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!

Include One idea per Sentence


25 January 2015

Have you ever received a letter or email where the sentences go on and on, one after the other in a stream, with only commas to separate them? These sentences often contain a number of points, some of which might be related. This makes them difficult to read and understand. Here's an example of an email we received from one of our subscribers:

I am working as a manager in Dubai, the communication with our customers is in English, therefore I have to send email, letters, etc., you know, but the problem is I want to learn more how to write, I feel that I am very bad in writing, so I need your help in this, how can I develop myself, I learn from your site but I need more if possible, thanks in advance for your help, I look forward to hearing from you.

With one idea in each clear, concise sentence, the message might read like this:

I work as an manager in Dubai. The communication with our customers "" email, letters, etc. "" is in English. The problem is that I am very bad in writing. I want to learn how to write better, and I need your help in this. Although I learn from your site, I need more if possible. How can I develop myself?

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your help.

We did include more than one idea in two sentences so the message would not sound choppy. But they were closely related ideas.

So, the message here is: include only one idea in each sentence. Sometimes, it's acceptable to include two ideas in a sentence but only if they are closely related.

 

Ending a Conversation Politely


18 January 2015

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for ending a conversation politely. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

BEGINNING
(you hint to end a conversation)

A: Well, it was great meeting you.
B: Yes, it was nice.
A: Well, I'm glad we had a chance to talk.
B: Me, too!
A: It sure has been nice seeing you.
B: Yeah, I enjoyed it!
 

MIDDLE
(you have to go soon)

A: I'll be sure to call you.
B: That'd be great.
A: I'll send you an email next week.
B: OK. I'll look forward to that.
A: I hope to hear from you soon.
B: Yes, me too.
 

END
(you really have a chance to leave now)

A: Bye for now.
B: Bye!
A: I'll talk to you later.
B: OK. Until then.
A: See you again soon.
B: See you.
A: Take care.
B: You, too. Bye.
A: Keep in touch.
B: I will. Bye.
 

Overused Words


11 January 2015

Overused words are words such as nice, got and OK which some people use to refer to many things. For example:

  • Nice
It was really nice of you to send me such nice birthday greetings. I had a nice birthday party. The weather was nice, the food was nice and all the guests were also very nice.
  • Got

John got up early this morning. He got to the bakery to get some croissants. When he got there, he found that he'd got no money on him.

  • OK
OK, may I make a request? OK. Here are some ideas that I think would be OK for the upcoming marketing plan. So, if it is OK with you, I'd like you to tell me which particular one is OK to go with. OK?

Overused words should be avoided because you can usually another word that is more precise and closer to the meaning you intended. Compare the sentence above with those below:

  • Words to replace nice
It was really kind of you to send me such sincere birthday greetings. I had an enjoyable birthday party. The weather was pleasant, the food was delicious and all the guests were very friendly.
  • Words to replace got
John woke up early this morning. He walked to the bakery to buy some croissants. When he arrived, he found that he had no money on him.
  • Words to replace OK
Right, may I make a request? Very well! Here are some ideas that I think would be effective for the upcoming marketing plan. So, if it is agreeable with you, I'd like you to tell me which particular one is suitable to go with. All right?

So using vague words like nice, got and OK could be considered lazy in certain contexts. Think about what you really mean and try to use more precise language.

 

Giving Presentations - Survival English


04 January 2015

If you get your facts wrong.

I am terribly sorry. What I meant to say was this.
Sorry. What I meant is this.

If you have been going too fast and your audience is having trouble keeping up with you.

Let me just recap on that.
I want to recap briefly on what I have been saying.

If you have forgotten to make a point.

Sorry, I should just mention one other thing.
If I can just go back to the previous point, there is something else that I forgot to mention.

If you have been too complicated and want to simplify what you said.

So, basically, what I am saying is this.
So, basically, the point I am trying to get across is this.

If you realize that what you are saying makes no sense.

Sorry, perhaps I did not make that quite clear.
Let me rephrase that to make it quite clear.

If you cannot remember the term in English.

Sorry, what is the word I am looking for?
Sorry, my mind has gone blank. How do you say 'escargot' in English?

If you are short of time.

So just to give you the main points.
As we are short of time, this is just a quick summary of the main points.
 

Using Prepositions of Place


28 December 2014

Prepositions are used to relate things or people to various ways of time, place, direction and distance. It is difficult to use prepositions correctly as most of them have a variety of uses and meaning.

Reading through the examples below will help you to become more familiar with the uses and meanings of prepositions of place.

About (approximate position)

I have left the file lying about somewhere.

Around

The accounts department is around the corner.

At (place)

He spent Saturday afternoon at work.
He's staying at the Sheraton Hotel.
I'll meet you at the airport.

At (direction)

We have aimed our campaign at young professionals.

By (close to)

The warehouse is by the main post-office.
The new airport is located by the harbour.

From (source)

This car was imported from Japan.
Where did you get this software from?

In (three-dimensional space)

Los Angeles is in California
The money is kept in the safe.

On (two-dimensional line or surface)

The file is on the desk.
The notice is on the wall.
California is on the Pacific coast.

Through (direction between two points in space)

It can take a long time to clear goods through customs.
Once we're through the city, we'll be able to drive faster.

To (movement, destination)

I have to go to Singapore next week.
The taxi will take you to the airport.
I will bring you to the conference tomorrow.
 

Complimenting Someone at Work


21 December 2014

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for complimenting someone at work. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.



FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

MEN COMPLIMENTING MEN
(on their clothes)

I really like that shirt.
That's a nice jacket.
I like your shoes.
That tie (really) suits you.
It looks good on you.
It (really) suits you.

WOMEN COMPLIMENTING WOMEN
(on their clothes and accessories)

Your bag is so cute.
Your dress is beautiful.
It looks great on you.
It really suits you.
It's lovely.
I love that bag.
It looks great with your.....
That's a lovely necklace you're wearing.

WOMEN COMPLIMENTING WOMEN
(on their hair, figure, appearance)

You look really fabulous today.
I love your (new) hairstyle.
Have you lost weight?
Are you on a diet?
You've lost loads of weight.
You look so slim.

BOSS COMPLIMENTING SUBORDINATE
(on a job well done or performance)

You did a (really) great job on....
I'm impressed.
I was impressed with....
I'm (really) pleased with...
Your presentation was excellent.
Keep up the good work.

COLLEAGUES COMPLIMENTING COLLEAGUES
(on success)

I just wanted to congratulate you on .....
I'd (personally) like to thank everyone for....
Congratulations!
Congratulations on your promotion.
I (just) wanted to let you know that I liked your.....

RESPONDING TO COMPLIMENTS

Thanks a lot.
Thanks
Well, thanks.
Thank you so much.
Yes, I love it..
Thanks for noticing.
I appreciate that.
Thanks for your comments.
Thanks for letting me know.
Thanks. That means a lot to me.
 

Achieving Emphasis in Business Writing


14 December 2014

Using Emphatic Words

The simplest way to emphasise something is to tell readers directly that what follows is important by using such words and phrases as especially, particularly, crucially, most importantly, and above all.

Repetition of Key Words

Emphasis by repetition of key words can be especially effective in a series, as in the following example:

See your good times come to colour in minutes: pictures protected by an elegant finish, pictures you can take with an instant flash, pictures that can be made into beautiful enlargements.

Breaking the Pattern

When a pattern is established through repetition and then broken, the varied part will be emphasised, as in the following example:

Murtz Rent-a-car is first in reliability, first in service, and last in customer complaints.

Inverting the Normal Sentence Structure

Besides disrupting an expectation set up by the context, you can also emphasise part of a sentence by departing from the basic structural patterns of the language. The inversion of the standard subject-verb-object pattern in the first sentence below into an object-subject-verb pattern in the second places emphasis on the out-of-sequence term, fifty dollars.

I'd make fifty dollars in just two hours on a busy night at the restaurant.
Fifty dollars I'd make in just two hours on a busy night at the restaurant.

Beginning and End Positions

The beginning and end positions of sentences are more emphatic than the middle section. Likewise, the main clause of a complex sentence receives more emphasis than subordinate clauses. Therefore, you should put words that you wish to emphasise near the beginnings and endings of sentences and should never hide important elements in subordinate clauses. Consider the following example:

No one can deny that the computer has had a great effect upon the business world.
Undeniably, the effect of the computer upon the business world has been great.

In the first version of this sentence, "No one can deny" and "on the business world" are in the most emphasised positions. In addition, the writer has embedded the most important ideas in a subordinate clause: "that the computer has had a great effect." The edited version places the most important ideas in the main clause and in the initial and terminal slots of the sentence, creating a more engaging prose style.

 

Making Introductions in a Business Setting


07 December 2014

There are two kinds of introductions: self-introductions and three-party introductions.

When do you introduce yourself? When you recognize someone and he or she doesn't recognize you, whenever you're seated next to someone you don't know, when the introducer doesn't remember your name and when you're the friend of a friend. Extend your hand, offer your first and last names and share something about yourself or the event you're attending.

Tip: In a self-introduction, never give yourself a title such as Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.

In a three-person introduction, your role is to introduce two people to each other. In a business or business/social situation, one must consider the rank of the people involved in order to show respect. Simply say first the name of the person who should be shown the greatest respect. And remember, gender (whether someone is male or female) doesn't count in the business world; protocol is based upon rank. Senior employees outrank junior employees, and customers or clients outrank every employee (even the CEO).

Begin with the superior's name, add the introduction phrase, say the other person's name and add some information about the second person. Then reverse the introduction by saying the second's name, followed by the introduction phrase and the superior's name and information. When a three-party introduction is done correctly, the two people being introduced should be able to start some small talk based upon what you shared about each of them. Introductions should match, so if you know the first and last names of both people, say both. If you know only the first name of one person, say only the first names of both.

Examples:

"Mr. Brown, I'd like to introduce Ms. Ann Smith, who started yesterday in the Accounts Department. Ann, this is Douglas Brown, our CEO."

(Ann would be wise to call the CEO “Mr. Brown” right away and not assume she may call him by his first name. Always use the last names of superiors and clients until you are invited to do otherwise.)

"Pete, I'd like to introduce to you Doug Brown, our CEO. Doug, I'd like you to meet Pete Johnson, who's considering our firm for his ad campaign."

Tip: Don't say "I'd like to introduce you to...", but rather "I'd like to introduce to you...."

Tip: Always stand for an introduction.

To succeed in business, you need good social skills. Knowing how to shake hands and handle introductions can give you an advantage over your competition!

 

"For" vs. "Since" vs. "Ago"


30 November 2014

FOR

We use for when we are talking about the duration of an action or state, i.e. how long something takes:

I have lived in London for seven years. (This tells us how long I have lived in London.)

For is a preposition here. Although generally used with the present perfect tense, for is also used with other tenses.

SINCE

We use since when we are talking about the time the action or state started:

I have lived in London since 1997. (This tells us when I started living in London.)

Since can be a preposition (since five o'clock) or a conjunction (since I met her). Since is usually used with the present perfect tenses.

AGO

Ago is used to say when past events happened, going back from today to the past:

I came to Japan seven years ago.
I passed my driving test two months ago.

Ago is an adverb and is used with the past tense.

 

Accepting and Refusing Business Invitations


23 November 2014

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful when accepting and refusing business invitations. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

MAKING INFORMAL INVITATIONS
Would you like to have dinner with us?
How about having a drink with me?
Let's go out for a meal.
Would you like to . . . ?
We're going to . . . . Would you like to come along?
There's a . . . . (tonight). Would you like to go?
I wonder if you'd like to . . .
I was wondering if you'd like to . . .
Why don't you join us for ....?
Perhaps you'd like to come to ....?
 
MAKING FORMAL INVITATIONS
I would like to invite you to our grand opening.
If you have time, I would like to invite you to see our new premises.
Would you like to join us for dinner this evening?
We'd be glad to have you accompany us to the ceremony.
We'd be delighted to have you as our guest at the new Chairman's inauguration.
 
ACCEPTING INVITATIONS
I'd love to.
I'd be delighted/happy/glad to.
Thank you. That would be great!
Yes, I would. That's a great idea.
REFUSING INVITATIONS
I'm sorry, but I'm going out that evening.
I'm afraid I can't make it. I have a prior appointment.
I'm really sorry but I can't - I've got another engagement.
I think I'm going to have to pass on that. I'm feeling rather tired.
I'd better not. I've got an early start tomorrow.
Thanks for asking, but I'm afraid I can't.
I'd love to but my parents are in town at the moment.
 

Avoid Weak Sentence Starts


16 November 2014

The use of "there is" and "there are" signals weak structure and hides the real verb. Often these words are followed by "who" or "that." which indicates the sentence should be rephrased.

Example: There are not many people who can write well.
Revised: Few people write well.

Example: There is no reason that can justify your behaviour to our client.
Revised: No reason justifies your behaviour to our client.

Example: There are several issues we need to discuss.
Revised: We need to discuss several issues.

Example: There is the self-assessment test, which allows clients to identify what they need.
Revised: The self-assessment test allows clients to identify what they need.
Revised: Clients can identify what they need by completing the self-assessment test.

Example: There is a comprehensive listing of studies and reports related to businesses on the website.
Revised: The website provides a comprehensive listing of studies and reports.

 

Interviewing in English


09 November 2014

Interviewing is an important task that shows your ability to ask relevant questions and identify key skills in prospective employees. Conducting an interview efficiently is a critical task, since hiring the wrong person can cost your company a lot of time and money. Often, there are standard interview styles and formats which can be used to conduct interviews, but you should also remember that conversation is spontaneous and can lead in different directions. It is always better to think ahead and to prepare questions for different scenarios.

Some key points to remember are:

  • Keep each interviewee's details in mind and ask questions that are relevant to their backgrounds and qualifications, and that are built around the job description.
  • Remain friendly and alert at all times.
  • Keep your tone pleasant and interested, but impersonal.
  • Use key words and phrases from the interviewee's responses to lead the conversation forward.
  • Remember that body language and visual cues are often as important as what is said.
  • Examine the interviewee's resume carefully to ensure that you ask relevant questions.
  • Take brief notes on the candidate's responses so that you don't forget anything important that they have said.
  • Don't ask leading questions that give away the answers.

A successful interview is one that combines different types of questions to get comprehensive information from the person being interviewed, and that assesses the job applicant's capabilities effectively.

 

Vertical Lists: Using Bullets or Numbers


02 November 2014

Use numbered lists when working with instructions that are to be carried out in sequence. If the sequence of items is not essential, use bullets.

Example of a Numbered List:

Follow these general steps when you plan a database:

  1. Decide on which categories of information you want to work with, and plan a separate database file for each category.
  2. Analyze your current information management system to determine the tasks to perform.
  3. Decide on the data you want the file to contain, and plan the fields to hold the data.
  4. Determine the relationship between your file and other files containing useful data.

Example of a Bulleted List:

Keep these points in mind:

  • Merge fields by typing the field name with symbols.
  • Use a text field to set data in the browser.
  • Add symbols among merged fields on the layout.
  • Format merged fields with the formatting option.
 

Agreeing to and Declining Requests


17 August 2014

When agreeing to a request, agree to it in a positive manner. Don't just say 'Ok' or 'All right.' Use these positive phrases:


Absolutely.
Sure.
Yes, I'd be happy to.
No problem.
That should be OK.

Sometimes, you may be undecided and unable to give a definite answer at that moment. In such cases, use these phrases to buy yourself a little time:


Can I think about that?
I'll get back to you. Let me have a think.
If you don't mind, can I give you an answer this afternoon?
Give me some time to consider it.

At other times, you may agree to a request but with certain conditions. Then you can use these phrases:


OK. But only with the following conditions:
Yes, that's fine. But only if...
Sure, but I'd prefer it if you...

Declining a request is more difficult. Don't decline a request directly. Use one of tentative the phrases below and follow it up with a good reason:


I'm afraid I can't.
That's really not possible, I'm afraid.
I wish I could but...
I'd really love to help you, but...
I'm not sure if that's a good idea.
I don't know about that. You see...

 

Removing Unnecessary Verb-Noun Combinations


10 August 2014

There is something about writing that makes us express ourselves more formally than we would do in speech. For example, you might chat with a co-worker about how you are going to evaluate a marketing campaign. But when you sit down to write a report about it, for some reason you find yourself writing about "the evaluation of the marketing campaign".

This habit, which we call nominalisation, is very common in all areas of government and the business world. What happens is that instead of using a verb, for example, to evaluate, the writer uses the related noun, evaluation.

You're probably thinking that there's nothing wrong with that, but nominalisations appear all over our writing. They lengthen our sentences and make the writing less lively, less human and more official. They prevent our writing being clear as actions are hidden in the nouns.

Here's an example:

Example: The programmer will be a new addition to our staff's expertise.
Revised:
The programmer will add to our staff's expertise.

Example: On this site you will learn how to find solutions to your writing problems.
Revised:
AdminWriting.com helps you solve your writing problems.

Of the verb-noun problems the "made" trap stands out as the most common:

  • made a suggestion (suggested)
  • made a recommendation (recommended)
  • made a choice (chose)
  • made an agreement (agreed)
  • made a presentation (presented)
  • made a proposition (proposed)
  • made a decision (decided)
  • made a revision (revised)

Other common verb-noun problems include:

  • gave an explanation (explained)
  • submitted a resignation (resigned)
  • expressed opposition (opposed)
  • took under consideration (considered)
  • provided maintenance (maintained)
  • reached a conclusion (concluded)
  • provided information (informed)
  • provided a quotation (quoted)
  • came to a realization (realized)
  • conducted an investigation (investigated)
  • put on a performance (performed)
  • led to a reduction (reduced)
  • had a suspicion (suspected)
  • had an expectation (expected)
  • used exaggeration (exaggerated)
  • gave authorization (authorized)

 

 
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