Business English Tip of the Week

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Tips for Editing your Business Documents

15 Sep 2019

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

08 Sep 2019

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

01 Sep 2019

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."


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.