Jan 11, 2016

Using These 10 Words Incorrectly Reflects Poorly on You

When communicating in business writing or speaking, using the right word helps get your point across. Using the wrong word can backfire, either causing confusion or making you look bad to important clients or superiors.

Make your business message work – and make a good impression – by using these 10 words correctly and avoiding a potentially embarrassing mistake.

Principle vs. principal. Remember the phrase, “Your principal is your pal?” If that helps you remember the correct use of these tricky words, keep it in mind. When the word ends in “pal,” it refers to someone or something of utmost importance, such as a principal client or principal in a firm. This also is the version that refers to the money owed on a loan (as in principal and interest), something always of utmost importance. Principles also are important, but the term refers to something more philosophical or fundamental. “Our organization was founded on the principles of honesty, integrity and the firm belief the customer comes first.”

Mute and moot. Something is a moot point (as in unimportant, and pronounced like the sound a cow makes). Mute is what you do to your television when the phone rings.

Insure vs. ensure. This is one of the most misunderstood of words. Insure is pretty much restricted to the business of insurance, or when compensation is involved. “We insure your home in the event of a natural disaster.” Otherwise, use ensure whenever you mean “make sure.”

Every day or everyday. Everyday is an adjective, used to describe something as commonplace, so it needs a noun to follow. “These are my everyday walking shoes.” Every day stands alone and means something happens every day. “I wear these same shoes on my lunchtime walks every day.”

Less or fewer. This is a little more difficult to remember, but generally fewer is used for items you can count, and less for items more difficult to quantify. For example, “It takes less time to conduct the meeting if we involve fewer managers.”

If English is not your native language learn more about using words or idiomatic expressions correctly with our (Business English Essentials). Or give us a call at 425.485.3221, we would love to hear from you!

See a complete list of 75 words often used incorrectly in this article on Inc.com (http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/75-incorrectly-used-words-that-can-make-you-look-dumb.html) by Jeff Haden.

Oct 15, 2015

5 Business English Essentials for Non-native English Speakers

English is now only second to Mandarin as the most spoken language on the planet. When international business meetings occur, English usually is the default language for presentations and written materials. As non-native English speakers interact in an increasingly international and connected business world, they must grapple with the nuances of the often complex and tricky rules of the English language.

Here are five essential considerations or skills to conquer when learning English as a non-native:

1. Start with a polished resume and social media presence. Spend some time reviewing resumes of your mentors and leaders in your field, comparing skills they highlight, how verbose their descriptions are, and how much personal information they reveal, for example. If you feel you haven’t fully mastered the English language yet, get some help from a professional, who can go through your resume and social media profiles with you to polish them. Many writers and editors specialize in helping non-native speakers and are adept at spotting typical grammar mistakes based on professionals’ first language.

2. Practice English grammar, spelling and punctuation. There are as many exceptions to rules in English grammar, spelling and punctuation as there are rules. The more you can learn, read and practice writing English, the better you can grasp the concepts. Read often and thoroughly, choosing publications and sites that you know have been professionally edited, such as major newspapers and national magazines or established websites. If you spot inconsistencies in other reading, such as in personal blogs, note your questions and ask a reliable friend whose native language is English or clear up your questions with reference materials and when in courses such as our Business English Essentials program (http://businesswritingthatcounts.com/webinars#BusinessWritingEssentials).

3. Grasp and memorize tricky idioms. Idioms are expressions for which a reader can’t easily predict the meaning by combining the definition of the individual words alone. For example, if prices have  gone “through the roof,” it only means they went way higher than expected. If you misuse idioms, never use them, or can’t translate them, it’s a clue in your business writing or speaking that English is not your first or only language, and it can lead to big misunderstandings. Spend some time learning common business idioms so that your writing stands out for the right reasons.

4. For that matter, master writing in general. If you already had trouble with business writing in your native language, take a little extra time and effort to master your English business writing skills. For example, if you tend to write too academically and adding unnecessary words, correct that problem in any language! Practice or get additional training in how to write with clarity, how to compose your thoughts and how to streamline the process you use when writing.

5. Perfect pronunciation nuances. Learning to write English is essential, as we’ve mentioned. But refining pronunciation helps non-native English speakers better handle personal and work social situations, formal presentations, and simply gain confidence. No matter how bright you are, you sound more intelligent when you pronounce words in your non-native language correctly. It shows you’ve done your homework!

To learn more about our Business English Essentials program, please call us at 425.485.3221 or email at info@drjuliemiller.com


Oct 1, 2015

Social Media Spotlight: LinkedIn

Social Media Spotlight: LinkedIn

This month’s social media spotlight is on the platform designed for business networking, LinkedIn. The publicly held company was launched in May 2003. During the first quarter of 2015, the company reported that it had 364 million members around the world.

Because LinkedIn serves as a virtual networking tool, it helps businesspeople connect with one another for hiring and sharing resources. You can create a group of contacts, much like you gather friends in Facebook, and maintain them in a sort of online Rolodex. Even better, you’ll receive updates on their promotions or job changes and can send messages to one another.

Since its more modest beginning as a site to facilitate networking for marketing and hiring, LinkedIn has become more content focused. LinkedIn Pulse includes updates on your contacts and customized news or articles. You can follow thought leaders who post articles about topics most important to your business or career. You also can keep up with your connections’ news and promotions, ask for virtual introductions and share videos and presentations through the site.

Aside from your personal profile on LinkedIn, you can create a company profile. Other members can search for or follow your company. Engage members by sharing quality content, such as infographics or links to external content that you think your customers would gain from by reading. You can publish your own content as well.

There are many advantages to using LinkedIn for business. In some ways, it serves as a contact management system and contact generator. Anyone looking to advance in their career should have a LinkedIn presence, as should companies of all sizes that hire employees regularly or do business with other companies.

Here are a few cautions about using LinkedIn: First and foremost, remember this is a business site. Remain professional at all times. This is not the place to repost jokes and pictures of cats. Replace the icon with a photo. Use a professional head shot or the nearest thing that you have. And although you network virtually through LinkedIn, you still should communicate personally and nurture relationships as you always have when networking. Use personal greetings, even for standard requests. And give, don’t just take. Avoid making negative comments and refrain from over posting or making obvious self-serving comments and posts.

Keep your contact list open so anyone who views your profile can also view your contacts. It’s part of the site’s networking value. And, as always, proof anything you post or any message you send privately to a contact. 

I would love for you to connect with me on LinkedIN! 

For more information about Dr. Julie Miller Inc. and our services, please call us at 425.485.3221 or email Julie@DrJulieMiller.com. We would LOVE to hear from you!

Sep 14, 2015

Six Subject Line Tips that Work

Critical business and sales emails won’t work for you or your company if nobody opens the message. If you consider that some of your top clients or prospects receive upwards of 100 messages a day, you get why a savvy, effective subject line is the key to email open rates. 

Here are six tips sure to help:

1. The best advice is to get to the point. For business communications in particular, it’s best to let recipients know what the message is about. That way, they can discern easily when scrolling through a list of messages whether your email needs immediate attention. It’s not a good idea to trick or deceive to get people to open your message. One study a few years back found that a clear subject line led to more than 500 percent greater open rates than clever ones.

2. And keep it brief. Studies have shown that subject lines should be brief, but there is a limit. In other words, don’t aim for so few words that your message is unclear; two words are not necessarily better than five. Try to keep your subject line under 10 words if possible.

3. Use the second person. By using “you” or “your” in the subject line, recipients know right away there is either something in the message for them, about them or pertaining to them. They’re more likely to open it. Combine no. 1 with the second person for the best effectiveness: “I need you to review this report today.” Or: “See how your stocks performed this week.”

4. Personalize the message. This takes the second person a step further. The subject line is a great place not only to use a personal message, but to test how it works in your sales and marketing efforts. A company called Retention Science studied more than 200 million email messages and found that those with the recipient’s first name in the subject line were opened 2.6 percent more often than those without.

5. Ask for action. Much like the closing of a letter, message or presentation, you can suggest or ask for action in your subject line to generate interest in the message. In addition to our examples in no. 3, consider this comparison: “Employee newsletter attached” is passive. You don’t even recommend that employees open and read it! A subject line that reads: “Find out about our new lunchtime fitness classes” might generate more interest in the email, the newsletter and even fitness!

6. Or promise something. When you make it clear in your subject line that this message contains an offer, especially an urgent or short-term one, you usually get a better open rate. The only drawbacks to using promises in subject lines are: failing to follow through on promises and overuse of the techniques. Recipients tune out “free shipping” if it’s offered every day.

No matter what you promise or how you word your subject line, always double, triple-check it. The subject line deserves the same proofreading attention as the body of your email. A typo might be enough to turn off a prospect or could cause a big problem for you and your company. For example, you might promise that a sale lasts two days longer than planned!

Aug 26, 2015

Ban These Five Grammar “Gotchas” From Your Writing

Let’s face it: One of the most difficult aspects of English writing is the misuse and abuse of words. For nearly every rule, there’s an exception. But that doesn’t excuse business writers from proper use of commonly confused words.

Let’s look at five of the worst gotchas in business writing:

Who/that: It has become common in popular writing to see “who” applied to inanimate objects and organizations. There’s already a pronoun for that, and it’s… that! Reserve who for references to people and try to avoid use of “that” as a stand-in for customers and employees. “We are an organization of people who are dedicated to improving the health of children in our community.” And: “XXX is an organization that cares about improving the health of children in our community.”

Who’s/whose: As with the word who, “whose” often is written as a possessive pronoun for objects instead of people. That’s one misuse of the word. The other is to use it in place of “who is.” It is correct to say: “Who’s (who is) speaking at the meeting this afternoon?” and “Whose (the owner of) car is parked in the CEO’s designated space?”

Lay/lie: This can be a tougher one to remember if you try to recall parts of speech. Use of “lay” requires a direct object, but “lie” needs no object for its action. I have an easier way to remember: “Lay” means to place something, and “lie” refers to reclining. So you can lay a report on your desk, and you can lie on your bed.

Loose/lose: A boss might lose her mind when she sees loose grammar rules applied to the use of these two words. Your shoestrings can come loose, but you can lose money, or motivation.

Hung/hanged: If you still play loosely with some of these words, are you hung up on grammar rules? It’s unlikely you would be hanged for your misuse, but you might be looked over for a promotion or project lead. “Hanged” always refers to execution with a rope. “Hung” is the past tense of hang, as in “We hung all of our hopes on the new marketing brochure, but it was so full of grammatical errors that people ignored the important sales points.”

For more help with grammar gotchas, take our Grammar That Counts! online course (http://businesswritingthatcounts.com/store/elearning). 

Aug 12, 2015

Five Tips To Improve Your English Writing Skills

Learning a new language is never easy. Learning to think fast, read and write in a new language to keep pace in your job with native speakers is a tough, but often essential, undertaking. Consider the following five tips to help improve your English, especially essential business writing skills. And by the way, these tips work for native English speakers as well:

1. Read. The more English writing that you read, the better. It’s okay to read online blogs (like this one, for instance!), but keep graduating to more complex and lengthier material. And don’t just read business books and journals. Find magazines and fiction books that interest you, or favorite authors to follow, and read their work.

2. Keep notes. As you read, keep plenty of notes. If you can mark up the material you’re reading, then use a highlighter or pen to mark words that confuse you, or maybe vocabulary you want to use in your business writing. You can look them up as you go or do so later; that’s a matter of personal preference. But it helps to keep track of words and grammar rules that either trip you up or that you will want to use again.

3. Look for help. If you have trouble with a word or idiom, add the word or phrase and its meaning to your ongoing notes or a personal English dictionary. Keep it in your smartphone or in a paper notebook, whatever works best for you. Turn to a friend or colleague for translation of phrases and idioms that make no sense to you when translated literally. You would be surprised how willing colleagues are to help non-native English speakers better understand business jargon and American idioms. Online quizzes and courses are other sources of help.

4. Journal. Writing often nearly always improves one’s writing. Writing in English should help a non-native English speaker learn to more readily form thoughts and complete sentences, and is excellent practice for business writing. However, it’s not necessary to write about business topics to practice writing. In fact, if you’re writing during free time, you’re much more likely to stick with it if you write about a subject you love. Journal about your children, your garden or the books you read, for example.

5. Seek and accept constructive criticism. Asking a friend who is an excellent writer, and a native speaker of English, to review your writing can improve your business writing. Native English speakers can spot small nuances in tone and style. Just remember – if you ask for a review or seek help, be accepting of constructive criticism. It’s never easy to open one’s work up for review and feedback, but once you ask, keeping it positive contributes to learning and helps your reviewer know that you appreciate the help.

At Business Writing That Counts, we’re helping non-native English speakers improve their business writing skills with a webinar, tip card and personal coaching. Learn more about Business Writing Essentials for Non-Native Speakers. (http://businesswritingthatcounts.com/store/tipsheets)


Jul 8, 2015

Read a Good Fiction Novel This Summer

There’s a reason you had to read novels in school and then complete a book report. First, reading is an essential competence. Second, reading a published novel that’s well written and edited can only improve your grammar skills!

Whether English is your first language or you are a non-native English speaker, reading helps you better understand grammar through intuition, context and repetition. 

If English is fairly new to you, start with simpler books, blogs and newspaper articles that interest you most. Once you’ve mastered the language, use summer downtime and outdoor evenings to enjoy some classic or new novels.
Here are a few possibilities for this summer’s enjoyment:
  • “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. The 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner is set in occupied World War II France.
  • Another World War II story, “Secrets of a Charmed Life,” is by Susan Meissner. It tells the story of two sisters in 1940s England.
  • “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. The book about Alzhemier’s Disease was made into a movie. Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, also wrote an excellent book about traumatic brain injury called Left Neglected.
  • Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books, which have formed the basis for a Netflix original series, have a 2015 addition called “Dry Bones.”
  • “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins, is a debut thriller about a girl who rides the train every day and people watches, but then witnesses something shocking.
You also can’t beat the classics for their style, rich use of vocabulary and stellar grammar. Even if you read them years ago, take another peak at one of the best:
  • “Daisy Miller” by Henry James
  • “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
  • “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
  • Anything by Mark Twain

If reading any of these novels is less than pleasurable, you might chalk it up to personal preference. If reading is technically difficult, learn more about our Business Writing Essentials webinar, tip card and coaching package to help non-native English speakers become better business writers.

 And if grammar still throws you for a loop, we’ve got an online course just for you.