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Define Your Terms, Please

Here’s what happened to me yesterday. I was enjoying an excellent book on giving PowerPoint presentations when I came upon a term I wasn’t familiar with: wipes. I checked the book for a glossary—none existed. So I checked the index for wipes and found the term listed there. However, in each mention of the term wipes in the book, it was never defined or illustrated. Giving up on finding a good definition, I simply guessed the meaning.


This happened to me repeatedly, with the terms builds, box-out transitions, and watermarked slides. At this moment, I still haven’t guessed the definition of box-out transitions and watermarked slides. (I know what watermarked letterhead is, but what is a watermarked slide?)



Maybe I ought to have known these terms, especially since I have used PowerPoint hundreds of times. If the authors had defined them for me, I would know them now.


My wish: that all business writers will think of their readers and include a glossary of terms. It will make reading even more rewarding.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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