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Saturday, August 18, 2012

You didn't have me with "Hello!"

While the word "Hello" may have been enough to snag the character played by Tom Cruise in "Jerry McGuire," the use of the word "Hello" as a universal introductory beginning for any type of document (except maybe some kind of letter) is not strong enough to make the kind of connection you need in all kinds of documents.

Only increasingly one sees this word used in all kinds of documents instead of a strong introductory sentence.  The problem? It's the word one uses on the telephone or in person, but that use of "Hello" as a greeting does not mean that it fits functionally or efficiently on the page or screen.

The problem with using "hello" as if it can do all things in all introductory situations is that it fails.  It fails because people forget that there is a great responsibility in workplace documents to snag a reader's curiosity, promote that reader's curiosity by making a connection to the idea that will be explored, and then leading that reader through the document logically and, ultimately, persuasively.

To do that, you need to reconsider the function of an introductory sentence or phrase and don't count on "Hello."  Here are at least five jobs your introduction still needs to do:

1.  Not greet a reader--snag a reader.  So, telegraph the key idea that will draw a reader in.  Waving or saying hello won't do that.  Some people just wave and say good-bye.

2.  Using some other form of dialogue is often a strong choice to make.  News writers do this frequently.  Short story writers do this sometimes.  And, perhaps, having seen it in some other context, you might wrongly assume that a greeting is the same type of beginning. It isn't.  Dialogue is different than a greeting.  Quoted dialogue is also different.  Here's an example:  "I killed him because he betrayed my sister and he had it coming."  Now that's a strong lead for a non-fiction news report or a short story.  See how dialogue initiates the idea of story?  Find the story angle--and business documents often have them--and look for the key idea there.

3. Choose a visual picture or a strong action verb.  Avoid passive language or weak ideas.  Here's an example to begin a professional autobiography.  "When I crossed the threshold of the newsroom, I knew that becoming a reporter was what I wanted to do with my life."  Look for the moment you can report--the one that has the most information in it.  Use it.

4.  Do not under any circumstances use the introduction to explain how you plan to organize the document for the reader.  Just don't ever do that.  See it this way.  Ever planned to kiss someone good-night?  Did you tell that person:  "Stand still there for a few seconds while I plant a kiss on you?"  Why not?  If someone won't stand still to be kissed, will that same type of person stand still while you explain your organizational strategy for a piece of work that he/she might not want to read?

5.  Got some powerful numbers or stats to report?  If they fit, use them.

There are as many ways as there are stories to start a piece of writing.  Look for the part of your idea that has the greatest appeal for a reader, and find an active and visually pleasing way to use it to lead the reader into your work.   "Hello" only works with Tom Cruise.  The rest of us have to try harder.

21 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Ms. Simpkins, your blog is very impressive and well thought out! I just started reading it at the beginning of my fall semester and I have to say that I find the articles helpful. For instance many of your articles deal with either professional communication or a so-what factor. You express them in such simple terms that they are easy to remember, and are full of common sense.

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  3. I agree that the word "hello" is not appropriate in the business workplace. The word "hello" is overused and not appropriate. People receive numerous emails each day and it is important for them to grasp the main idea efficiently and quickly. Having the appropriate greeting will help you in this regard.

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  4. Tracy McDown, Section WI4October 17, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Ms. Simpkins, I also agree that the word "hello" is not a fitting word to start business correspondence with whether that correspondence is in a verbal or written format. "How are you doing?” is another phrase that is used too often and is too informal. "Hello" does not carry the so-what factor to draw the reader in, and is an empty greeting.

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  5. Ms. Simpkins,
    As we discussed in this class, simply saying hello isn't really acknologing the person you are sending the letter to. In a business invironment, you want to greet the person immediately. Also, as the book said, people love to hear their name first. It shows a kind of respect to them.

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    1. Kenny,

      I believe you are right. People do need to be recognized.

      DS

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  6. I found this blog extremely interesting as it highlights the fact that whenever you are writing you have to be aware of your reader and how you, as the writer, can grab their attention the best way possible. Simply writing "hello" does not provide that instant connection with your reader of why they should be reading the article or email they are reading. Writing for an audience is all about what's in it for them and that is how you should think when writing.

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    1. Dagur,

      Thanks for your good comment here.

      DS

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  7. Ms Simpkins, "Hello" is not appropriate in the business workplace. It is very important to respect and recognize the reader. As you stated before that we are casual writers.

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  8. Good Day Ms. Simpkins,

    The only times I can recall using only the word "Hello" as a greeting is after making brief contact with strangers in a store or a park. The greeting is spoken as a quick acknowledgment that I did make eye contact with another human being. Saying “Hello” in these instances is appropriate as it is usually accompanied by visual cues, such as a smile or a nod of the head. Not been able to see and process these cues makes it an ineffective greeting when writing.

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  9. You make a very good point here and I think you make it better than I do. Thank you.

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  10. Ms. Simpkins, I really enjoyed reading this post. I absolutely agree with using the word "Hello" in a letter or an e-mail. Using the word "Hello" seems as though the writer is unenthused about what he or she is writing. As you stated before, it is very important to not only greet the reader, but really grab the reader's attention and draw them in with a respectful and a delightful greeting.

    Shelecia Parker
    WI4 B&P

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  11. It seems that our society has become more and more informal with each passing year. It is refreshing to be reminded that the simple courtesy of formally addressing someone before jumping into an email message is a professional necessity. The business of considering others never goes out of style.

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  12. Saying the word "Hello" almost relays as though the person does not know anything about what is at hand. Many times a person will be reserved if they do not know much about what is being spoken on. Rather it is important to gather information to understand what is at hand and speak strongly about the information. Show the reader you know what you are talking about right from the beginning. This could be helpful in things such as an interview.

    -Jared Murphree (WI8)

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  13. Kayleigh RichardsonMarch 22, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    This blog is strongly related to making sure you have the so-what factor for your audience. I do agree that the common "hello" is not enough to grasp someone's attention. I can see how it can become the dull and boring greeting used in the business world, and how important it is to think beyond that.

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  14. This blog demonstrates the importance of the so-what factor in captivating the reader early on. If someone opens an email and it starts with "Hello" they will more than likely think it is a joke, and not go any further with their reading. The writer must be persuasive with their word choice, and detect their audience before constructing an introduction.

    Amanda Lee WI7

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  15. This article was very helpful for me. It taught me how to construct and write a professional email. For now on I will use everything that I have learned and apply to my email. Thanks for the post.

    LaTasha Lewis (WI8)

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  16. Maranda Jackson (W18)
    This blog writing was very helpful to my understanding of writing professionally in the business world. An e-mail is far deeper than just a simple writing, for it is all about being precise and of course, using correct grammar and good skills all the time. I will definitely reflect back upon this link to this article, even after the class has ended. Thank you for posting it! I enjoyed reading it throughly!

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