Talking Chairs
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What are your writing eccentricities?

Writers can be an eccentric bunch. Edith Wharton wrote by cutting and pasting scraps of paper together. Sir Walter Scott wrote most of Marmion while riding a horse. Edgar Allen Poe often wrote with his cat in his lap or perched on his right shoulder. When Victor Hugo was feeling distracted, he would write naked to be totally alone with his pen and paper. Throughout my career in corporate communications, I have cultivated many writing eccentricities. Now that I’m thinking about it, I have more eccentricities than I care to count. But the one I’ll admit to involves phone...
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The importance of starting with the R...

Good communicators know the importance of “starting with the why.” Whether you’re telling customers about a price increase, employees about changes in company policy, or encouraging people to get a flu shot, leading with the “why” helps everyone understand the purpose of your message right up front. Here’s an example: Because we are uncertain of the health risks associated with the use of electronic cigarettes, these devices have been banned at all facilities.  The usefulness of this technique was recently made clear to me by my 11-year-old son, in...
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11 of your favorite made-up words

A few weeks ago, I shared some of my favorite made-up words, among them: “stample,” “jobfuscate,” and “hygienevangelist.” I also asked PR Daily readers to offer their favorite coinages — which they did, along with their own definitions in some cases. Here’s what you came up with, though it seems not all of them are favorites. Use them wisely (if you dare): 1. Conversate— a combination of conversation and communicate (just in case someone’s forgotten the verb converse). Example: “Maybe we should try to conversate with Bob instead of sending an...
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5 things you can learn from a poorly des...

My son has just started middle school, and along with becoming oriented to an unfamiliar school environment, he now has “homework like never before,” and it is not just the amount of homework. His teachers no longer send home printed homework sheets. Students are expected to visit the teachers’ individual websites to download assignments, study guides, and watch lectures. And while going online is not normally a problem for technophile middle schoolers, it becomes a problem when the websites are poorly designed. Visitors come to a website to satisfy goals, to perform...
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15 made-up words

Sometimes I like to take a break from being a wordsmith of cryptic corporate speak and read about words and language. Recently, I’ve been reading about made-up words, why they were created, and how they eventually make it into the dictionary. Though I’ll never be able to use any of these words at work, here are some of my favorite fictional words: 1. Adminisphere – The level of management where far-reaching, unworkable, and counterproductive decisions are made. The decision to move from Macs to PCs was made in the adminisphere. 2. Bellignorant – The state of...
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Are you burying the lede?

When I was in journalism school we called it “burying the lede.” That is, the failure to mention the most important, interesting,or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph. In corporate communications, “burying the lede” refers to the failure to mention the most important or actionable items at the beginning of your message. To use a recent example, let’s say you are writing an email to all employees explaining your company’s flu vaccination policy. The policy states that all employees must receive a flu shot or file a declination form or...
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Quiz: Can you identify these first lines...

Most experienced, professional writers, have agonized over opening sentences. After all, opening lines set the tone, establish style, and are often the deciding factor in your reader’s decision to keep reading. No pressure. When I find myself struggling with a writing project, I read fiction to find inspiration. And recently, I’ve found inspiration in reading famous opening lines from the great works of literature. In the spirit of finding that creative spark and broadening our knowledge, I offer the following list of the famous first lines. Can you match these with...
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27 tricky homophones

Last weekend, I was browsing in the Cajun food section at the grocery store. Near the shelf with all the mixes was a handwritten sign that said, “You’ll roux the day you don’t use our instant roux mix.” I love clever wordplay, especially when it’s found in unexpected places. This sign was a play on two homophones. Roux is a mixture of flour and fat that is used to make sauces. Rue means to feel regret or remorse. Homophones are words that are pronounced the same, but have different meanings and are spelled differently. The English language is littered with...