Business Writing

Include One idea per Sentence

28 Apr 2019

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.

 

Achieving Emphasis in Business Writing

24 Feb 2019

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.

 

Avoid Weak Sentence Starts

27 Jan 2019

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.

 

Checklist for Writing Effective Emails

12 Aug 2018

Use the following checklist to ensure that your e-mail reflects your professionalism and increases your credibility within your company:

1. Company e-mail is the appropriate choice for this document
. The e-mail, which may reside in your system's memory and be accessible to people other than the intended reader:

  • Contains information that pertains only to your job responsibilities or to company-approved functions. You followed company guidelines for using e-mail for personal communications.
  • Contains no confidential or sensitive information. It could be made public or subpoenaed without embarrassment to your company or you, the writer.
  • Is not a way of avoiding talking to someone in person or by telephone. Don't let e-mail replace human interaction that builds relationships and allows you to observe or hear people's reactions to what you are saying.
  • Contains no reprimanding or emotional wording. Constructive criticism is received best in one-to-one, in-person coaching sessions.
  • Requires immediate response.
  • Is not information required by the reader for long-term reference.

2. The distribution list is appropriate:

  • All those who should receive the information have been copied. For example, you have not relied upon the primary reader to distribute the information to his/her direct reports if you require them to have the information.
  • Those who do not need to know the information have not been copied.

3. You have respected your reader's time and edited the e-mail for clarity. You:

  • Eliminated wordiness; eliminated any "streams of consciousness."
  • Used short words, sentences, and paragraphs.
  • Used precise, factual wording.
  • Translated technical jargon and acronyms as appropriate for the distribution list.
  • Deleted any unnecessary "document trail."

4. You have used professional presentation, tone, and courtesy. You:

  • Used a simple format that will convert well to all computer systems/programs.
  • Used upper- and lower-case letters rather than all capitals. Upper and lower case letters are easier to read; using all capitals seems like yelling. The rule of thumb is to put no more than eight words in all capitals; you have saved all capitals for emphasis or headings.
  • Have written the e-mail from your reader's point of view. Your wording is considerate and polite; it is objective and direct without being abrupt.
  • Used words that are appropriate for a business environment.

5. You have organized the e-mail strategically. You ensured accurate and complete content. You:

  • Provided a subject heading and opening purpose statement that predict the document's content.
  • Anticipated and answered your reader's questions, providing background information when it helps your reader understand your message.
  • Double-checked the accuracy of facts and figures.
  • Clearly and explicitly asked for action or described what you will do next.

6. You have proofread the e-mail. You:

  • Used correct, consistent punctuation.
  • Used your spell checker and double-checked the spelling of people's names and of company products and services.
  • Replaced "brief hand" abbreviations such as "w/" and "info" with standard spellings.
  • Ensured your precise use of all vocabulary, especially of any unfamiliar vocabulary gleaned from your computer's thesaurus.
  • Checked grammar (especially subject-verb agreement) and usage (for example, commonly confused words such as "there" and "their").
  • Checked sentence structure (especially to correct any fragments or run-on sentences).
 

Cut Out Wordy Phrases and Redundancy from your Writing

08 Jul 2018

Shorter is nearly always better. Short words are clearer than their wordy alternatives. When you have a number of wordy phrases in a letter, memo, email, etc., the document loses clarity. Short doesn't mean simple - it means that you've considered the language you are using carefully with your reader in mind.

Replace these wordy phrases with their concise alternatives.

WORDY PHRASES
CONCISE
after the conclusion of
after
at the present time
now
despite the fact that
although
has been proved to be
is
in the event that
if
in the near future
soon
in view of the fact that
because/since/as
is found to be
is
is in a position to
can
with reference to
about

You should also watch out for redundancies like these below. Don't repeat yourself!

REDUNDANT PHRASES
CONCISE
advance planning
planning
exactly identical
identical
forward progress
progress
joint cooperation
cooperation
necessary requirement
requirement
new breakthrough
breakthrough
postpone until later
postpone
 

Using Capital Letters in Your Writing

01 Jul 2018

International business suffers from a serious overuse and incorrect use of capital (uppercase) letters. Here are examples of incorrect capitalization.

incorrect Be sure to visit our Web Site.
incorrect All the Company Employees are to attend the meeting.
incorrect We are the largest Province in the country.
incorrect Our Bookkeeper paid the invoice.
incorrect She went to University in Japan.

Here are some guidelines for the use of capital letters:

Names of People

Ms Jennifer Karen Montgomery
Mrs Lisa Veronica Mallory
Mr Ming-Wa Nguyen

Family Title as Part of the Name

I wonder where Aunt Susan is. ("Aunt" is used as part of her name.)
I wonder where your aunt is. ("aunt" is NOT used as part of her name.)

Family Title Instead of the Name

I wonder why Mother is late today. ("Mother" is used as her name.)
I wonder why your mother is late today. ("mother" is NOT used as her name.)

Days of the Week

Monday, Wednesday, Saturday

Months of the Year

April, September, December

Holidays

Valentine's Day, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Divali, Tet

Note: the names of the seasons are NOT capitalized.

tick1 My favourite season is autumn.
incorrect My favourite season is Autumn.

Cities

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, London, Paris

States / Provinces

Florida, California, Guangdong, Shenzhen

Buildings, Parks, Zoos

I visited the San Francisco Zoo on my vacation. ("Zoo" is used as part of the name.)
I visited the zoo on my vacation. ("zoo" is NOT used as part of the name.)

Languages, Countries, Nationalities

Spanish, English, Chinese
South Korea, the United States
German, French, Japanese

CAPITALIZED: We went to South Korea on vacation. ("South" is used as part of the name.)
LOWER CASE: We drove south on Harbour Drive. ("south" is NOT used as part of the name.)

Job Titles and Company Departments

Chief Executive Officer
Sales Manager
Administrative Assistant
the Accounts Department
the Research and Development Department

 

 

Email Etiquette

03 Jun 2018

Emailing Someone who Doesn't Know You

There are a few important points to consider when writing email, especially when emailing someone who doesn't know you.

  • Include a meaningful subject heading; this helps clarify what your message is about and may also help the recipient prioritize reading your email.
  • Open your email with a greeting like 'Dear Mr Chan' or 'Dear Ms Tam.'
  • Use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS. IT'S LIKE SHOUTING!
  • Write clear, short paragraphs and be direct and to the point. Don't write unnecessarily long emails.
  • Be friendly and polite, but don't make jokes or witty remarks.
Continuing Email Conversations

Once you have exchanged emails with a person on a given subject, it is probably OK to leave greetings out of your follow-up emails. Here are some other points to consider about continuing email conversations:

  • Try to respond within a reasonable time frame, though "reasonable" will depend on the recipient's expectations and the subject being discussed.
  • Trim back the old messages: most email clients will keep copying older messages to the bottom of an email. Delete older messages so as to keep your message size from getting too large, and to keep your messages looking clean.
  • If someone asks a lot of questions, it may be OK to embed your answers into the sender's message copied at the bottom of your email. However, if you're going to do this, be sure to say so at the top, and leave plenty of space, for example:
> Do you offer discounts for bulk orders?

Yes. 10% for orders of over 100 units.


> How long does delivery normally take?


Around 10 days from the date of an order.
 

Punctuation – The Dash (-) and Brackets ()

07 Jan 2018

The Dash (-)

Use a dash to indicate a change of thought, or to highlight and give greater importance to additional information inserted in a sentence

All the officers - Jane, Susie, Brent, and Michael - will be attending the meeting.
All the officers will be attending the meeting - Jane, Suzie, Brent, and Michael.
Mary - who was busy dealing with a client - did not attend the sales seminar.

A dash can also be used to set off information at the end of a sentence.

We all signed the contract - finally.

Brackets (.....)

Use brackets ("parentheses" in US English) to lessen the impact of related information that is added to a sentence. The added information should not be as important as the information in the sentence.

Mary (she only joined the company last week) decided not to go to the company barbecue.

Note: Use commas instead of brackets to set apart information that is about as important as the information in the sentence itself.

Brackets are also used if you give a lengthy name of a company or document, and then give the abbreviation, for example, Employees Assistance Program (EAP). The brackets should enclose the abbreviated form when it first appears. You can then refer to the abbreviated form only, without brackets, throughout the rest of the letter. This is one way you can use abbreviations in your letter and be certain your reader knows their meaning.

 

Include One Idea per Sentence

10 Dec 2017

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.

 

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.
 

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.

 

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

 
Menu