That’s fine most of the time. But when your e-mail message re-
ally matters, you’re better off composing it in your word processor,
editing it there, getting it right, and then copying and pasting it into
the message space of your e-mail system. You’re a little more likely
to catch the typos, misspelled words, and other mechanical prob-
lems that way.
Moving Beyond the Mechanical
Of course, mechanical errors, misspelled words, grammar mistakes,
and typos are actually the least of our worries. If your writing is rid-
dled with those kinds of errors, you’ll distract and possibly annoy
your reader, and you’ll certainly damage your credibility. But these
mistakes are not the ones that cause the most costly damage. If you
look back at those two disastrous e-mails written by company CEOs,
neither one of them had misspelled words and neither one of them
contained typos. The grammar was fine, too, even including their
use of sentence fragments to create an individual tone. No, the real
problems lay much deeper. They failed to accomplish their supposed
purposes—inspiring, motivating, setting a vision for the future. And
they created much larger problems for their authors and the compa-
nies they headed than they were trying to fix.
In this book, we will move beyond the merely mechanical er-
rors—the punctuation mistakes, misspelled words, and grammar
goofs that everyone makes
from time to time. Rather,
our focus will be on writing
effectively. The purpose of
this book is to provide some
guidelines for business
writers who want to feel
confident that the e-mails,
letters, and other docu-
ments they write are suc-
cessful in making a clear
point, communicating a credible opinion, effectively motivating oth-
ers, or even persuading the reader to adopt a particular point of
22 The Language of Success
Words to Write By...
Effective writing does not de-
pend on correct grammar and
spelling. It depends on sound
thinking, an understanding of
the audience, and a clear sense of
your purpose in writing.
What the book won’t do is tell you how to install a spam filter,
how to set up multiple e-mail accounts for your office, or how to
launch an e-mail marketing campaign. That kind of technical infor-
mation is beyond my limited domain of expertise. The book also
will not attempt to deal with the human resource and legal issues in-
volved in writing a performance appraisal, the contractual issues
inherent in a proposal, and so on. Technical tasks and the legal im-
plication of your writing are topics best left to the techies and the
lawyers respectively. Instead, my goal is to outline how you can
write clearly and effectively. I will show you some simple techniques
that will enable you to communicate as professionally as possible.
Knowing these techniques will save you and your reader time and
effort, will prevent errors and misunderstandings, and will help you
create a favorable impression. Sloppy, unclear, incomprehensible
writing suggests that the person who produced it is incapable of
thinking clearly or producing high quality work. That’s not fair—you
may believe that your skills as a civil engineer or an investment ad-
visor or a purchasing agent or whatever you do professionally have
very little to do with your ability to write well—but nobody ever
said life would be fair. The fact is it’s in your best interest to learn
how to communicate effectively, to learn how to use the language of
In the next chapter, The Problem, I’ll sketch the typical mistakes
people make in writing e-mails, letters, and other documents. Specif-
ically, I’ll describe four “languages” people use that simply don’t
work: Fluff, Guff, Geek, and
Weasel. Each of these lan-
guages fails in business
communications because
each makes it difficult for
the reader to understand
the message. These lan-
guages often create the wrong impression, they can undercut rapport
between sender and receiver, and they may diminish the writer’s
professionalism and credibility. The use of these ineffective
languages is often a matter of bad habits. By pointing out their char-
acteristics and how to revise them, I hope to make you hypersensi-
tive to these four faulty languages. I will have accomplished my
Chapter 1 Introduction 23
Words to Write By...
People judge you and get to
know you through your writing.

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