Monthly Archives: November 2014

Petulant Poster Outed by Convoluted Writing Style

[Instructors: This quick change-of-pace exercise would make a good introduction to a lesson on eliminating bloated language. We’ve included rewrites, but feel free to let your students come up with their own!]

Recently it was revealed that since 2007, an Assistant US Attorney had been posting vitriolic barbs and accusations attacking New Orleans institutions and individuals under a pseudonym, Mencken1951. But “Mencken 1951” was hoisted on his own petard when one of the men he was slandering recognized Mencken’s distinctive writing style as Salvadore Perricone’s.

Below are some actual quotations from the blog. How would you rewrite these sentences so they are less oratorical?

  1. Their representations would be fraught with dubiety.
  1. The reader can understand the etiology of the sentiment.
  1. Despite his bibelot-laden chest and his professed career, he escaped any condign penalty.
  1. If XX had one firing synapse, he would go speak to XX’s posse and purge himself of this sordid episode.
  1. This is just another example of elitism in New Orleans — the great sliver of loam — that some people feel, depending on their ZIP code, that they can impose their ersatz nobility on the rest of the population.

Source: Phelps, T. (2014, September 10). Falling on his words. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Suggested rewrites

  1. Their images (or illustrations) were suspicious. [It’s probably not conditional.]
  1. (a) The reader can understand what caused the feeling. (b)  You can understand what caused the feeling. [could be indirect 3rd person reference]
  1. Despite his many decorations and a celebrated career, he escaped well-deserved punishment.
  1. If XX were smart, he would talk to his followers and settle this disgusting affair.
  1. This is just another example of elitism in New Orleans—the dirty town—where some people feel entitled by their ZIP code to dominate the rest of the population.

Three Steps to Productive Office Hours

Posted by Mary Ellen Guffey

Dana Loewy and Mary Ellen Guffey at 2014 ABC Convention

Dana Loewy and Mary Ellen Guffey at 2014 ABC Convention

At the recent Association for Business Communication conference in Philadelphia, my co-author Dana Loewy and I enjoyed many of the sessions. But one of our favorites was “Red Pens Down! Tutoring Strategies to Make 1-on-1 Appointments More Effective for Both You and Your Students.”

In the session, Professor Emily Eisner Twesme, from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, presented her three-step plan for helping students when they show up for office hours with a blank look and expect you to tell them what is “wrong” with their written assignments. She advises (1) sitting on your hands, (2) asking open-ended questions, and (3) focusing on document organization rather than marking writing errors.

Instead of having instructors jump right in and immediately begin editing the student’s paper, she advised greeting the student with a casual statement such as, “How’s your semester going?” to open a conversation. When the student asks for “help” with his/her paper, instructors are to “sit on their hands” and ask open-ended questions such as “What are you having trouble with?” When the student can’t articulate a specific problem, the professor might suggest focusing on the document’s organization, while avoiding marking the paper.

After outlining her three-step procedure, Professor Twesme had the audience break up into pairs to role-play the procedure. I played the part of a demanding and obstinate student while Dana tried her best to implement the plan. We actually learned important techniques—and laughed a lot!

Hey–Listen Up!

One of the best ways to derail a career is by failing to listen—after all, if we don’t listen, we can’t shutterstock_153481070respond in a thoughtful, considered way. Cutting a speaker off, thinking about what we’ll say next, or just being distracted when someone speaks are all ways that negatively affect our ability to listen and recall what a speaker has said.

Communication experts explain that people often do not tune in because they filter what others say through their own preexisting ideas. That, combined with the fact that millennials simply have less opportunity to practice listening because they communicate face-to-face less than previous generations, makes it especially important for younger employees to work on their listening skills.

Experts suggest the following strategies for effective listening:

  • Prepare when you know you will need to pay attention to an important conversation
  • Clear your mind of distractions
  • Make a list of items to discuss during the meeting or conversation
  • Turn off the phone
  • Go in without preconceived notions about what the speaker will say

Then during the conversation, try the following:

  • Take notes to help you focus
  • Paraphrase what the speaker says to make sure you have heard it correctly
  • Ask questions to clarify points
  • Be aware of the speaker’s body language and facial expressions to assess nonverbal communication cues
  • Show you are listening by adding a nod or saying “hmmm”
  • Make good eye contact

By becoming a good listener, you will offer better suggestions and ideas and be a more valuable employee.

Classroom Discussion

  1. How might taking notes improve your focus during a conversation?
  2. What kinds of body language might provide cues about what a speaker is thinking or feeling?
  3. Why are good listening skills especially important in group or team settings?


Source: Shellenbarger, S. (2014, July 22). Tuning in: Improving your listening skills. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from