Tag Archives: Writing

Reminder – Please Follow Me on bareedwriting.com


Good morning!

I wanted to remind all of my readers that I am now blogging on http://bareedwriting.com/.

Hope to see and hear from everyone there!

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Changes Afoot to My Blogs

There is so much that I didn’t know when I started this blog on a Saturday morning last December.  I had been thinking about blogging for some time, but the actual start was a bit on impulse.  This means that there were a lot of details that I didn’t understand.  (Well, if we waited to understand everything perfectly before we acted, we would rarely act, yes?)


I’ve learned more about blogging by actually doing it than I would have in reading about it or asking bloggers vague questions.  (That’s the thing about learning, half the battle is knowing what questions to ask.)  But in learning, and formulating a better idea of what I wanted to do, I ended up with a couple of blogs.  One of which is branded (http://bareedwriting.com/).


public domain image

public domain image

I’ve made the decision to merge my blogging efforts to my branded URL.  I hope that all of you wonderful readers who have been following me here will come over and follow me at http://bareedwriting.com/.


Starting on Monday September 16th, I will move these essays from Practical Business over to my BAReed Writing blog and I do hope that you come over and follow me there.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved


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Get Their Attention

attentionStop me if I’ve told this one, but I’m pretty sure that I haven’t told it here, at least with this intent.  This is my go-to story about the importance of appropriate email subject lines (and good diplomacy).  Fairly early on in my corporate learning curve I had an email exchange with the principal (read owner, responsible party) of a distribution company regarding a customer account that was my responsibility.  The subject line was a one word job, the main name of the customer in question.


We went back and forth as I clarified and then resolved his question.  At the end he came back and wrote that I should do a better job of naming my emails.  Huh?  Just to be sure, I scrolled to the beginning of the email and sure enough he had originated the string.  Still, he was right – the subject was entirely too generic and didn’t offer any reference points to the specific topic at hand.  I briefly answered back that I agreed that the subject line of this particular email was not very clear and left it at that.


So began my mission to improve my own email subject line protocols.  Which included renaming an email that had a vague heading at my first reply.  (Be careful in renaming an email when there were multiple recipients because that can lead to further misunderstanding.)  When I moved into supervisory and then management roles, I made this a frequent topic within my team.  A big part of our job was clarity in communication – the first step is appropriately naming a thing.


Email volume is high for most people, so your naming protocol should be short and to the point.  Sometimes a little lyrical helps to get noticed, but utilitarian is best.  Get a feel for what is best for you by reviewing the subjects of the emails that land in your inbox – which ones draw your eye and why?  Are the subject lines that are used suitable for the actual email content?  Also consider your recipient – what speaks to them?


I hope I got your attention.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Fishing for Post Ideas

Happy Summer, Readers,

I have several posts in process, but thought that I’d throw out a request for ideas.  What would you like to see here?

Beth as Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Writing as a Means to an End

Defining something clearly for yourself helps you to own it – now you finally know why you had to write your vocabulary words in a sentence every week back in elementary school.  When you own something, then you can repurpose it in whatever manner suits your current needs.  A kitchen towel is meant to dry dishes (for the few of us who still do dishes by hand) or your hands but it can be used as a hot pad to set down a dish, an oven mitt in a pinch, a cover for bread when it is still new and pretty, or for a child it can be a superhero cape.


The ability to write clearly and convey your message in a manner suitable for your intended readers is a versatile tool.  And a skill which can be developed, as long as you see the validity of writing’s importance in your work life.


We seem to have somehow convinced ourselves that writing is a talent that we either have or do not have – and there are certainly those for whom writing is a wonderful talent, writing is a skill and therefore learnable by anyone with an interest.


Job Search Writing

You can hire someone to write your resume and cover letter for you in the hope that these professionally written documents will give you an edge.  But in the spirit of teaching a man to fish over giving him a fish, you will do yourself a greater favor if you tackle this task for yourself and show that you have written communication skills which are sought after in many businesses.


While your goal is a new job, it is very important to pay close attention each step in the process – difficulties at any step can end your path to the goal of that particular position.  Sometimes job seekers focus too much on that prize and miss the pitfalls in the many steps between themselves and that job.  Refocusing on the steps and tools in between will help to ensure success.


Fair or not, the personnel responsible for filling the position are looking for reasons to eliminate a candidate.  While you have the job description from the ad, there are many components which are unspoken and possibly not clearly defined on their part.  Telling yourself you will reach the goal of the job when there are these nebulous components between you and this goal makes this achievement more difficult.  Focusing your attention on doing your best with each known component gives you more power to be ultimately successful.


RESUME:  Your resume is a document that is meant to show your past achievements and career progression.  Similar to any financial prospectus that you may have read, it has a disclaimer that all HR and hiring personnel see – past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance.

  • Your resume is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

Your resume has just a few seconds to catch their attention and get you in the yes or maybe piles, so less information – which is tailored to the needs that they expressed in the ad – is more.  If they have to sift through what is to them extraneous information that alone is a reason to put you in the no pile.


COVER LETTER:  Your cover letter is a document that is meant to start the discussion for how you can marry your past performance to the future needs of this particular company.

  • Your cover letter is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

This document is your first opportunity to underline your strengths and to downplay any requirements which could disqualify you.  As an example, I do not have a degree so I highlight points that show that I am a life-long learner.


THANK YOU LETTER:  Your thank you letter is a document that will be the last impression the interviewer has of you while they consider who to call back for the next round or who is the successful candidate.  You want a strong showing.

  • Your thank you letter might not get you the job, but poorly executed, it could be the last straw to eliminate you from the running.  Properly executed it leaves a strong last impression.

Express your sincere appreciation for their time and consideration.  If something came up in the interview that you can expand on, do it here.


It seems as if we are all looking for definitive rules for these documents, as if by following the rules to the letter will be a magic talisman to achieve our goal.  It turns out that it just isn’t that simple, but like Dorothy we have had the solution with us all along.  We learn our power when we are ready.


[A little self-promotion: I am setting myself up as a Business Writing Coach for individuals & companies – http://bareedwriting.com/]


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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We Want Linear, We Get Billy from The Family Circus

Closure, the word that represents the neat little bow on the package that we want as the end stage of all of life’s little problems.  This happened, these suggestions were made, this action was taken and issue was wonderfully and completely resolved, the end.  Put forth in a single hour, 42ish minutes allowing for commercial breaks – wait a minute, that’s a TV drama.

We are complex creatures and we live in a busy, noisy world so it is no wonder that we crave clear cut, simple, straightforward story lines in our lives.  If it did work that way though, we would no doubt get pretty bored.  Even those of us who don’t care for math can respect the beauty that 2+2=4 every single time, regardless of the format – horizontal or vertical – or the font that we use to type it.  Ahhh, beauty in simplicity.

My Timeline

For years we tried to figure out one way or another to create a linear training process in a very complicated business model.  Build a tower with these idea blocks that relate to each other – but wait, we can’t put this next one on until we go off on this tangent and build a bridge to a nearby tower.  Oops, then we need basement access to these underlying theories.  And, bang, the new person’s eyes are starting to glaze over.

So we decided to tell the story through self-contained tasks that would help the new person to feel valuable right away and also get their feet wet with our process.  This was much more successful, but time consuming and eventually we would get to the tangle of all the interconnected theories and process.  Billy would tramp through and take us on his circuitous route.

Now, I love Billy and I like nothing more than to trace his progress through the neighborhood with my finger, especially in the colored Sunday comics.  But I also know that with a deep understanding of process, I can keep the main theme in mind as I follow the detour.  Because I know the main theme well.

How to communicate this to someone with a different thought and work method, though?  How to do it for a group of people, all with potentially varied work methods and thinking methods?  (Thankfully there are only so many methods and combinations!)

Call out core and ancillary aspects by name, use graphs and charts when you can.  I adore flow charts – which really is a mode of taking Billy’s meanderings and giving them structure.  Don’t get too dry, try to keep at least a hint of Billy’s whimsy.

(My compliments to Bill Keane, creator of Billy and The Family Circus cartoon.  We all learned about flow whether we realized it or not.)

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Work Life, Work Smarter

Access to Information

Imagine if we didn’t have ready access to all of the information that we needed to perform our jobs and live our lives fully.  Ok, I’m a day late for the actual 80th anniversary of the Nazi book burning, but it is still an important topic for those of us who get paid based on our ability to process knowledge.  Book Burning in History

info access

We may be slowly switching over to books read on screens of various sorts (not me, no I like holding an actual book), but we do still have to fight those who wish to limit overall access to information.  We think that this will not affect the work aspects of our lives, but is this just because we live in an open society with relatively easy access to so much varied information?


Think about all of the information that you have at your fingertips to do your job every day.  Depending on your job, it took a great deal of time and effort to amass all of this knowledge so that you could perform your daily tasks.  And if you work on a computer, think about all the coding etc. that had to go into creating that modern marvel sitting on your desk.  Where would we all be if someone, somewhere along the line had decided to limit the development of the gadgets that ease our ability to work?


Agree with the words inside the pages of banned books or not – that is your right in a free and open society – but thank those who stood up for the rights of those who wrote the books.  They represent us all in one way or another as we toil away at our jobs.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Superlatives Sound, Well Just Super

Excellence, Best in Class, World Class, phantasmagorical – wait phantasmagorical?  And bippity, boppity boo to you too.  Superlatives were invented so that we could have a means to express sheer utter overwhelming wonderful feelings like new love or hard won success.  Our heart pounding, breathy JOY that we absolutely must share with the whole world right now or burst.  But then they became a marketing tool and teenage girls everywhere just loved every blasted cute little thing.


Tell us what you really think about the use of superlatives, Beth.  Super-duper, I will.


I cherish every moment of unadulterated joy that I have ever felt and fervently hope both that I will experience many more and that each reader of this blog has a long list of their own immensely joyful moments.  (Superlatives cover that deep, dark end of the emotional spectrum too – but let’s keep this discussion on the high end today.)


But just like antibiotic resistant bacteria, we are running out of meaningful words to describe our true emotional peaks because we emptied out many of the existing words with overuse and misuse.  The meaning of excellence has begun to ring hollow when too many claim it without backing it up with real actions.  And as for Best in Class and World Class – what do these phrases really mean?


Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was a fabulous (superlative) song as Julie Andrews presented it in Mary Poppins, but if we attempt to feel that way all of the time, we become numb to the pleasure.  We twirled and whirled around the living room to that song until we were dizzy and giggly, but please don’t mar these special memories by telling me your new product is even better than supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


Call attention to your idea, your product, your system by telling me real, solid words that define the usefulness.  Work harder to evoke a sustainable, achievable, reasonable explanation of what it can do for me.  Don’t co-opt these beautiful superlatives.


Sometimes I think ideas are just in the air, I started this blog post, had to set it aside for a call and happened across this interesting article – Never as Bad as it Looks and Never as Good Either.  It doesn’t talk about superlatives, but I think the writer’s point enhances mine.  Why is this moment a peak or a valley?


But, Beth, haven’t you advocated fake it until you make it in past posts?  Yes, I have so I’ll further define it.  What is the best high point of your life?  If it was superlative then you can use the memory of that moment for a fake it until you make it moment where you need to be more positive than you currently feel.  If you are not a superlative person – say your high point is particularly pleasant – then that is the memory to use to fake it until you make it.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Buzzspeak, Hmmm

Show of hands who likes buzz words?  Anybody?  Count me in the group that is willing to make fun of them – it’s in my wheelhouse like a two legged stool that’s in the wrong seat on the bus.  But… (Stick with me, please)


Buzz words do have a place just like trite phrases became trite because they can hold a grain of truth and were subsequently overused.  First a joke that I read in Reader’s Digest:

A group of lions is called a pride, a group of crows is called a murder and we call a group of buzz words a PowerPoint presentation!


Ok, I thought it was hilarious – maybe because it brought to mind a certain person who would have difficulty speaking if not for Buzzspeak.


So for instance, marketing yourself is a hot topic and yadda, yadda personal branding – ears close down and brain starts to think about what to do for lunch.  No, really – in today’s social media saturated world of 15 minutes of fame and 140 characters allowed in the Twitterverse, this one makes some sense.  If I don’t know what I’m about, then how can anyone else?


And if we are rearranging the bus like musical chairs, then I want to have a say in which seat is the right one for me, by making sure my personal brand fits the company’s image like a glove.  Just so we’re crystal on this, a wheelhouse is the pilothouse of a boat or ship where the navigator is located.  (The navigator gets to tell everyone where to go, great gig if you can swing it.)


At the end of the day you want to be the first one to break through the clutter and bring your personal brand to the table to be empowered and get more face time with the powers that be so that you can reach your milestones moving forward.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Snoozefest – Spelling & Grammar

I woke up in my favorite way this morning – in slow stages – therefore able to listen to the random thoughts as they meandered.  The idea that I should at some point touch on grammar and spelling was followed by this blog title.  Low and behold, when I started going through my blog reader I came across this post from a blog that I follow: Reflections: Is Grammar Worth Teaching?


So, grammar is a topic for the moment, at least in my sphere.  And perhaps should be a topic for the broader community since it is important to us all in the context of effective communication.  Spelling is part of this as well.


I am the voracious reader that Mindful Stew is talking about in his post – I have an innate understanding of spelling and grammar because of my joy of reading.  I have also benefited from my middle class background, being surrounded by proper examples on a daily basis.  But I am no grammarian, per se – I’m only interested in proper grammar and spelling as tools to help me convey my message and understand the message that others are putting forth.  Poor spelling and word usage detract from the intended message, as does strict adherence to all the intricate grammatical rules.  (Yes, Microsoft Word, I do want this to be a sentence fragment, it is underscoring my intent by adhering to my flow and tone.)

sentence diagram

If we look at a communication as a product, then the intent of the message is the most important aspect, but the product must be delivered intact to be useful for the user.  So spelling and grammar are an important part of the packaging for the product and ensure that the product is delivered as intended.


When my older son was little we had many conversations that essentially amounted to his questioning why he should call things by the name commonly used – he wanted to make up his own name.  I would ask him if he thought it was important for other people to understand what he meant and sometimes it was not a priority for him.  As he grew he came to understand the value of mutual understanding for the sake of good communication, but he never let go of his interest in understanding things in his own way.


If you want people to understand that something has already happened, you need to consistently use the past tense form of your verbs or your reader will lose track of what you are writing and get snarled in when.  The same is true for present and future tenses.  This also holds true for all the words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have very different meanings – they’re, their, there.


Write your piece first for the flow, creating your fully formed idea.  But then if you want clear comprehension on the part of your reader, make sure that you polish up your use of your tools like spelling and grammar.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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