Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 was Yesterday. 2021 is Tomorrow.


2020 was not a gentle year.

There were questions.

But no answers.

We were tested.

And sometimes came up lacking.

But we’ve encountered tough years before.

And we emerged from those years stronger.



And that’s how we’ll enter 2021.

Tired but stronger.

Weary but wiser.

Tested but better.

There will still be questions.

But we will have more answers.

We will still be tested.

But we will know we can do better.

2020 is history.

2021 is the future.

And in the future, anything is possible.

Everything is possible.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Did You Get an Invite?

Many, many years ago, a boss told me that I'd know I was providing the right level of service to a client if they considered me a part of their company and, more importantly, part of the reason for their success.

"I think I've hit that level with a number of my clients," I responded.

"Maybe," he said. "The only way to know that for sure, kid, is if they invite you to their Christmas party."

Well, one of my good clients isn't having a holiday party this year ... but I think I passed the test anyway ... 'cause this arrived from them to celebrate the season.

So, I raise a glass to writers and their clients everywhere and
wish you all a 2021 that is filled with everything that 2020 wasn't.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Problem Words

Problem words challenge most of us, which/that is hard to accept/except. These words don’t affect/effect all of your work. You may think it’s all right/alright to use the wrong word, but just among us writers, it’s a problem. Even if we appraise/apprise you of the right word choice, as we’re doing here, to ensure/assure/insure you have the right choices, you should check this list bimonthly/twice a month/every two months as a refresher. For example, take “capital” and “capitol”. If you cite/site the “capital” of our nation, or the “capitol” building, what’s the difference? They both comprise/compose part of the English language and seem to refer to the same thing—right?

Do you think it doesn’t make a difference? Nothing could be farther/further from the truth. Choosing the correct word says something about us, our organization, and our professionalism. If you just rely on good word references (e.g.,—or is it i.e.?—this one and others), the principals/principles of good writing begin to fall into place. Effective business writing which/that includes helping you select the right words, helps all of us communicate more effectively, and more efficiently. 

Besides, we want our readers to focus on the purpose and message of our document, not play guessing games with poor word choices.

Some of the most frequently misused words are:

Use accept as a verb meaning, “to receive.” I accept this award on behalf of all the members of the team.

Except: Use except as a preposition meaning “to the exclusion of.” Except for your third recommendation, I agree with your report on our progress.

Affect: The most common use of affect is as a verb meaning, “to influence, change, assume.” As a noun affect is a rarely-used, psychology term for feeling or emotion. The new law affected (changed) the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Effect: The most common use of effect is as a noun meaning “a result or outcome.” As a verb, effect means, “to cause or bring about.” We use “effect” as a verb very infrequently; most often in scientific contexts. The new law will have an effect (result) on the number of people who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

All right: Use this form. Spell this expression as two words. His choice of words was all right.

Alright: Do not use this form. This form is a nonstandard spelling, generally considered incorrect.

Among: Use among when referring to more than two people or things. I divided the work among the 5 staff members.

Between: Use between when referring to two persons or things, or more than two persons or things when considering them in pairs or in two groups. He divided the work equally between you and me. He divided the work equally between the two offices.

Appraise: Appraise is a verb meaning, “to give the value or worth of something.” Our auditor will appraise Mr. Smith’s business assets.

Apprise: Apprise is a verb meaning, “to tell or notify.” Our auditor will apprise Mr. Smith of his findings.

As: Use as, as if, as though, or other similar expressions as a conjunction in written documents. It looks as if the proposed law will become effective later this month.

Like: Do not use like as a conjunction when writing; use it as a preposition. You should format your letter like the one shown in the guidebook.

Assure: To assure means “to give someone confidence.” Use assure when giving your word to people. I assure you we are thoroughly reviewing this matter.

Insure: To insure means “to protect against loss.” You should insure that desk for $1,000.

Ensure: To ensure means “to make certain.” We will ensure that the process continues uninterrupted during the transition.

Bimonthly: Bimonthly means both twice a month and every two months. To avoid confusing your readers, just say “twice a month” or “every two months.” In general, we should avoid using the “bi” words, like biweekly, biannually, or biennially, to reduce the chance of a misunderstanding. We must make payments twice a month.

Both: Both means “the two considered together.” We will complete both projects by the end of the year.

Each: Each refers to the individual members of a group considered separately. Each employee should prepare an individual development plan.

Cite: To cite means “to quote.” You cited a section of the Internal Revenue Code that refers to the Estimated Tax Penalty.

Sight: Use sight when you mean “vision.” The guard has sight of the entire parking area.

Site: Use site when referring to “a location.” We have several customer service sites in your area.

Comprise: Comprise means to “include or contain.” The new Department of Homeland Security will comprise enforcement organizations from across the government.

Compose: Compose means to “to make up from many parts.” Enforcement organizations across the government will compose the Department of Homeland Security.

Continual: Continual means “intermittent, but frequently repeated.” As part of the continual effort to simplify the employment tax deposit system and reduce the burden for employers, the Department of the Treasury changed its regulations for payroll tax deposits several times over the last decade.

Continuous: Continuous means “without interruption.” The 24-hour help desk received a continuous flow of requests for information after the press conference.

e.g.: Short for exempli gratia (translated means “free examples”), we use e.g. to mean “for example.”
FMS will take a number of steps to put into practice a process for preparing consolidated financial statements, e.g., accelerate the central reporting cycle, implement the new financial reports compilation process, and establish business rules. In this sentence, “for example” works equally well.

i.e.: Short for id est, i.e. means “that is.” We will remove the barriers to successful implementation, i.e., give employees the training and tools needed to accomplish the task.

In today’s business writing, we are better off using the English versions: “for example” and “that is.”

Farther: Farther refers to “distance.” The drive from the airport to the processing site was farther than we expected.

Further: Further refers to “a greater extent or degree.” We need additional time to further review the issues you raised in your letter.

May and might: Use may or might when implying permission or possibility. While the taxpayer may not qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, he may be eligible for the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled because he is over age 65 and has nominal income.

Can and could: Use can or could when implying ability or power. You can reach me during the day at this telephone number.

Principle: Use principle as a noun meaning “belief, moral standard, or a basic law.” The Internal Revenue Code explains the principles of workmen’s compensation [section 104(a)(1)].

Principal: Use principal as a noun to refer to a business owner or a partner, the head of a school, or to a sum of invested money. Use it as an adjective to mean “the most important” or “main.” The principal reason for the Safety, Health, and Environmental training is to promote a safe and healthy work place for employees.

Than: Use than when comparing people or things. We found our security system has a higher level of security than the federal guidelines require.

Then: Use then as an adverb meaning “at that time” or “next.” We will complete all the steps in the investigation and then take whatever course of action is necessary.

That: That introduces a “defining” clause containing essential information. Do not enclose the information in commas. Our goal is to give our customers service that is accurate and prompt.

Which: Which introduces unnecessary, but nice to know, information. Set off this information with commas. If the information is unnecessary and adds nothing to the sentence, leave it out. Employees who do not wish to use the employee entrance can use the main lobby, which will have a guard.

While: Use while to show similarity in time. While can also mean “though,” “although,” “even though,” “but” or “and,” however, you should use the more concrete equivalent word. We found derogatory information while processing Mr. Doe’s application for the Special Agent position. Although we found derogatory information, we continued to process Mr. Doe’s application for the Special Agent position.

Who: Use who when” he, she, they, I, or we” works in the sentence. Who is studying the effect the new law will have on Treasury employees?

Whom: Use whom when “him, her, them, me, or us” works in the sentence. Whom did you say you talked to in the Secretary’s Office?

= = = = =

Guest Blogger: Mary Dash, Chief of the Congressional Correspondence and Quality Review Branch of the Internal Revenue Service

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Instant karma?

More than a few years ago I was on a first date. 

It was one of those unusual situations when everything was going absolutely perfectly. 


I was in that space where I could do no wrong. She thought my conversation engaging and my jokes hilarious. We were both enjoying a wonderful evening out and I could tell that she was very happy to be with me.

When we arrived at her place to drop her off, she asked if I’d like to come in for a drink. 

“Of course,” I said suavely.

Yes, “suavely.” At this point in the evening, I was incredibly impressed with myself. 

Why not? Everything I said was spot on. Everything I did was just right. 

I could do no wrong. 

I was on top of the world. 

In my mind, I was exuding a level of charm that George Clooney could only dream of.

I imagined that she saw me as the perfect date. 

No, the perfect man. 

I was sure that she was consumed with desire and that passionate lovemaking was minutes away.

As I casually walked her up the path to the front door, I noticed an unpleasant odor. 

It smelled like a tuna and liverwurst sandwich that had been left in the sun for a week ... and ... it seemed to be getting worse. 


I wondered what it could be.

As we reached the porch, I debonairly made my move for the first kiss of the evening ... knowing that I was master of the world and that she would melt in my arms.

But the stench.

I looked down and saw that I had stepped in and was tracking a huge pile of dog poop.

Very suave. 

Very debonair.

Life has a way of reminding you not to get too impressed with yourself.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Do you have what it takes to be a writer?

From an offline LinkedIn conversation with an aspiring writer:

Them: “I'm not a writer, it's not my job, and I didn't even take English in high school. And I don't know what the rules of writing are.”

Me: “Not taking English in high school and not knowing  the rules of writing can keep you delightfully unencumbered for true communication.”

The Bottom Line: The rules of grammar and punctuation are important. But the ability to communicate the message in a clear, concise, and compelling way is more important.

We’ve had it educated out of us in grammar school, university, and god help you if you’ve been to a business school. You end up writing in a way no one can understand. – Nick Usborne

When a thought takes one’s breath away, a grammar lesson seems an impertinence. – Thomas W. Higginson

Like authors, creative copywriters have a license to do whatever the hell they want with grammar. They’re well within their rights to spell things wrong if it makes a point, abandon grammar altogether when necessary, and even make the grammar worse for the sake of a catchy line. – Clare Barry

Copywriting is about broad strokes and the linking of strategic and persuasive ideas, not minutia grammar or spelling. – Alexandra Cattoni

When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ”No. I went to films.” – Quenton Tarantino

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“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...