Business English Tip of the Week

business-english-tipsEvery week we publish a business English tip concerning different aspects of business English. Topic areas include writing, speaking, listening, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, exams as well as general English. To receive 'Business English Tip of the Week' by email, just subscribe to our newsletter. You can choose whether to receive the newsletter weekly or monthly. Simply click on the link on the right to subscribe. It's free!

Errors When Writing Job Application Letters

23 Jul 2017

If you've ever seen a batch of letters sent in response to a job advertisement, you know they can be very funny. A random sampling usually demonstrates every mistake in the book (like sending the letter to the wrong company). Here are twenty-five common errors to avoid:

1. Addressing letters, "Dear Sir" or "Dear Sirs" As you know, many readers today are women. If gender is unclear, the salutation should be something like "Dear Personnel Manager," or "Dear Human Resources Manager."

2. Addressing letters, "To whom it may concern." Find out who will receive the correspondence, and address it personally. We received a letter addressed to "Dear Whomever," to which we replied, "I'll answer to anything but this!"

3. Enclosing a photo. Forget the photo unless you're a model or an aspiring actor.

4. Handwriting or typing over an old resume or letterhead. If you've moved, start again. Changes on old documents aren't acceptable.

5. No signature. Even if you type your name at the end of correspondence, you should sign the page in your own handwriting to give it a personal touch.

6. Spelling errors. One applicant said he was well suited for "writting and editing chores... contac t me at the adrwss below." Would you give him your editing work? Another writer said she would enjoy "hearing form us." Word processing spell checkers make mistakes; so proof everything.

7. Handwriting letters. Brief 30-word thank you notes can be handwritten, if legible. All other correspondence should be typewritten or word-processed, even if you have to borrow a word processor or pay a secretarial service. Handwritten letters don't say "business."

8. FAXing letters unexpectedly.

9. Forgetting to include your phone number. One woman wrote, "Please call me at home," but didn't include a phone number. That looked bad.

10. Cluttered design. Some job seekers feel the urge to "be creative" using various type sizes and fonts. Avoid this in business correspondence. Except in rare cases, business letters should look conservative. If you want to be creative, do so in your choice of words. Save Microsoft Publisher and Photoshop for your Christmas cards!

11. Using a post office box as an address. Except in rare cases, such as conducting a confidential job search, use a street address. Post office boxes seem "transient."

12. Strange phrasing, such as "an opportunity to expand my strengths and delete my weaknesses... " Or, "You may feel that I'm a tad overqualified." Or, "Enclosed herewith please find my resume." Do you talk that way? You should write in the way you talk. Avoid bad phrasing by having others critique your letters.

13. Typing errors, like "thankyou for your assistance."

14. Mailing form letters. Some letters contain "fill in the blanks." Generic forms don't work well.

15. Not saying enough. One want cover letter read, "Please accept my enclosed resume for the position of Executive Director. Thank you." That's too short. A letter is an opportunity to sell. So say something about yourself.

16. Ending with "Thank you for your consideration." EVERYONE ends their letters this way, so please don't. Try something different, like "I'm excited about talking further," or "I know I could do a good job for you." The same goes for "Sincerely," and "Sincerely yours." EVERYONE uses them. Find something different like "Good wishes," "With best regards," or "With great enthusiasm."

17. WRITING IN ALL CAPS. IT'S HARD TO READ. DON'T DO IT.

18. Abbreviating Rep., Ave., Dec., and all other words. Take time to spell words out. It looks so much better.

19. Forgetting to enclose your resume. If you say you're enclosing one, then do.

20. Justifying right margins. When you "justify right," you create large gaps between words inside your sentences.

21. Forgetting the date and/or salutation.

22. Using dot matrix printers. Most are hard to read and they make you look like an engineer. Whenever possible, use a laser printer, even if you have to borrow one.

23. Talking nonsense. "I work in instilling proper conduits for mainstream educational connections while also encouraging individual creative forms." What? Write in plain, modern English.

24. Forgetting to put the letter in the envelope.

25. The 300-word paragraph. The worst mistake in marketing is writing too long. Limit sentences to ten or twenty words, and limit paragraphs to four or five lines. In letter writing, short is usually better. Try to limit your letters to one page.

 

Tips for Successful Communication

16 Jul 2017

If you work in a company which has offices in different countries, or if your company does business with foreign companies, you probably use English to communicate.

To avoid misunderstandings or poor working relationships it is very important to have good communication.

The following tips will help you communicate more effectively in English.

Use Simple Words and Sentence Structures

Avoid idioms and phrasal verbs and keep grammatical structures simple. This has two advantages: the person you are dealing with will be more likely to understand you, and secondly, you will be less likely to make mistakes.

Clarify and Rephrase What You Say and Hear

Rephrasing (if the other person doesn't understand) saves time in the future. Try these useful phrases:

If I understand you correctly.
If I can rephrase what you've just said.
So you mean.
Let me rephrase what I've just said.
Let me say that in another way.
In other words.

Ask If You Don't Understand

Don't just guess the meaning of what someone says. If you are at all unclear, you should ask them to repeat or explain. Here are some useful phrases:

Sorry, but I don't understand.
Can you go over that again?
I'm not sure I understood your last point.
Would you mind repeating that?
Could you say that again, please?
Could you explain what you mean?

Prepare for Meetings, Presentations and Negotiations

Before you meet someone, make sure you have prepared any vocabulary or questions you might need. The more familiar you are with any particular vocabulary, the more relaxed you will feel when you meet. It's also often helpful to "role play" a meeting or negotiation, so that you can predict what sort of questions or issues will arise and how you can best deal with them.

Take Written Notes

Ask for a written agenda before a meeting so you can prepare. Take notes when others speak (during meetings, telephone conversations, etc).

Follow up meetings or spoken agreements with a written note. Try using these phrases:

It was good to meet you yesterday. I'm just writing to confirm the main points of our meeting:
Following our phone call this morning, I just wanted to confirm our agreement:

 

Confusing Pairs of Words

09 Jul 2017

Here are three pairs of common words which often cause confusion among non-native English speakers. Review the usage of each word and see how they are used in context.

When or If?

  • When is used when something is certain to happen.
  • If is used when it is uncertain whether something will happen.

I'll give it to him when I see him.
(I am definitely going to see him)

I'll give it to him if I see him.
(It is uncertain whether I will see him or not)

So or Such?

  • So is used with adjectives or adverbs.
  • Such is used with nouns or adjectives and nouns.

The service was so bad that we complained.
We were served so badly that we complained.
Such service is bound to lead to complaints.
We received such bad service that we complained.

Each or Every?

  • Each is used when we talk about people or things separately. Each is used with countable nouns in the singular. Each can also be used without a noun.
  • Every is used when we talk about people or things as a group. Every is also used with countable nouns in the singular.

Each department has its own secretary.

There are four different designs; each is different / each one is different / each of them is different.

Every staff member receives a copy of The Language Key magazine.
(Meaning: all the members receive a copy)

 

Business Greetings

02 Jul 2017

Proper etiquette is important in business greetings. Make sure to use polite language such as "please" and "thank you.". Appropriate titles and gestures should also be used. Shaking hands is common in most English-speaking countries. It is also important to smile.

Here are a number of useful phrases for greetings. Click on the audio links to hear the sentences.

Greeting Phrases:

  • Introduce yourself with your name and title:

May I introduce myself? I’m Roger Cook. I'm in charge of client accounts. Here's my card.

Hello Mr Williams. I'm Jane Seagrove, client relationship manager. Let me give you my card.

  • Shake hands, greet and express happiness to meet the other person.

How do you do?

I'm pleased to meet you.

Pleased to meet you too.

Other Useful Phrases:

  • If you are late for a meeting or appointment:

Sorry to keep you waiting.

I'm sorry for being late.

Did you get my message to say I'd be a few minutes late?

  • Introducing Colleagues:

This is Jeremy Benting, my associate.

I'd like to introduce Janice Long, my personal assistant.

I'd like you to meet Paul Wheeler, our training coordinator.

May I introduce Jason Isaacs, head of Sales?

 

Structuring a Formal Business Report

25 Jun 2017

There are different types of reports and different ways of structuring them. Report writing can be very technical, but here we will show you a model for structuring a formal business report.

How many sections?

Most reports include the following sections:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendices

What goes in each section?

1. Title

  • This should be short and precise. It should tell the reader of the nature of your research.
  • Omit any unnecessary detail e.g. ‘A study of….’ is not necessary.

2. Abstract

The abstract is a self-contained summary of the whole of your report. It will therefore be written last and is usually limited to one paragraph. It should contain:

  • An outline of what you investigated (as stated in your title)
  • Why you chose to look at that particular area with brief reference to prior research done in the field
  • Your hypothesis (prediction of what the results will show)
  • A brief summary of your method
  • Your main findings and how these relate to your hypothesis
  • A conclusion which may include a suggestion for further research

3. Introduction

The introduction ‘sets the scene’ for your report; it does this in two ways:

  • By introducing the reader in more detail to the subject area you are looking at
  • Through presenting your objectives and hypotheses

Explain the background to the problem with reference to previous work conducted in the area.

Briefly discuss the findings and how these connect with your research.

Finally, state your aims or hypothesis.

4. Method

The method section should describe every step of how you carried out your research in sufficient detail so that the reader understands what you did. Information on your experimental design, sampling methods, participants, and the overall procedure employed should be clearly specified.

This information is usually presented under the following sub-headings:

  • Objective
  • Design
  • Participants
  • Procedure(s)

5. Results

Your results section should clearly convey your findings. These are what you will base your commentary on in the discussion section, so the reader needs to be certain of what you found.

  • Present data in a summarised form
  • Raw data

Do not over-complicate the presentation and description of your results. Be clear and concise.

  • Describe what the results were, don’t offer interpretations of them
  • Present them in a logical order
  • Those that link most directly to your hypothesis should be given first

Presenting Data in Tables and Graphs

  • Do not present the same data in two or more ways i.e. use either a table or a graph, or just text.
  • Remember that a graph should be understandable independently of any text, but you may accompany each with a description if necessary.
  • Use clear and concise titles for each figure. Say which variables the graph or table compares.
  • Describe what the graph or table shows, then check that this really is what it shows! If it isn’t, you need to amend your figure, or your description.

6. Discussion

The discussion section is the most important part of your report. It relates the findings of your study to the research that you talked about in your introduction, thereby placing your work in the wider context. The discussion helps the reader understand the relevance of your research. This is your chance to discuss, analyse and interpret your results in relation to all the information you have collected.

The Discussion will probably be the longest section of your report and should contain the following:

  • A summary of the main results of your study
  • An interpretation of these results in relation to your aims, predictions or hypothesis, e.g. if your hypothesis is supported or rejected, and in relation to the findings of other research in the area
  • Consideration of the broader implications of your findings.

7. Conclusions

The conclusion section briefly summarises the main issues arising from your report

8. References

  • Give details of work by all other authors which you have referred to in your report
  • Check a style handbook or journal articles for variations in referencing styles

9. Appendices

The appendices contain material that is relevant to your report but would disrupt its flow if it was contained within the main body. For example: raw data and calculations; interview questions; and a glossary of terms, or other information that the reader may find useful to refer to. All appendices should be clearly labelled and referred to where appropriate in the main text (e.g. ‘See Appendix A for an example questionnaire’).

 

Choosing a Dictionary

18 Jun 2017

Dictionaries differ greatly in purpose, size, and price; and choosing one is a very personal decision. The best advice is to make a note of the things you and your family look up in a dictionary over a few weeks’ time, and then choose one at a good book shop. Here are a few things to look for in making your selection.

Monolingual or Bilingual?

Most teachers and educators agree that very few bilingual dictionaries get close in the quality of information to that found in learners’ monolingual dictionaries produced by publishers such as Longman, Cambridge, Collins or Oxford. Although learners may find bilingual dictionaries easier to use, in the long run the use of monolingual dictionaries is far more beneficial to learners.

Size

Big dictionaries are expensive and take a lot of room in your office or home. They are also difficult for children to use because they are bulky, and it takes longer to look something up. An full-sized dictionary on the coffee table might impress your friends, but unless you use a dictionary on a daily basis, it probably is not a good buy.

Pronunciation Guide

Many people use a dictionary to help them pronounce new words.

The pronunciation guide should be complete but not contain a lot of unfamiliar symbols that require continual cross-checking – especially with the vowels. The English vowel system is complex because we use one letter to spell many different sounds. For example, the letter A has three different sounds in the words at, age, and art. The job for the dictionary makers is to find three common symbols to represent the different pronunciations.

Examples

Sample sentences showing common uses of words are very helpful, both in clarifying the meaning and helping the reader remember the word. The words in the sentences should not be any more difficult than the target word, however, or the reader is sent off on a frustrating chase through the dictionary. In the words of technology, “A good dictionary should be user-friendly.”

Usage Notes

Many dictionaries comment on the usage of words in different types of situations. Many of the old dictionaries contained only the standard accepted usages. The dictionaries do comment on the usage – non-standard, colloquial and regional are some of the terms used to let readers make their own decisions as to whether they want to use the term.

One final comment – forms of speech change much more quickly than written forms; and many spoken items never make it to the written language (slang, for example). For this reason, you will need to buy several dictionaries during your reading life. Find one that you like, and consider its new editions when it’s time for a new one.

 

Writing Good News/Bad News Letters

11 Jun 2017

The "Good News/Bad News" letter is one of the most effective letters you can write. This letter is appropriate when you have a justified complaint and want resolution. For example, the hotel where you stayed had no hot water, and you had to shower in cold water before your business meeting. You feel you should not have to pay the full amount for the room, and you would like compensation.

The important elements of the good news/bad news letter are structure and tone.

The structure has four parts:

(1) an opening paragraph of good news
(2) the bad news
(3) a solution
(4) an expression of goodwill.

The opening paragraph should prepare your reader by reinforcing with good news. Try to say something positive about your past experience with the company, individual or product. Good news sets the stage and puts the reader on your side.

The body of the letter should explain the bad news. Be clear about the problem. Give as much detail as the reader needs, but don't tell the reader anything she doesn't care about or need to know.

Paragraph three should offer a solution to the problem. Do you want a refund, an exchange, a credit to your charge account? When you offer a solution, you save the reader time. She doesn't have to call you to find out how you would like the problem settled.

End the letter with an expression of confidence in the problem being solved. Remember that the person to whom you are writing is not responsible for creating the problem. She didn't design, manufacture, package, ship or deliver your purchase.

The tone of the letter is important. Sound objective. Explain the facts without being judgmental. Don't blame the reader for the problem. Avoid the personal pronoun "you." Use passive voice rather than active voice.

Instead of saying "You sent me the wrong part," try "The wrong part was sent to me," or "I received the wrong part." The tone should focus on the problem, not who was responsible for the error.

Be tactful and diplomatic. If you sound angry or rude, you will not encourage the reader to solve your problem quickly.

Here's an example of the good news/bad news letter.

Dear Sir or Madam

I have stayed at your hotel many times during business engagements, and I have always been satisfied with the service and accommodation.

Unfortunately, during my recent visit on 11 January 20xx, there was no hot water available, and I had to shower in cold water before a business meeting.

I'm sure you will agree that the charge of $100 for a room with no hot water is unreasonable. I would appreciate some kind of partial refund on my Visa account number 4526 8248 8594 7677, expiration date 12/xx.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to being a guest at your hotel again.

Yours faithfully

 

Using Understandable Words in Your Documents

04 Jun 2017

When you are writing business documents, say exactly what you mean, using the simplest words that fit. This does not necessarily mean only using simple words - just words that the reader will understand.

For most words you will be able to decide yourself whether they are suitable.  Most importantly, don’t use jargon that is part of your working life unless you are writing to someone who uses the same jargon.  If a teacher is writing to an education officer, the jargon word ‘SATs’ could be very useful in saving time and space. But you wouldn’t use it when writing to a parent. So in general, keep to everyday English whenever possible.

Here’s a list of words you should try to avoid, to give you a basic idea of what we mean. Try to use the alternatives we suggest in the ‘use’ column.

AVOID

USE

additional

extra

advise

tell

applicant

you

commence

start

complete

fill in

comply with

keep to

consequently

so

ensure

make sure

forward

send

in excess of

more than

in respect of

for

in the event of

if

on receipt

when we/you get

on request

if you ask

particulars

details

per annum

a year

persons

people

prior to

before

purchase

buy

regarding

about

should you wish

if you wish

terminate

end

whilst

while

 

Opening a Business Meeting

28 May 2017

Small Talk

Whether you are holding the meeting or attending the meeting, it is polite to make small talk while you wait for the meeting to start. You should discuss things unrelated to the meeting, such as weather, family, or weekend plans. Here's a short sample dialogue:

Jane:

Hi Jack. How are you?

Jack:

Great, thanks, and you?

Jane:

Well, I'm good now that the warm weather has finally arrived.

Jack:

I know what you mean. I thought winter was never going to end.

Jane:

Have you dusted off your golf clubs yet?

Jack:

Funny you should ask. I'm heading out with my brother-in-law for the first round of the year on Saturday.

Welcome

Once everyone has arrived, the chairperson, or whoever is in charge of the meeting, should formally welcome everyone to the meeting and thank the attendees for coming.

  • Well, since everyone is here, we should get started.
  • Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming today.
  • I think we'll begin now. First I'd like to welcome you all.
  • Thank you all for coming at such short notice.
  • I really appreciate you all for attending today.
  • We have a lot to cover today, so we really should begin.

Here's a sample welcome from the chairperson of a meeting:

I think we'll begin now. First I'd like to welcome you all and thank everyone for coming, especially at such short notice. I know you are all very busy and it's difficult to take time away from your daily tasks for meetings.
 

Using Articles (a/an/the)

21 May 2017

The following tips provide the basic rules for using articles (a/an/the). Over the next week, refer to the tips whenever you read a business document, a magazine article, a web page, etc. Locate a few nouns in the reading and use the tips to analyze the article usage.

Using articles correctly is a skill that develops over time through lots of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Think about the rules below and bear them in mind when reading and listening to the language around you. Soon you will find you don’t have to think about the rules anymore. Usage will become natural to you.

General Usage Rules

Noun

a/an

the

no article

countable
& plural

a letter
an invoice

the letter
the invoice

NOT
ALLOWED

countable
& plural

NOT
ALLOWED

the letters
the invoices

letters
invoices

uncountable

NOT ALLOWED

the information

information

Use of the Indefinite Article (a/an)

  • Use a or an when it is the first time we mention or talk about something.
  • Use a or an with singular, countable nouns.

Could you let me have an envelope?

I purchased a fax machine yesterday.

There is a letter for you.

Use of the Definite Article (the)

  • Use the when the reader is clear about what is being referred to.

Please close the door.

Further to the meeting of 4 December……

We sent the file you requested to the Sales Department.

  • Use the when the noun has been mentioned already.
I have received a letter from a customer complaining about a sales person in our Mongkok branch. The customer said that the salesperson was rude to her when she tried to ask a question. I will pass the letter onto you.
  • Use the when it is clear there is only one of something.
The General Manager came to our office yesterday.

Zero Article

We can omit articles when generalising about plural countable nouns and also with uncountable nouns.

The Customer Service Department handles complaints. (all and any complaints)

Staff who do not observe company regulations will receive warnings. (all staff; all company regulations)

Production will begin in May. (uncountable noun)

 

Useful Phrases for Business Meetings

14 May 2017

Here, we're going to introduce you to a few useful phrases for 1) watching the time, and 2) regaining focus in a business meeting.

Watching the Time

One of the most difficult things about holding an effective meeting is staying within the time limits. A good agenda will outline how long each item should take. A good chairperson will do his or her best to stay within the limits. Here are some expressions that can be used to keep the meeting flowing at the appropriate pace.

I think we've spent enough time on this topic.
We're running short on time, so let's move on.
We're running behind schedule, so we'll have to skip the next item.
We only have fifteen minutes remaining and there's a lot left to cover.
If we don't move on, we'll run right into lunch.
We've spent too long on this issue, so we'll leave it for now.
We'll have to come back to this at a later time.
We could spend all day discussing this, but we have to get to the next item.

Regaining Focus

It is easy to get off topic when you get a number of people in the same room. It is the chairperson's responsibility to keep the discussion focused. Here are some expressions to keep the meeting centred on the items as they appear on the agenda.

Let's stick to the task at hand, shall we?
I think we're steering off topic a bit with this.
I'm afraid we've strayed from the matter at hand.
You can discuss this among yourselves at another time.
We've lost sight of the point here.
This matter is not on today's agenda.
Let's save this for another meeting.
Getting back to item number 5.
Now where were we? Oh yes, let's vote.

 

Avoiding Problem Words and Phrases

07 May 2017

In this week's Business English tip, we'll point out a few words and phrases which are best avoided in business writing. Remember that your aim is to get your message across to your reader clearly and concisely. Try to use language which will not cause confusion.

And also

This is often redundant. Use and on its own and omit also.

As to whether

The single word whether means the same thing as as to whether.

Basically, essentially, totally

These words seldom add anything useful to a sentence. Try the sentence without them and, almost always, you will see the sentence improve.

Being that or being as

These words are a non-standard substitute for because or since . For example, we can write Being that they were old customers, we gave them special credit terms as Because they were old customers, we gave them special credit terms.

Due to the fact that

Using this phrase is a sure sign that your sentence is in trouble. Did you mean because or since?

Equally as

Something can be equally important or as important as, but not equally as important.

He/she

He/she or is a convention created to avoid sexist writing, but it doesn't work very well and it becomes annoying if it appears often. Use he or she or use the plural (where appropriate) so you can avoid the sexist problem altogether.

Firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc.

Number things with first, second, third, etc. and not with these adverbial forms.

Got

Many writers regard got as an ugly word, and they have a point. If you can avoid it in writing, do so. For example: I have got to must begin studying right away. And: I have got two meetings this afternoon.

Kind of or sort of

These are OK in informal situations, but in more formal documents use somewhat, rather or quite instead. For example: We were kind of rather pleased with the results.

 

Controlling a Telephone Call with a Native Speaker

30 Apr 2017

One of the biggest problems is speed. Native speakers, especially business people, tend to speak very quickly on the telephone. As a non-native speaker, you need to develop techniques which will allow you to take control of the call. Here are some practical tips:

 
  • Immediately ask the person to speak slowly

Could you speak more slowly, please?
Would you mind speaking more slowly, please?
Would you slow down a little, please?

  • When taking note of a name or important information, repeat each piece of information as the person speaks.

So, you say you can give us a discount of 10%?
OK, you are willing to extend the warranty to 30 days, right?
Your telephone number is 2718 3892 and your email address is.....
Let me just confirm that. Your name is Andy Hogg and your company is called ‘Gtech Ltd’.
Let me just repeat what you have said.
I’d just like to confirm what you’ve just told me.

This is an especially effective tool. By repeating each important piece of information, or each number or letter, you automatically slow the speaker down.
  • Do not say you have understood if you have not. Ask the person to repeat until you have understood.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.
I sorry, but I don’t follow you.
Would you mind going over that again for me?
Could you say that again, please?
Could you repeat that, please?
Could you explain what you mean?

Remember that the other person needs to make himself/herself understood and it is in his/her interest to make sure that you have understood. If you ask a person to explain more than twice they will usually slow down.
  • If the person does not slow down begin speaking your own language!
A sentence or two of another language spoken quickly will remind the person that they are fortunate because THEY do not need to speak a different language to communicate. Used carefully, this exercise in humbling the other speaker can be very effective. Just be sure to use it with colleagues and not with a boss!
 

Knowing When to Use the Passive Voice

23 Apr 2017

If you use a grammar-check feature, your sentences probably get flagged at times for a fault called “Passive Voice.” This flag is typically accompanied by advice to “Consider rewriting with an active voice verb.”

Is this fault serious? No! In fact, our grammar-checker has already flagged three of our sentences at the beginning of this Business Writing Tip, and we aren’t worried a bit.

We aren’t worried, but we do pay attention. That’s because there is a lot of good advice about limiting the use of passive verbs. For instance, we are told to change:

“The surface should be primed” (passive) to “Prime the surface” (active). This change makes sense. Readers need precise instructions.

“Your gift is appreciated” (passive) to “We appreciate your gift” (active). This is another fine suggestion. “Is appreciated” sounds impersonal, whereas “We appreciate” feels warm.

When we make these changes, we are replacing wordy, vague phrases with concise, direct words. That’s excellent.

But there are four places where passive verbs fit just right:


1. When you don’t know who performed the action.

Passive:

Her car was stolen twice.

Not:

Someone stole her car twice.

2. When it doesn’t matter who performs the action.

Passive:

The boards are pre-cut.

Not:

A worker pre-cuts the boards.

3. When we want to avoid blaming someone.

Passive:

The drawings were lost.

Not:

Andy lost the drawings.

4. When we want to soften a directive.

Passive:

This paragraph could be shortened.

Not:

Shorten this paragraph.

Passive verbs are perfect in these four instances. Likewise, the passive verbs in our opening sentences also work well (“get flagged” and “is typically accompanied”).

Know where passives verbs belong, and you won’t be intimidated by your grammar-check software again. Our grammar-checker just flagged the previous sentence, but we know the passive verb there suits our purpose and sounds just right!

 

How to Start a Conversation

16 Apr 2017

Start out by asking the person questions that are easy to answer.

A good balance is around two or three closed questions, that have short answers, and then one open question, where they have to think and talk more. Early on, it is often better even with open questions to keep them simple and easy.

Tips

  • Ask them something about themselves.
  • If you do not know their name, then start there.
  • Compliment them about their appearance. Ask them where they got that nice suit, watch, hat or whatever.
  • Comment on their good mood, ask them why they are looking a bit down. Say they look distracted and ask why.
  • Ask if they have family, the names of their children, how old they are, how they are doing in school and so on.
  • Ask about their occupation, their careers and plans for the future.
  • Ask about hobbies, interests and what they do with their spare time.
  • Pay attention when they give you an answer. Show interest not only in the answer but in them as a person as well
  • And when they tell you something, show interest in it. Follow up with more questions.

Conversation Starters

  • General starters

Hi, I'm Paul.

Sorry, I didn't catch your name.

I like your dress. Where did you get it?

Nice hat!

You look worried.

What's the matter? You look down.

Is there anything wrong? You seem distracted.

  • The weather (especially in climates where it changes often).

Nice day, isn't it?

Beautiful day, isn't it?

Can you believe all of this rain we've been having?

It looks like it's going to snow.

We couldn't ask for a nicer day, could we?

How about this weather?

  • Recent news (though be careful to avoid politics and religion with people you don't know very well).

Did you catch the news today?

Did you hear about that fire on Fourth St?

What do you think about this rail strike?

I read in the paper today that the Sears Mall is closing.

I heard on the radio today that they are finally going to start building the new bridge.

How about United? Do you think they're going to win tonight?

  • Family (siblings, where they live, etc.)

Do you have any children?

Do you come from a big family?

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Do your family live close by?

Do your children go to the local school?

  • History (what school they went to, where they have lived, etc.)

Are you from around here?

You're not from around here, are you?

Have you lived here long?

Are you from London?

Where are you from?

How long do you plan to live here?

Where did you live before coming to Singapore?

Did you go to school around here?

Which school did you go to?

How do you find living in Singapore?
  • Work (what they do, people at work, etc.)

Looking forward to the weekend?

Have you worked here long?

I can't believe how busy we are today, can you?

You look like you could use a cup of coffee.

What do you think of the new computers?

  • Holidays

Are you going away anywhere this summer?

Do you have any plans to go away somewhere?

Are you doing anything special at the weekend?

Taking a vacation this year?
  • Hobbies and sports

Are you interested in football?

Which sport to you like best?

My passion is golf. What about you?

Are you a member of any clubs?

How do you spend your free time?

Are you going to the game tonight?

Great win for United on Saturday.

What's your favorite sport?

 

 
Menu