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Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

While making a comment on Marcia Yudkin’s excellent Marketing for More forum, I realized I was not sure of the spelling of a word. I was writing a comment something like this:

When a website doesn’t contain an About Us page, I bail. (Or do I bale?)

Do you know which word is correct?

All I knew was that I did not know for sure. So I looked up both bale and bail.

It turns out that I wanted bail: “to abandon a project” or “to extricate from a difficult situation.”

If you are feeling smug because you knew the correct word and I did not, I caution you about hubris. In the business writing classes I teach, MBAs and PhDs catch themselves making mistakes with principal/principle, peak/peek/pique, flush/flesh, complement/compliment, home/hone and many other homonyms and near homonyms.

It’s always a good idea to use a dictionary if you are not sure, and it’s an even better idea to have a friend who loves words help you by proofreading your important messages.

Or get my “60 Quick Word Fixes,” a guide to the most common word usage errors. It provides you with easy memory devices and aids to choose the correct word.

But no matter how much you study, please remember this: To air is human.

Just kidding!


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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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