December 17th, 2008

I can accept bad grammar from those who don’t know any better — such as small children or individuals who are learning a new language or even people who have not been priviliged to have had a good education. But my tolerance runs short when persons in a role-model position (such as the President of the United States) or in a position of written trust (such as newspaper reporters) misuse the language.

I recently witnessed the commission of a grammatical mortal sin in the lead paragraph of a newspaper story published in the Jacksonville (Florida) Times-Union. It was a wire story from McClatchy Newspapers (which owns the Times-Union). The story reported on a fire at a church Gov. Sarah Palin attends in Wasilla, Alaska. The story began:

“WASILLA, ALASKA — Whomever torched Gov. Sarah Palin’s home church tried to start fires in several places about the building … ”

Did you catch the gross error? I hope so. The first word in the sentence should have been “whoever.” This word is used as the subject of the sentence (nominative case, to be technical); whomever is only used in the objective case, as “She questioned whomever she met.”

Shame on the writer of that article! Double shame on the newswire editor who let the story get out with the error! And triple shame on the local newspaper editor who allowed it into print!

Sometimes people misuse grammar when they are trying to “put on airs.” Sometimes, they misuse it because they remember hearing “something” about a rule of grammar and do not want to make a mistake. For example, I hear people — including our President Elect — incorrectly say, “between she and I.” (President-Elect Obama has said, on many occasions, “Between Michelle and I.”) The correct usage is “between her and me” and “between Michelle and me.” Why? Between is a preposition, and words following a preposition must be in the objective case. Hence, the correct words are “her” and “me.”

No one is perfect, even with respect to grammar. I make errors when I speak and probably when I write, also. I hope they are little mistakes, though — ones that don’t cause people to cover their ears.

The problem with published mistakes of grammar is that the writer forgets the power of the printed word. After all, if you see it printed, it must be true! At least, that is the public’s perception. So, those of us who write and publish shoulda tremendous responsibility to publish the truth, even down to the grammar we use.

If you see any grammatical errors in the magazines and newspapers you read, let me know. I think we need to bring them to light.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

The case of evil Outlook

December 12th, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with my computer: I love it when it works right; I hate it when it doesn’t. Actually, I have discovered that it is not my computer with whom I have this relationship. It’s Microsoft Corp.

The software programs Microsoft has developed are excellent. But when they go wrong, they are bad. Worse than bad — evil. They complicate my life, waste my time, and frustrate me to no end.

Let me give you a “f’r instance.”

I own a six-year-old Gateway computer. As computers go, I know that sounds old, but actually, it is a very fast computer and with the exception of being incapable of burning DVDs, it does everything that a brand new computer can do. So, I am happy with it.

A few months ago, however, I began to have a problem opening Outlook. It would take several tries and manipulations. One day, the program opened but then got stuck. It would not summon new mail; it would not allow me to read any mail; it would not allow me to scroll; and it would not allow me access to my mail folders. It would not even close. I had to control-alt-delete (several times) before it would close. All the while I could not access Outlook, the rest of the computer functioned admirably.

A computer technician acknowledged he could do nothing more than reformat my hard drive. He said that after a long period of time, the computer gets muddled with leftover registrations and other such programming information so that conflicts begin to occur. The only solution, he said, was to reformat. And of course, that meant reinstalling every single program I used. (It also allowed me to get rid of things I didn’t use.)

Many hours later, my computer — including Outlook — began to function normally again. During my research about why Outlook had frozen up on me, I discovered that one cause might be an extremely large data file, which could become corrupted. So, this time, with a clean machine, I resolved that would not happen again.

If you use Outlook, you probably get a message that pops up periodically, “Do you want to archive old messages now?” I had always declined to archive, because I thought I might need to access those five-year-old e-mails. And besides, I didn’t know where the archives were hidden or how to retrieve them.

The first time that invitation popped up after my reformatting, I thought, “Why not? This might keep Outlook from crashing on me.” So, I began to allow archiving.

All was good, I thought, until yesterday. That’s when I clicked on a folder which, incidentally, was not old. The folder was empty. I started clicking on other folders. Empty. Not everyone, but a lot of them.

“The contents must be archived,” I thought. So, I researched how to retrieve archived information. This is when I began to realize how evil the programmers at Microsoft are.

First I had to find the archived file, which was in a hidden folder. Unless you deliberately go into “folder options” in the control panel and click “show hidden files” you will never find “local settings.” It is in local settings that application data, including archived folder, for Outlook resides.

Next, I tried to restore the archived files. I think I did what I was supposed to do, but the lost files did not come back.

So, I investigated some more. I dug around and discovered that the default setting for archiving Outlook messages deletes messages older than six months. So, a lot of the e-mails I wanted to save are gone forever — just because I was trying to avoid a computer crash.

I have now turned off the autoarchive function. I don’t want Microsoft determining which of my precious mail items should be destroyed.

Finally, I made another interesting discovery: Empty e-mail folders are not necessarily empty.

In desperation to find lost e-mail, I did a Google desktop search. Interestingly, as I searched for certain addresses, I was able to open actual e-mails. Hmmm. That suggested the e-mails were still on my hard drive somewhere, although I didn’t know where. So, I decided to find the most important ones, open them, and then move them to the designated folder.

However … when I opened the folder, it was empty! What was this, a conspiracy to stop me from keeping e-mails past their prime?

I poked around some more in the cryptic “Outlook help” and came across information (with inadequate explanation, of course) about views in Outlook. I don’t understand it completely, but somehow, the view was changed, and messages became hidden. Once I changed the view, they suddenly appeared.

Evil. Evil. Evil.

I’ve been using Outlook for at least 10 or more years. And I’ve been using Microsoft products for longer than that. The lesson I’ve learned: Check the default and make sure it does what you want it to. And if it doesn’t, change it.

Otherwise the handiwork of the evil Microsoft programmers will get you.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

It hurts my ears!

November 19th, 2008

The presidential campaign was long and tedious. But before we put it completely to rest, I’d like to have a say.

My first choice was Hillary. I thought she had the experience and clout we needed. And, of course, I wanted to see America elect its first woman president. When Hillary was defeated, however, I placed my support behind Barack Obama. Despite his youth and his relative inexperience, he has the look and presence of the Chief Executive of this country. He even sounds like a president (unlike the individual who actually IS president).

However, I would like to make one suggestion to Mr. Obama: Please, please, please … use the correct pronoun following the preposition between!

Mr. Obama, I heard you say on numerous occasions, in both formal speeches and impromptu interviews, the phrase “between [name] and I.”

Ouch! That really hurts my ears! The correct usage is “between [name] and me.” “Between” is a preposition, and it must be followed by the objective case. The objective case of the pronoun “I” is “me.”

Mr. Obama, you are the hope of our nation and a role model to every young person in this country. I know asking you to watch your grammar is a small thing, but it is important. Grammar gives structure and order, and our country needs structure and order more now than ever before, and we are counting on you to provide it. So, if you are reading this, Mr. Obama, please pause before you finish the phrase “between [name] and …” Then use the correct pronoun. Me.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises

Gender pay differences: A long way to go

October 1st, 2008

After I graduated from college, I had three months to support myself before I could start my first professional job as a teacher. To cover that three-month income gap, I took a position as a clerk-typist at what was then Inland Steel Corp. in East Chicago, Ind. 

The time was 1967. Offices relied on the typing skills (not data input!) of people like me who could pound out 90 words a minute on an electric typewriter. Back then, IBM Selectrics were considered high technology; the personal computer had not yet been invented.

My job was in the accounting department; I was tasked with typing checks to pay invoices. The woman who trained me (a lead clerk) had been with Inland for 25 years. She calculated the amounts to be paid, then passed the checks to me for typing.

We worked in a bull pen — a large room filled with rows of desks.

I don’t have proof-positive, but I strongly suspect that the only man in the department — who did the same type of work as my trainer — was paid a significantly higher salary than any one else. Back then, it was accepted that men earned more than women. Women worked to supplement household income. (Pity the woman who was single and had to support herself or a family.)

Women in the 1960s earned less than 60 percent of what men did. The situation has improved, but not enough. A 2007 report from the American Association of University Women (www.aauw.org) entitled “Beyond the Pay Gap” said, “One year out of college, women working full-time earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn. Ten years after graduation, women fall farther behind, earning only 69 percent as much as men earn.”

A recent study — “Is the Gap More Than Gender? A Longitudinal Analysis of Gender, Gender Role Orientation, and Earnings” — published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 93, 2008, www.apa.org), reported that men who harbored traditional values about women (that is, that a woman’s role is as a homemaker) earn higher salaries than those who value women as equal partners in work!

That report suggests that prejudice against women is still being rewarded. And as long as it is rewarded, it will be perpetuated.

On more than one occasion, I remember my mother remarking about women who worked outside of the home: “She makes good money for a woman

Be honest: Do you harbor those same sentiments? Do you take gender into consideration when you figure pay by thinking, “Well, hers is a supplemental income” or “I’ll lose her to maternity leave anyway” or “Her husband will be transferred.” Do you take pride in getting more for your money by hiring overexperienced females and underpaying them, justifying your decision by saying, “Well, it’s an entry-level job.”

In the academic publishing arena, articles for journals are juried — that is, an editorial board reviews “blind” articles; they don’t know who the author is. The article must stand on its own merits, not be judged by who wrote it.

I’ve often thought that’s the way we ought to hire people. Remove all indications of sex and race from the resume or job application and hire based on merit, skills, and experience.

Back in the “olden days” when cigarettes were advertised on television, there was a brand (Virginia Slims) marketed to women. Its tagline was, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

We have come a long way. But we (men and women) still have a long way to go.

Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions


A word about workaholism

September 18th, 2008

If you had to choose between these two job applicants, whom would you pick?

  • Employee A, who works 16-hour days and weekends, is tethered to his laptop, suffers withdrawal when his cell lindaphone battery dies, and checks voice mails and e-mails every 30 minutes even while sitting on the beach in Hawaii? Or,

  • Employee B, who works diligently and conscientiously, is willing to put in extra if a true crisis develops, but shuts off her computer at 5 p.m. and spends the weekend with family and friends, never thinking about work?

The smart choice is Employee B. You’ll get more out of her (or him) in the long run.


Workaholism is as much an addiction as alcoholism. The similarities are striking:


  • An alcoholic usually starts off as a social drinker who enjoys getting a little buzz-on. A workaholic usually starts off as an ambitious employee, putting in a little overtime and enjoying the attention he gets.

  • The alcoholic tries to sneak drinks when she thinks no one is looking; the workaholic tries to sneak in work when he thinks he is alone.

  • Alcoholics try to control everything in their environment. So do workaholics. With them, the control is manifested by a lack of delegation.

  • A person in the throes of alcoholism becomes paranoid that everyone is trying to “do” him in. An employee in the throes of workaholism becomes paranoid that he is going to be fired if he lets up.

  • An alcoholic gives up everything — friends, family, and fun — for the bottle. A workaholic gives up everything — friends, family, and fun — for work.

The analogy goes on, but you get the idea.


The problem is this: People die from alcoholism. And people die from workaholism.


Long before they die, however, each of the diseases takes its toll at work: The alcoholic starts to miss work and his productivity declines. The workaholic gets so overloaded that he can’t get the work done. He may put in long hours, but those hours are not effectively utilized.


So, if you have a choice (and you always do), hire Employee B. But if you already have some Employee A’s on your staff, consider how you can stop enabling them in their addiction:

  • Make them go home.

  • Give them a realistic workload.

  • Don’t praise overtime; criticize it instead.

  • Reward the positive behaviors of working and living a balanced life.

Finally, look at your own behavior. If you are a workaholic, take steps to fix yourself. You’ll live a longer, happier life.

Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions



3 broken rules

August 31st, 2008

I know I amlinda an anomaly: I love grammar. Actually, I don’t love grammar so much as I love the order grammar gives to language. Its rules allow us to communicate with little misunderstanding. But, for communication to occur, the rules have to be followed.

I cringe whenever I hear three rules broken — and I heard all three broken time and again as I listened intently to the politicians at the Democratic National Convention last week. As Ann Landers used to say, they deserve 40 lashes of a wet noodle.

The three broken rules? Here they are:

1. “Graduate college (or high school).” Oh, were my ears pained when I heard the phrase,”When I graduated college.” Please! Graduate is almost always an intransitive verb, which means it cannot take a direct object. If the speaker meant to say s/he received a diploma from a college, the correct usage would be “graduate from,” as in “I graduated from Indiana University.”

That said, graduate can be used as a transitive verb, but it is used in this way only rarely. As a transitive verb, it means to confer a degree or certificate, as in “Indiana University graduated 5,000 individuals last spring in an outdoor ceremony.”

2. Over. Such a little word, but it drives me crazy when it is used to mean “more than.” The first definitions of “over” refer to spatial and time relationships, such as “the roof over your head” or “over a period of 10 years.” 

OK. I’ll concede: The dictionary does allow over to mean more than, but this meaning is far down on the list of definitions. So, if you are referring to a number, use more than, not over, as in “More than 38 million people tuned in to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. That’s more than the number tuned in to the Olympics the week before.”

3. There is/there are. Strictly speaking, this phrase is grammatically correct. It is, however, editorially lazy. As an editor, whenever I see that phrase, I look to see if the sentence can be recast without it. And usually it can be. For example, “There are rules that govern speed limits” can be restated, “Rules govern speed limits.” Or “There is only one acceptable answer” can be restated, “Only one acceptable answer exists.”

Does that mean you should never use the phrase “there is”? Absolutely not. Just use it judiciously. This is a case of less is more.

Each year, the editors of Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary come out with new additions in American English in spelling and usage. Language does change, but at a very slow pace. Until it is official, please try not to break the rules of grammar!

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Deal fairly with feedback

August 22nd, 2008

Most of us think about communication as a face-to-face process of exchanging information. Communication, however, can occur on different lindalevels, and sometimes it may be anonymous.

This happens when managers undergo 360-degree performance-feedback. Generally, they ask their subordinates to complete a form that assesses leadership abilities and communication styles. Sometimes individuals also have the ability to write in anonymous comments. Anonymity is important in order to encourage openness and honesty. Subordinates will not participate (at least honestly) if they feel their remarks can be traced back to them.

One of the key benefits of this type of appraisal is that the manager can see how others perceive him/her: Is he a good communicator? Does she help subordinates grow? Is he too demanding and overbearing? Does she micro-manage? Does he share his vision of the organization? Is she someone who can be trusted?

Managers can learn a lot from 360-degree appraisals. But these appraisals have drawbacks. The principle one is that if the organization  of subordinates is too small, it is not possible to protect the anonymity of respondents. And that could be bad.

If you think using a 360-degree appraisal would benefit you, first ask yourself:

  • “How delicate is my ego?” Quite frankly, I’ve had many bosses over the years, and I could probably count on two fingers the number who were confident enough to receive feedback from their employees. Most had egos so delicate they could be deflated with a pinprick.

  • “Will I get honest feedback?” If not, don’t waste your time. And you won’t get honest feedback if only a few people are involved in giving you feedback.

  • “Can I ‘take’ what I learn?” Think about the way you react when someone close to you criticizes you. If you get defensive and overreact, maybe you aren’t ready for a 360-degree assessment.

  • “If I guess who said something negative about me — especially something I don’t agree with — can I still work with this person objectively? Or will I hold a grudge?” That’s an important question, and a hard one to answer. But it’s not fair to put employees in a position of giving feedback then retaliating against them for being honest. (And it may also be illegal!)

It’s important for you to give your employees feedback about their performance, and ideally, they should feel comfortable enough with you to give you feedback, too. So, if you aren’t already getting that feedback, maybe the lack of feedback IS feedback! Think about it. Then deal with that reality. Work on developing an environment that rewards genuineness, honesty, and caring — making sure those traits are demonstrated in your office first. Employees will always have an opinion about you and your leadership. If they feel good about the organization you have created, they will share their opinions with you. If they don’t feel good about the organization,  they will still share their opinions — only it won’t be with you.

Until next time,
Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Answer the door

August 13th, 2008

Sometimes the decisions people make blow my mind. Case in point: Turning down the opportunity to be interviewed.

lindaAs I was working on a freelance writing assignment for a business magazine, I contacted several sources provided to me by the editor of the publication. The assignment was to interview these individuals about a specific topic; they were the experts and I was to get their opinions and ideas. There was nothing controversial about the article.

Two of the four individuals opted out of the interview. Their reason: They were too busy.

Too busy to get free publicity for their company? That’s what an interview for an article is — free publicity. It’s better than by-lining an article. It’s better buying an advertisement. It’s even better than authoring a book! It’s better because the writer is contacting you as an expert. Your expertise is being endorsed by a third party.

This isn’t the first time people have turned down the opportunity to be interviewed for an article. It won’t be the last. But it still astounds me. Opportunity knocks and they refuse to open the door.

Don’t make that mistake. If a reporter or a writer asks to interview you, make the time. Answer the door.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Communication: Key to motivating employees

August 8th, 2008

lindaIf you want to motivate your employees, you don’t have to dig deep into your pocketbook. Certainly, money is important, but as long as you are paying a fair and competitive wage, money is not the  motivator.

What do employees want, then? Interesting work. Appreciation. And communication.

These results come from university studies conducted originally in 1946, redone several times since then. The results have not changed much. People want (and need) to feel they are being paid fairly. But they become committed (motivated) when they know what’s going on.

As you plan your budgets for 2003, don’t neglect your communication budget.

Decide which messages you want to send to your employees during this new fiscal year to help you achieve the financial results you want.

Here are some examples of messages you may want to send:

• “Rising costs and flat sales have dramatically affected our operating budget. We need your help to meet this challenge.”

• “We are growing and we need your help to get and keep the best employees possible!”

• “Management’s door is always open. We want to remain union-free!”

• “We are changing to become a stronger leader in our market!”

• “Keep safe. We don’t want our employees hurt on the job.”

• “Your health is important to us.”

• “We want you to keep learning. Your training and education give us a competitive edge.”

Deciding on the messages you want to send is just the first step in communicating with your employees. Consistently sending them those messages through various media is the key to good employee communication.Budgeting communication isn’t a matter of allocating dollars — it’s a matter of planning what you want to say and then consistently saying it.Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises



Communicate your plans

August 4th, 2008

lindaSeptember is just around the corner. I don’t know about you, but to me, September is the real start of the year. I think it’s because it’s the traditional start of the school year … and when school starts, everything goes back to “normal.”

In business, September is also when many companies begin their budgeting activities for the next fiscal year. And budgeting means reflecting on the past, planning for the future, and (horrors!) making changes! This year, because of the economy, you may find yourself planning more changes than in the past. You won’t be alone. The country may not be officially in a recession, but it feels like it. So, doing what you have always done to grow (or even merely to sustain) your business may not be enough. You may find it necessary to make changes in the way you do business.

Change is never easy for people to accept. No one wants to tighten their belt, do more, or do things differently. To get your team members to agree to change will require their buying into whatever you have in mind. Experts agree that the best way to deal with change is through communication. In fact, it’s almost impossible to over-communicate.

Some ways in which you can communicate your plans (and change) include:

  • One-on-one meetings,

  • Town hall meetings,

  • Bulletin boards,

  • E-mails,

  • Intranets,

  • Memos, and

  • Newsletters.

The key to communicating change is simple: Say it, say it again, and then say it again. And once you do that, do it all over again.

Also important: Use different approaches. People “hear” in different ways. Some people learn better by listening. Others learn faster by reading. If you use only one method of communication, some of your employees may miss your message.

Here is a communication strategy you might consider:

1. Hold a town hall meeting to announce plans.

2. Communicate the same message in your newsletter (either print or e-mail or both).

3. Post the message on bulletin boards.

4. Talk to individuals one-on-one about their roles in the change.

5. As you near the time to implement the change, regularly remind employees through e-mails and bulletin-board memos.

6. Once you have put the change into place, update everyone via all media — e-mail, memos, bulletin boards, intranets and newsletters.

7. Keep everyone up-to-date on progress — tell them about pitfalls as well as advances.

If you keep to a policy of “no surprises,” your employees will accept change more easily.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions