May 2008

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

« Minutia | Main | Casting Dilbert »



An important factor that contributes to the improvement of the business letter is the respect of styles and genres. These provide an overall structure and style which is expected to business correspondence and documentation. In addition to a general framework, vocabulary and thematic specialist idiomatic phrases used in the common vernacular of the economy for players in the trading community. These requirements are daunting and, in fact, many professionals are finding writers, especially in the early days of the written form. WhiteSmoke response to these models are their business.

Chess Openings Guru

Excellent advice. Thanks! I'm glad you put the part about the subject-verb relationship. I need a friendly reminder now and then.


Re: Eugene's comment
I don't think anyone knows for sure how our brains are wired by default, but SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) is not specific to Western languages. Chinese (by which I include all Chinese dialects) can hardly be more different from Germanic/Romance languages, and yet it uses SVO. If Chomsky is correct about universal grammar, it is not impossible that our brains have a slight preference for SVO, since Creole languages often uses SVO. (These are grammatic languages made up by children whose parents speak almost grammarless pidgins.)


Thanks. This helped somewhat. i have to write a paper for my Honors English class using no adverbs and no adjectives.


Correction: Not 'all' brains think this way, as is your presumption. Sure, brains tutored under a language where subject comes before verb in the SVO (subject, verb, in/direct object) makes more sense to you, and many other's (including myself) have been raised under Germanic and Romantic derived languages.

This is merely an illusion. Native speakers of Japanese function primarily in a SOV format (subject object verb). To new speakers of English (from Japanese at least), "The boy the ball hits" would be an easier and more comfortable translation (needing only the words for verification, and no need to reverse the word order for comprehension).

Consider Latin (although a dead (nearly, except for college geeks) language) where the placement of the words is generally (and arguably genuinely) arbitrary, wherein the endings of such words designate their position in a grammatical structure. In Latin, you could easily find a sentence, that without rearranging the order of words, states: "the fire in Rome Nero fiddled the burning while was occuring", when the actual sentence should translate as "Nero fiddled while the fire burned Rome." Put into context the designations for sentence structure as well as the prepositions we needlessly add, ("the, in, while, was, etc.") are needless , the 1 or 2 letter endings which put such nouns, verbs, and objects (direct, or indirect) in their particular designations, make way for both their function in the statement, as well as how the subject is affecting them (to, from, with, against, around, near, using, etc. etc.). Consider this food for thought.

Further, there are African languages which function the same way (as well as Swahili, if I'm remembering my linguistics properly (which is a language very much alive)) where they add grammatical designations (Subject, Object, or Verb) into the middle of the word.

Case in point, Human brains are NOT wired this way, its just a generalized stereotype of how western language (and arguably western upbringing) exemplifies itself.


"I went from being a bad writer to a good writer after taking a one-day course in 'business writing.'"

The author says he rewrote that opening sentence a dozen times. Maybe 13 is the charm. The main idea is that he "went from being a bad writer to a good writer." That idea should be at the end of the sentence rather than the beginning.

Why? Because most readers of English most of the time expect to find the most important information at the end of the sentence, in the "stress position."

Rewrite: "After taking a one-day course in 'business writing,' I went from being a bad writer to a good writer."

Mick Gregory

There is a "Bull Fighter software put out by Deloite consultants, that is free and is used to simplify writing. Once you download it, a button appears on your Word and e-mail banner.

Just Google Bull Fighter index.


"My Chemistry professors insisted on passive voice in all lab reports."
They do this because they want you to not have a subject. That's the one time you should use passive voice. "The world was destroyed" for example.

brian rittenhouse

"...Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting)."

WOAH! Isn't the ball the object? And the boy the subject? It has been a while since I had English in school but I am pretty sure that is the way it used to shake out....maybe it has changed since I was a boy. Or maybe the 20% not included in this "good writing lesson" is how to use proper English??? Or maybe good writing goes beyond "rules"???

That aside...I do appreciate your insights here...and I think you are amazing at delivery here on your blog! Thanks


Umm, yeah, and if its going out in an email, you will lose 90% of your readers if it extends beyond a single paragraph. The will all say "my brain hurts" and "reading makes me sleepy" like Homer Simpson ODing on valium. Lets face it, when writing, youre better of treating your audience like a bunch of morons. They will appreciate your thoughfulness. Better yet, dont write. Make short video and upload it to youtube with a catchy upbeat tune running in the background.


Writing for ex-Business Majors.

Yeah, those drunken, vomit-spattered bodies we used to step over in the college dormitory every Sunday morning.

The ones who grew up to be Pointy-Haired Bosses.

I fully understand. After all, you don't prescribe antipsychotic drugs for people who don't have major thought disorders.

You don't write short except for stupid people.

isabelle dolce

I do not want to live in a world where all writing is reduced to conveying information. While simple is better for business it would be a great loss to the world of belles lettres if all writers adopted the KISS rule. Of course, not all writers are talented enough and the primary use of language is to convery ideas, but an excellent description, a rich vocabulary, a mastery of syntax and an understanding of rhetoric is a superb gift.

"Here as a boy I walked down every morning, barefoot and bearing a dented billycan. on my way to buy the day's milk from Duignan the dairyman or his stoically cheerful, big-hipped wife. Even though the sun would be long up the night's moist coolness would cling on in the cobbled yard, where hens picked their way with finical steps among hteir onw chalk-and-olive-green droppings. There was always a dog lying tethered under a leaning cart that would eye me measuringly as I went past, teetering on tuptoe so as to keep my heels out of the chicken-merd, and a grimy white cart-horse tht would come and put its head over the half-door of the barn and regard me sidelong with an amused and sceptical eye from under a forelock that was exactly the same murky shade of creamy-white as honeysuckle blossom. I did not like to knock at the farmhouse door, fearing Duignan'smother, a low-sized squarish old party who seemed fitted with a stumpy leg at each corner and who gasped when she breathed and lolled teh pale we polyp of her tongue on her lower lip, and instead I would hang back in the violet shadow of the barn to wait for Duignan or his missus to appear and save me from an encounter with the crone.

John Banville, "The Sea, pp. 38


good better best, never let 'em rest,
til your good is better, and your better best.

Now THAT piece of writing advice is free!



Indonesian (not my first language) uses the passive voice much more than active voice. In Indonesian, the form "I did this" is much less common than "This was done by me".




"Brevity is the soul of wit." - William Shakespeare

So u r kewl w/simple sh!t !!


Scott, WOW, thanks. I was wondering how to make my Blog entries shorter :-)


The object in his sentence is NOT the's the ball. The boy is the subject. So what you meant to say was that readers comprehend the active voice easier than the passive voice.

some confortably numb dude

"Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think." ... have i just been insulted?

ymal brucker

I dunno.

"All through the whole of a dull, dark, listless day in the autumn of the year, I had been travelling alone on horseback through a singularily dreary tract of country and, at length, found myself, as the shades of evening wore on, within view of the melancholy House of User."

seems more, um, interesting than:

"I arrived."


are you SURE readers aren't as smart as you think ?

Aaron Bickerton

80% is all I need right?

Ian Nastajus

AWESOME! Thankyou for putting to words the idea that objects should go before actions. My god, this simplifies my life!

Chris Benson (Asparagus Pee Guy)

I like short sentences. I also like long ones. Sometimes, it's nice to take the time to turn a phrase along the lines of "be there or risk being less than well rounded" to spouting a cliche like "be there or be square." That's the key to the famous British understatements like "I found her rather not unattractive."

Florent V.

The advice is not that bad, but I have doubts about the “The boy hit the ball” rather than “The ball was hit by the boy” thing.

You said it’s about brains. It’s not. It’s about how brains are trained, which includes language and culture.

In French, you use much more nouns and much less verbs than in English. And passive sentences (“The ball was hit by the boy”) are far more common. One of the first things you learn when you study French↔English translation is that most “This doesn’t sound quite right” situations can be solved by switching perspective… active↔passive and noun↔verb. It just works. Believe me.

The comments to this entry are closed.