C-Suite Network™

Best Practices Growth Personal Development

What is the Em Dash, and Why Should You Care?

This is an em dash:  — It has the approximate width of a capital H. The poor em dash is perhaps the most misunderstood and misused of all punctuation marks. Used well, it adds emphasis and precision to your writing.

This form of punctuation is a newcomer to the world of writing and printing. It’s believed to have originated with the Gutenberg Bible, but it wasn’t widely used until the 1700s. That is short in the writing world; this means it hasn’t been around long enough to have hard-and-fast rules attached to its use.

One Rule We Know

The easiest rule about the em dash is that it can be used to indicate an interrupted thought.

“Let’s go to the store—oh, I didn’t notice that you were reading.”

“I had the greatest time at—watch, you’re about to step into a puddle.”

“Yes, I really want to hear your story—oh, hi, Max, did you have a nice time last night?”

In the above examples, no other form of punctuation will work.

Em dashes can also be used for a less extreme form of interruption.

“I was going to the board room—but I changed my mind because the fire alarm went off.”

Unlike in the examples above, the em dash doesn’t mark a complete change of subject. It could also be replaced by a comma.

“I was going to the board room, but I changed my mind because the fire alarm went off.”

Here I prefer the first version because I think of the em dash as a more dramatic form of punctuation, which in this case describes a dramatic event. It’s saying, “Pay attention to this.”

Here’s another example of using the em dash in a dramatic way.

“Pfizer, the largest drug manufacturer, raised prices for 40 drugs—with some increases hitting 9 percent.”

Other Accepted Uses for Em-dashes

The em dash can mark an afterthought, especially when it’s intended to be humorous or ironic.

“I don’t believe in ghosts—except the one in my closet.”

It can connect a series of subjects with a conclusion.

“Yoga, chi kung, tai chi—these are excellent methods of gentle exercise.”

In fairness to other forms of punctuation, you could also write

“Yoga, chi kung, and tai chi are excellent methods of gentle exercise.”

Em dashes can be used to surround a parenthetical set of words.

“The Presidential hopefuls—Biden, Harris, and Hickenlooper—disagree sharply on foreign policy.”

Commas or parentheses could be used here, but they wouldn’t set off the names so distinctly.

“The Presidential hopefuls, Biden, Harris, and Hickenlooper, disagree sharply on foreign policy.”

“The Presidential hopefuls (Biden, Harris, and Hickenlooper) disagree sharply on foreign policy.”

Avoid Overuse

Most grammarians agree that this is the biggest danger of em dashes. Keep in mind that they break up a line of thought and can thus lead to choppy and disjointed writing—and reading.

If your paragraph has more than one em dash (or two, in the case of em dashes setting off words, as above), replace them with commas or parentheses.

Remember, above all, that an em dash is best used for dramatic effect. This can highlight your prose. Used too often, it will simply overwhelm it.

Need a skilled editor? Pat Iyer Is a C Suite Network Advisor, ghostwriter, and editor. Reach her through her website at www.patiyer.com.

Growth Management Personal Development

How a Competent Writer Can Become Good

Stephen King, in his book, On Writing, lists a hierarchy of writers: bad, competent, good (and sometimes really good), and great, which he also describes as the genius level of writing.

Bad writers, King says, do get published. They may write for your local weekly paper. Some of them write best-sellers. If the subject of a book is sensational or compelling enough, a bad writer can do well.

Competent writers achieve a higher level of journalism. They may write genre fiction, which, again, if the subject is compelling, can do well.

He says little about his category of good writers, but he would probably include himself among them. He does very well.

The last category, the great ones, include Nobel Prize winners, Dickens, James Joyce, and others.

King says that bad writers can’t become competent. Competent writers can become good. Rarely will good writers become great.

I’m focusing here on how competent writers can become good writers.

Read a Lot, Write a Lot

In King’s view, doing a lot of reading and writing are fundamental aspects to being or becoming a good writer. I fully agree. I was Independently taking books out of the library at 4 a clip as soon as I was old enough to ride my bike one mile to the library. (Those were the days when kids could roam around town without fear of kidnapping)

Read doesn’t mean social media. While you may accumulate information, you will also pick up a lot of bad grammar and abbreviations. If anything, your writing may deteriorate from over-exposure. You’ll see such atrocities as “Me and him went to the library.” No.)

Reading does mean both fiction and non-fiction. If you’re planning a writing a non-fiction book, read a lot in the area of your specialty, from the perspective of seeing what’s been written. Make sure your book hasn’t been written, and absorb the style of your particular area of interest.

You should also be reading fiction. Your book may be non-fiction, but you will be telling stories in it. You want those stories to catch readers’ interest. Study how fiction writers write.

King recommends reading both good and bad novels so that you can learn the difference between them. Good writers write economically: no roller-coaster sentences, no nouns preceded by three adjectives. Without consciously knowing it, you will absorb a lot.

The odds are good that competent writers write every day. They may be journalists or technical writers. Your job in the C Suite may keep the words rolling out, but a different kind of writing can help you go from competent to good.

Keep a journal to develop more skill in expressing yourself and to focus on accurately describing what you feel. Write down a story about something that happened to you today or yesterday. Tell a story that’s interesting.

Take risks. (Remember, no one but you has to see this.) If you have an urge to write some seemingly unrelated words and phrases, do it. Write a poem or dialogue. Stretch yourself. to help you leap the gap between competence and good writing. Imagination makes the difference.

Seeing the progress you make during your daily writing will encourage you to continue to take more risks. As regular physical exercise increases your comfort in your body, so regular writing will help you to experience even greater enjoyment from writing than you already do.

Pat Iyer is a ghostwriter who helps busy people share their expertise without having to write a book. She also edits other people’s writing, an activity which she loves. Contact her through her website www.patiyer.com.

Best Practices Growth Personal Development

Active Wording Attracts Active Readers

Passive sentence construction can drain the power and focus of your writing.

In general terms, passive voice means a combination of a verb with “was,” “is,” “were,” “will be,” or any other form of the verb, “to be.” The accompanying verb will usually end in “ed.”

Here is an example.

Passive: The first day of my new position will always be remembered by me with terror.

Active: I will always remember the first day of my new position with terror.

In this instance, be remembered and remembered are, respectively, the passive and active forms.

The meaning of this sentence has a lot of potential power. “Terror” activates strong emotion. However, “be remembered” distances the emotional impact. “Remember” in its active form makes it more immediate.

Sometimes Passive Voice is Appropriate

Writing has its rules, but none of them are ironclad.

The most common use of passive voice is in situations where either we don’t know or don’t care who caused a situation.

“In the resulting shootout, three people were killed.”

We don’t know who killed them, and to say, “In the resulting shootout, three people died” doesn’t specify the violent nature of their deaths.

“She was robbed.” Again, we don’t know who did it. Rewriting the sentence to say, “An unknown person robbed her” would subtract from the impact of the act. People might focus on wondering who this person was, but the important fact is that she was robbed.

“Her teeth were shaped like daggers.” We don’t care who shaped them, and we don’t want to meet her.

“The meat was overcooked, but we were hungry and ate it.” We don’t care who overcooked it. Hunger is the point of this sentence.

Why People Often Use the Passive Voice

People usually write technical or business pieces in passive voice. That, I suppose, gives them a distant and impersonal tone that someone decided long ago was appropriate to such writing.

Unless you are writing such a piece, you don’t want a distant and impersonal tone. You want to communicate with your reader. You want them to feel that you are writing for them. Active verb forms convey this.

Author Stephen King believes that passive form suggests a kind of timidity about direct assertion. He suggests that cautious, unassertive authors take refuge in the tone of technical writing.

If you come from a technical writing background, I recommend that you pay special attention to searching your writing for use of passive voice, as it will be automatic for you. You’ll see how much more alive your writing becomes with the increased use of active voice.

Authorities generally recommend that no more than ten percent of your verb constructions be passive. That doesn’t mean you need to eliminate this form entirely.

Use it deliberately to vary your sentence construction.

No rules in writing are ironclad. What matters is whether you’re breaking one out of ignorance or on purpose. In other words, know the rules and break them only when it improves your writing.

Pat Iyer is one of the founding members of the C-Suite Network Advisors. She is an editor, ghostwriter and online course creator. Connect with her on patiyer.com.

Best Practices Growth Personal Development

5 Grammatical Mistakes in the C Suite

After proofreading thousands of reports, I prepared this list of 5 grammatical mistakes.

Do you want to present yourself a well-qualified communicator, one who understands how your clients, both internal and external,  scrutinize every word you write?

Here is what NOT to do.

Don’t confuse possessive and plural

Not sure when to use an apostrophe? Plurals mean you are referring to more than one. Possessive means you are describing ownership. I know many people who can’t figure out the difference between these two.

Wrong: “She was responsible for preparing the marketing plans’ for the company.”

Right: “She was responsible for preparing the marketing plans for the company.”

Don’t add an apostrophe to a plural word unless you are using the possessive form.

Don’t mix up hyphens and dashes

This is another sign of an inexperienced writer. What’s the difference between a hyphen and a dash?

A hyphen is also called an “n dash” whereas a dash breaks up a sentence and is called an “m” dash. Keep these separate in your mind by thinking of the fact that an “n” is less wide than an “m”.

Hyphens punctuate words.
They link smaller words to make compound words: 66-year-old.
They link an adjective before a noun: month-long orientation.

Dashes punctuate sentences.
They make a detour around the main idea of a sentence to add an aside. Use two dashes in a sentence if the interruption comes in the middle of the sentence.

“The new hire–who spoke limited English–could not read the employee manual.”

A dash is twice as long as a hyphen. Note there is no space before and after either a hyphen or a dash.

Don’t use insure, assure and ensure interchangeably

Although these words sound alike, they have different meanings.

Insure means to protect against loss.
Assure means to pledge or give confidence to people. (Reassure has the same meaning.)
Ensure means to guarantee or make certain.

  • You contact an insurance carrier when you want to insure your car.
  • You talk to the attorney when you want to assure him the case is defensible.
  • You speak to the assistant when you want to ensure you receive all of the records.

Don’t confuse principle and principal

Principals are people. You dreaded being sent to the principal when you were in school. The principal was not your pal. A principal is a person in control.

Principal also means main or primary. “Our principal need is to be sure we have named all of the possible defendants.”

Principle is a rule or guidebook. “It is against my principles to not refund the unused portion of a retainer.”

This is an example of using both words in the same sentence: “The principal of the company asserted that the firm would not violate its principles.”

Don’t use colons incorrectly

Colons tell your reader to come to a stop. Use them to introduce a list, such as a list of initiatives.

Mr. Guthrie directed the sales department to focus on these actions:

  • Close more sales
  • Identify the most commonly heard objections
  • Reduce the sales cycle

Don’t put a colon after a verb or the object of a preposition.

Incorrect: Please email me: the names of the vice president of sales, marketing director and CFO at Nonny Corporation.
Correct: Please email me the names of the vice president of sales, marketing director and CFO at Nonny Corporation.

The part before the colon must be able to stand alone as a complete sentence.

Also correct: Please email me the information I need to complete my database: the names of the vice president of sales, marketing director and CFO at Nonny Corporation.

Pat Iyer is a C Suite Network Advisor, ghostwriter, and editor. Request her free editing checklist at www.editingMybook.com.

Best Practices Growth Skills

How to Avoid the Trap of the Treacherous Homophone


A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word but has a different meaning.

Join me in the homophone sand trap. Please note that some of the word pairs aren’t pure homophones, such as the first one: accept/except, and the second: affect/effect. For the purposes of language skills, I believe that they sound close enough to get easily confused.


 To accept is to receive with the subtler meaning of “allow.”

I accepted the invitation with gratitude. To except means to exclude.

He excepted the corporation from his ruling.


A simple rule for understanding the difference between these two words is to remember that “affect” is a verb mean to influence something. “Effect,” a noun, is the thing that was influenced.

Her reputation affected the results of the sales department.

Her reputation had the effect of changing the closed sales ratio. 


“Advice” and “advise” are closely related in meaning.  They both refer to opinions and recommendations. The difference is that advice is a noun and advise is a verb.

I advise you to closely study the P&L statements.

She paid close attention to key performance indicators for the marketing department. 


People rarely get confused when “bear” refers to the large animal that may chase you.  Confusion occurs with the verb forms of bare/bear.

“Bare” means to expose, whether body or emotions are involved.

He was afraid to bare his feelings.

 “Bear” means carrying, as in water bearer. It may also refer to carrying emotional or other burdens.

He was able to bear the burden of responsibility for his company.


Vocabulary alert: These two words are notoriously misused.

Both “compliment” and “complement” can be used either as nouns or verbs. That adds to the confusion.

“Compliment” means to praise or flatter. When used as “complimentary,” it means free. Think of the word “gift” which has an “I” in it like the “I” In complimentary.

She treasured the compliment: “Your department exceeded Its goals for the quarter. Great job!”

They were surprised that their purchase entitled them to complimentary financial assessments.

“Complement” means to complete. Complementary colors like red-green, blue-orange, and yellow-purple are opposite each other on the color wheel. When combined in the correct proportions, they complete each other to form white light. If you think of “complete” or “completion,” you will use complement correctly.

The marketing and sales departments work in complementary ways.

Correct use of homophones shows your skill with the English language. Accept my advice so that at a bare minimum you will enjoy the effects of compliments on your writing skills.

Pat Iyer Is a ghostwriter, editor, and one of the original 100 C Suite Network Advisors. Contact her through her website EditingMyBook.com.


Growth Personal Development

Too Busy to Write? Use These Shortcuts

You’d love to see your name on the cover of a book. You know that a book is a powerful tool for an executive for building a brand. It not only helps to establish your expertise in your market, but it can also exponentially expand your audience.

There’s virtually no downside to writing a book. Except the time needed to write it. If you don’t consider yourself a writer, you may think the benefits are out of your reach, but even self-avowed non-authors have options or shortcuts.

Outsource. If you want a book that’s in your voice without having to do the work? Hire a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is a writer who you pay to write for you. These professionals will work with you to create a book that is uniquely yours, and in the end, you’ll have a well-written book with your name on it, all without typing a word. A ghostwriter typically interviews the author and creates the chapters from the transcripts. The ghostwriter puts in all the time to eliminate the dialogue and make the content organized and coherent.

A ghostwriter is the ideal person to work with when you are busy or lack the writing skills to create well-written content. The best time to use a ghostwriter is when you recognize you should be producing more content, but you’ve been putting it off. You’re not sure how to fit one more thing into your life. Working with a ghostwriter will take time, but far less than if you wrote the content from scratch.

Repurpose. This easy and popular option makes use of the hundreds or even thousands of pages of content you’ve already created. You will need to create an outline, organize the content and group it into chapters to create a smooth flow. In the process of doing so, you will see gaps in the material that you’ll need to write.

Blogs, white papers, podcast transcripts, and articles are all material that you can repurpose. I completed 2 books last month that were solely drawn from podcast transcripts and blogs. After my assistant edited out the transcript dialogue it took me less than a day to complete each book.

Dictate. If you are one of the people who finds it easier to talk than write, dictating content may be the right option for you. After organizing your thoughts, you record your content, get it transcribed and then start rearranging and filling in gaps. You can also create a book based on interviews you record, which form the basis of the content you expand upon.

Having a published book can work wonders for your business growth. It will bring you clients, expand your audience reach, and even attract some press. But it can’t do any of that if you don’t write the book in the first place. Take one of these ideas and get your book written. You won’t regret it.

Pat Iyer is a ghostwriter who works with authors to develop materials that share their brilliance. She has written or edited over 800 chapters, books, online courses, case studies or articles. See her website at editingmybook.com or reach her at patriciaiyer@gmail.com.

Growth Skills

Tips for Natural Sounding Writing

You are in a restaurant with a friend. You’ve just seen your company’s third quarter results. As you explain the results, she asks questions which takes you deep into the conversation and to further explanations.

Do you ever wonder if you are setting the right tone with your writing? When it comes to writing memos, sales pages, or white papers, many people freeze in their tracks. They’re afraid if they don’t use just the right (perfect) formula they won’t be effective in communication. But writing is just another form of conversation, like the one you had with your friend.

You have a natural-born talent to communicate – you have that skill already. Leaders have well-developed communication abilities. You would not be in your role if you could not communicate well. Written communication should not be a stumbling block that it is for some leaders.
How to Get Started: Outline or Free Flow?

You are sitting down to write a report. Pretend you’re in that restaurant about to tell a colleague about this great product, or service, or result you have achieved in your company. Think about what you’d say to her. What would she ask you? Keeping your reader in mind as you write helps you focus on the message.

It is usually more effective to write in a rough form than to edit your work as you write. I’ll bet you remember having to turn in outlines of papers when you were in school. Our teachers made us do them because outlines really are helpful for organizing material. Start with an outline and then fill in the concepts under each main point you want to make.

Creating an outline is difficult for some. You might be more comfortable with a style that involves letting your ideas flow and then organizing them. Then polish your writing. The process of refining your writing involves looking at word flow, the length of paragraphs, and the way you’ve connected your thoughts. This is also the point at which you can add headers, sub headers, bullets and numbered lists. Some of your readers love to read all the details. Some want to skim and get the key points.

Readers can sense your energy. It flows through in everything you write. If your writing is stiff you may easily lose your reader. (We’ve been trained to have short attention spans.) Read what you wrote out loud. Does it sound conversational?

While it is true that you need to get it right, don’t let a craving for perfection stop you from writing. Done is often better than perfect.

Pat Iyer is a professional writer who works with others to assist them as an editor, ghostwriter and online course creator. Reach her at patriciaiyer@gmail.com.