Tip

A good suggestion for supervisors is to tell your people to use lots of these two transitions (or words like them): for instance and for example. The result will almost always be more concreteness. And concreteness translates to information that readers remember.

Tell brief stories

We all love stories. What's our reaction when a speaker says, "Let me tell you what happened last Saturday evening"? Our ears perk up, and we suddenly pay attention.

The same thing happens to readers—a story perks them up. Consider this one:

Part of my job is to help low-income families. For example, a family of three (soon to be four) moved from a homeless shelter to an apartment. The only things they brought with them were the ciothes on their backs.

The manager of the property asked me to help this family with utilities, clothing, furniture, and food. So I called the electric and phone companies to give them information about the family.

Once the companies processed the information, the electricity and phone began to work. The next thing was to find clothes and furniture. The family and I went to the Salvation Army. We found some good quality clothes and good pieces of furniture to take back to their apartment.

Finally, I showed them where the nearest grocery store was and how to use food stamps.

See how the story helps make something abstract—helping others—more memorable? Sometimes, for an important point, the extra words a story requires are well worth the reader's time.

Make comparisons

If there's one technique of concreteness that separates amateurs from professionals, it's that professionals tend to use many comparisons.

However, comparisons have a plus and a minus:

• The plus. A good comparison will probably be the most memorable part of a piece of writing.

• The minus. A good comparison is hard to think of.

Nevertheless, many people have thought of excellent ones. John D. MacDonald, a famous novelist, used comparisons often in his writing. Here's one from The Dreadful Lemon Sky telling us about news stories:

But a news story is a fragile thing. It is like a hot air balloon. It needs a constant additive of more hot air in the form of new revelations, new actions, new suspicions. Without this the air cools, the big bag wrinkles, sighs, settles to the ground, and disappears.

We know that comparisons appear in novels, but do they appear in business writing? Yes. Here's a good one about "client-serving computing":

A common use for client-serving computing is for processing large amounts of data. For example, if you need to produce a huge personnel report, you can have a powerful computer come up with the data for the report (doing the number crunching and sorting), and you can put the data on a less powerful computer to format the report. In this case, it's like digging a ditch with a backhoe to dig up the heavy dirt and then using shovels to even out the edges of the hole.

So check your writing for abstractness. Are there places you could add quick examples? Brief stories? Comparisons? Your writing may grow a bit longer, but it will probably communicate much better.

Now let's look at the final chapter on style: punctuation. It can make a big difference in your writing.

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