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!

Making Introductions in a Business Setting

17 Sep 2017

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!

 

General Advice to Improve Your Writing

10 Sep 2017

In this week's tip, we'll give you some useful advice on how to improve your writing.

  • Time spent on planning your communications will pay dividends. Make a rough draft of what you want to write or say, so that you can experiment with various versions. Remember that language is important because the words you choose convey your attitudes as well as information. The impression you want to convey is one of helpfulness and efficiency.
  • Get to the point from the beginning. Cut the small talk and make a good impression by being crisp and business like. Make it clear from the start exactly what you want to discuss. Letters that do not do this waste the readers’ time and may end up in the waste bin. Presentations that do not grip their audience by focusing their attention quickly risk losing that attention.
  • Use straightforward language rather than jargon. People prefer to be treated as human beings, not computers! Technical language has its place, but it is impersonal and should be used only when necessary. Remember that business is promoted by personal warmth as much as profit.
  • Use sentences that are short and to the point, not sentences that ramble on and cannot quite decide what they want to say or how to say it - like this one!
  • Steer clear of the passive voice, since it is an indirect way of speaking and creates distance between you and your audience or reader. For example, if you say, “We will attend to your order promptly,” that promotes more confidence than if you say, “Your order will be attended to soonest.” This lacks the personal touch and may give the impression that you do not want to accept responsibility at work.
  • It is very important that you think about the audience you are writing or speaking to and make a real effort to communicate with them. If you are speaking to people, you need to be flexible and aware of their reaction, so that you can change the way you are speaking if they are not responding to you positively. If you are writing to a business associate and you have a mental picture of him or her, you will write more clearly and directly. Your letter will reach out to them and engage their attention.
  • Incorrect spelling makes a poor impression. If you are unsure about the spelling of any words you have used it is worth the trouble of running a spell check on your computer. However, computer dictionaries are often limited and therefore many technical terms may still need to be checked manually. A more serious shortcoming is that the computer accepts any word it knows regardless of whether it has the meaning you intended. If you write, “Make a tough draft,” but meant “rough”, your computer will not pick this up. This is one reason why it is better to have your documents checked by professionals.
  • Correct grammar is as important as spelling. Some word processors now have grammar checkers that operate in the same way as spell checkers. These can be used as a last resort, but they are still very basic (stupid!) and miss many mistakes. Moreover, they query many constructions that are perfectly in order. This wastes your time and it would be better to have someone with good grammar have a look at your work.
  • Finally, always read carefully through a talk or business document to check for typographical and other errors. Are the facts and dates accurate? Reading aloud is a good idea, because you can hear how the communication sounds: the ear provides a crosscheck for what the eye may have missed.
 

Telephoning: General Advice

03 Sep 2017

You have few problems reading the language or understanding others. But telephoning in English? That's when you start to panic. This is understandable. You can't see the other person, and voices are often more difficult to understand on the phone. All is not lost, however. There are some simple steps you can take to improve your telephoning skills.

  • Don't Panic
This is easier said than done, but really is the key to success. You must lose your fear of the phone. Make at least one call a day in English to a friend just to practice.
  • Learn Key Words and Standard Phrases
Key words and standard phrases come up again and again on the phone. Learn them and use them! Don't try to be too clever on the phone; stick to the standard phrases.
  • Start and Finish Well
A confident opening is important. Say clearly, and not too quickly, who you are and why you are calling: "This is Helen Chan from IBF Ltd. I'm calling about your order for ..." Try to avoid saying "My name is ..."; this sounds less professional. At the end of the call, thank the other person: "Thanks for your help." If they thank you, answer with "You're welcome".
  • Learn to Control the Call
Native speakers of English often speak too quickly and not clearly enough. Make sure you know how to stop them or slow them down. Phrases such as: "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that" and "I'm sorry, could you speak a little more slowly" will help you to control the situation. Don't be embarrassed to stop the caller.
  • Listen Carefully
Listen to the vocabulary and phrases that the caller uses. Often you will be able to say the same things later in the same conversation. Your partner might not notice what you are doing, but you will feel good that you have activated your passive vocabulary.
  • Soften your Language
Chinese speakers often sound impolite in English because they are too direct. 'Would' and 'could' are the two key words. "I'd like to speak to Jane Brown, please" is much better than "I want to speak to...".
  • Create a Positive Atmosphere
Smile when you are on the phone. It really does make a difference to the way you sound. And the impression you create can make a big difference to your chances of business success. If you are unsure how you sound on the phone, record yourself during a conversation. You may be surprised by the result.
  • Learn to Spell
Do you know the telephone alphabet in English? If not, learn it. It is important not only to know how to say the individual letters, but also to be able to check them: "Was that I for India or E for Echo?" (Don't say "E like Echo".)
 

Reading Tips

27 Aug 2017

Tip 1

Try to read at the right level. Read something that you can (more or less) understand. If you need to stop every three words to look in a dictionary, it is not interesting for you and you will soon be discouraged.

Tip 2

Make a note of new vocabulary. If there are four or five new words on a page, write them in your vocabulary book. But you don't have to write them while you read. Instead, try to guess their meaning as you read; mark them with a pen; then come back when you have finished reading to check in a dictionary and add them to your vocabulary book.

Tip 3

Try to read regularly. For example, read for a short time once a day. Fifteen minutes every day is better than two hours every Sunday. Fix a time to read and keep to it. For example, you could read for fifteen minutes when you go to bed, or when you get up, or at lunchtime.

Tip 4

Be organised. Have everything ready:

  • something to read
  • a marker to highlight difficult words
  • a dictionary
  • your vocabulary book
  • a pen to write down the new words

Tip 5

Read what interests YOU. Choose a magazine or book about a subject that you like.

THINGS TO READ

Newspapers

You can find English-language newspapers in all large cities around the world. Newspapers are interesting because they are about real life and the news. BUT they are not easy to read. Try reading newspapers if your level is intermediate or above.

Magazines

Some magazines are published weekly, some monthly. You can find English language magazines in many large cities around the world. If you cannot find the magazine you want in your town, you may be able to order it for delivery. Many magazines have pictures which can help your understanding. You will need an intermediate level for most magazines, but a pre-intermediate level may be ok for some magazines.

There are magazines on every subject:

  • Politics
  • Sport
  • Homes
  • Cars
  • Music
  • Romance
  • Travel
  • Language

Books

Books are divided mainly into:

  • Non-fiction (history, biography, travel, cooking etc)
  • Fiction (stories and novels)

Some books are easier to read than others. It often depends on the author. Agatha Christie, for example, wrote in an easier style and with simpler vocabulary than Stephen King. You can buy books in specialised English-language bookshops in large cities around the world. You may also be able to find some English-language books in libraries.

Short Stories

Short stories can be a good choice when learning a language because they are...short. It's like reading a whole book in a few pages. You have all the excitement of a story in a book, but you only have to read 5,000 or 10,000 words. So you can quite quickly finish the story and feel that you have achieved something. Short stories are published in magazines, in books of short stories, and on the Internet.

Graded Readers

Readers are books that are specially published to be easy to read. They are short and with simple vocabulary. They are usually available at different levels, so you should be able to find the right level for you. Many readers are stories by famous authors in simple form. This is an excellent way for you to start practising reading.

Cornflakes Packets

By "Cornflakes Packets", we mean any product you can buy that has English writing on or with it. If you buy a box of chocolates, or a new camera, why not read the description or instructions in English? There are many such examples, and they all give you an opportunity to read real English:

  • airline tickets
  • cans or packets of food
  • bottles of drink
  • CD and DVDs
  • user guides for videos, computers...

Good luck with your reading. It will help you make a lot of Progress!

 

What you can do to improve your spoken English!

20 Aug 2017
  • Listen to the radio. You could get up five minutes earlier and listen to the news in English.
  • Watch television programmes in English to improve your listening skills. Try watching the news in English instead of your own language. If you watch a movie and it has subtitles, try taping a paper over them. Listening to others talk is a good preparation for talking yourself.
  • Invite your English colleague to lunch! Find a friend who also wants to improve his or her English and have lunch or dinner together - speaking English of course.

  • Check out books, CDs, and other materials in English from your local library. Look especially for books which have lots of dialogue in them. Read plays. When you go to see English films, try not to read the subtitles.
  • Learn the words to some popular songs.
  • Find books-on-CD in your local library. Listen while you are relaxing at home or while commuting if you have a walkman.

  • Exchange taped messages with a colleague. Record a few minutes and then ask your colleague to respond later on the same tape.

  • Choose a famous person whose accent you admire, and if you can get recordings of him or her, imitate the way he or she speaks.

  • Practice situations when you are alone, perhaps in front of a mirror. Imagine introducing yourself, disagreeing with someone's ideas, being interviewed or asking for information. If you can get someone to help, assign parts and do role - playing.

  • Find a friend or two and agree to speak English at certain regular times.

  • Practice reading aloud - get someone to check your pronunciation and intonation, or record yourself and analyse your own speech. Set goals of specific things you can work on improving - for example, differences between words that contain "l" and "n" or "w" and "v". (e.g. There is no light at night at Wheatley University".) Keep notes of words you often mispronounce and practice them.

  • If you have a chance to travel, take advantage of the opportunities to use English - airlines and immigration personnel, hotel and restaurant staff, fellow travellers and passengers.

  • Sign up to Skype internet telephony. It's free. You can search for people in "Skype Me" mode who want to chat!
 

Getting Native Speakers to Speak More Slowly on the Phone!

13 Aug 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!

 

 

Tips for Editing your Business Documents

06 Aug 2017

Read through your writing to check that the ideas are logically structured, and that they flow naturally for the reader. Then check again for spelling and grammar mistakes.

A Word of Warning

Many people use spell checkers on their word processors. Although these can help, they also have limitations. For example, some English words have more than one correct spelling. For example, 'there' and 'their' are both correct, but you need to check that you have the right spelling.

Another problem with spell checkers is that they are set by default to either British or American English spelling. It doesn't matter which spelling system you choose, as long as you are consistent in your choice. For example, if your spell checker is set to an American English spelling system and you type the word "organisation", the word is shown as a spelling error. British English speakers normally (but not always) spell "organisation" with an 's'. If you are writing in British English, change the default setting so that your checker allows words such as "organisation".

Editing Tips

Read your writing out aloud. This will help you to see what you have written through the eyes of your reader. Is there enough punctuation in your sentences? If you get breathless when you read one of your sentences, then you'll know you haven't put in enough commas.

Get a friend or a colleague to read through your writing for you - they might find something that you didn't see.

If you have enough time, leave your writing for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you might want to change some things.

Be aware of your own problems when you write English. For example, if you know you have difficulty with articles or verb tenses, actively look for these sort of errors when you check your writing.

Check for style and tone. Is your writing polite? There are many standard phrases we use in business correspondence to sound polite. Politeness goes a long way in Western business and sounding too direct or impolite is a cultural mistake. English speakers may not take into consideration the fact that English is not your first language.

Editing Checklist

  • Is it clear?
  • Does the reader know what to do next?
  • Is it concise and to the point?
  • Is it organised?
  • Are the ideas, sentences and paragraphs linked?
  • Is it simple enough?
  • Is it polite enough?
  • Is the layout easy to read?
  • Are the standard expressions correct?
  • Is the punctuation correct?
  • Is the grammar correct? Check your articles, verb tenses, subject and verb agreement, referencing and spelling.
 

The 10 Classic Mistakes of Business English Writing

30 Jul 2017

Here are the ten classic mistakes of business writing:

1. Lack of clear objective

The first mistake is made before you even start writing. Many people start to write without asking themselves What do I want to say? or Who am I writing for? If you don't have a clear objective, your reader may not know what your text is about.

2. No planning

Planning is crucial to good writing. If you write down your ideas in the order you think of them, your text will be disjointed and haphazard. The better organised the text, the more likely your reader will understand it.

3. Lack of cohesion

It's important to "signal" - to show your reader which "direction" you are taking. Basically, the more you can link your sentences, ideas and paragraphs, the easier it is for your reader to follow your ideas. Using linking words and phrases helps your reader to keep up with you.

4. Unclear or overlong sentences

English-speaking business culture values brevity over rhetoric. So using more words than necessary could mean that your key message gets buried in a mass of words. Writing clearly and concisely is vital if you want your writing to have a chance of being read and understood.

5. Inappropriate style

Your choice of style is governed by your purpose in writing and your relationship with your reader. Get the level of formality wrong, and you risk causing offence. Once you have decided your objective, you can also think about the complexity of the language you will use, as well as the type of vocabulary and style.

6. Inappropriate tone

Related to style is using the right tone of voice with your reader. If you appear rude when you write, you are less likely to get the results you want.

7. Incorrect grammar

Bad grammar can obscure your meaning and lead to confusion or misunderstandings. Proofreading can often help you to identify any errors, but learning to write accurately is fundamental to good business communication.

8. Incorrect punctuation

The wrong punctuation can make your writing difficult to read, or even lead to misunderstandings. Punctuation is an area that both native and non-native speakers of English get wrong, but there are some relatively clear rules to help you present your ideas more clearly.

9. Poor text layout

Dense blocks of text, no spacing or margins, or too much spacing all make your writing visually difficult to read. Paying attention to how something looks on the page will mean your writing has a better chance of being read.

10. Incorrect standard phrases

There are certain standard phrases in business writing, and using the wrong conventional expressions can make you look amateur or unprofessional. For instance, the next time you write to a woman, make sure you don't unintentionally insult her by writing Dear Miss, Dear Mrs, Dear Lady or even worse, Dear Madame.

 

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

 
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