Celebrating the Freedom to Write

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America is about to celebrate its independence on July 4th. It seems only fitting that I examine one of life’s greatest freedoms: the freedom to write. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Writing and reading are basic human rights. From my volunteer work with Chicago Books to Women in Prison, I’ve come to realize that not everyone has easy access to books. That fact saddens me. I believe every human being, no matter where they live or where they grew up, is entitled to reading and writing and all the benefits and joys those activities bring. I could not imagine a world without having the ability to read and write or without access to books and pens and paper. Every person should have access to these things. Reading and writing bring peace of mind even through our darkest moments. They’re like security blankets for the soul.

2. Writing and reading are gateways to higher learning. Without the ability to read and write, individuals are limited in what they can learn and what they can achieve and how much they can grow. Without reading and writing, how would we ever learn about history, science or world cultures, or any other subject that tickles our imagination? Reading and writing are the stepping stones to knowledge and wisdom. They open our minds to different expressions of thought and conversation.

3. Writing is self-expression. It enables us to find the right words and phrases to speak our minds, share family stories, tell our truths, divulge long-held secrets, reveal our emotions, express opinions and bare our souls to the world. Writing is the pathway to healing from tragedy and turmoil. Just as important, writing allows us to celebrate the joys and triumphs of life too.

4. Writing is the ultimate form of communication. Sometimes it’s easier to communicate in writing than by speaking. Whether we choose to use a pen, pencil or laptop, writing lets us form connections with others. We don’t live as islands, secluded and alone. Writing helps us to reach out to others when speaking may be difficult.

5. Writing is self-discovery. It’s a way of connecting with ourselves. It’s how we gain access to the ideas in our head before transmitting them into words on a page. Writing allows us to explore the inner workings of our hearts and souls. How can we possibly understand who we are, how we feel and what we stand for if we don’t put those thoughts down on paper (or the screen)?

6. Writing is finding your voice. As I mentioned earlier, writing is a form of self-expression. But before you get to that point, you must find your voice. I believe we have two types of voices – the one we hear inside our head and the one we express through words, either written or verbally. In a world where conflicting voices clamor to be heard, it can be difficult, sometimes even impossible, to know which voice is yours and which belongs to someone else. It can be too easy to follow the voice that is louder, more authoritative and insistent, especially when we’re struggling to find our voice. Writing allows us to gain access to our internal voice so it can become stronger and louder. The more you write, the more confident your voice becomes.

7. Writing is independent thinking. As your inner voice becomes more confident, stronger, and louder, you may realize that your voice stands alone in the world. Others may not agree with you or support you. That’s okay because how you think and what you believe makes you stand out from the crowd. That is why so many writers live solitary lives. That solitary thought process is a path to better, more independent thinking. That’s what sets you apart from everyone else. Would you rather follow the crowd with your voice drowned out by others? Or would you prefer to set your own path, even though you may walk it alone? Writing guides you on the path that is truly your own.

8. Writing is exercising your right to freedom of speech. Last I checked, the U.S. is still a free country. It protects our right for freedom of speech. We may not always like what someone says or writes about in the press, and we may not agree with someone’s point of view. But it’s imperative that we allow them the right to free speech just as we would want them to allow us to have our say. Even more important, it’s important to protect those freedoms. They belong to every American. It’s okay to disagree. In fact, it’s vital to have differences of opinion if we are to understand one another better. It’s just not okay to shut someone down or drown out their voice.

The beautiful thing about writing is that it means different things to different people. Writing is as individual as you and me. It’s what helps us understand ourselves and each other. It’s what helps us makes sense of the world around us and within us. It’s what helps us be human. Writing is life.

Thank you for reading. This is my only post this week. Happy 4th of July, and celebrate safely.

How to Give Writing Feedback — Thoughtfully and Effectively

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Whether you’re part of a writer’s group or manage a department of creatives, you may be called upon to give feedback about someone else’s work. It can be doubly difficult to critique someone’s work, especially if you like and respect that person. You don’t want to upset them or discourage them from writing more. On the contrary, you want to provide feedback that will challenge them to produce better work.

Most experts agree that it’s important to provide some positive comments along with negative feedback. Critiques without positive comments can be devastating to creative types, who are naturally sensitive about work that they’ve poured their heart and soul into. Negative critiques can make writers feel their work has no redeeming value, and they may be tempted to give up writing altogether. There is always something positive to find about someone’s work. A good editor will see it and won’t hesitate to share it.

So what’s the best way to handle critiques? How can you provide meaningful feedback that supports and encourages other people to produce better work without crushing their soul? Here are a few tips for giving effective feedback.

1. Read the piece thoroughly. If it’s a shorter piece, like an essay or news article, read it several times. Here’s how I like to assess a written work: The first time through, I read to get the gist of the story. During the second reading, I make notes about technical issues, like grammar, punctuation and run-on sentences. The third time through, I make notes about content issues. Are there confusing plot points? Does the story flow seamlessly, or are there sticking points where nothing appears to be happening? It’s usually during that third reading that the biggest issues pop out like a neon sign. If possible, avoid reading the piece right before meeting with the writer. It simply does not allow enough time to mull over the writing.

2. Find the story’s good qualities. Don’t just focus on mistakes and confusing content. Start with sharing the positive qualities of the story. Some managers and editors have used the sandwich method for critiquing a person’s work — couching negative feedback between two positive statements. According to the Grammarly blog, some editorial experts claim that this method isn’t effective in providing constructive criticism. I see nothing wrong with this approach, however. I suspect that its lack of effectiveness has more to do with not properly communicating constructive feedback.

Here’s how the sandwich method works:

“I love your story idea. I think it’s sharp and witty, and a lot of people will appreciate the humor. However, I noticed a tendency for run-on sentences. Perhaps you were thinking faster than you could write? Sometimes it helps to read aloud your story so you notice those run-on sentences. Once you fix those run-on sentences, I think you’ll have a stronger story..

You notice that I not only pointed out the weakness of the story, I offered a suggestion for fixing it.

3. Choose your words carefully. According to the Balance Careers blog, it might be helpful to begin statements with “I” rather than “You.” The “you” focus can be perceived as a personal attack, which you want to avoid. Focus on your own response to the story. Instead of saying, “Your story is boring,” say “I found the story boring in some sections.”

Be honest with your critique, but approach it with the intent of helping the writer improve their work. Always offer suggestion or tips, but refrain from directing the writer how to fix things. Respect them enough to give them space for resolving their own writing issues.

4. Provide detail… Don’t just mention the issue, but provide some detail. Don’t just say, “I thought your story was boring.” Explain why you thought it was boring. Was the entire piece boring to you, or just one or two paragraphs? Was there too much narrative when you were looking for more dialogue? Did the story need more conflict? Did the story move off on a tangent that was difficult to follow and had nothing to do with the story? The more feedback you provide can help the writer analyze their story with an eye on improving it.

5. …But don’t nitpick. You might notice a lot of things wrong with the story. In that case, for the sake of your working relationship, focus on only one or two things that the writer can easily fix. Remember, your role is to provide helpful, practical suggestions.

6. Call out recurring mistakes right away. If you have read several pieces by the same writer over time and notice that they tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, you need to call them out right away, suggests the marketing experts at Hubspot. Don’t just fix the problems for them without mentioning it. If necessary, make the correction and show it to them so they see how to fix it. The only way they will learn not to make the same mistakes again is to make them aware of them in the first place. The sooner you mention those errors, the sooner they can learn to correct them on their own.

7. Ask questions to guide the writer. According to Grammarly, when you ask the writer questions about their work, it gets them to thinking about how to solve their own writing issues. It guides them to resolve the issues on their own rather than you telling them how to do it. For example, you might suggest, “Is there a way to simplify this paragraph, perhaps edit it for shorter sentences? It might make the story easier to read.”

8. Don’t make it personal. Critique the work, not the writer. Set aside whatever personal feelings you have toward the writer and focus on the work in front of you.

Remember these are works-in-progress, not finished pieces. Your job is to provide feedback to help the writer improve their work and sharpen their skills. Think about those times when you’ve had your own work critiqued. How did you feel when you received feedback? Did you feel deflated and discouraged, or were you energized and excited about moving forward with your story? Be the editor you’d like others to be with your own work.

Six Ways to Develop Great Listening Skills

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During the month of June, I’m focusing on the topic of interpersonal communications skills.

As communicators, you would think good listening skills come naturally to us, just like breathing or swallowing. But just because we were born with two ears doesn’t mean we listen well to others.

Research shows that people spend 53 percent of their daily communications activities on listening compared to 17 percent for reading, 16 percent for speaking and 14 percent for writing. Yet the average listener retains only half of the information they heard immediately after hearing it, and only one-fourth of the information after 48 hours. We must all learn to listen, not out of a need to memorize, but to comprehend. That takes practice and patience.

Most people assume that good listening involves three things:

* Not talking while the other person is speaking
* Using facial expressions and verbal sounds (Hmmm-hmmm) to let others know you’re listening
* Repeating back what you’ve just heard from the speaker

This three-pronged approach called active listening has been taught for decades. But good listening is more than this, say leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in Harvard Business Review.

We’re not sponges soaking up every concept, Zenger and Folkman say. Rather good listening works like a trampoline where there’s a bounce back effect. Speakers and listeners bounce ideas off one another to amplify, energize and clarify thinking.

Zenger and Folkman say great listeners do the following:

* Ask questions to gain better insight. Sitting in silence with an occasional nod of the head does nothing to confirm to the speaker that you understand what was said. Asking questions signals to the speaker that you desire to learn more.

* Make the speaker feel supported. Great listeners make interactions a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen if a listener is passive, or worse, critical. This supportive environment is characterized by creating a safe environment in which issues and differences of opinion can be discussed openly and freely.

* Create a cooperative environment for conversation. Feedback flows freely in all directions. Neither party gets defensive about comments. By comparison, poor listeners are perceived as competitive; they listen only to identify errors in judgment, reasoning or logic.

* Make suggestions and provide feedback. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but they do so with the intent to help the other party, not hurt them or win an argument.

So how do good communicators develop better listening skills? Here are a few tips from Fast Company.

1. Be present. You can be sitting in the first row staring up at the speaker, but your mind can be a million miles away writing your marketing plan in your head. Though your body is in place, your attention is not. Learn to be present in the moment. Give the speaker your undivided attention, no matter how boring their presentation may be. Avoid distractions – put away the phone, put down your pen, shut off the laptop. If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the present.

If that doesn’t work, imagine if the roles were reversed. If you were speaking, wouldn’t you want people to give their undivided attention to you? Of course, you would. With that in mind, be fully present wherever you are.

2. Listen to learn. Be curious. Communicators by nature are curious people, so this should not be an issue. Nevertheless, listen to gain better understanding. Don’t just listen out of politeness or because you’re supposed to. Listening out of politeness doesn’t help you gain a better understanding of the other party’s meaning.

3. Set aside your personal agenda. We each have our reasons for participating in the conversation or want to achieve something from it. Maybe it’s to ask for their help on a project or persuade a different outcome on a decision. Whatever it is, that’s your own personal agenda. “When you think of your own agenda, you shut off the opportunity to truly listen and learn something from the other person,” says Hal Gregerson of MIT Leadership Center, interviewed for the Fast Company story. “It’s important to be open to new information that you’re not looking for but need to hear.”

4. Ask questions. Listening well and asking questions shows a willingness on your part to being proven wrong, whether it’s misinformation or an assumption about something. Asking questions shows your interest in the speaker and what they have to say. It also creates a safe space to have an open discussion. Asking questions helps you learn more from the speaker and shows you are engaged in the conversation.

5. Wait to respond. Like waiting for a stoplight to change from red to green, great listeners need to sense when it’s a good time to respond and when they need to hold their tongue. One of the most difficult aspects of listening effectively is waiting for that natural pause at the end of the sentence where listeners can ask questions or offer a rebuttal. Patience is key, and poor listeners aren’t very patient. When you begin to form a reply before the speaker has finished speaking, you communicate to others that your opinion is more important than theirs. Great listeners suspend their judgment and wait for the right moment to engage in conversation.

6. Repeat back what you heard. Not sure if what you heard was accurate? Need clarification? Repeat the speaker’s words. For example, “Let me get this straight. You believe all education should be free to students? Why?” Repeating back is a technique that’s been around for decades. Management experts says it’s a proven technique that defuses arguments because it slows down the pace of conversation. Repeating back encourages further discussion and gives speakers and listeners a chance to clarify and gain better understanding.

Great listeners are not born. But with proper training, practice and patience, good communicators can become great listeners.

 

Certain Words and Phrases Can Undermine Your Credibility

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During the month of June, my posts have been focused on interpersonal communications skills. In this post, words and phrases that can undermine your credibility.

In your work, it’s important to be taken seriously and develop a good reputation among peers, bosses and clients. But sometimes, language can undermine your credibility without you even realizing it.

Communications skills are vital in every business setting, but sometimes gets overlooked in the digital workplace. The way we communicate says a lot about our professionalism and credibility. The way we communicate can reveal our level of confidence – or lack thereof. The last thing you want to do is undermine yourself in front of bosses or clients, especially potential clients.

Every time you speak, you may be sabotaging yourself with your language  which can impact your success in business and in your relationships. The most disconcerting thing is that most of the time, you may not be aware of how you’re putting a roadblock in your business success with your words and phrases.

So which words and phrases should we avoid? Career and presentation experts say the following are the biggest culprits.

1) “I’m no expert,” “I may be wrong,” and “This might sound crazy”

Experts say these phrases appear to warn listeners that what you’re about to say is trivial and irrelevant and not to be taken seriously. You come across as insecure in your thoughts. Why would they take your statement seriously if you don’t?

Before: “I may be wrong, but shouldn’t we do a little more market research before launching the new product line?”

Preferred: “Shouldn’t we do a little more market research before launching the new product line?”

2) “Just,” “I just thought,” etc.

Similar to the phrases above, any phrase containing the word “just” expresses uncertainty about your statement. It downplays your message so recipients aren’t likely to take it seriously. When you eliminate the word “just” as well as its companion phrases, you’ll come across more assertive and confident.

Before: “It’s just that it might be better to delay the project until next week.”
Preferred: “It might be better to delay the project until next week.”

3) “Does this make sense?”

When you conclude your presentation or speech with this question, it’s as if you doubt your own words and you’re looking for confirmation from your audience that they understand you. But a much simpler way to accomplish that is to ask, “Do you have any questions?”

4) “I think,” “I believe,” and “I feel”

Experts say these phrases act as a buffer that dilutes your message and shows a lack of assertiveness. You can always replace it with more confidence-building terms such as “I’m confident” or “I’m optimistic.”

That said, I don’t think these phrases should be avoided altogether because they do have a place in our everyday language. Since they’re often used to express opinions, they may be better suited for casual conversations. If you want to make an impression, however, avoid these buffers.

Before: “I think you’ll be impressed with the new production.”
Preferred: “You’ll be impressed with the new production.” Or “I’m confident you’ll be impressed with the new production.”

5. Avoid fillers.

Ever listen to someone’s presentation filled with “um,” “you know,” “kind of,” and other meaningless phrases? Speaking that way lends doubt to the content of the presentation, writes Jerry Weissman, founder of Power Presentations, Ltd. The speaker comes across as ill-prepared and not very knowledgeable. They may know the information inside and out, but their presentation, complete with “ums” and “you knows,” makes you wonder if they really do know what they’re talking about.

According to Weissman, the following fillers should be avoided:

“Sort of”
“Kind of”
“Um”
“Actually”
“Basically”
“Really”
“Anyway”
“Pretty much”

For most people, the hardest part is being aware of their language and how they come across in presentations. Sometimes it’s easier to notice these transgressions when other people speak, but see if you can pay more attention to your own speaking habits. Maybe record yourself when you give a short speech. How many times do you fill your presentation with “ums,” “you knows,” etc.?

Communications are often filled with unnecessary words and phrases that can undermine your credibility in business situations. Be aware of how you speak and self-edit so you make a strong confident impression with everyone you meet.

Just for fun:
Stop Saying Sorry When You Want to Say Thank You — comic

Proofreading: How to Develop an Eagle Eye for Your Own Writing

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As writers, one of the toughest things we will ever do is proofread our own work. If you’ve spent days or even weeks working on one piece, it can be easy to form an emotional attachment to it, especially certain words and turns of phrases that you invented. It can be difficult to look at your work objectively and let go of that emotional attachment. It can be difficult to pick up a red pen and circle misspelled words, typos and grammar mistakes. But proofreading is a necessary evil, like having a tooth pulled that’s been aching for days.

One of the most important skills a writer can ever learn is proofreading. Most experts believe proofreading can help you become a better writer. Some writers aren’t necessarily good proofreaders however. To improve your proofing skills and develop a keen eagle eye to spot pesky errors, follow these proofreading tips.

1. Set the work aside. If you’ve been working on a piece nearly non-stop for several days or weeks, your eyes have probably grown tired of looking at the words on the page. When you believe your piece is complete, set it aside before proofreading it. Give your eyes a rest. When you return, you can review your work with a clear head. Chances are, you’ll pick up mistakes more quickly.

2. Proof a hard copy rather than on a screen. Granted most of your work was done on the computer. That’s fine. But when it comes to proofreading your own work, I’ve always found it easier to review everything on a printed page. The printed page is easier to read and you are more likely to catch errors. You don’t always catch errors when you see them on the laptop screen. So print out your piece before proofreading.

3. Make several proofing passes. During each pass, focus on a different problem. Experts at Ragan Communications suggest reading for the overall message during the first pass. Subsequent passes will focus on sentence structure, grammar and syntax, spelling and work choices and so on.

4. Read it out loud. Reading the piece silently is one thing, but reading it out loud can help you determine sticky points in the content. Do you stumble over certain, difficult pronunciations?  Are some sentences overly long and complex? Reading out loud alerts you to trouble spots you may not have noticed before. Additionally, you can try reading the piece backwards, which forces you to focus on each word one at a time.

5. Have someone else proof your work. If you have difficulty separating yourself from your work, it might help to have another set of eyes look at it. That’s especially important for something like an email marketing piece or website content that will eventually be viewed by hundreds or thousands of readers. Another reader can confirm whether your words say what you intended.

6. Proof every version of your story. Wix Content blog suggests proofreading each version of the story as you write them. For example, if you’ve written five versions of your essay or feature article, be sure to proofread it each time you complete a new version. This might seem like overkill, but with each new editing pass, more errors can be introduced. Proofreading helps to avoid those errors.

7. Double check names. If you mention names of people, places, and products in your piece, make sure to spell them correctly. Especially double check company names as companies tend to merge with others or go through a rebranding phase, thus precipitating a name change.

8. Check spelling and punctuation. It’s okay to use a spellchecker to initially scan your work – it can certainly pick up some misspelled words – but don’t rely on it, say experts at Ragan Communications. The spellchecker doesn’t pick up everything and can’t discern the correct uses of some words, such as where and wear. Make sure you keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy too in case you need to look up a word’s meaning or spelling.

9. Check for accuracy. If you interviewed subject matter experts for your work, make sure you send them a copy to review before publication. Ask them to double check the spelling of their name too so it appears correctly. There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending out work that contains outdated, or unconfirmed and unsubstantiated information.

10. Double check links. If you’re reviewing copy for an online publication and your piece contains links to outside references, double check those links before posting it. Your editor or employer will thank you that you’ve taken the time to do that.

Whether writing is your career or your passion, understand that proofreading comes with the territory. When you follow some or all of these proofreading tips, your writing will shine with clarity and accuracy.

Make a Positive Impression During Phone Meetings

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Chances are you’ve seen this TV commercial for pretzel snacks where a young man working from home is on the phone while his colleagues across town wait in an uncomfortable silence listening to the man’s loud snacking over the intercom. Until one  of the colleagues finally suggests that he should disconnect the line.

I imagine somewhere in the world, someone has made that mistake during a phone meeting. That kind of mistake probably doesn’t go over very well with employers or clients. The young man probably could have spared himself much embarrassment if he used common sense and followed certain meeting prep guidelines.

With more remote workers and better technology, phone meetings are becoming more commonplace. When participating in phone meetings, it can be tempting to do your own thing. No matter where you work – at home, in an office, hotel room or co-working space – it’s important to present a positive image, even when the other meeting participants can’t see you.

Good impressions in telephone meetings are important for several reasons, writes Darlene Price, author of Well Said: Presentations and Conversations That Get Results in a recent Forbes interview. Phone meetings are more common because of newer technologies, so it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get key individuals into a phone meeting at one time.

Second, phone meetings often serve as the initial introduction to a company or potential client. As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first 10-15 seconds of a meeting can make or break your chances for success. So make sure you are ready from the get-go. If you miss the opportunity to make a good impression in the introduction stage, you may not get another chance.

Finally a positive phone presentation can lead to better opportunities and career advancement, says Price.  When you speak confidently, people take notice because you come across as a strong, confident leader. They are more likely to listen to what you have to say. You’re able to persuade others to a call for action, such as support a cause, fund a project, negotiate a pay raise or win a new client.

A professional phone image is more than just your voice. It’s also the way you dress. Business meetings are still business, so dress appropriately as if you were there in person.

Numerous other factors can make or break your meeting. Here’s a quick rundown to help you prepare for your phone meeting to ensure a successful outcome.

1. Do your homework. If this is the first time you are speaking with the other person or with this company, find out more about them ahead of time. Check out the person’s LinkedIn profile and find out what organizations they belong to. Browse their company website to find out its history, mission statement and latest accomplishments. The more you know about who you are dealing with, the more comfortable you will feel during the phone meeting.

2. Be prepared. Compile notes, and keep them nearby so you can refer to them easily. Make a list of questions you want to ask and key points you want to cover. If you plan to use your cell phone and laptop, keep them fully charged and ready to go. Keep a glass of water nearby too in case you get thirsty and sip it quietly between questions. If you have a tendency toward allergies and nasal congestion, it might help to gargle with salt water to clear your throat beforehand.

3. Find a quiet place to converse. A small sitting room, your living room, even a closet will work. I would avoid coffee shops because they can get too busy and noisy, especially if they play music overhead. You want to be able to converse without distractions.

4. Get comfortable. Find a comfortable seat wherever you are. Sit up straight and practice good posture. Don’t slouch. I know I sound like your grade school teacher saying that, but it’s true. When you slouch, you lose energy. When you sit tall and straight, you breathe more easily through the body and you feel more energized.

5. Be on time for your meeting. Don’t linger in the bathroom to practice your speech. Being on time shows you take the meeting seriously and that you are prepared.

6. Be succinct with your answers. When others in the phone meeting ask questions, be brief and to the point. Don’t give long-winded answers or go off topic, which can give the impression that you aren’t prepared

While these are the most important things to consider when planning for your phone meeting, here are a few other things you should NOT do, according to Glassdoor.

1. Don’t talk about your personal life. Unless the client or other party asks about your weekend or ask how you deal with stress, keep your personal life out of the conversation.

2. Resist the urge to multi-task. Don’t try to write a proposal during a phone meeting which can only distract you from the conversation. Give the meeting your full attention and take notes. If your mind is elsewhere, you might miss an important detail.

3. Never talk over the interviewer. Allow the interviewer to finish asking their question before jumping in with your answer. In fact, wait one or two beats before answering. Those few seconds allow you to absorb the meaning of their question and gather your thoughts.

4. Don’t assume your phone reception is good. No matter where you are, even at home, you may get spotty reception or the Internet service goes does. Test the connection beforehand by either calling your cell phone from a landline or asking a friend to call you.

One final thought: Don’t chew gum or eat during the phone meeting. This is a no-brainer. Just because other participants can’t see you doesn’t mean you can start snacking away. Don’t be that guy in the TV commercial. Phone meetings are no time to get complacent.

Forget Jargon and Clichés; Write and Speak in Plain English

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Has this ever happened to you? You are on the phone with a potential client. They ask a few warm-up questions to break the ice and get to know you better. The interview seems to be going well. Or so you think. Until the interviewer – a high-level marketing exec – begins to ask questions filled with marketing buzzwords you are not familiar with.

How would you respond? What would you say?

I was in a similar situation a few months ago. When the marketing exec I spoke with began using marketing jargon, I suddenly felt ill-at-ease. I felt excluded from the conversation. I’m not a marketing person. I’m a writer and editor who happens to occasionally write marketing copy. If someone starts talking about SEO strategy and marketing ROI, my eyes glaze over.

My job as a writer is to communicate as clearly as possible with readers. I can’t get held up by industry jargon and buzzwords that might mean something to the company but does not communicate clearly with their audience. To truly understand what this exec wanted me to write for her organization would have taken far more time and effort to ask loads of questions, and I suspected she did not have the patience to answer them. Naturally, I did not get the assignment with this client.

Browse any corporate report and leadership communications, and you’ll see they are filled with industry jargon and clichés that confuse readers and don’t present the organization in a positive light. Jargon is language specific to a business or industry often consisting of acronyms, abbreviations and specialty vocabulary that’s used as a shortcut to meaning among those who understand it. The other problem in business writing is clichés, those overused phrases that really have no meaning at all, such as “game changer,” “value add,” and “blue-sky thinking.” (For a good list of these clichés, check out this recent Forbes article and this one on PlainLanguage.gov.)

If you want to distinguish yourself and connect better with readers, then you need to speak and write what you mean in plain English. In other words, watch your language.

How can these problems be fixed? Here are a few tips from Business.com to help your business writing become crystal clear without relying on jargon and clichés.

1. Know your audience. What is their demographic? Their education level? Once you identify your audience, speak in their language, not your own. If your audience is a department of IT professionals, of course, your language will consist of IT buzzwords because they are more likely to understand them. But if your audience is made up of customers, you’ll want to speak as plainly as possible.

2. Don’t dress up your message. Naturally, you want to come across as sincere and knowledgeable, but don’t gloss over the message by using longer words and convoluted language. That will only muddy your message and create confusion. You don’t want to make your message sound more impressive than it really is. If you need to communicate to employees that several people were laid off, say: “Because of the company’s poor sales performance the past year, we had to fire several people from our sales and marketing staff.” End of story.

3. Use shorter words and sentences. Studies have shown that shorter speeches and messages are easier to remember over the long term.

4. Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations. According to PlainLanguage.gov, abbreviations are often published in an inconsistent format. For example, IBM vs. I.B.M. Sometimes, abbreviations appear only once in a document so it makes no sense to include them in your communications. The general rule I follow is to spell out the full company name the first time it is mentioned followed by its acronym in parenthesis, then use the abbreviation for all subsequent mentions. For example, I would write the National Association of Realtors (NAR) for the first mention, then NAR for all other subsequent mentions in the same story.

5. Edit your message. Review and rewrite it until it sounds right. You can usually cut the first draft in half. It might be helpful to read it out loud so you can hear how it sounds to your own ears, or read it to one or two other people who can provide feedback.

Your communications don’t have to be complex and confusing. Keep it simple. When you use plain English to write or speak your message, you will not only communicate more clearly and succinctly, you will win the respect of your audience.