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Results 1 to 10 of 171 (page 1 of 18)

5 tips to improve your email writing skills

An English blog post containing a list of five steps for writing effective emails.We’ve all been there. You click open an email, and there’s a long block of text that stretches beyond where you can see. Your first reaction is to close the window and flag the email for later. Much later. Email can be a useful communication tool, but not everyone uses it well. Below are 5 steps to follow in order to draft an email that readers will open, read and understand. 1. Maintain your credibility Present yourself as the trusted professional you are.   Be polite: say please and thank you as appropriate Keep a professional tone: avoid slang, exclamation marks, and smiley faces Use a suitable greeting and opening, but avoid insincere small talk Include a suitable sign-off that fits the tone of the email Keep your email signature simple and short: limit images and avoid cursive fonts Don’t use too many high importance flags 2. Present your email thoughtfully Give the right amount of information in the right way so that your reader is able to read your message easily, and wants to. Place your key message and call to action near the top so it’s the first thing your reader sees Organize the rest of the information from most to least important Limit the number of issues covered in the email to increase the chance of a response  Write briefly and stick to the point: try to keep to 150 words or less Use short, everyday words instead of jargon and difficult words Avoid acronyms and terms your reader won’t understand Keep sentences short 3. Help your reader scan We don’t read content onscreen word for word. In fact, most of us scan a web page in an F-shaped pattern. Use layout and formatting to guide your reader through the email and to your key points. Put your key message and call to action at the top For a longer email with a lot of details, use headings Write in easy-to-read chunks: use short paragraphs and lists with bullets or numbers Don’t use too much bold; if you emphasize too many words, you end up emphasizing nothing Avoid all caps, huge fonts and random colours; these slow the reader down 4. Write your subject line last Your subject line could determine whether your reader opens your email. Make it count. Write the subject line after drafting your message Use action verbs so the reader knows what you want done Be specific and descriptive so the reader knows right away what the message is about Appeal to the reader’s needs: ask yourself what will make the reader care about your email Avoid starting a sentence in the subject line and finishing it in the body Keep your subject line under 50 characters or 6 to 8 words, so the whole line will show in the inbox preview Keep in mind that some smartphones show only 33 to 44 characters for the subject line 5. Review and revise Imagine that everyone in the company will read your message. Emails are quick to create, but leave a lasting impression. Review your work now to save time and get results later. Use the spell-check feature to reduce errors Read the message backwards to check for errors that a spell-checker won’t catch, like homonyms and usage errors Check that your key message is perfectly clear, without typos, wordy phrases, or anything that can be misunderstood Check that all names and titles are correct Make sure you have attached any important files or included any necessary links Do you have a useful tip for effective email writing not included here? Please share it in the comments.
Source: Our Languages blog (posts from our contributors)
Number of views: 213,248

in regard to, with regard to, as regards

A writing tip on when to put a final s on the word regard in the expressions in regard to, with regard to and as regards.
Write the noun regard in the singular in the phrases in regard to and with regard to. The store has called in regard to (not in regards to) the missing hot tub. With regard to (not with regards to) my recent accident in the hot tub, I have completely recovered. The final s is correct only in the phrase as regards, where regards is a verb. As regards the hot tub, I’m making a planter out of it! Note: In regard to, with regard to and as regards are wordy phrases. Instead, to communicate clearly and effectively, use about, as for, concerning or regarding, or rewrite the sentence. The store has called about (or concerning or regarding) the missing hot tub. I have completely recovered from my recent accident in the hot tub. As for the hot tub, I’m making a planter out of it! OR I’m making a planter out of the hot tub!
Source: Writing Tips Plus (English language problems and rules)
Number of views: 42,446

Improve your writing: Say it with a verb!

An English quiz in which the user must identify the verb hidden within a noun in each sentenceDid you know that nouns in a sentence can sometimes contain hidden verbs? For example, in the sentence "I have an objection," the verb to object is hiding within the noun objection. To make your writing clear and effective, avoid hidden verbs. So instead of "I have an objection," get straight to the point with "I object!"In each of the sentences below, there's a verb hidden within a noun. See if you can identify the noun that could be turned into its verb form to create a clear and effective sentence.1. The cook provided an indication that the meal was ready to be served.cookindicationmeal2. Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers took the decision to work together.Keepersdecisionwork3. In school, Mandana displayed a tendency to daydream.daydreamschooltendency4. Twins Patrick and Sammy were in agreement about celebrating their birthday with a day trip to Montréal.agreementbirthdaytrip5. My naturopath has advised that I practise abstinence from all sources of caffeine.abstinencecaffeinesources6. Well-meaning friends launched a bombardment of questions at Finley about her experience.bombardmentexperiencequestions7. Our intention is to continue helping vulnerable populations.helpingintentionpopulations8. The Clerk of the Privy Council made the announcement that she would be retiring after a fulfilling career in the public service.announcementcareerservice9. The investigators conducted an examination of the evidence.investigatorsexaminationevidence10. The store placed a limit on the number of packages customers could buy.storelimitpackages  
Source: Quizzes on the Language Portal of Canada
Number of views: 9,010

Readability formulas, programs and tools: Do they work for plain language?

An English blog post about research on readability formulas, programs and tools and whether they work for plain language.You want to make your documents easy to understand. You want people to follow instructions, make decisions or send information to you. So you want to use plain language. You’ve possibly been told about reading levels or grade levels. And you’ve probably been encouraged to use a readability formula (such as the one in Word) to get your text down to a certain grade level. Sometimes running a document through a readability tool is all people do to flag plain language issues. Plain language experts say these tools are actually not useful. And they could even undermine all the other proven techniques you can use. Wait! What? Is this new? The idea that readability formulas are problematic goes back a long way. As early as the 1980s, people were researching it and talking about it. “By the mid-1980s, there was a widespread sense that plain-language advocates had shifted priorities from readability to usability.” “Research tells us that most readability formulas are outdated methods for assessing text quality.” – Dr. Karen Schriver Readability formulas are ineffective and counterproductive Dr. Schriver described some research on this from Richard Kern, which was published in 1980 (so experts have known about this for a long time). Kern’s research highlighted important problems with readability scores: (1) Readability formulas cannot match material to readers at targeted grade levels. (2) Rewriting to lower the reading-grade level score does not increase comprehension. (3) Requiring that text be written to satisfy a targeted reading-grade level focuses attention on meeting the score requirement rather than on organizing the material to meet the reader’s information needs. Dr. Schriver also described how people learn to write simply to get a better score. But this does not increase reader comprehension. Readability formulas don’t measure the right things “Most of what makes a document usable is not included in readability formulas.” – Dr. Ginny Redish Dr. Redish describes why the formulas don’t measure the right things. They were not created for technical documents. They assume that short words are always the better words. They don’t work with many documented features of plain language. Let’s look at the last two in that list because they are easy to follow. Readability formulas assume that short words are always the better words Plain language requires you to write for your audience’s needs. So what qualifies as plain writing depends on who the audience is. The goal is to pick words that are familiar to the reader, not to use short words all the time. Sometimes short words are harder to understand because they are abstract (ennui, writ) or carry a lot of historical meaning (fez, nadir). But a formula will score them as easy words. “The grade level score from a readability formula is based on the average length of the words and sentences. Though the formulas vary, they generally assume that longer words are harder words and longer sentences are harder sentences. They can’t tell you whether the words you are using are familiar to your readers or whether the sentences you have written are clear and cohesive.” – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US Department of Health and Human Services Readability formulas don’t work with many documented features of plain language Bulleted lists are known to be very helpful to readers (if used to properly chunk information), but readability formulas score such text as harder to read. “Readability formulas assume that you are writing prose paragraphs. They count sentence length by going from period to period. If you use bulleted lists to chunk your material and lay your text out with white space, readability formulas will say you have long sentences. Yet, usability studies have consistently shown the value of lists and white space as aids to locating and understanding information.” – Dr. Redish You can see a demonstration of this point with an example in one of Dr. Redish’s publications. Dr. Redish also notes these critical techniques that readability formulas do not measure: determining the right content for readers organizing the material for readers using meaningful headings and other tools to guide readers In her paper (written with Caroline Jarrett), she explains why improving readability scores doesn’t usually correlate with improving comprehension. In fact, she gives a specific example where the version with a readability score that indicated it was easier to understand was actually less understandable to the people who needed to read the document. The ISO plain language standard excludes such formulas An international working group made up of experts from 25 countries wrote the ISO plain language standard (published in June 2023). Between them, these experts speak 19 languages and work in a wide range of roles and organizations. Many of these experts have been doing research on plain language for decades. This group of experts all agreed with this wording in the standard: “Plain language ensures readers can find what they need, understand it, and use it. Thus, plain language focuses on how successfully readers can use the document rather than on mechanical measures such as readability formulas.” And there is no mention of readability formulas in the standard besides that explicit exclusion of them. What’s in the standard? “Plain language” is defined as follows in the standard: Communication in which wording, structure and design are so clear that intended readers can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information. The four principles in the standard give details on what methods can be used to write a plain language document: Readers get what they need (relevant) Readers can easily find what they need (findable) Readers can easily understand what they find (understandable) Readers can easily use the information (usable) Where does this leave us on using readability formulas for plain language? We can see then that since the early 1980s researchers have agreed that readability formulas focus only on a very small part of what makes a communication plain. It’s also clear that the international experts who worked on the ISO standard for plain language decided not to support using readability formulas for assessing the clarity of texts for audiences around the world. You should reconsider your use of the formulas and instead evaluate text quality by testing your communications with intended readers. View sources Note that Dr. Redish and Dr. Schriver endorse this summary of their research (personal communication to Gael Spivak). And Dr. Schriver contributed the closing paragraph. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, United States Department of Health and Human Services. “Tip 6. Use Caution With Readability Formulas for Quality Reports.” ISO standard 24495-1 Plain language — Part 1: Governing principles and guidelines, quoted with permission from Committee Manager: Mr. Changqing Zhou of ISO Technical Committee 37: Language and terminology. Jarrett, Caroline, and Ginny Redish. “Readability Formulas: 7 Reasons to Avoid Them and What to Do Instead.” UXmatters, July 29, 2019. Redish, Ginny. “Readability formulas have even more limitations than Klare discusses.” (PDF) ACM Journal of Computer Documentation 24(3), August 2000, 132–137. Schriver, Karen. "Evaluating Text Quality: The Continuum from Text-Focused to Reader-Focused Methods." (PDF) IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 32(4), (1989): 238–55. Schriver, Karen. “Readability Formulas in the New Millennium: What’s the Use?” (PDF) ACM Journal of Computer Documentation, 24(3), August 2000, 138–140. Schriver, Karen. “Plain Language in the US Gains Momentum: 1940 – 2015.” (PDF) IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 60(4), 2017, 343–383.
Source: Our Languages blog (posts from our contributors)
Number of views: 8,483

active voice, passive voice, voice

A writing tip explaining the meaning and use of active and passive voice.
Sentences written in active voice are usually clearer and more effective than sentences written in passive voice. However, that doesn’t mean we should always avoid passive voice. Active vs. passive voice In active voice, the subject is the doer of the action expressed in the verb: Maneesha ate the apple. [Maneesha did the eating.] The theatre company will perform a Shakespearean play next week. [The company will do the performing.] In passive voice, the subject is the receiver of the action expressed in the verb: The apple was eaten by Maneesha. [The apple didn’t do the eating; it received the action.] A Shakespearean play will be performed next week. [The play won’t do the performing; it will receive the action.] In these last two examples, the action is done by a person (or group of people) and carried over onto the apple and the play. Thus, the subjects “apple” and “play” are the receivers of the action. In these sentences, the doer of the action is either named in a phrase after the verb (“by Maneesha”) or is left unnamed. Advantages of active voice Active voice is more concise: an active voice sentence is always shorter than the same sentence in passive voice. Active voice is clearer and more direct, because it puts the doer of the action first and follows a logical order: DOER of action + ACTION + RECEIVER of action (if any) And of course, active voice is active—so it makes our writing more dynamic and energetic. For these reasons, it is usually better to write in active voice—and to rewrite any passive voice sentences to make them active. Uses of passive voice Although active voice is usually better, passive voice makes good sense in the following situations: when the doer of the action is unknown The lights were left on. [You don’t know who left them on.] when the doer of the action is less important than the receiver The package was delivered this morning. [It doesn’t matter who brought it.] when you want to avoid naming the doer of the action I was given the wrong directions. [You don’t want to lay blame.] Inclusive writing The last use of the passive listed above (as a way to avoid naming the doer of an action) can be a useful technique to make your writing gender-inclusive. When the person doing an action is represented by a gendered pronoun (“he,” “she,” and “he or she,” or any of their forms), you can often eliminate the pronoun by making your sentence passive: Active, gendered sentence Passive, inclusive sentence If a member cannot attend the meeting, he or she must submit a vote by proxy. A vote must be submitted by proxy if a member cannot attend the meeting. Each employee must pick up his or her identification badge in person. Identification badges must be picked up by each employee in person.
Source: Writing Tips Plus (English language problems and rules)
Number of views: 7,580

in the amount of, in the sum of

A writing tip on avoiding the wordy expressions in the amount of and in the sum of.
To write plainly and concisely, use for or of instead of the roundabout phrases in the amount of or in the sum of. Mr. Smith gave me a cheque for (not in the amount of) $35,000. The applicants asked the court to award costs of (not in the sum of) $10,000
Source: Writing Tips Plus (English language problems and rules)
Number of views: 6,562

Plainly said

A quiz on plain language vocabularyHave you ever read a text and wondered "Why doesn't the writer just say what they mean?" That’s where plain language comes in! When you want to communicate a specific message to your audience, it’s important to use clear, simple language.See if you can pick out a simpler word to use in the sentences below.Need a few tips before getting started? Check out our Writing Tips Plus article “clear communication: use clear words and expressions.”1. In Canada, it’s customary to tip your server when dining out.importantunconventionalusual2. The company will terminate his contract.downsizeendlay off3. It’s important to economize now for a future down payment on a house.paysavespend4. The editor found an egregious error in the manuscript.glaringsmalloutstanding5. Five countries will accede to the proposal.agree toappoint todisagree with6. The CRTC will increase its operating budget to cover the aforementioned expenses.aboveincludedattached7. Arlene chided Ernie for taking a long time to finish his homework.praisedscoldedcomforted8. They were able to consolidate the information from the files.spread outseparateput together9. Tom subsequently held a number of positions in the federal government.beforelatercurrently10. The office is using online courses to facilitate employee training. help withdelaysave on  
Source: Quizzes on the Language Portal of Canada
Number of views: 6,475

according to our records

A writing tip on alternatives to the wordy expression according to our records.
To write concisely, avoid the wordy expression according to our records. Instead, reword the sentence and make records the subject. Wordy: According to our records, the bill went out on March 25. Concise: Our records show the bill went out on March 25.
Source: Writing Tips Plus (English language problems and rules)
Number of views: 4,641

owing to the fact that

A writing tip on avoiding the wordy expression owing to the fact that.
Choose because or since instead of the wordy expression owing to the fact that. I missed the bus because (not owing to the fact that) I got up late. Since (not Owing to the fact that) her parents were very wealthy, Deirdre had far too many toys.
Source: Writing Tips Plus (English language problems and rules)
Number of views: 4,430

Plainly said: Keeping it simple

A quiz on replacing government jargon with plainer languageTechnical terms, specialized language and in-house jargon can make your writing difficult to understand. By using everyday words, you will help readers understand your message. For example, choose pay over remuneration, or change instead of fluctuate. In the sentences below, replace the word in square brackets with the correct plain language equivalent.1. The Government of Canada [allocated] more than $2.5 million to expand the energy-efficient centre.set asidesavedinvested2. The government agency was [vested] with certain powers.refusedstripped ofgiven3. The CEO's responsibilities have [evolved] over time.changedmultiplieddecreased4. The Board wants to help the public understand its members' [expenditures].rolesspendingskills5. The Agency is warning people with peanut allergies not to [ingest] ABC Saltwater Taffy.buyselleat6. Do you [attest] that you have understood the conditions on this form?confirmagreethink7. The Internet [facilitates] registration for licences.increasescomplicatessimplifies8. The committee reached a [consensus].an agreementa decisionan impasse  
Source: Quizzes on the Language Portal of Canada
Number of views: 3,455