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Former or Latter? Who Knows?

Every once in a while I find a communication habit I would really like other people to break. Here’s one: the use of the former and the latter.

Every time I hear or read “the former . . . the latter” I have to rethink or reread what has been communicated. Here’s a written example:

The presenter recommended that we break our habit of “I listening” and start “E-A-R listening” if we want to be successful with our audience. The former is when it’s all about us, the speaker. The latter calls for us to explore, acknowledge, and respond to the other person’s concerns.

My favorite business writing reference book, The Gregg Reference Manual, even gives an example of the proper use of former and latter:

This item is available in wool and in Dacron, but I prefer the former.

Although I do love wool, I prefer that it be referred to as wool–not as “the former.”

I know that I am a slow, careful reader. It takes me several evenings to read even a mystery I am excited about. Still, I don’t expect business writers to slow me down further by compelling me to retrace my steps to confirm which is “the former” and which “the latter.”

I would prefer this simple, straightforward way of communicating, which works for both fast and slow readers:

The presenter recommended that we break our habit of “I listening” and start “E-A-R listening” if we want to be successful with our audience. “I listening” is when it’s all about us, the speaker. “E-A-R listening” calls for us to explore, acknowledge, and respond to the other person’s concerns.

This item is available in wool and in Dacron, but I prefer wool.

I believe my examples illustrate that repetition makes the writer’s meaning clear and more memorable. Especially if you are communicating globally, why force people who read English in translation to go back over what they have just read in search of the former and the latter item?

As a business writer, you can use former and latter or you can repeat your terms for quick, clear communication. Which do you prefer–the former or the latter?

Lynn

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Alternate search spellings: communcation, communcaition, communciation, ladder, buisness,

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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.

4 comments on “Former or Latter? Who Knows?”

  • how we can make a latter well???
    i try made it,but i till can’t do anythink. I’m so confused.

  • Dear sir/madam
    please help me to know the all type of business letter like –
    1-how to wright the letter regarding the any order to other company?
    2-how to inform the clients?
    3-how to get parden if made any mistak from mour company?
    4-how to get knowledge of difgfrent product of other company with price? and the information of any discount demand?

  • how to write a email regarding the situation that someone didnot receive my e-mail by mistake. my e-mail was regarding the issue that to change the meeting time as i will not be able to attend in the meeting.

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