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September 01, 2012


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Cathy Miller

Hi Lynn: As a business writer with a healthcare specialty, I conduct quite a bit of research. One of the most challenging aspects of researching online is finding credible sources. Even sources that are supposed to be credible have ghostwritten articles from writers paid by pharmaceutical companies to write on studies with questionable statistics or results.

Statistics is often another form of lying. A favorite quote I share on the subject is from Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." :-)


*sigh* I find this topic to be very disturbing because it is so pervasive. I observe, in my place of work, a lot of "group think" and leadership only welcoming information they want to hear. Based on this group think and information filtering, people delude themselves into believing they are behaving with integrity when they are actually in very dark grey areas.

I will add a quote similar to Cathy's. There are three types of truth, "The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Business gets the behavior it incents. If you pay incentives out for certain goals, you will get work that meets those goals.

Business Writing Blog

Hello, Cathy. Thank you for sharing the challenges of online research. As a provider of online content, I sometimes experience that issue from the other side. I post the results of the research I do using the style guides on my bookshelf; then new versions of the style guides are published, and I am challenged with going back to update old posts. I worry that some of older my content will get out of date, yet readers will continue to rely on its accuracy.

Statistics--now that's another good topic! Thanks for bringing it up.


Business Writing Blog

Hello, Jennifer. I feel that sigh you expressed at the opening of your comment. The dark area you mention, of people "deluding themselves into thinking they are behaving with integrity," is indeed disturbing. Thanks for bringing it out of the closet, if only for a moment.


Terry Murphy

Economy with the truth, or flat out delusion? It's surrounding us every day in the developed world. It's called advertising and marketing. No wonder then that people think they can get away with half-truths and baseless embellishments.

Taking a tangent, I was interested in Cathy's quote. I'd always thought it was attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. According to Wikipedia — admittedly not always 100% — Twain's autobiography attributed the quote to Disraeli. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_damned_lies,_and_statistics)


American clergyman Abel Stevens said, "Politeness is the art of choosing among one's real thoughts." I've heard this expanded to "Diplomacy is the art of choosing from among everything you believe, which thing you will say."

There's a need for that sort of diplomacy in customer service, of course, to defuse problems and find mutually acceptable solutions. But like so much of business writing (and politics) this requires skill and attention. A deft human touch makes all the difference between politeness and diplomacy on the one hand, and sloppy thinking or outright lies on the other.

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Terry. For some reason I expect and forgive "economy with the truth" in advertising and marketing. I'm not sure why. Yet I do not easily forgive outright lying by companies, and I suspect other consumers react the same way.

Thanks for commenting and for sharing the information about the Disraeli/Twain quote.


Business Writing Blog

Hi, Lester. Thanks for expanding the discussion to tact and diplomacy. I agree with the "deft human touch" making a great difference. I believe a person's intentions and integrity (or lack of it) make a huge difference too.


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