NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: many words, hardly any meaning

Roger Goodell gave his “State of the NFL” press conference yesterday in the run-up to Super Bowl LI. Reporters asked difficult questions, and he gave mealy answers. If you’re looking for a tutorial on how to not answer questions, this is your chance to learn a lot. I’ll translate for you. (Based on the NFL’s transcript, … Continued

Hey Rep. Bob Goodlatte: can you strengthen ethics by weakening it?

House Republicans voted to rejigger (or as the headlines put it, “gut“) their independent ethics office; then, after heavy criticism from Democrats, Trump, and voters, said, “Nah, forget it.” What were they thinking? To find out, I analyzed a statement from Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte, point man for the change. He’s mastered the Orwellian skill of calling … Continued

CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo uses passive voice to justify a power grab

Passive voice in opinion pieces is pernicious: it hides who actually is supposed to do stuff. Donald Trump’s choice for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, repeatedly used this technique in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. When you’re advocating surveillance and data collection, we want to know who’s doing it — but Pompeo uses passive misdirection to focus on terrorists … Continued

Responding to objections to “Writing Without Bullshit”

A lot of people think my writing advice is wrong. When you apply the principles in my book at work, you’re going to encounter resistance, because the way I teach writing is not conventional. Here’s a set of objections and counterarguments for when people tell you you’re doing it wrong. Business writing has worked fine for many … Continued

The New York Times’ boldly effective response to Trump’s libel threats

The New York Times published an article about Trump sexually assaulting two women. Trump threatened to sue for libel. The letter that the Times‘ lawyer sent in response really hits you smack on the forehead, because it’s so different from anything else you read in the paper. I’ll analyze. There are three kinds of things you … Continued

How health insurance instructions and forms made me sick

Instructions are tricky. You need to be clear and brief, write directly to the user, and most importantly, make sure that the instructions match reality. Based on my experience with health insurance, this a prescription that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts needs, stat. I had previously used the excellent Blue Cross Blue Shield plan from … Continued

Identifying and fixing toxic prose

Did you ever read a passage and then feel woozy afterwards? The problem is toxic prose. Three common writing problems, taken together, make it hard to figure out what people are trying to say. Passive voice. When you can’t tell who’s responsible for the actions in a sentence, it confuses you. Jargon. When a passage … Continued

What business writers can learn from journalists — and what they can’t

Should business writers write like journalists? Some journalist habits — like never burying the lede — make perfect sense. But if you imagine you’re Woodward and Bernstein, you’re deluded. Learn which journalistic conventions will make your writing better, and which will ruin it. Journalist habits that business writers should adopt Journalists and business writers share … Continued