Receptionist Etiquette Tip: Skip That “At”

You may have been scolded in the past for ending a sentence with a preposition, but there’s no real rule against it. (Read more about this grammar myth here.) However, our virtual receptionist staff strives to sound professional in every exchange, and we typically nix one preposition from the ends of our sentences: at. Here are three common examples of when Ruby®‘s phone answering pros would pass on ending with a preposition:

     What is the best phone number to reach you at?

     When should we meet at?

     Where is the conference going to be held at?

What do these three sentences have in common? The at can be lopped off of all of them without changing the meaning, and they sound a heck of a lot better without it. Check it out:

     What is the best phone number to reach you?

     When should we meet?

     Where is the conference going to be held?

It’s amazing how one little change makes such a big difference! There’s technically nothing wrong with ending a sentence in a preposition, but ending in at rarely adds anything but awkwardness to a sentence. Since a lot of folks view the preposition myth as fact, and since ending a sentence with at can sound a little unprofessional, our virtual receptionists usually skip it when answering phones.

Have any grammar or style tips to share? We’d love to read them — Tweet us @callruby!

Receptionist Etiquette Tip: 3 Ways to End Silly Mistakes in Your Writing

email-257x300.jpg

You’ve read it, re-read it, and confidently sent it, but a scan of your “Sent” folder reveals the dreaded blemish: a goofy little typing error. Argh! Even the best proofreader is probably guilty of sending a letter or email with a silly mistake now and then. Editing your writing isn’t easy, but each virtual receptionist at Ruby® aims to be a proofreading pro. Before sending your next important email, try these three tips from our phone answering team:

  1. Isolate individual words. Sure, you want to proofread for tone and cohesiveness, but it’s important to read your text word-by-word before putting your red editing pen away. Many errors slip through the cracks because we simply scan over them, so do something that will jar you out of your typical reading routine. Try reading your text aloud, for example. Better yet, read it backwards, so you’re sure to focus on individual words rather than overall content. It’s a surefire way to find missing or duplicate words.
  2. Check your spellcheck. If you’re anything like me, spellcheck is a lifesaver. But using it effectively requires a bit of savvy at times. When spellcheck says you’ve mistyped a word, be careful to select the correct alternative spelling option. Your computer is smart, but you’re smarter. Let spellcheck narrow down your choices, but take care to select the right choice.
  3. Scour for sound-alikes. Ever written “their” instead of “there”? Ugh! Embarrassing. We all learned the difference between common homonyms in elementary school, but that doesn’t mean our fingers always type them correctly. Be on red alert for its and it’s, the theres, and other words that sound alike when proofreading.

You’ve seen how our virtual receptionists edit their email messages; how do you make sure your writing is error-free? Spill the beans on your proofreading secrets and Tweet us @callruby!

Commonly Misspelled Homonyms

It’s and its, you’re and your, who’s and whose: All these words are short and distinct in meaning, but despite their seeming simplicity, they are often misspelled.  These word pairs are homonyms, meaning they sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different definitions.  Sure, we know what we mean when saying these words, but spelling is a different story.  We’ve probably all experienced a glitch in our brain-to-fingertip connection at one time or another, and typed its when we mean it’s, or your for you’re.

In addition to being homonyms, each of these word pairs is made up of a contraction and a pronoun. A contraction is a combination of two words, or a shortened form of a word.  Don’t is a contraction for do not.  Every contraction contains an apostrophe, and the apostrophe takes the place of any missing letters.

Plainly put, a pronoun is word that replaces a noun or noun phrase.  She, he, I, they, it, you, and who are all pronouns.  Thanks to pronouns, we say things like “Suzy said she wants ice cream,” rather than “Suzy said Suzy wants ice cream.”  Nouns and pronouns are different in the way they show possession. While every possessive noun is noted with an apostrophe, most possessive pronouns do not include apostrophes.  If something belongs to Suzy, it’s Suzy’s, but if something belongs to her, it isn’t her’s, it’s hers.

Here are some brief definitions of these often-misspelled words, and a few examples of how to use them correctly.

its and it’s

Its means “belonging to it.”  Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it.

  • The dog wagged its tail.
  • The new store is open, but its sign isn’t up yet.

It’s is a contraction for “it is,” or less frequently, “it has.”

  • It’s so great to have you in town!
  • It’s a beautiful day.
  • I love my new car, but its sun roof is broken.  Since it’s been raining, it’s been a hassle to deal with.

whose and who’s

Whose is a pronoun meaning “belonging to who/whom.” “Whose jacket is this?” means “Who does this jacket belong to?” or “Who owns this jacket?

  • Whose car should we take to the movies?
  • I don’t know whose boots those are.

Who’s is a contraction for “who is,” or less frequently, “who has.”

  • Who’s going to the movies?
  • Who’s wearing my boots?

your and you’re

Your means “belonging to you.” Your is the possessive form of the pronoun you.  “Your scarf” means “The scarf belonging to you.”

  • Thank you for all of your help.
  • May I borrow your rain coat?

You’re is a contraction for “you are.”  “You’re welcome” means “You are welcome.”

  • You’re invited to my birthday party.
  • I know you’re going to have a great time in Spain.
  • If you’re available, I would really appreciate your help.

Even our bright and detail-oriented virtual receptionists make typing errors from time to time, which is why proofreading is the rule at Ruby.   We suggest you make a habit of it, too, and take special care with these same-sounding pairs.

A few of my favorite sites

I’ve been writing training materials for Ruby Receptionists for the past few years.  It’s a great job–I love writing, and it’s very rewarding to play a part in supporting the growth our virtual receptionist company.  Things at Ruby are always changing–new employees being hired, new job positions being created, new protocols being instated–and that means there’s always plenty of work for me to do.  It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun.

I regularly refer to a number of writing-related websites when I have questions or just want to brush up on my skills.  The three sites listed below are among my favorites.

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab contains a wealth of information about academic, business, and creative writing.  This rich resource is easy to navigate and incredibly expansive.  When I need writing help, this is often the first website I visit.

Author Patricia T. O’Conner addresses a wide variety of writing-related topics in her Grammarphobia blog, and clearly has fun doing it.  O’Conner’s daily posts are witty and easy to digest, much like her books (I adore Woe is I so much that I keep a copy of it at work and at home).  She tackles topics like grammar and etymology without a hint of stuffiness, and includes all sorts of interesting facts.  If you’re looking to impress the word lover in your life (or become one yourself), this blog is a must-read.

A great source for writing-related activities is this fantastic site sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation of Hartford, Connecticut.  Nearly every topic addressed on this site includes an interactive quiz component.  The five “notorious confusables” quizzes posted here are tricky and fun.  Check them out–I dare you to test your grammar knowledge!

Speak up and Proofread

At Ruby Receptionists, we do a lot of writing.  Our team of virtual receptionists takes hundreds of messages each day.  The office is always abuzz with the sound of friendly voices and rapidly typing fingers.  Taking clear, accurate messages while balancing multiple telephone calls and remaining relentlessly friendly is no simple feat, but our team makes it seem so.  Two weeks ago, I fielded calls for the first time in many months, and believe me–it ain’t easy. 

I started at Ruby as a receptionist around five years ago, and have since taken a position that is centered around writing.  From my days as a receptionist, working at Ruby has taught me the value of proofreading.  I’ve become a borderline-obsessive re-reader in an effort to catch any and all errors in my writing.  The trouble is, re-reading doesn’t always do the trick for me, and those sneaky errors have a habit of making themselves known after an email has been sent or a document published.

Recently, I’ve started using a new proofreading strategy: reading aloud.  Seems simple, right?  Obvious?  Well, it wasn’t to me, sadly, but it has proven very helpful.  I’ll admit it feels a bit awkward at first, but the results are well worth it for me.  By the way, in case you’re worried about disturbing your co-workers, you don’t have to read aloud loudly in order for this method to be effective.  No need to turn your latest memo into a test of your public speaking skills!  

The next time you’re proofreading, I suggest speaking up (or speaking quietly to yourself). Now let’s hope this post is error-free…

🙂

Confusing Word Pair: Affect and Effect

For the most part, affect and effect are easy to distinguish between.  When the word you’re looking for is a verb, affect is almost always the correct choice.  Effect is usually used to describe a noun. 

Here are some examples:

  • Dizziness may be a side-effect of the medication.  The medication may affect you by making you dizzy. 
  • The symphony had quite an effect on me.  The music affected me greatly.
  • The effects of the storm were widespread.  Many people were affected by the storm. 
  • I love movies with special effects.  When done well, special effects really seem to affect the mood of an audience. 

These standards apply in nearly every use of affect and effect.  There are two exceptions, but if you remember that affect is almost always a verb, and effect is almost always a noun, you will be ahead of the grammar game. 

Now for those two tricky exceptions: 

  1. Effect can be used as a verb meaning “to cause or achieve,” as in The politician promised to effect budget changes.
  2. As a noun, affect is a psychological term for “emotion,” as in The criminal showed a lack of affect.

 

Hopefully this grammar tip will affect your writing in a positive way–or, to put it in different words, I hope this grammar tip has a positive effect on your writing. 

Compliment and Complement

Ruby Receptionists is in the middle of a compliment campaign.  When a member of our team receives a compliment from a client or caller, we turn that compliment into a work of art and display it in the middle of the office for all to see.  From my office, I see brilliant works of art hanging above the area where our incredibly talented (and amazingly creative) receptionists work.  Simply put, it’s really cool.  As a salute to compliments, I thought I’d write a bit about the difference between the words compliment and complement. 

A compliment is a statement of praise or a friendly remark.  I’m proud to say that thanks to our dedicated team, we get a lot of those at Ruby.  To be complimentary is to praise someone or something.

A complement is something that completes or perfects another thing.  When I think of two things being complementary, I think of the balance of black and white in a yin yang or an M.C. Escher print. 

Red and green are complementary colors.  Her green eyes complement her red dress perfectly.

It’s uplifting to see so many complimentary remarks around the office.  If our clients could see them, I am sure they’d compliment our receptionists on their artistic ability.

When in doubt about which word to use, remember the e factor: a complement completes something.

Writing Effective Messages

Here at Ruby, we do a lot of talking.  We answer 5,200-5,500 calls every day.  That’s a new call every nine seconds for the entire 13 hours that we’re open.  Lather, rinse, and repeat 5 days a week plus Saturdays.

We pride ourselves for being friendly, professional, and helpful on the phone.  But the other half of spoken communication is the written communication that goes with it.  We send phone messages via email.  We make outbound calls for our clients, and they rely on an email to know what happened.  Our client services department sends a follow-up email every time they talk to a client.  As the maxim goes, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.”

So what does it take to write a good message?  The same rules apply whether you’re writing a formal business letter, a quick email, or just taking a message from a caller.

Good messages:

  • Are clear.  Try to convey your meaning as simply as possible.  Don’t over-write or use exorbitant language.  Don’t make your readers scratch their heads and try to guess what you mean.
  • Are complete.  Include all relevant information.  Think about the situation from your readers’ perspective.  What information might they want?  What questions will they have?
  • Are correct.  Always proofread before sending any message.  This simple step can prevent a lot of confusion and embarrassment.  Proofreading just once is acceptable for short messages, but you’ll want to proofread several times for longer and more formal writing.

Overall, a good message should save the reader time.  Remember your three Cs, and you’ll be making the most of your time as well.