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Career Development Book With Great Word Wit and Style

Clear, concise, courteous business writing gives me pleasure. But smart, well-crafted writing delights me. That is why I am tickled by Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni. The catchy, engaging language continued to surprise me throughout the book. I want to share brief examples to help you think of ways to make your newsletter articles, blog posts, and other pieces more engaging.

Clear, relevant, but clever—that’s what I like about the writing in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go. Chapter titles, subtitles, and sidebar quotes communicate in fresh, fun ways.

Notice the repeated, catchy consonants in these titles: “Sideways Isn’t Sidelined,” “Expose Wisdom in the Workplace,” “Tangled in Titles,” “Focusing Your Flow,” “Fostering Foresight,” and “Power of the Pause.”

These unusual ideas pique readers’ interest: “Let Hindsight Light the way,” “Same Seat, New View,” “Try This: Harness More Heads,”  “Become Unbalanced,” “The Never-Ending Interview,” and “Closure is Overrated.”

These plays on familiar expressions work well: “Grow With the Flow” and “Grow for It”—both of which change go to grow, of course.

And these titles have a catchy rhythm: “Develop Me or I’m History” and “If Not Up . . . Then What?”

Although the book sparkles with appealing word wit, it comes across as smart and practical, never overly clever. I recommend perusing it to get ideas for communicating your articles, sidebars, and tips in fresh, appealing ways (and to learn about career development). Keep in mind that if you use wordplay like the examples above, it has to complement your piece like the right accessory. Make sure it matches your overall tone.

Do you like the examples above?


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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.

6 comments on “Career Development Book With Great Word Wit and Style”

  • Dear Lynn,
    I agree with you that such lines are not only witty, but eye-catching, which will certainly hook readers’ interest instantly. I love witty and funny (the ha-ha funny) expressions, and in my English lessons/workshops, I sometimes come out with my own, which sometimes tickle the students/fellow teachers. Once in one of my writing workshops, I put the title as ‘Bring Back The Fun Into Writing’ with the byline as ‘Getting Started: From S —> C, and no one guessed what S —> C meant. One thought it was From Singapore to China. (Is there any reader who would like to guess? )
    And for my Grammar topics, instead of telling them it’s PREPOSITIONS, I gave it a title ( a game which I played before the lesson)’Is It Up or Is It Down? and for the Conditional Tenses (the 2nd Conditional), I gave it another title ‘Would You Really?’ I have lots of such examples, which I find make the audience sit up and pay attention. Once they are hooked, they will listen. And for Sentence Writing, instead of telling them to make sentences, I’d call my Writing lessons “Building Blocks’ and with titles like ‘1 + 1’, students actually are so immersed in
    ‘adding’ that they don’t know they are actually creating sentences. The key here is to make them learn in a fun and interactive way, and this is when they will remember the activity.
    Oh Lynn, I am trying to express, not to impress! Now Go For It, and Tell Me More. It’s Back To You, Baby!

  • That kind of wordplay strikes me as overly cutesy and “clever.” I find it annoying. A sophisticated audience doesn’t need information to be presented in such a silly way. In contrast, a lighthearted approach probably works really well in a teaching environment. Penny’s word games sound entertaining and likely to engage her students. But if I’m a working professional with a staff to develop, I’d prefer a straightforward approach

  • Christina,
    The examples are from my Grammar and Writing classes, to high school students,and even pre-U students, whose mother tongue is NOT English, and who are still struggling with the basics of the language. Yes, I do agree with you that a more ‘sophisticated’ approach will please a more professional audience. In my Business Communication class, where the audience are college students, I have a different approach. The key is to have different approaches to suit different audiences. To inject some humor ( not too much, in case the audience think they are at a circus)really helps to liven up the atmosphere and put learners at ease. Create a more inducive atmosphere to make the learning process a pleasant and enjoyable one.

  • Hi, Christina. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. As a practical, fast-moving reader, I don’t like things that are cutesy either. But I found the phrases I quoted apt and engaging. To me, none of the cleverness was gratuitous. It all contributed to the meaning. Maybe “Grow for it” is a bit of a stretch; but as the title of the conclusion, it seemed to work.


  • Compelling expressions like these seem to reward readers by touching on meanings that readers are already familiar with. In a way, such constructions thank readers for taking the time to read. I finished The Elements of Expression by Arthur Plotnik this past weekend and was reminded that indirect and even poetic writing brings success sometimes, just as simple and brief writing often does.

  • Hello, Alfredo. Thank you for alerting us to Plotnik’s book. I read comments about it online, and it sounds like an excellent resource. I especially like the idea of side-by-side columns comparing lifeless language with expressive versions, including famous quotations.


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