Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Business Writing Tip 17 - Agreements - Focus on the Parties Not the Lawyers

Budgets, time, and contract psychology often don’t afford the luxury of including every conceivable contingency, or running negotiations into the ground over minutia. Just because an issue may be present doesn’t mean it can’t be deliberately omitted. When writing agreements that bind multiple parties, distinguish between what is essential to the bargain, and the superfluous. While it is important to address expected and likely future contingencies, it can be an exercise in futility to attempt to address every imaginable contingency.

First, make sure the agreement serves the parties’ objects, and says what the parties intend for it to say, and not what professionals charging for its legalese say is standard. Second, verify that the objects of the document and the parties have been addressed clearly. Does the Agreement leave any doubt or confusion about what the parties' obligations are? Here’s how we see it: Agreements ought to serve the interests of parties, not lawyers.

This isn’t to diminish the importance of what lawyers do; there are times when the protection afforded by a long, detailed contract is appropriate. What we are saying is that complexity and lengthy content can actually make an Agreement more likely to breed confusion and conflict, and that when provisions are not absolutely necessary to address reasonably likely future contingencies affecting the Parties' rights or duties, leave it out and stick to the deal’s subject. People don’t like to be confused or intimidated by a contract. In fact they are more likely to disregard the contract if they don’t understand it, or if they perceive it as a bunch of gobbledygook.

If an Agreement is clear, honest, and simple parties are more likely to perceive it as “fair”, more likely to honor it, and less likely to hide behind its confusing provisions.

Two things are certain:

- you'll strengthen your negotiating position with the other party
- and you'll spend less time and money on lawyers when seeking their counsel

If you first present them both with a clear, well-written document embodying or explaining a deal, rather than asking them to start from scratch.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Keep Your Audience in Mind

Always think of what you're writing with your audience's abilities and limitations in mind. Be careful not to leave out information that you know, but that the audience may not.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Broadcast Email List Editing Protocol

Here’s some rather mundane, but useful, information I’ve learned about preparing long lists of emails for posting to a broadcast email list. Depending on where your lists originate, the condition of entries can range from perfect to deplorable. The latter is unfortunately most common.

In order for the email engine to accept the batch addition of emails to your list, each entry on the list you’re uploading has to conform to a certain protocol. For every entry that doesn’t conform the uploading process will be interrupted. This can become very time consuming, and it can cause you to lose track of where you’ve started and stopped.

So it’s best to have meticulously edited your batched list additions before attempting to upload them to you list server. This will minimize the time necessary for the uploading process. And it will make your email lists more valuable should you wish to share them with others.

Before uploading to your list engine (server), screen the list as follows:

First, alphabetize the list in Excel. Then copy the list into Word and convert the table to text. Now you’re ready to edit by searching for the protocol breaches.
• Get rid of all caps – change all to lower case (this is easily done by hitting Ctrl A (for all), then Alt O (format), e (change case), then l (lower case), then OK).
• Search for red or green squiggles – they usually point out a problem. If you don’t recognize .extensions, see the list of working extensions below. If you don’t recognize an extension, verify by going to that website. If the website’s there, then you’ve confirmed the validity of that extension.
• Search for white space – blanks breach engine protocol.
• Search for “&” - it can’t be used left or right of @ usually can be replaced with “and”
• Search for “_” underscores: left of @ they are OK, right of @ they have to be changed to dashes –
• Search for commas “,” – they don’t belong in email addresses at all, delete them
• Search for “#” - often it’s typed as a mistake for @
• Search for “2” - often it’s typed as a mistake for @
• Search for “..” – change to just one .
• Search for “,.” – get rid of comma
• Search for “.,” - get rid of comma
• Search for “.com.” – eliminate the last “.”
• Find missing @s every email has to have one or it will be rejected by engine. This requires a careful line-by-line visual examination of your whole list.
• Finally, search for names you don’t want included in the list. Delete them to save embarrassing moments.
• Search for “;” and “!” and “/” – delete all. None have any business in email addresses.

I have found that the following extensions are OK –

ae ar au be br bs cc cn co de es et
gr id il in it jo lb mx no pa pt sg
sn tr ve za hn tv pe

There is probably some software out there that can do all of this, but I haven’t had the privilege. So, if you have a list, but don’t have such editing software, try the above to shorten your posting process.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Writing Tip 14 - Organization

How often do you find business forms with long paragraphs and jumbled ideas? Unfortunately, we're often forced to read such things in business, and who has the time?

I came across one the other day that I had to read three times to understand. Written by a very knowledgeable construction consultant in a letter to the editor of a magazine, this piece had a lot to say. While I could see its point with effort, the point was jumbled and didn't strike clearly at all. Its cumbersome visual appearance interferred with getting the writer's important message across.

In cases like these, first, separate the sentences and identify a subheading (paragraph label) under which each sentence fits. While a short document may not need subheadings, they will help the writer identify paragraph subjects. Key words in the first sentence of each paragraph may be italicized further distinguish the paragraph's basic idea.

By separating a long rambling paragraph into a series of smaller paragraphs, related thoughts and sentences can be presented in a more orderly fashion. This usually shortens the piece and has the added benefit of making the point quickly and efficiently.