Speechless but not stumped

Through the marvels of modern technology (LinkedIn and email), I am privileged to serve as ad hoc advisor to a journalist in Islamabad. He is determined to replace the Victorian British taught in the schools with American-slanted, contemporary English usage.From time to time–sometimes several times a week, sometimes with weeks or months in between–he will […]

How to say “thank you”

An article in a job-seekers newsletter affirmed the value of the written thank-you note as a follow-up to an interview. “With so little coming into the office via mail v. email, it’s a pleasure for many business people to actually open an envelope and read a hand written note. It connects in much different way […]

Showing Up

Over on LinkedIn, someone asked what advice she should give to the students at her Alma Mater in a commencement address. My response was to lead with Woody Allen’s quote, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” (He may have said “90 percent,” or perhaps it was “success,” not “life,” but you get the idea.) […]

“Show, don’t tell”

The advice in the headline comes from the late, great Henry James. It is the secret of great fiction: Concrete versus abstract. In non-fiction, the same advice applies, but the reasons are different: The difference between argument and assertion is that the former provides support for a point of view. The latter doesn’t, and the […]

Draft Dodging

Anne Lamott, bless her heart, offers single best piece of writing advice: “Writ a really, really sh***y first draft.” Her point, more or less, is that the first draft is going to be dreadful no matter what. You aren’t going to make it better by enabling a bunch of nagging and critical voices inside your […]

Calling all Jewish writers

This year’s big movie was Lincoln, the film about the sixteenth president and his bold bid to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. I went to the film looking forward not only to Steven Spielberg’s directing and the star turns of Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Fields, but most of all to the Tony Kushner screenplay. I […]

The Desk Drawer Strategy

I was talking to a former student over the holidays, and guess what piece of advice he cited as most helpful in his business writing? Not the BLOT or the advice about tightening language…not the Focus Sheet or the insights about audience and purpose. Nope. What he said was, “I remember how you told us […]


Although the BLOT must be the first thing the reader finds in a business document, a clear and cogent BLOT is not likely to be the first thing a writer writes. Writing is a process of discovery—that’s why adolescents, and others, keep journals. You aren’t fully aware of what you’re going to say until you’ve […]


By the end of the first paragraph of a business document, the reader should know not only what problem, issue or opportunity you’re writing about, but also the proposed solution or action steps you will be advocating. Deborah Dumaine, in her excellent business writing book, Write to the Top,” calls this BLOT—bottom line on top. […]

Take Action Against “Actionable”

An internship description from the office of general counsel for a major financial services company seeks someone who can provide “actionable solutions.” For one of my MBA students, this represents a golden opportunity. For me, it is a battle lost. Until the last decade or so, “actionable” had only one meaning: something you could get […]