Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


  • Comparing Heartbleed Emails

    By now, most people know about Heartbleed, the computer vulnerability that takes advantage of a programming flaw in websites' OpenSSL encryption code. As we wait to see which sites are affected, companies are beginning to send emails to customers. We can compare these bad-news messages in the same way we looked at emails about the Epsilon security breach back in 2011. Here are the emails I've seen so far: McAfee Prezi SurveyMonkey Pinterest Discussion Starters: What differences do you notice among these emails? Consider the message, tone, organization, and so on. What could account for these differences?
  • Teenager Proposes Font Change for $234m in Savings

    A 14-year-old boy claimed that the U.S. government could save $234 million by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond. But The Washington Post reports, "That claim is patently false." Suvir Mirchandani, from Pittsburgh, made a good point: a smaller or thinner font could reduce paper and toner expenses. Garamond simply takes less ink than does Times New Roman. But experts say that the government doesn't print nearly the quantity that Mirchandani estimated in his paper, published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators . The Government Printing Office, which prints about half of the government's work, spent only $700,000 on ink last year. Mirchandani admits that he didn't get his information directly from the government in time for his paper to be published. Second, Mirchandani failed to consider that the font change, as you see above, makes the printing harder to read. That's a real consequence of a smaller or thinner font—and who knows what problems that would cause and how much they would cost. Image source. Discussion Starters: Read Mirchandani's paper . Can you identify the flaws? How would you describe the consequences of a font that's more difficult to read? Consider who reads government documents and for what reasons.
  • British Street Signs Omit Apostrophes

    In Britian, apostrophists are marking street signs to correct what they consider an assault on the English language. King's Road has become Kings Road to help emergency vehicles get to the right address, a problem that recently led to a teenager's death. The British government has recommended no punctuation in street signs. One grammarian defended the corrections to street signs: "If the apostrophe needs to be there, I don't think it's vandalism because I would say the language is being vandalised." And the chair of the Apostrophe Protection Society said, "I don't know why their computers couldn't be trained to recognise an apostrophe." This isn't the first time someone took a black marker or paintbrush to a sign. In 2009, a British man added an apostrophe to correct a "St. John's Close" sign in front of his house. But it didn't last: neighbors scratched off his work. At the time, the government council favored no punctuation "for the sake of 'simplicity.'" Visitors to the stairwell in the Beck Center at Statler Hall at Cornell may notice, in addition to the faint smell of smoke, an "n" added to "Personel." Who would do that? Image source. Discussion Starters: What's your view of the decision to remove punctuation from street signs: an assault on language, a practical move, or something else? Should people who add signs be punished? Are they vandals? How did we get to this point: why can't a GPS recognize an apostrophe?
  • Fury Over AP Style Guide's Acceptance of "Over"

    The AP Style Guide has updated a grammar rule and caused an outcry on Twitter. According to the new rule, "over" is acceptable to mean "more than," which strict grammarians won't accept. A 2011 Inkhouse post explains the previous distinction: "More than, over. More than is preferred with numbers, while over generally refers to spatial elements. The company has more than 25 employees; The cow jumped over the moon ." AP Stylebook explained the decision : "We decided on the change because it has become common usage. We’re not dictating that people use ‘over’ – only that they may use it as well as ‘more than’ to indicate greater numerical value." Discussion Starters: What would you rather do: eat glass or use "over" interchangeably with "more than"? Seriously, what do you think inspires this outrage? In what ways is it justified—or not? To me, these tweets are extraordinarily funny. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that's the case?
  • New Rules for Canadian Government Press Releases

    The Canadian government has created new rules for press releases. The Government Communication Service explains the change on its website : "The Government of Canada is retiring the traditional press release format in favour of a more digital-friendly product that makes the key messages of announcements clearer, quick facts more accessible and integrates more effectively with social media channels. . . . The old style release – which hasn’t changed in over 50 years – disappeared on 31 December 2013. Gone with it are the dense blocks of text that make it hard to read, the use of long titles in headlines and leads and the use of complex jargon." For years, people have predicted the death of the press release, but it has lived on. This change doesn't quite kill the traditional press release, but it does shorten it, asking for just two or three paragraphs of text and the following: develop catchy headlines and sub-headlines write concise and clear opening paragraphs that contain the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why) select key facts that capture the reader’s attention draft quotes that are meaningful and succinct repurpose the quick facts and quotes for Facebook and Twitter posts, and offer associated links that provide additional context to help the reader better understand the issue A sample release shows little paragraph text, several bullets, and links to more information ( visit page to enlarge ). Discussion Starters: In what ways is this new format consistent with business writing principles? What, if anything, could be lost with this new format? What could the reader miss?
  • Visualization of Email Sign-Offs

    Here's a cute (not much else) visualization of what your email closing may mean. Although compiled in 2007, this just made it to Twitter. The graphic is an interesting way of categorizing email endings. "Self-conscious" implies an insecurity, perhaps as well as a lack of familiarity, so we may see some overlap here. Maybe "formal" and "informal" would be a better continuum. To me, this language has less judgement (but, then again, I'm self-conscious). Discussion Starters: What's your assessment of the visualization? Do you agree with the author's characterizations of email closings? Look at 25 of your most recent emails, and plot them on a similar chart. What do you find?
  • General's Email About Reading

    Marine General James Mattis's email response to a colleague who was "too busy to read" offers good lessons for business leaders—and writers. The 2004 email went viral and was recently published on a blog and picked up by Business Insider . Here is the email : The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead." With [Task Force] 58, I had w/ me Slim’s book, books about the Russian and British experiences in [Afghanistan], and a couple others. Going into Iraq, “The Siege” (about the Brits’ defeat at Al Kut in WW I) was req’d reading for field grade officers. I also had Slim’s book; reviewed T.E. Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”; a good book about the life of Gertrude Bell (the Brit archaeologist who virtually founded the modern Iraq state in the aftermath of WW I and the fall of the Ottoman empire); and “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. I also went deeply into Liddell Hart’s book on Sherman, and Fuller’s book on Alexander the Great got a lot of my attention (although I never imagined that my HQ would end up only 500 meters from where he lay in state in Babylon). Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun. For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us. We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]? What happens when you’re on a dynamic battlefield and things are changing faster than higher [Headquarters] can stay abreast? Do you not adapt because you cannot conceptualize faster than the enemy’s adaptation? (Darwin has a pretty good theory about the outcome for those who cannot adapt to changing circumstance — in the information age things can change rather abruptly and at warp speed, especially the moral high ground which our regimented thinkers cede far too quickly in our recent fights.) And how can you be a sentinel and not have your unit caught flat-footed if you don’t know what the warning signs are — that your unit’s preps are not sufficient for the specifics of a tasking that you have not anticipated? Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the warfighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading. Those who must adapt to overcoming an independent enemy’s will are not allowed that luxury. This is not new to the USMC approach to warfighting — Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel’s Papers (remember “Kampstaffel”?), Montgomery’s book (“Eyes Officers”…), “Grant Takes Command” (need for commanders to get along, “commanders’ relationships” being more important than “command relationships”), and some others. As a result, the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn’t waste their lives because I didn’t have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields. Hope this answers your question…. I will cc my ADC in the event he can add to this. He is the only officer I know who has read more than I. We know that General Mattis is an avid reader because he writes well. Reading is essential for good writing. Discussion Starters: What do you read? In what ways does it help you? Do you agree with my assertion that reading is essential to good writing? Why or why not?
  • Victims' Families Don't Appreciate Theater Invitation

    The Century Aurora theater in Colorado, where 12 people were killed and 58 injured, reopened a few months after the horrific shooting incident. To encourage people to return, the theater sent invitations to the victims’ families for a “special evening of remembrance,” with a movie showing. The families didn’t appreciate the gesture. In a letter to the theater company, they called the invitation "disgusting" and "wholly offensive to the memory of our loved ones." Coming just two days after Christmas, the invitation stung even worse for some families. To the Management of Cinemark USA, Inc.: During the holiday we didn't think anyone or anything could make our grief worse but you, Cinemark, have managed to do just that by sending us an invitation two days after Christmas inviting us to attend the re-opening of your theater in Aurora where our loved ones were massacred.Thanks for making what is a very difficult holiday season that much more difficult. Timing is everything and yours is awful. You (Cinemark) has shown, and continues to show, ZERO compassion to the families of the victims whose loved ones were killed in their theater. You, Cinemark, have never once reached out to the families to offer condolences. This disgusting offer that you'd "like to invite you and a guest to a special evening of remembrance on Thursday, January 17 at 5 PM" followed by the showing of a movie and then telling us to be sure "to reserve our tickets" is wholly offensive to the memory of our loved ones. Our family members will never be on this earth with us again and a movie ticket and some token words from people who didn't care enough to reach out to us, nor respond when we reached out to them to talk, is appalling. You (Cinemark) refused our repeated invitations to speak parent to parent with no lawyers involved. Instead, we get invited to attend a "special evening of remembrance" at the very theater where our loved ones lay dead on the floor for over 15 hours. We would give anything to wipe the carnage of that night out of our minds' eye. Thank you for reminding us how your quest for profits has blinded your leadership and made you so callous as to be oblivious to our mental anguish. We, the families, recognize your thinly veiled publicity ploy for what it is: A great opportunity for you to distance yourselves and divert public scrutiny from your culpability in this massacre. After reading our response to your ridiculously offensive invitation, you now know why we will not be attending your re-opening celebration and will be using every social media tool at our disposal to ask the other victims to ask their friends and family to honor us by boycotting the killing field of our children. Image source. Discussion Starters: What’s your view of the theater’s invitation: a nice gesture, an insensitive ploy to recoup revenue, or something else? What could have been a better approach for the theater? How well does the families’ letter express their perspective? What suggestions, if any, do you have for a revision? In the families' letter, they say that the theater has refused to meet with them. How, if at all, does this influence your perspective of the invitation?
  • Fun Facts About the Emoticon

    The New York Times today featured Scott Fahlman, creator of the smiley face. Fahlman invented the character, which he called a "joke marker," back in 1982 to temper flaming in online discussion forums. A linguist analyzed millions of tweets to see how emoticons were used and found that 10% of tweets had some type of character. His reasoning was that people could more accurately describe emotion in a longer paragraph, but shorter messages may require explanation. We could debate whether and how emoticons should be used in business writing ad nauseum . Proponents see the ocassional smiley as a way to ensure accurately interpreted messages, particularly to convey tone, often misunderstood in business email. Opponents think emoticons are silly and unprofessional. Writing instructors worry about the degradation of the language. As one communication lecturer said, "Certainly I understand the need for clarity. But language, used properly, is clear on its own." A British radio personality said, "If anybody on Facebook sends me a message with a little smiley-frowny face or a little sunshine with glasses on them, I will de-friend them. I also de-friend for OMG and LOL. They get no second chance. I find it lazy. Are your words not enough? To use a little picture with sunglasses on it to let you know how you’re feeling is beyond ridiculous." A recent CNN article offers this sound advice: use an emoticon if you must, "But nix emoticons from any initial emails with new contacts." Image source . Discussion Starters: When do you use emoticons in your writing? In addition to initial emails, as CNN suggests, when would you avoid using emoticons in business email?
  • Burger King Loses in Drive-Thru Experience

    QSR Magazine just published the latest data comparing quick-service restaurants' drive-thru experience—and Burger King came in last overall. For the 2012 Drive-Thru Performance Study , seven restaurants were rated on these criteria: Average Service Time Order Accuracy with OCB Order Accuracy without OCB Impact of Pre-Sell Menu on Timing Favorable Exterior Visibility of Dumpsters Cleanliness of Menuboard Condition of Landscaping Customer Service Service Attributes Order Confirmation Board In Place Speaker Clarity The drive-thrus didn't fare too well on the customer service dimension. Brian Baker, president of Insula Research, the firm that led the study, said, "Even with pleasant demeanor, I’m thinking, why would that not be 100 percent? OK, so maybe 98 percent because everybody has a bad day, but it just seems like a no brainer to me. I’m still scratching my head on that." Rather than 100%, ratings for "very friendly" ranged from 27% ro 57%, with Burger King receiving the most "rude" ratings: 2.8% Denny Lynch, Wendy's senior vice president of communications, blamed service failures on limitations in hiring: "Part of it is to make certain we are hiring the right people. Wouldn’t it be nice if [the drive-thru crewmember] had a great personality? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could smile at you? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could say, ‘Thank you, come back again’? So you hire people that have that personality and the skill level to be able to do that. … You can’t just assume that they can handle every situation until they’ve done thorough training." The study reported good news about drive-thru cleaniness. Brands generally did well in measures such as whether the dumpsters were visible and how clean the menu board appeared. Discussion Starters and Assignment Idea: What can QSRs do to improve their customer service at the drive-thru windows? Consider the restaurants' hiring practices, training, performance standards, and management. Create a visual chart from the customer service data above. If you wanted to convince Burger King management to focus on improving the drive-thru experience for customers, which data would you include? What type of chart would you use? Assume that your chart appeared on a PowerPoint slide, and include a talking headline to convey your main point.
  • Obama Emails: "Creepy," "Weird," and "Desperate"?

    The Obama campaign is taking a hit because of emails that some consider strange and "increasingly weird" and "desperate." Business Insider is criticizing the Democrats' fundraising emails for their strong language: "When you get knocked down, get up. There's no quit in America. There's nothing we can't do." (Joe Biden) "We've gotta close the gap and fight back before it’s too late." (James Carville) "I don't have as much time to campaign this time as I did in 2008, so this whole thing is riding on you making it happen." (President Obama) In an email that Business Insider calls " the creepiest yet ," the campaign uses a very casual tone and invites donors to enter for a chance to meet the president and shoot some hoops. This isn't the first time Obama's emails have been criticized. Jon Stewart lambasted the campaign on The Daily Show, calling the tone in emails "fake familiarity." A recent Romney email also was criticized. Before he announced his VP running mate, Romney sent an email teasing supporters with the name of his VP pick. The subject line was "My Vice President," but the email didn't reveal Paul Ryan's name: Discussion Starters: How do you assess President Obama's emails: would you call them creepy, effective, or something else? How effective do you think Romney's email was in raising money? What reaction would you have to the message?
  • Jon Stewart Criticizes President Obama's Emails

    On The Daily Show , Jon Stewart questions the Obama campaign's informal approach to email. Stewart gives examples of subject lines such as "Hey" and "Dinner?" Rather than what he calls "fake familiarity," Stewart suggests that these email subjects should focus on the real purpose: "Give me money." Jon Stewart isn't the first one to criticize President Obama's emails. Back in December, White House reporter Keith Koffler took issue with the the "Hey" emails : "Obama, who was sold to us as something surpassingly genuine, actually likes to pretend he’s someone he’s not. All his town halls on people’s back porches, trips to Best Buy, and dinners with three dollar donors doesn’t change that he is a card carrying member of the elite liberal ruling class. "He was admitted around college or law school, and that’s where his soul has resided ever since. Recently, with book sales buoyed by his presidential success, he’s gained the financial status commensurate with his social standing. "He should act that way. The regular guy stuff diminishes both him and the presidency. More than classy or low-brow, friendly or stiff, Americans want one thing more than anything else in their leader: Authenticity. “'Hey,' is phony. And it’s puny for a president." Discussion Starters and Assignment Idea: What's your view of the President's approach to email? Do you agree with this criticism? What could be better subject lines that do, in reality, request donations? As practice, write two email messages on behalf of a presidential candidate's campaign (a candidate of your choice). What could you say to inspire people to give, and what subject line will you use? Check the tone by asking other students for their opinion.
  • Did an Email to Customers Save a Pizza Business?

    When Nick's Pizza & Pub was losing business, CEO Nick Sarillo did something against conventional wisdom: he sent an email to customers describing the situation and asking them to return. Sarillo engaged his customers in saving the two restaurants, which is just the result he got. In his email, Sarillo makes several emotional appeals, such as this one: "I realize that sending an e-mail like this is risky and unorthodox, but I don't care because I don't have anything to fear or hide. We run our business with totally open books, and the core team that shows up to our weekly fiscal huddles will not be surprised by what I'm writing. I truly care about our team and each guest who has blessed us by choosing to eat at Nick's instead of any of the many other places available to them." His email ends with a clear, public appeal: "I do have one last hope for me and the 200 team members of Nick's. If within these next four weeks we could see a large increase in sales at either of our restaurants, we could still pull through. So my final request is for each of you to come dine at Nick's Pizza & Pub and tell all your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to come now, too. We want to continue on as a part of your commuity [sic] and aren't ready to tell you goodbye yet. If you wish to contact me with investor ideas or any ideas or questions at all, you can email me at , call me at 815.356.5557 , or simply stop by and talk in person. Thank you for reading." To some—including Sarillo’s publicist and banker—the approach is perhaps too open. The business owner admits failing and runs the risk of turning off customers for good. But Sarillo explains his rationale : “I honestly woke up on Saturday morning, walked over to my computer and looked at reports as I typically do, and this time I didn't know what I was going to do anymore. . . . I surrendered to the fact that this could be it and I could lose my business. I decided that I had done my best and I needed to let go. . . .That is when I decided I needed to do what felt like the right thing to do, communicate openly, clearly and honestly. It felt very uncomfortable in the moment to be so vulnerable, and actually as I started to write, tears were also coming out. It was hard to let go of something I worked so hard for and built with my own two hands. Although I had surrendered (in the spiritual sense of the word) to what my life would be like without my business, by the time I got to the end of the email, I still had hope and was not totally giving up." Public support was strong following the email. Someone set up a Facebook page, Save Nick's Pizza, and according to Sarillo , "We doubled our sales in each restaurant for the first week and stayed at a 75 percent increase for a couple of weeks." It took a while, but Nick's remains a viable business today. Sarillo and others credit the success to his transparency and authencity—two important qualities for a business leader. Discussion Starters: What examples of emotional appeal, logical argument, and credibility do you see in Nick's email ? Which approach do you think is most effective? Under what circumstances do you think a similar email may NOT have the same results in saving a business? In other words, for what types of businesses or business owners would you recommend this strategy, and for what types would you recommend avoiding it?
  • Emails Goes Mobile

    New research shows dramatic changes in where people access email. Between December 2010 and December 2011, according to BI Intelligence , web-based email dropped more than 30% for people between 12 and 24 years old. Email is moving to mobile devices—phones and tablets. As you can see from the chart, results are mixed for older generations. This is one reason that I wouldn't get too excited about the so-called "death of email." Email is still highly pervasive in business, where we see people between 45 and 54 years old and about a 15% increase in web-based email. Also, people are still using email; they're just accessing it differently. Another study, by Radicati , indicates that 85% of business people access email on a mobile device. Whether people use both a browser and a phone is unclear from these numbers. Yet the numbers likely predict a future increase in mobile email—no surprise to any of us, really. This move has significant implications for how we write and respond to email messages. The lines between email and texting may continue to fade, and maybe we'll finally delete mobile-device tags, such as "Sent from my iPhone." Discussion Starters: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using email on a browser and a mobile device? What are your thoughts about the tag "Sent from my [mobile device]"? Does it explain short messages or excuse lack of attention to detail?