splice before the word however. (A comma splice is two complete sentences spliced together ungrammatically with a comma rather than separated by a period or some other closing punctuation mark.)

Consider the non sequitur, "This plan also will no longer be offered," just after the explanation of the plan’s price increases, and then the perplexing reference to the plan not being "discontinued entirely," at least for now, so we may keep this partially discontinued plan unless we "move or change service," in which case we’ll have to choose another plan after all.

Oh, my. Remember Major Major in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22? You’re not allowed to see the major when he’s in his office. Only when he’s out.


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