Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So That's What I Said.

The goal of this blog has always been to look at those things that lie at the intersection of grammar and communication. Usually, I'm not too interested in the theoretical; practical situations are where it’s at for me, and I write about those things that impact our daily lives. I get my ideas from personal interactions, meetings, events, media, and readers.

Today, I want to offer two of my top-ten statements that people make—but don’t actually mean—when communicating. That is, we make these statements even though they may not precisely mean what we want to communicate. Some of these utterances derive from firmly-established idioms that have been modified by usage over the years.

There are many reasons why we use phrases that do not accurately mean what we’re trying to say; two reasons top my list.

First, it’s a habit. We all have habits and tend to repeat those things that we have internalized. So if we’ve been saying something for twenty years, by gosh, we will continue to say it.

Second, if others say it that way, then we tend to say the same thing. If an authority figure—like a public official, a guest on a television show, or someone close to you—says something in a particular way, then you have a key reason to keep on saying that very same thing.

Here are two examples for today.

1. I could care less.

As in: “I could care less about the new Star Wars sequel.”

This is a correct sentence, but it is not used correctly in most cases. Usually when people say something similar to this, they mean “I couldn’t care less.”

There is a big difference between the two. If you “could” care less, that means exactly that—there are situations, in addition to the one you’re talking about right now, where you could care less because right now, you have some care left to give. Most likely, the speaker means that they are so ambivalent about the current situation that they “couldn’t” care less.

Now that we’re warmed up, here is number two.

2. Literally

John: “I literally was about to puke” (pardon the graphic example) or “I literally have a thousand things to do today.”

Let’s assume that John wasn’t really about to puke and that he only had fifty things to do today. The word “literally” means “actually, exactly, or unquestionably”; so this means that John is stretching the truth or exaggerating. I get that, and this is the main point I’m trying to make.

My idea is that if you’re trying to be exact and precise while communicating, what’s the point in sending an exact-opposite message of exaggeration? One suggestion is simple: don’t use “literally” when communicating; that’s right—just leave it out. And don’t even think that substituting its antonym (“figuratively”) is the next best thing to do. In most cases, doing so would sound awkward or clumsy. Just tighten up your sentence and leave it out.

On the other hand, language has evolved, and we have a second route that’s been around over two hundred years. There’s an argument out there in Language Land that the use of “literally” as we have just mentioned is permitted. This would be because no one really believes, for example, that John was about to puke or had a thousand things to do during the day.

Accordingly, you’ll find some stellar authorities advancing the notion that because certain statements are so unbelievable and absurd, that it is acceptable to use the word “literally” if it’s meant to be hyperbole.

How about that? My conclusion is that it’s perfectly fine to use or not use “literally” as just discussed. My first go-to solution would be to leave out the word if including it doesn’t advance the core idea that you’re trying to communicate; don’t say it just because you can. But at the same time, if you want to make a bold statement, exaggerate, or get your point across to someone in a big way, it's ok to use it.

Thanks for your time, and please contact me if you have questions or comments.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Copy Editing

Congratulations to Julie, who was randomly selected to receive a complimentary copy edit from me. She sent me a great idea for an upcoming blog post; I will have another promotion later this year.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA     

Friday, June 30, 2017

Your Ideas

Periodically, I ask readers about topics that are of interest to them. If you have a question or comment about something that is related to communication and has grammar overtones, please email me at Your ideas are important to me; and if you’re interested in it, then I am as well.

Using the context of practical grammar and exceptional personal communication practices, I write about those things that impact our daily lives.

Thank you for your suggestions, and I will see you next time.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday in the United States, the following is a reposting of last year's thoughts on the holiday.

One of the themes in my blog is the importance of looking out for the details whenever we communicate. That is, be aware of the nitty gritty details as well as the huge obvious ones that present themselves every day of our lives. If you check out my previous posts, you might think that I am obsessed with all things related to grammar and communication.

I respectfully decline that characterization; instead, I tend to think of myself as extremely interested in these areas, and as a result, I am focused, particular, meticulous, and exacting when dealing with grammar and communication. At the same time, I derive a huge amount of satisfaction from passing along information that could be useful to others. As I have said a few times in nuanced ways, I don’t know everything about grammar and communication, but I know enough to bring some useful ideas and successful tactics to you and others.

Today, I will make some key and relevant observations, and I hope that you will stay with me to the end. I will use Memorial Day as an example to reinforce some ideas and principles I have made in previous posts about grammar and communication.

Everyone loves holidays because you get to do neat things, such as going to the beach, taking a short trip, relaxing from work, or visiting relatives. During the upcoming Monday, those of us in the United States will celebrate Memorial Day. Take a moment and think about Memorial Day, and without using Google, ask yourself what is the purpose or meaning of Memorial Day?

Here are some possibilities:

- To honor those individuals who have served in peacetime or in war

- To honor those who have served our nation overseas in a civilian or military capacity     

- To honor any of our relatives who have died

Like the meaning of words as they change over the years, there are several interpretations of Memorial Day depending upon whom you ask. And like the changes in grammar and communication practices, different interpretations are ok and to be expected. There is no need to judge and no need to malign others who have a different opinion.

I need to point out some details and facts. First, if you read about Memorial Day, you’ll see that its origin dates back many decades, and the holiday has a vibrant history. Second, according to, Memorial Day “honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.” Several other government and commercial websites offer a similar definition without distinguishing between wartime and peacetime service. Third, the holiday has unofficially evolved into one where in many towns and cities across America, all veterans—living or dead; wartime service or not—are honored.

How about that for adaptation? We have an official government-sanctioned federal holiday that honors those who died while they were serving in the military. As a veteran, the meaning of the holiday is clear to me. Yet still, there is ample evidence showing that while most Americans stay true to the original purpose and meaning of the holiday, other Americans supplement the original intent by honoring all veterans, alive or not.

This occurs even though we have a venerated holiday in November dedicated to all men and women who have served in the military: Veterans Day. In fact, there are many purists (veterans and others) who will gently correct a person who mistakenly confuses the two holidays. Most veterans will probably just be grateful that people are putting some thought into the situation by recognizing that veterans and those still serving have done or are doing some selfless, dangerous, and courageous work.

After spending some time thinking of and writing about one of the most sacred holidays in our country, I have some conclusions and suggestions.

• Like grammar, the definition and meaning of anything can change over time.

• If the meaning of something—like a word, phrase, or holiday—changes over time, accept it as natural and inevitable and don’t distress too much over it. These things happen, so try to adjust. But if you can’t adjust, that’s ok too.

• Details matter. If you have read my blog in the past, you already know many of my thoughts about the details and particulars of grammar and communication; I try to alert you to the key points and meanings that matter. With regard to today’s thoughts about the meaning of Memorial Day, those details matter as well—but in a much more exalted and special way.

Thank you for your time today as we enter into the Memorial Day weekend. I send special thanks and appreciation to the men and women who have died serving our country while in the military.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Which is Better—Speed or Accuracy?

The following scenario occurs regularly for many of us.

A deadline to respond in writing or verbally is looming—choose this or do that within the next hour, day, or week—yet we are petrified and unable to move forward for fear of making the wrong decision or for want of more information. We want to decide, but we need more time to verify the facts and gather information.
The opposite may be true. It could be that we aren’t afraid to act; instead, we are deciding too quickly because we want to act fast or we are ignoring the details.
The example poses two pertinent questions. Should we trust ourselves, move quickly, and go with our instincts by acting as soon as possible? Or, do we wait to get all the facts and other information before acting?

This three-part series will look at doing things quickly vs. doing them accurately in a communication-related scenario. Inherently, the major issue for discussion is not simply how to communicate; instead, it is one of how to effectively make communication-related decisions when given the constraints of time and accuracy.
Three core skills are involved when facing a speed-accuracy situation: priorities management, problem solving, and decision making. All three are interrelated, and if you become good at them, everyday life and its challenges at work and home will become easier. Indeed, anyone could benefit by learning more about these skills.

However, this three-part series is not intended to teach you any of these skills or show you all the details of how to make a better communication decision; there is not enough time to do this properly via a blog. I have discussed some of these skills in previous blog posts, and training and personal development resources are easily available to you from many sources.

The goal of this series is to create awareness in a broad but simple way about the specific issues of speed and accuracy. Accordingly, I will explore the consequences and tradeoffs involved when you’re trying to be quick without accuracy or accurate without speed.

In part two, I will look at why all of this is important.

Thanks for your time, and I'll see you next time.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 

Friday, March 31, 2017

He, She, or They—What do you say?

In previous posts, I’ve said that in language and communication, changes will happen. The change may be slow, circuitous, or controversial; but changes will occur.

Last week at the annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference, an editor from the widely-used AP Stylebook made a stunning yet long-expected announcement that signals a major change in one area of language usage. The AP Stylebook is used by copy editors, journalists, and businesses in the United States and other countries, and it’s heavily relied upon as a top grammar style and usage guide for the correct use of the English language. It’s not the only style guide, but it’s in the top three.

This change will not greatly affect your everyday life, but you’ll probably begin to notice its increased use over the upcoming months—even though the usage has been occurring for a while. Since the change is directly related to daily communication in speaking and writing, I thought it would be helpful to give you an update; it pertains to these words: they, them, their.

As reported March 24, 2017 by ACES at, the AP Stylebook is now allowing “use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun or gender-neutral pronoun.” The stylebook’s lead editor, Paula Froke, said that usually, everyone can “write around” (that is, avoid using) this new rule, presumably by using the traditional “he” or “she” when referring to someone.

Now before we get all worked up over the change, I will give you the editor’s rationale:

“But we offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses ‘they’ as singular and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she.”
The new rule in the stylebook to which Ms. Froke referred is this:

“They, them, their. In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular ‘they’ is unfamiliar to many readers.”
So in this announcement, many questions were raised and answered (for the moment) by the stylebook’s representatives. To make all of this clear, I continue quoting directly from the ACES website article, and I’ve bolded some key points that are interesting. My impression is that the AP Stylebook does not prefer or endorse this usage; they are simply accepting it and allowing it if necessary for clarity.

Froke said clarity is key when using ‘they’ as a genderless pronoun.

“We specify that you need to make clear in the context that the ‘they’ in question is just one person,” Froke said. “We don’t, among our own staff, want to open a floodgate. But we recognize a need for it, so we want to open it a bit.

“The whole issue is difficult. We worked very hard to come up with a solution that makes sense.

“Clarity is the top priority. Our concern was the readers out there. Many don’t understand that ‘they’ can be used for a singular person.”

But Froke also acknowledged that in speech, ‘they’ is often used as singular.

“I write it naturally sometimes, too, and then have to go back and change it,” she said.

The style entry notes that when “they” is singular it takes a plural verb.

Colleen Newvine, product manager for the AP Stylebook, said people don’t have to use ‘they’ as singular but “if you find it best, it’s allowed.”

“Some people will be furious; others won’t think we’ve gone far enough,” Newvine said.

So what does this mean for us in our everyday communication with others? As the ACES article implies, continue using “he” and “she” when you’re certain that he is a he and she is a she. When there is doubt or if you don’t want to identify if the person is a he or a she, consider using the words they, them, or their. Clarity is our top goal.

Here are five typical examples where the new rule could be used.
1. I spoke to someone yesterday, and they told me to do it.

2. When in doubt, call up a company representative and ask them how it’s supposed to work.

3. I met an interesting person today, and their ideas on the issue were outstanding.

4. Someone just emailed me, and they gave me the information I needed.

5. I spoke to the manager yesterday, and they said they were going to do it.

Thank you for your time this month, I appreciate it, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oops—The First Three Things To Do When You've Goofed

Oh well, it will happen many times to all people and organizations. I am referring to when we make mistakes that are communication related. It is well known that no person or entity is perfect, and when it comes to communication, I have said multiple times in this blog that we are all destined to err when we communicate. The key is to recognize it and learn from your mistake because there are a variety of things that can be done to lower the risk of a future communication-related error.
And just last night, many of us saw a colossal communication error unfold at the 89th Academy Awards, which was organized and presented by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; read about the esteemed Academy at

When looking at the list of global crises or humanitarian issues, the Oscar flub was not a big deal. To the winners and losers of the Best Picture category, it was a pretty big deal. To the renowned accounting organization managing the process that resulted in the wrong movie being erroneously announced as the winner, it was a really big deal. To understand more about this February 26, 2017 mistake-that-will-go-down-in-Hollywood-history, you can view plenty of online articles and videos. Possibly you could search for “La La Land and Moonlight flub,” or even better, try searching for “2017 Oscar Fail.” You’ll see videos containing several minutes of panic and brouhaha after La La Land was announced as the winner in the Best Picture category, when instead the award should have gone to Moonlight.

Ok. That’s out of the way. We know that a mistake was made, and we need to learn some lessons from it. What are the first three things we should do if we make a communication mistake?

1. Confirm that the error was made. You think you made a mistake, but did you really? Check and verify so that further steps to fix it do not add to the confusion. Did you mistakenly say something that was wrong, did you send an email to the wrong person, or did you write something that was clearly in error? At the Oscars last night, it took a few people who were in the know just a few seconds to realize that something had gone wrong—terribly wrong. A mistake was made.

2. Determine the best way to fix it and fix it quickly. Don’t prolong the pain, but instead move quickly and methodically. If you misstated the facts, state the correct facts. If the wrong information was sent, say so as quickly as possible and follow up with the correct particulars. If you view any of the Oscar videos from last night, you’ll notice that within seconds a nice and gracious guy (the producer of La La Land) told the cast of the true winning movie (Moonlight) that yes indeed, it is true: You Are The Winner. Yes, hearts were broken, people were disappointed, and others were confused and elated. But can you imagine if this error was corrected an hour later or even during the following day? Move quickly with a plan.

3. Accept responsibility and apologize. Everyone knows that we all make mistakes, and it is expected to happen to each of us. When it happens—and it will happen frequently—contact the person or people to whom you erred and admit that you made a mistake. Apologize. This step is usually done in combination with number two above.

Last night in the remaining minutes of the final Oscar presentation and afterwards as well, one can see the beginnings of acceptance of responsibility followed up by apologies. The presenters did the best they could, and they were helped in the background by the Oscar producers and the accounting organization’s on-the-ground officials who were entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the right envelopes were delivered at the right times. Several minutes of drama and confusion were followed by a quick cleanup operation that prevented a more disastrous situation from unfolding. Ultimately, between last night and today, the accounting organization humbly and profusely apologized for the unprecedented mistake and said it was their fault; it would investigate what happened and fix it.

Will people talk about last night for the remainder of the year? Oh no; I think it will be discussed well into the next century. But that’s ok because we all make mistakes, right? What’s important is that we learn from our slip-ups, improve, and make fewer errors as we move along on this journey called life.

Thanks for checking in with me for my first-ever post-Oscars commentary. I appreciate your time, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Monday, January 30, 2017

Communicating How Smart You Are To Others

Long ago, I figured out that if someone says something so clearly and that I’m trying to say the same thing or something similar, then I will share their remarks and give them the proper credit for the idea. As is the case this month, I saw a January 3rd article by Travis Bradberry, who is a contributing writer at After giving you my thoughts on his ideas, I will present his article in its entirety below; if you want to read it online, please go to the Forbes website and search his collection of articles.

Bradberry makes compelling points by listing some interesting ways to communicate with others using several different techniques; he also talks about emotional intelligence, which is an area that is central to his writings and business career. His main idea is if you do some or all of these things, you will appear to be smarter to others; that, in turn, will help you out in other ways. I don’t agree with everything he says below, though, I agree with most all of it.

In the end and in my opinion, this is all about how one communicates themselves to others, and for that reason I am interested in what he says. Plus, the author throws in some grammar pointers in three of his ideas, so that got my attention. Many of his suggestions may make you appear to be smarter, though I think the extended message is that by doing these ten things, you will appear to others as confident, approachable, and knowledgeable about what you’re doing. You are communicating.

There is, I suggest, the issue of superficiality and whether you are giving away your authenticity and true personality by doing these ten things. I believe that this is entirely possible, but it depends on you and how you use these ideas. I will acknowledge that there are some unanswered questions that the article creates, but I won't get into that today. For now, I simply want to share this useful article with you and let you make your own conclusions as to if the ideas can benefit you in your daily life.

“Ten Guaranteed Ways To Appear Smarter Than You Are”
Travis Bradberry

It’s great to be smart, but intelligence is a hard thing to pin down. In many cases, how smart people think you are is just as important as how smart you actually are.
As it turns out, intelligence only explains about 20% of how you do in life; much of the other 80% comes down to emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is a skill that’s so important that 90% of top performers in the workplace have high EQs and people with high EQs make $28,000 more annually than those with low EQs.

The hallmark of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, which involves not just knowing how you are but also how other people perceive you. People with high emotional intelligence are masters of influence—they’re skilled at altering their behavior to make the most of a given situation.

You might not be able to alter your genetics, but there are some proven strategies that can help you appear to be smarter. Some of these strategies seem arbitrary, but research shows they make a massive difference. That makes this good information to have, especially when you need to sway someone to your way of thinking.

10. Dress for success.
This one should be no surprise. Extensive research shows that how you dress affects how people see you. Dressing well makes you seem more intelligent, and showing skin makes you seem less intelligent, as it directs people’s attention to your body rather than to your mind. But did you know that how you dress also affects your performance? A recent study by Northwestern University found that making people wear lab coats improved their performance in tasks that required intelligence and concentration.

9. Keep pace with the crowd.
I mean this one literally. I know it may sound silly, but research conducted at Boston University shows that it’s true. It’s called the “timescale bias,” and it refers to our tendency to attribute greater intelligence—based on mental attributes like consciousness, awareness, and intention—to people who do things at about the same speed as everyone else. If you want to look smarter, you need to stop dawdling, but you also need to stop scurrying around like some crazed robot.

8. Wear nerd glasses.
Did your mom ever tell you to be nice to the nerds, because you’ll probably be working for them someday? As usual, mom was onto something. Research shows that people wearing glasses—especially thick, full-framed ones—are perceived as being more intelligent. So, if you want to seem smarter (when you’re giving a presentation, perhaps?), leave the contacts at home and wear your glasses.

7. Look ’em in the eye.
We know we’re supposed to do this anyway—it’s good manners, right? That’s true, but it also makes you look smarter. In a study conducted at Loyola University, participants who intentionally managed their eye contact scored significantly higher on perceived intelligence.

6. Speak expressively.
Communication expert Leonard Mlodinow makes the case that even if two people say exactly the same thing, the one who says it most expressively will be perceived as being smarter. “If two speakers utter exactly the same words, but one speaks a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume, that speaker will be judged to be more energetic, knowledgeable, and intelligent,” Mlodinow said. If you want to come across as more intelligent, modulate your speech by varying your pitch, volume, speed, and energy level.

5. Write simply.
If you’re really smart, you shouldn’t have to use big words to broadcast it. True intelligence speaks for itself, so you don’t have to show off your impressive vocabulary. In addition, you always run the chance of being wrong. Using a big word incorrectly makes you look, well, not so smart. So, if you want to appear more intelligent, stop studying the dictionary and just focus on communicating effectively.

4. Believe in yourself.
Nothing projects intelligence quite like confidence. When you believe in yourself, it shows, and research shows that believing in yourself improves your performance on cognitive tasks. Self-doubt, on the other hand, impairs your performance. What’s worse is that other people pick up on this doubt, which makes you appear less intelligent to them. If you want people to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself.

3. Make graphs.
Research conducted at Cornell suggests that people are more likely to trust a source if it contains graphs. In one of the Cornell studies, participants read a document on the effectiveness of a new cold medication. One report contained a graph; the other didn’t. Other than that, they were exactly the same. Still, 96% of the participants who read the report with a graph believed the claims, while only 67% percent of those who read the document without a graph thought the same. So, next time you create a document, stick in a graph. It doesn’t have to be complex; it just has to be accurate.

2. Use a middle initial.
John F. Kennedy. Franklin D. Roosevelt. It turns out there might be a reason that so many people who hold a prominent place in history used a middle initial. Not only does using a middle initial enhance your perceived social status, it also boosts expectations of intelligence capacity and performance. In one study, participants were asked to read and rate Einstein’s essay on the theory of relativity, with authorship being attributed to either David Clark, David F. Clark, David F. P. Clark, or David F. P. R. Clark. Not only did David F. Clark get higher ratings than David Clark, David F. P. R. Clark outdid them all. In another study, participants were asked to choose team members. For academic competitions, people who used middle initials were selected more frequently than those who didn’t. (It was quite a different story for athletic competitions.) So, if you want a quick perceived IQ boost, start using that middle initial.

1. Skip that drink.
And that’s not just because people tend to do stupid things when they’ve been drinking. A joint study conducted by the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania revealed that merely seeing someone hold a drink is enough to make them seem less intelligent. It’s not that we assume less intelligent people are more likely to drink; it’s that the perceived correlation between drinking and cognitive impairment is so strong that we assume impairment even if there isn’t any. For example, although job candidates frequently think that ordering a glass of wine over a dinner interview will make them appear intelligent and worldly, it actually makes them come across as less intelligent and less hirable. There’s even a name for it: the “imbibing idiot bias.”

Bringing It All Together

Intelligence (IQ) is fixed at an early age. You might not be able to change your IQ, but you can definitely alter the way people perceive you. When it comes to succeeding in the real world, perception is half the battle.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 
© 2011-2017. All Rights Reserved for all Blog posts.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

And Just Like That! 2017 Has Arrived.

Am I the only one who thinks that 2016 flew by in an unprecedented blur? I have no doubt that the year was fast in some areas and excruciatingly slow in others. Regardless, we each had our year to make a difference, and I hope you are happy with how yours went.

I will practice what I preach and make today’s blog post brief and clear. I hope that the upcoming year is a great one for you, and I hope that it offers you opportunities to do what you want or need to do, to experience joy and happiness, and to live life to the fullest.

Once again, I am requesting ideas for upcoming blog posts. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until January 31, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

Have a great January, send me your questions for the contest, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference. Happy New Year!

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder
© 2011-2016. All Rights Reserved for all Blog posts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Communication And Its Aftermath

The American public fulfilled one of its major obligations earlier this month; that was, of course, voting in the presidential election. This obligation was, in effect, an act of communication. As you’ve probably seen, everyone who has an opinion on the election and why things turned out the way they did has likely given that opinion.

Historians will look at this simple act of voting—played out person by person across the country—as probably one of the biggest statements ever made by the American public to its national political leaders. Another observation from the election is that when one doesn’t communicate, which was done by those people who did not vote, there will be implications. These post-election observations are useful to us in our day-to-day lives; more on that later.

Of those who voted in this month’s divisive election, about half of us voted for one major candidate and half voted for the other; but all registered voters had the opportunity to vote. So what is interesting is that many people belonging to crucial categories who were expected to vote either did not vote at all, or they voted for the candidate they were least expected to support.

My point in all of this is not to gloat or despair, and it’s certainly not to spend any more of my mental energy thinking about politics. Today, the primary observation I want to make is that communication is probably the most important thing we do in all aspects of our lives. If we do it well, we increase the likelihood of a good outcome; do it badly, then look out.

As I mentioned last month, the candidates over-communicated to us, and they clearly staked out their positions on policy and many trivial matters—and look what happened. They wore us out, but they also engaged the nation in debate, polarized friends against friends, and solidified their support across the nation. As a result, the candidates successfully communicated their messages, and I would suggest that the winning candidate was more successful in communicating what he wanted America to hear.

I write this blog while hovering around that sometimes-vague intersection of communication and grammar. Sometimes I find a connection for us to see, and sometimes I don’t.

In the election, there was a connection that needs to be mentioned. For ourselves, we know that if we communicate well while following simple truths in grammar, other people will understand us and our messages. Each of the candidates (in general) communicated clearly and explicitly about themselves and their proposed policies, they propagated incredible opinions (some true and some untrue) about their opponent, and they convinced millions of voters to believe in them and what they were all about. In the end, one candidate succeeded while the other one did not. One candidate’s messages got through to a broader spectrum of recipients while the other’s messages came up short. Yet still, the process of communication worked.

Were the two candidates perfect in everything they did? Oh no. They each had many personal and political missteps that will take historians years to examine. What was interesting is that although the candidates made mistakes in what they were doing, they did not stop what they were doing. They got up the next day, addressed their mistakes (sometimes—not always), and kept on going.

It is that attitude and willpower that we must have as we go through our lives. A get-back-on-the-horse mentality is crucial in the context of communication, grammar, and all else that we do. A mistake does not define us unless we let it do so, so please find some solace each day in the truism that none of us is perfect. And if we make a communication faux pas, it’s not the end of the world. It is simply an opportunity to make a correction to ensure a better outcome. Then we learn and get better.

I feel for you in this post-election confusion and amazement, and I hope that you will accept what you can and keep moving forward with your own lives within the context of our new national leadership.

Have a great December, send me your questions, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.
Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Monday, October 31, 2016

Constant Communication

The past two years have been a period of overcommunication in the political world, and I believe most of us are weary of the presidential election in the United States. I must briefly address what many of us have gone through over recent months. And months. And months.

Most situations at work or home require a healthy amount of communication—not too much, not too little However, we have endured an abnormal environment during the current presidential election season in which we have been repeatedly subjected to the candidates’ policy positions, attacks on others, and unprecedented allegations of personal and workplace misconduct. For the most part, the citizens have been given an opportunity to express what is on their minds and channel their energies to their candidate of choice. Nevertheless, we have had overabundance of rhetoric and less-than-ideal communication.

Then there is the question of whether all of this communication has been successful or effective. We could spend all day talking about that.

Here we are—one week before our national election. I suppose we will continue to hear a significant amount of verbosity from the two major candidates, those who support them, and the media. I am as exhausted from all of this as many of you probably are, but I ask you to hang in there and make a good decision when you vote for your national, statewide, and local candidates.

In this election, too much is at stake at the international, national, and local levels. We must do our best to thoughtfully vote for those people we think will solve the inevitable challenges that will arise over the next two to four years.

Please remember to fulfill one of your highest communication obligations during the upcoming week: Send your message by voting.

I hope November goes well for you, contact me if you have any questions, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, September 30, 2016

If You Need to Know Something, Ask Why.

Why? This is one of the most effective questions anyone can ask. I know that many of you who are good at problem solving or communicating often ask questions containing this simple word. Do these questions look familiar?

• Why are things done this way?
• Why do we have the same problems over and over again?
• Why are these horrible (or nice) things happening?
• Why won’t he or she change?

Even when your question is initially answered, many of you will follow up with another Why-question and possibly a few more; this technique is outstanding because Why-questions allow you to dig deeply into your issue of the moment. The use of Why-questions is especially effective for communication, management, leadership of others, self-management, and personal relationships.

This article is about a key but simple point: If you ask Why-questions the right number of times, you’ll get a reliable and realistic overall answer; the more you ask, the better the answer.

Why-questions are also useful in clarifying troubling issues related to grammar and communication. When readers email me a question, they usually begin by using the Why-word. Indeed, so many of you have asked me Why-questions that I believe I need to demonstrate how I use the Why-question method to arrive at my own answers.

If I communicate a recent example to you, you’ll see how I use Why-questions and how you can easily apply them to most situations you encounter at home or on the job. In turn, you’ll be more likely to succeed at what you’re doing; that’s a promise.

The idea is to get to the root of a problem, challenge, or situation by asking a few Why-questions. Gradually, you’ll get more detailed information and answers, and you’ll arrive at a point where your curiosity and concerns are satisfied. I encourage you to try this method today after reading the rest of this post.

The following is a situation that I recently encountered; it's about editing and writing, which are areas that most of us frequently encounter.

A reader asked me a question about the use of a certain grammatical term in business communication; he also wondered as to why one way was preferred over another.

After the question was asked of me, my first internal response was “that’s just the way it is.” Then I thought: But why?

Because we have style guides that tell us what is correct when using language.

But why is that?

At some point many decades ago, business communicators, journalists, publishers, and language experts saw a need to have some structure and method by which all of this language and grammar stuff could be organized and codified so that everyone would understand; as a result, style guides were invented. The experts’ top goals included maintaining consistency in the use of language while allowing for variations in different environments, such as in publishing, journalism, universities, and everyday life. Examples of style guides (and there are many) include The Chicago Manual of Style; the AP Stylebook, and countless in-house corporate communication and language guides.

But why do these people have the authority and right to do this?

That is their job, they are experts in language and linguistics, and they follow words and language like some of us follow sports and television programs. The experts rely on past and current usage of language and communication to make conclusions, which in turn become the accepted authority and practice.

But why do we have to accept these forced-upon-us conclusions?

You don’t have to rely completely on these eminent authorities; use your judgment where needed. If you don’t routinely use their guidance, though, you'll be out of the norm, you’re going to make errors in your writings or speeches, and it’s not going to be pretty. That is, you’ll be a language renegade.

See how I used Why-questions to get to the core answers of a simple question? Notice the number of details that I discovered just by continuing to ask why, and I got better results as I persisted in my questioning. All the details may or may not have been useful to me, but I found them helpful. The questioning process wasn’t a fancy or complex way of getting some answers, but it worked.

This article has been less about communication or grammar, but instead more about a methodology of asking questions so that you can resolve your particular situation or problem efficiently and effectively.

Many times in life, we try to find solutions by using complicated or formal multi-step methods; resist that temptation when possible and use the simple approach.

I hope you have a great month in October, thank you for your time today, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Looking for Questions to Answer—Part Two

I appreciate the overwhelming response to my June 29, 2016 post where I sought questions from you on topics you wanted me to cover over the upcoming months. Those questions will be addressed in my future posts. For those who submitted questions on or before the July 31 deadline, you were entered into a random drawing, and the winner was selected to receive complimentary copy editing assistance from me. The winner was chosen, and I completed a thorough editing of her business website.

Several of you submitted ideas to me after July 31. I was unable to enter you into the original contest, but I have figured out a reader-friendly solution to this. I am repeating the contest with the same rules and guidelines, which I will post below. The only change will be the dates, and for anyone who makes a topic or idea submission to me for my blog during August 1 through September 30, 2016, you will be entered into a new drawing for a complimentary copy edit from me. So for those of you who submitted questions to me after July 31, you are already entered.

The guidelines that I posted on June 29 will still apply with only a change in the end date:

Here is my proposal and incentive to you. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until September 30, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

Thanks for your time today, send me those ideas, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference. Have a great September.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder