Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three Grammar Resolutions for 2016

Happy New Year to everyone on this last day of January, and I hope 2016 has gotten off to a great start for you. Some of us may have made our perennial resolutions earlier this month, and I want to check in with you and congratulate you on that and ask that you work hard to keep your focus on them. If any of you have gotten the least bit discouraged about your progress in attaining your personal or professional goals, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not worth it, and in fact it could be counterproductive. Instead, celebrate that you probably have made some progress and are possibly in the stage where you are building momentum. Most people, it is noted, give up on their first-of-the-year resolutions too easily and too soon; I encourage you to keep chipping away as we enter into February. Do your best and wake up every day with the idea that you’re going to make some progress, and do just that.

I want to help out by offering you three relevant and useful ideas related to grammar and communication that will help you achieve your resolutions and goals. Many of you who know me or who have emailed me with topic suggestions or blog feedback know that I believe that good grammar and communication intersects most things that we do in life. If we are to do better in whatever professional or personal pursuit that lies in front of us, we’ve got to communicate properly.

During this month, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I could tell you that could propel you forward in 2016. As a result, I’ve set aside the hundreds of useful grammar ideas and rules, and I offer you three top grammar goals that I believe could make a huge impact on you this year. If you focus on just these three things and do no more in the area of grammar, I promise you that you will feel better about yourself, others will appreciate and recognize your efforts, and you will see great things come your way. Is better grammar the easy answer to a great 2016? No. Instead, better grammar will be a key factor in helping you do whatever it is you want to do.

I ask you to keep these three points in the back of your mind each and every day as you communicate. Whether you’re writing or speaking, they will help. Here we go: clear, concise, and correct.

1. Clear. Think about what you want to communicate and break the message down into its key points. These ideas, without any doubt in your mind, are what you want others to know from you. Make it simple by thinking about what you want to write or say before you communicate it. A clear communication has the following characteristics: understandable, intelligible, obvious, unambiguous, coherent, and straightforward.

2. Concise. Shorter is usually better when communicating. The longer you prolong whatever it is you’re trying to write or say, eyes start to gloss over, the audience to whom you’re delivering your valuable information will lose attention, and your message could be ignored. Since these outcomes need to be avoided at all costs, think about the following:

- Don’t send long emails. Limit it to a small number of sentences or paragraphs; make it just long enough so you say what you have to say clearly and concisely. In life today, some things can only be communicated by email, especially if you don’t want to have an in-person meeting or if there are many people who need to hear directly from you. Regardless, please be considerate and think about your audience by keeping your emails as short as possible.

- The same principles apply to other written forms of communication. If you need to send a letter or memo, nothing is carved in the grammar stone that says they must be verbose. Are there exceptions? Yes. Sometimes you have to go into excruciating details when communicating with others, and doing so adds length. Even so, my point is always be as concise as possible, and don’t shy away from editing and revising your work.

- When talking to others on the phone or in person, don’t tarry but do get to the point. Your time is important, and so is theirs. Get through phase one of the conversation, which is where you have the pleasantries and small talk, and move along to phase two, which is where you want to effectively communicate. Then wrap it up—in a nice and friendly way, of course.

3. Correct. Being correct involves two things: 1) writing or speaking in proper and accepted ways, and 2) ensuring that what you are communicating is accurate, right, and true.

Proper and Accepted Ways:

What are some ways to learn how to write and speak properly? This is an easy question to answer, though it involves committed work on anyone’s part to get it all right. The easy answer is to get targeted training to develop your speaking and writing skills. There are hundreds of training resources, and I’m sure you can easily evaluate them. Look for seminars, in-house training, local colleges, free courses on the web, and non-free courses on the web.

Another suggestion to improve your writing and speaking is to just do it; that is, learn by practicing and doing. This is what most people do, and it is by far, in my opinion, the best alternative because most people learn well by doing, and they learn best by doing things well. So, if you believe you need improvement in speaking or writing, just step out there and speak to others and write. Find a buddy to give you some feedback on how you’re doing, and observe others around you who speak and write well—and model their behavior.

If someone is speaking well, what is it that they’re doing that makes them sound so fantastic? If someone is speaking poorly, take note of what challenges they are having and make it a point to avoid these pitfalls yourself. The same principles are involved in writing. Most people who write well, read the writings of others and learn from those experiences. If you read well-written reports, documents, news stories, and magazines, you will have excellent ways to pick up the nuances involved in writing. Ask your buddies for their evaluations of your conversational and speaking abilities, and ask them to critique your writing style. These are easy and superb ways of getting the precise and immediate feedback that will be useful to you.

Accurate, Right, and True:

I will make two important points and distinctions as my last thoughts for today.

First, without exception, any communication that you offer to others needs to be free from grammatical errors. I just suggested how to improve your writing and speaking skills. This helps, and as a reminder, it is crucial that you proofread your written communications before you send them. Instead of repeating myself, I refer you to my blog post below from November 8, 2015, entitled “Easy Fixes for Daily Writing.” There, you will find great information on what I am conveying to you.

Finally, it is vital that the content of your communication is accurate, right, and true. Here, I am not talking about grammar or punctuation, but instead am referring to what you’re saying. Is the substance and content of your communication factual, truthful, exact, verifiable, reliable, and certain? If not, you’ll not only have a communication issue at hand, prepare yourself for a question of your credibility. The last thing you want to say, for example, is that something happened, when it did not; a number is correct, when it is not; that Mr. X did this, when he did not do it or might not have done it; or that a problem was caused by Y, when it’s possible other things might have caused or contributed to the problem. The only exceptions that I can think of are if you’re giving your opinion or if you're speculating. If so, be sure and clearly state that you are guessing or speculating or that it’s your reasoned and well-thought-out opiniongiven the facts and information as you see them. You get my point; everything you write or say should be accurate, right, and true. The way to make this happen is to re-read what you’re communicating, verify everything, and have your buddies give their honest critiques of what you’re writing.

Thank you for your time today, and I appreciate you reading my post. I hope that I have shared some helpful information with you. As always, thank you for your emails and topic suggestions, and please bookmark my blog. I will catch up with you in February.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 
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