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!

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.

 

Making Introductions in a Business Setting

08 Jan 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!

 

Passing on Messages to Clients - Using Connectives

05 Jun 2016

Using Connectives

If your message has a number of parts and if the parts are linked, we can use simple connectives such as "and that," "but that," and "also," to show how the different points are related. Using connectives helps to clarify a message and make it easier to understand.

Note: "and that" and "also" show addition; "but that" shows contrast (+/-).

Lets look at some messages that include connectives:


Mr Wong wanted me to tell you that the goods were shipped from the factory to your new Beijing address but that the linens you requested have been delayed due to a customs problem and that they won't be shipped until next Wednesday.



Mr Lau asked me to remind you that the deadline to complete the work has been moved back to July 20. He also wanted me to tell you that Peter Trench would be replacing Bill Cousins as Chief Financial Officer on 1 July and that you should liaise with Mr Trench on all financial matters after that date.



Mr Johnson wanted you to know that all the equipment you installed at our factory is working perfectly but that we're still waiting to receive the machine manuals. He also asked if you could courier the manuals to him as soon as possible and that he wanted you to confirm when you would do this.

Note: we use "and that" and "but that" in place of "and" and "but" because we are reporting what someone else has said. We are using someone else's words.

 

Passing on Messages to Clients - Reporting Phrases

22 May 2016

Reporting Phrases

When passing on a message to a client we usually begin the message with an introductory phrase such as "Mr Rivers wanted me to let you know that..." or "Jack asked me to tell you that ..." to indicate that we are reporting a message from someone else. If the message has a number of parts, it is quite usual to introduce other details of the message in a similar way such as "He wants you to call..." "He asked me to remind you to ...." and "He wanted me to stress..." Using indirect phrases like these helps to soften the message, particularly if the language in the message is direct and commanding.

Let's look at two messages that make use of reporting phrases:


Mr Benson wanted you to know that the Archer account has cancelled their last two orders because of a customs problem. He wants you to call the Duty Ministry and see if you can track where the last two shipments are and then call Archer and see if you can get them to take those orders anyway. If they will only be another day or so, they may still take the goods. He wanted me to stress the urgency and that we get moving soon on this.



Ms Chambers asked me to let you know that the Thursday meeting has been moved to Friday morning at 10 a.m. And she also wanted me to tell you that they have shifted the meeting room from the 8th floor to the 9th. She asked me to remind you to bring six copies of your company's annual report.

 

Making Polite Requests

13 Dec 2015

When you are asking someone to do something for you or trying to influence their actions, you can often show that you want to be polite by saying things in an indirect way:

  1. Help me file these documents (please). (Very Direct - more demand than request)
  2. (Please) will you help me file these documents? (Less Direct)
  3. Could you help me file these documents (please)? (Neutral)
  4. Do you think you could possibly help me file these documents? (Indirect)
  5. I was wondering if you could possibly help me file these documents? (Very Indirect)
    Generally speaking, the more indirect the expression you use, the more polite you will seem.  If you are too direct you may be considered impolite.  However, the more indirect expressions can sound "too polite".  When deciding which expressions are suitable for which situations it is useful to ask certain questions.
  • What is the relationship between the speaker and the listener? More direct expressions are often used between friends or when the speaker is in a position of authority.

  • How important is the action to the speaker? Usually, the more important the action, the more indirect the expression.

  • How much inconvenience will the action cause for the listener? If, for example, the listener is being asked to make a lot of effort or do something which they do not usually do, the speaker will probably use a more indirect expression.
 

Open Punctuation /Full Blocked Layout Style

25 Oct 2015

In the past, writing and laying out a business letter was a pretty complex process. Not only did you have to be careful where you put your punctuation in the non-body sections of the letter, but certain parts of the letter itself needed to be indented, i.e. moved a number of spaces to the right. Putting a letter together like this took a lot of time.

Nowadays, business writers prefer simplicity over complexity. The punctuation and layout style preferred is the one that is the easiest and quickest to create. And it's the one that takes up the least thought.

Writers today tend to use OPEN PUNCTUATION and FULL BLOCKED LAYOUT STYLE.

Open Punctuation

In an Open Punctuation Style letter there is:

  • No punctuation at the end of lines in the inside address
  • No punctuation following the salutation and complimentary closing
  • No punctuation following references, enclosures, copies, etc.

Full Blocked Layout Style

When using a full blocked layout style in a business letter there is:

  • No indentation of the salutation and complimentary closing
  • No indentation in the paragraphs of the letter
  • No indentation to the date, reference, enclosures, copies, etc.

In this style, the only part of the letter that is centred is the company letterhead.

Sample Letter

Here's an example of a business letter with open punctuation and full blocked layout style.

Sunshine Holidays
124 High Street
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk
I
P29 7HG

Our Ref SLS/RWT

2 April 20xx

Mr K Francis
29 Darlington Mews
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk
1P29 5JA

Dear Mr Francis

HOLIDAY ENQUIRY

Thank you for your recent enquiry. Please find enclosed our holiday brochure containing weekend breaks in Rome.

We are very proud of our weekend breaks and feel sure you will find just what you are looking for.

If you would like to make a booking, or require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Yours sincerely


John Jackson
Manager

Enc

cc Susan James

 

General Tips to Improve your English

16 Aug 2015

Techniques

1) Some people like to learn by studying English grammar and then using it in sentences. Other people like to learn by listening to spoken English and then repeating it the best way they can. Actually, the best way to learn is to use both of these techniques together.

New Words

2) When you learn a new word, write it down in your notebook. Write the definition in English, not in your own language. Below the meaning, write down the sentence or phrase where you found the word.

3) Many verbs, nouns and adjectives are used with certain prepositions. For example: afraid + of or apply + for. Make sure that you learn the words together with their prepositions.

4) Out of the four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening, the best way to learn new words is through reading.

Reading

5) Read the day's newspaper in your own language and then read one in English. This way, you already know the context and main ideas of the main stories. It will be easier for you to guess the meaning of new words.

6) Read graded readers. These provide excellent reading practice for elementary to advanced level learners.

7) Read something that you are interested in. If you like sports, read about sports. If you like fashion, read about fashion.

Writing

8) Find a penpal, the traditional way, or an epal from the Internet.

9) Try reading and leaving messages on an online message board.

Speaking

10) Speak as much and as often as you can in English. Don't worry too much about your grammar when you speak. It's ok to make mistakes.
 

How to Address Someone in English

17 May 2013

English learners often feel confused about how to address people properly. Many feel uncomfortable asking the question, "What should I call you?" Even native English people find this question awkward. For example, many women don't know how to address their boyfriend's mother. On the other hand, some parents don't know what to call their children's teacher.

Why is "What should I call you?" such a difficult question to ask? Perhaps it's because you are asking the other person to provide their status or position in the world in relationship to yours. This position may involve age, job, education, religion and even marital status.

Since English is a language, rather than a culture, it is difficult to teach English learners exactly how to address people. There will always be some people and some professions that require more formality than others. Addressing people in writing has different rules and formalities than in speaking.

Asking the Question

If you are unsure of what to call someone, it's best to use a formal address or simply ask one of these questions:

What should I call you?
What should I call your mother?
What should I call you manager?
Can I call you Richard
Is it okay if I call you Deano? [the nickname you've heard others use]
What's your name? (use in a casual situation like a party or classroom where first names are used)

Answering the Question

Please, call me Jane. [first name].
You can call me Wedgy. [nickname].
Call me Dan if you like. [short form]

 

Questioning Someone About Their Company

03 May 2013

In this week's business English tip, we'll show you three different ways in which you can ask someone about the company they work for.

You can question someone about their company in a number of ways. Let’s look at three different questions types.

Closed Questions

Closed questions in the present simple tense usually begin with phrases like ‘do you,’ ‘have you,’ or ‘are you.’ These questions elicit ‘yes’/’no’ answers, and refer to the company’s present situation. Let’s look at a few examples of closed questions in the present simple tense:

Do you have any regional offices in Asia?
Have you got an office in Germany?
Do you have any plans to establish operations in China?
Do you target the telecommunications industry as well?
Does your company cater to the international market too?
Do you have any clients in France?
Are you planning to set up an office here?

NOTE: Closed questions are useful when you want specific information. If you are answering a closed question, however, answering with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is generally insufficient. You will also be expected to provide additional information.

Open Ended Questions

Open ended questions usually begin with the five ‘wh’ question words (who, what, when, where, why) or ‘how’. They give the other person the chance to expand their answer. Let’s look at some examples of open questions:

Who founded your company?
When did the company launch its overseas operations?
What does the personnel management department do?
Where did you set up your first office?
Why did the company decide to shut down its Boston office?
How long did it take for your company to establish itself in the market?
What are your company’s plans for the future?
How are you planning to fund these new operations?

Indirect Questions / Question Statements

In the early stages of a conversation, or when asking something sensitive, it is a good idea to use indirect questions or question statements. Such questions generally start with phrases such as ‘I was wondering,’ ‘Could you tell me,’ and ‘I’d like to know.’ Here are some examples:

Could you tell me about your experiences with former clients? (Indirect Question)
I’d like to know how long it would take you to respond to a complaint from a customer. (Question Statement)
I was wondering if the product has had good sales in the international market. (Question Statement)
Could you tell me if your company is an equal opportunities employer? (Indirect Question)
Could you tell me what your policy is on refunds for customers? (Indirect Question)

Remember to choose your question type carefully to get the right information that you are looking for. Closed questions tell the other person that you’re looking for a quick answer, while open questions ask for detailed answers. Indirect questions are polite questions and should be used when it is appropriate to be more polite.

 

Communication Problems in English

03 Feb 2013

In this week's tip, we'll provide you with some advice on what to say if you can't understand or hear someone clearly.

If you don't understand what someone says:

If you are speaking to someone and you don't understand the meaning of what they say, you could say:

I’m not sure what you mean. Could you rephrase that, please?

If you ask someone to rephrase something, you are asking them to express the same meaning using different words. This is a useful phrase since you might not have understood because of the language they've used.

You could also use these phrases to clarify the meaning of what’s been said:

Could you explain what you mean?
What do you mean?
I’m sorry I don’t understand.
Could you explain what you mean by….?
Could you clarify what you mean when you say….?

If you can't hear what someone says:

If you can't hear what someone has said, try these phrases:

Sorry, I didn’t hear the last part of what you said.
Sorry, I didn’t catch the last part of what you said.
Could you say that again please?
Could you please repeat that?
Would you mind repeating that?
Would you mind talking a little slower, because my English is not fluent yet?
Sorry, could you speak up a little, please?
Would you mind speaking a little louder, please?

If someone can't hear what you've said:

Sometimes people may not understand what you are saying if you make a grammar mistake or use vocabulary in the wrong way. In these situations, you can say:

Let me rephrase that.
Let me try and say that again in a different way.
I’m trying to say that….
I wanted to say that….
Let me try to explain.

 

Test

05 Dec 2011
test  

Speaking Tips

07 Nov 2010

In this week's tip, we'll give you a couple of useful speaking advice.

Keeping a Conversation Going

What can you say when you want to encourage people to keep talking to you?

Try making a comment or asking a question it shows the other person you're interested in what they're saying.

Here are some examples of what you can say:

  • Making Comments

    'No' to show surprise

    'I don't believe it' to show surprise

    'Wow' to show admiration and surprise

    'That's incredible / That's amazing / That's unbelievable' to show great interest in the subject of conversation.

  • Asking Questions

    'Really?' - to show surprise

    'And you?' when someone asks you how you are.

    'Did you?' can be used to encourage someone to tell their story. For example, 'I saw her with him last night', 'Did you', 'They looked like they were getting on really well with each other and '.'

Agreeing with People

In English conversations, people often say that they agree or disagree with each other. There are many ways of agreeing and disagreeing and the one you use depends on how strongly you agree or disagree. Here's a list of common expressions:

'I think you're right.'

'I agree with you.'

'I feel the same way as you about it.'

If you want to agree more strongly, you can use these expressions:

'I couldn't agree with you more.'

'You're absolutely right.'

 
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