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Welcome to Ubiquity’s Communication Corner

The Communication Corner is dedicated to helping you better write and speak about your professional specialty. It is a monthly feature, programmed to help you progressively acquire the skills of professional writers and speakers.

Each monthly installment will have three parts: An essay on a fundamental aspect of effective writing or speaking, a do-it-yourself exercise to help you practice the topic being discussed, and an invitation to submit your exercise for a possible (but not guaranteed) commentary on your draft.

Philip Yaffe, a retired journalist for the Wall Street Journal and a member of the Ubiquity editorial board, is the moderator of the Communication Corner.

We invite you to subscribe via the signup box at the left.  We will send you announcements of new installments of the Communication Corner, approximately once a month.

Readers who subscribe will be able to download a free PDF copy of Philip Yaffe's book The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional.

Articles

  • Creativity and common sense in writing and speaking

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    A previous essay ("What Advertising Can Teach Us About Effective Writing and Speaking") posited what at first glance may have seemed to be a radical idea. And that is: However superficially it may appear, print advertising copy (text), which is designed to sell things, represents some of the best, most carefully constructed writing you will ever see. It must be, because to achieve its objective, advertising copy must say a world of things to the potential consumer in just a thimbleful of words. With this fundamental idea as a foundation, we can now explore this fruitful subject more deeply.

  • What Advertising Can Teach Us About Effective Writing and Speaking

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    As a form of writing, advertising copy has a poor reputation because in many minds its objective is to "sell people things they don't want and don't need." This is debatable. What is not debatable is that advertising copy represents some of the best writing you will ever see. It has to because its objective is to say a world of things in just a thimbleful of words. Writers of more meritorious texts (articles, essays, book reports, business reports, research papers, etc.) can learn a lot from understanding how these consummate wordsmiths go about their work.

  • When saying the wrong thing doesn't really matter

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Getting one's tongue tangled is an ever-present fear for most public speakers. But it shouldn't be. Occasionally saying the wrong thing seldom does any serious damage, or any damage at all, to the effectiveness of a presentation. Here's why.

  • Notes on writing from writers of note

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    A distinction is often made between creative writing (fiction) and expository writing(non-fiction). However, they are more alike than most people think. Creative writers can learn from expository writers, and vice versa.

  • Say it well, say it often

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Two people can give a speech on exactly the same subject, using almost exactly the same information, yet one speech will be a brilliant success and the other a dismal failure. How does this happen? Many factors contribute to success or failure, but only one factor virtually guarantees that your speech will stand out like a shining light or be clothed in darkness like a burned-out bulb.

  • How verbal variety kills comprehension

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    The purpose of expository (non-fiction) writing and speaking is usually to inform or instruct. To do either successfully, you must present your ideas more than once. Otherwise, people who read it or hear it, even if they completely understand it at the moment, over time (often a very short time) will either confuse it or forget it. Presenting information and ideas more than once is not simply a matter of saying the same things the same way two or three times. It is more subtle than that.

  • Laugh your way to persuasive communication

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Have you ever noticed that people who tell jokes well usually give good speeches? This is not a coincidence. Telling jokes and giving speeches have more in common than it might appear. We can benefit from these similarities.

  • How to effectively use body language

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Learn how to use body language when delivering a speech or presentation. This installment of Communication Corner presents the practical aspects of body language such as eye contact, gestures, and vocal intonation to name a few.

  • Don't let good grammar spoil good writing

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    It seems that if your grammar is good, your writing will be good. However, being overly concerned about good grammar can actually be detrimental to good writing. Here's why.

  • The secrets of writing a truly useful executive summary

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    The purpose of an executive summary is not to summarize, but to direct the reader's interest. The wider the intended audience, the wider will be their range of specific interests. But however diverse the readership, they want the document to clearly direct them to what they must read, leaving any additional text they may wish to also peruse to their own judgement.

  • What can a bumbling, inarticulate Los Angeles cop teach us about effective communication?

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Creative (fiction) writers have an advantage over expository (non-fiction) writers. Fiction is designed to amuse and entertain, which most people look forward to. Exposition is designed to instruct and inform, which most people do not look forward to. "Columbo," the perennially popular TV series (re-runs are still being shown around the world), demonstrates how this inherent handicap can be overcome.

  • How to write a corporate image brochure people will truly want to read

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Most companies and organizations of any size produce and distribute glossy brochures to enhance their image. Most such publications are largely a waste because they are seldom read, even by employees and members of these companies and organizations. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here is an approach to help ensure that such image brochures are actually worth the time and money expended on them.

  • Myths and realities of writing for the web

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    It is often said that the advent of the World Wide Web has changed everything, including how people read texts and therefore how writers should write texts. Don't believe it. Good texts written for the web are essentially the same as good texts written for print.

  • How to excite reader interest

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Unless under duress, such as a school assignment or work assignment, people will read only what they want to. However, many will read at least the first couple lines before saying yes or no. Here are five techniques that greatly increase the chances they will say yes.

  • How to make a microcosm into a universe

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    In general you can't get people to read something if they believe it is totally outside their domain of interest. Some will nevertheless read the first couple of lines to confirm what they believed that already knew. Here is a technique that could rapidly change their mind.

  • How to get the most from your word processor

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    The personal computer has revolutionized how we work, and that's all because of software development. One of the most important of which is word processing. Since the 1970s word processing has created efficiencies in writing and editing. This article explains how word processors can make you a better thinker.

  • How spelling reform would promote better writing and speaking

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Instead of mastering the chaos of learning to read and write in English, perhaps we should start spelling things the way they sound.

  • The purpose of punctuation

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Language is ever changing as geographic boundaries morph and populations age. So-called grammar rules can often be arbitrary. Good writing sometimes means using punctuation and sometimes not.

  • Active voice, active writing

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Knowing when to write in the active or passive voice can fundamentally improve your work, but understanding how to use either can be tricky. Keep reading to learn the difference.

  • Why clear communication means aiming for the lowest common denominator---and then some

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    If you say something the audience doesn't understand, you will lose some (if not all) of their attention---especially when discussing complex subjects. Limiting the assumptions you make about your readers' level of understanding is a key element to good writing.

  • How not to be overwhelmed by obvious advice

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    With unprecedented access to information, the internet can be a source of useful material. However many times, so-called experts share specious advice. In this article, Phil Yaffe addresses a widely discussed topic, clear writing, and dives deeper to fix the flaws found in regurgitated writing advice.

  • Don't write short texts, write concise ones

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Applying specific communication techniques can only be achieved by first understanding the fundamental principles. In this article, Phil Yaffe shares a new one: Your writing should be as long as necessary, and as short as possible.

  • Professional writing tips and techniques

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Good writing is not easy, but these 12 tips and techniques makes things easier.

  • How to do a naked presentation

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    A "naked" presentation solely relies upon good storytelling. Learn how to enrapture an audience without the use of visual aids.

  • If you write it better, you will say it better

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Preparing a good text for reading and preparing a good text for speaking are often considered to be unrelated activities. This is incorrect. A good text for reading and a good text for speaking are distinct, but they are not alien. They are complementary.

  • How to avoid death by powerpoint: Steve Jobs' secret weapon

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Bite the bullet and learn how to organize your presentation slides to get the greatest effect.

  • Why visual aids need to be less visual

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Public speaking is not only about communicating your ideas orally, but also visually. Too many presentations are undermined by poorly chosen slides. An outstanding presentation is one that addresses two fundamental objectives, with the end goal of leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

  • How to instantaneously improve your speaking voice

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Although we spend much more time speaking than we do writing, the fact remains that most people speak very poorly. Phil Yaffe provides some tips on how to purposely redesign your articulation.

  • Silence is golden, especially when you need to say something important

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    How well you speak will always be an indicator of how well you know the subject at hand. And while nerves can often lead novice speakers to resort to distracting sounds and placeholders, a second or two of silence will help focus you as well as your audience. In this installment, Philip Yaffe reminds us that silence is golden.

  • How to untie your tongue

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    Communication is not only the written word. In this installment, Philip Yaffe shares tips and exercises that will help improve your skills in both writing and speaking.

  • The 7% rule revisited

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    In this installment, Philip Yaffe debunks the myth of verbal versus non-verbal communication.

  • Banishing the fear of public speaking

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    In this installment, Philip Yaffe explores how speak to a crowd.

  • How to make dull information exciting

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    In this installment, Philip Yaffe explains how to give the reader what they want.

  • First write like you speak, then write like you write

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

    In this installment, Philip Yaffe introduces a two-step plan to create well-written text that will not only impress the reader, but also engage the reader to digest and comprehend new ideas or concepts with ease.

  • How to say what you mean and mean what you say

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; this week learn how to construct truly effective sentences. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

  • Why writing short sentences may be short-changing your reader

    Each "Communication Corner" essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay.

  • How to improve your writing by standing on your head

    Newspapers provide the best examples of clear, concise writing you can find anywhere. Learning how journalists work their magic can help you write better, and it all begins with the "inverted pyramid."

  • The three acid tests of persuasive writing

    Each Communication Corner essay is self-contained; however, they build on each other. For best results, if you have not already done so, before reading this essay and doing the exercise, go to the first essay "How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan," then read each succeeding essay sequentially.

  • How an Ugly Duckling Became a Swan

    The thrust of the Communication Corner is to offer step-by-step advice to help you become a better writer and speaker. This first essay explains how Phillip Yaffe went from being a very poor writer and speaker to being a recognizably good one, almost despite himself.