Practical tips

He Said, She Reiterated, They Concurred

In my post “Every Minute Counts” I suggest compiling a list of words as alternatives to “said”, here are some suggestions to help you:


And here are some to avoid:



Teaching Grammar To Suck Eggs

Punctuation exists to give absolute clarity to the written word. Being able to use punctuation effectively allows me to write confidently because I know that my message will be clear for the reader.

I’m the first to admit that learning grammar at school was dull. All those hours sticking bits of punctuation into paragraphs that had been contrived purely to hold bits of punctuation … who cared? Well my inspirational English teacher who insisted that I stop looking at pictures of Haircut 100 and start thinking about finite verbs.

The golden rule of punctuation is simple: if you don’t know how to use something – don’t use it.

There is nothing more distracting than a random comma stuck in a sentence because the writer knew that something should go in but they weren’t sure what or where. Unless you are writing a list if you need to use a comma then limit it to one per sentence. I have encountered many people who write long sentences with stray bits of punctuation and think they look intelligent. They don’t. They look like people who don’t know how to punctuate a long sentence. The intelligent way to write is to keep one thought to a sentence.

For one client I evolved into a grammar guru. It started with questions like “rain and snow – is that whether or weather?” and culminated in a special lesson on how to use the apostrophe.

Ah! The Apostrophe – how does one small splodge on a page create such panic? I think it’s because we are told how difficult it is to place the apostrophe correctly and how we will be open to ridicule if we don’t. There are academics who believe that losing the apostrophe would do no damage to the language. However until the day the apostrophe is abandoned it is probably a good idea to know what to do with it.

Generally the apostrophe is used to show possession or to abbreviate so “can not” becomes “can’t”. Now in my experience most people are fairly comfortable with using an apostrophe to abbreviate or join words but get flustered about how to use it to show possession. So here’s a simple example:

Shepherd’s Pie – this is the pie belonging to the shepherd (one pie, one shepherd)

Shepherds’ Pie – still one pie but this time belonging to lots of shepherds. The shepherd has been made plural by the addition of the “s” and the apostrophe on its own shows that the shepherds possess the pie. It would be perfectly correct to put “shepherds’s” but it is not stylistically elegant.

Shepherd’s Pies – lots of pies belonging to one shepherd.

Shepherds’ Pies – lots of pies belonging to lots of shepherds.

One final tip – “it’s” can NEVER be possessive.

“It’s” is the abbreviation of “it is”.

Look at this sentence: “the kitten played with it’s ball of wool”.  Change “it’s” to “it is”: “the kitten played with it is ball of wool”.

It doesn’t make sense.

The sentence should read “the kitten played with its ball of wool”.

I do not claim to be an academic expert on grammar but I am always happy to answer a query or give advice. Just complete the form below:


The Last Thing You Do Is Write

These notes will help you to create a report that achieves the result you want.
When you are asked to write a report the last thing you should do is write it.  Some people will go straight to their keyboard and start to type but if you want to be a successful writer you need to think and plan before you begin.
What type of report are you writing?
Factual: a statement of facts to create an accurate record.
Instructional: an explanation or step-by-step description.
Leading: to persuade the reader to reach the decision you want.
Who is going to read the report?
What is their knowledge of the subject – will you need to explain technical terms or will this bore them so much that they stop reading.  Communicate at their level.
What do they want and need – think about if they have any aspirations such as saving money and then look at how your proposal supports that.
Report Structure
Find out if your company or organisation has a report template or house style.  If not then use the following structure:
Title Page: include the report title, the author, the distribution list and any reference details.
Executive Summary:  this is essential if you have a long report as it will draw the reader to the most important facts and may encourage a busy reader to read the entire report.
Contents: list the major sections, the subsections and appendices.  Use a clear layout that is easy for the reader to navigate.
Introduction: a background to why the report has been written.
Body: the main content of your report.
Conclusions: cite the main arguments and give a considered judgement.
Recommendations: clear summary of what actions should be taken.
Appendices:  detailed supporting information or information only needed by selected readers – may include a bibliography, references and a glossary of any terms used.
Identify your objectives
Define what you want the report to achieve.  Compile your material to build a logical and consistent case that is supported with facts.  Arrange this material into the order it will appear in the main body of the report.  Select the most important points first.  You will probably find that you delete the less important points as a distraction from your main argument.
Having planned the content of the report and mapped out the structure it is time to start writing.  And now is the time to just write – get anything down to break up the blank paper.  Do not edit or review it until you have written a complete first draft and then read it imagining you are the reader and ask “does it make sense?”.
Long sentences and lots of punctuation do not make you look clever.  If you are not sure how to use a punctuation mark then do not create a situation where you have to use it.  Two short sentences are better than one very long one.  The simplest way to convey a complex idea is to use one thought per sentence and only one comma per sentence.
Make sure your spelling is accurate – predictive text and spell check make it easy to be lazy about spelling but you can’t always trust spell-check.  Invest in a pocket dictionary and check what you have written.  If you type “fish and ships” instead of “fish and chips” then spell-check will see a correctly spelt word not a correctly spelt word in the wrong context.
Keep it clear, clutter free and consistent.  Do not mix fonts or font sizes except to give emphasis to a specific heading or point.

Every Minute Counts

Some simple tips for taking minutes.
Do prepare – look at the minutes from previous meetings and become familiar with the meeting’s terminology, acronyms and issues under discussion.
Do create a template for the presentation of the minutes, it is easier to write when the page isn’t blank.
Do try and write the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting.
Do develop your own style of note taking by using whatever abbreviations suit you.
Do establish what style of minutes the meeting’s Chair is expecting:
Detailed: recording what was discussed around each agenda point
Concise: a summary of the discussion points
Attributed: a full recording of what was discussed with acknowledgement of what each participant contributed.
Do record the meeting details including who attended the meeting, where the meeting took place and when.  List the invitees who don’t attend as “apologies” even if they just haven’t turned up without any explanation.
Don’t sit wondering who the participants are – ask the Chairman for introductions, draw a room map and put initials against where participants are sitting.  It will help you remember who’s who.
Don’t try to make your minuting amusing, ironic or sarcastic, the minutes are a factual representation of the meeting’s content.
Do try to simplify the content and discussions – an agenda is there to give a meeting shape and identify what is to be discussed but those discussions are unlikely to be structured.  Your minutes will be most effective when the discussion is summarised and the conclusion clearly recorded.
Do clearly identify any “Actions” and who has been tasked to execute them.
Do not be frightened of asking questions that will clarify any “Actions” or “Resolutions”.  It is your job to accurately record what was agreed.
Don’t try to record everything that is said by every participant – if the organiser wants a verbatim record then suggest that a digital recording is made.
Do use your judgement about what you record.  Minutes should be neutral and factual.  Participants will often comment “and this is not for minuting” on unpopular or controversial topics but your own instinct should tell you if a comment is appropriate for publication.  Consider the impact of what you are writing if it appeared outside the meeting.
Do compile a list of words as alternatives to “said”.  To start you off: “added”, “contributed”, “thought”, “wondered”, “questioned”, “summarised”.  There are more suggestions in my post “He Said, She Reiterated, They Concurred”.
Don’t describe a participant’s emotions, it isn’t for you to decide if they are angry, sad, happy etc.  You may quote a participant who describes their emotions during the meeting (such as “I am angry about this decision”) but make it clear that this is a direct quotation and not your interpretation.
Do take the time to read what you have written and make amendments.
Do issue a draft document for review by the meeting’s Chair and ensure that you have used the “DRAFT” watermark feature to avoid ambiguity around the final version.
And finally …
Don’t be afraid.  Ultimately the meeting Chair is responsible for the published content and should advise or guide you around contentious issues.