Category Archives: English Communication

Is Your Business Writing Clear, Logical, and Accurate?

A lot has been said about not using an outdated writing style, or being too formal or informal, in business writing.

However, perhaps more important than that, your writing should convey details clearly, accurately, and with a logical flow.

Here’s a scenario. Tammy’s boss has asked her to assess the feasibility of using the office conference room to hold a meeting with some people from CyberWay Pte Ltd, an important client.

After doing the research, these are Tammy’s findings:

  • If everyone shows up (from both sides), there will be 12 persons. The conference room can only take up to 10 persons comfortably.
  • The conference room was recently renovated, but the audio-visual equipment will only be installed on the morning of the meeting. It is a new brand which the company has not used before. Tammy’s boss will need this equipment for a presentation during the meeting.
  • About S$150 will be needed for snacks and drinks for the meeting.

This is the email Tammy wrote to her boss:

____________________________________________________________________

Hi Peter,

Here are my findings on the conference room for the meeting with CyberWay.

Our conference room has recently been renovated and the audio-visual equipment will only be installed on that morning.  We will not have time to test it and it is a brand that we have not used before.  The room is not big enough to accommodate 12 pax and will not be conducive enough to hold this meeting.  We will also need to spend about $150 for snacks and drinks.

Regards,

Tammy

____________________________________________________________________

What do you think of the message? Was it clear? Was the logical flow apparent?

Here are our suggested revisions (in red):

_____________________________________________________________________

Hi Peter,

For the meeting with CyberWay Pte Ltd on 19 Aug, here are my findings on the feasibility of using our conference room.

Our conference room has recently been renovated, and the audio-visual equipment will only be installed on that morning. As such, we will not have time to test it. To compound this, it is a brand that we have not used before. 

On top of that, the room will not be big enough to accommodate 12 pax comfortably (should everyone turn up). The room can only accommodate 10 pax.

We will need to spend about $150 for snacks and drinks.

Please let me know if you want me to book the conference room or make other venue arrangements.

Regards,

Tammy

____________________________________________________________________

These are factors to consider in ensuring a clear, logical, and accurate message:

(1) Ensure Logical Flow in Your Message

In the original message, the writer simply assumed that the reader would be able to follow the logical flow. However, the reader can only read the message, not the writer’s mind.

As such, create logical flow in the message by using appropriate linking words or phrases.

Are you:

  • Describing a cause-and-effect scenario? (as such, because of that, consequently, etc.)
  • Adding on details? (additionally, moreover, on top of that, etc.)
  • Describing additional concerns or problems? (to compound that, to make matters worse, more critically, etc.)
  • Showing contrast? (however, but, in spite of that, etc.)

Another way to create logical flow, simple but commonly overlooked, is the effective use of paragraphs. Use one paragraph for each key point. It makes it easier for the reader to follow the logical flow.

The reader should not be left struggling to connect the dots.

(2) Include Vital Details

Do not omit details that can increase understanding.

Example:

The room is not big enough to accommodate 12 pax and will not be conducive enough to hold this meeting.

(Has everyone confirmed their attendance, or has the writer assumed a maximum-attendance scenario? How many persons can the room accommodate?)

Revised:

The room will not be big enough to accommodate 12 pax comfortably (should everyone turn up). The room can only accommodate 10 pax.

(3) Include an Action or Expectation for the Reader

In this case, it would be easier for the reader to respond if the writer had included an action step:

Example:

Please let me know if you want me to book the conference room or make other venue arrangements.

____________________________________________________________________

Business writing should be about the reader. The objective should always be readability and clarity for the reader.

To sum it up, business writing should be clear, logical, and accurate.

 

 

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise, and Accurate?

Minutes should demonstrate your efforts at promoting good governance. They should document agreements reached, decisions made, and actions assigned during the meeting.

As such, they must be clear, precise and accurate.

Here are some actual examples of unclear minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has been told about it? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Examples

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 June 2019.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • Betty Lim (Finance Dept) has briefed all staff and vendors involved on the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 June 2019.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should You Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Your Minutes?

You should care because minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

Write your minutes with these objectives in mind. Be mindful of  what to include, and how clear and precise your recording needs to be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 28 August 2019.

Good Grammar – Just a Matter of Image?

In business writing, getting your grammar right is not just about projecting a professional image. It is also about conveying your message accurately, and not having it distorted by grammar mistakes.

Consider this sentence extracted from an actual email:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancel the order and refunded the money to the customer.

Some will argue that this is a small mistake. Just amend the tense form and the tenses will be consistent.

But is it really that simple? Which verb needs to be amended – “cancel” or “refunded”?

There are two possibilities:

(1) If the issue is now over, and the writer is recounting a past event, the correct sentence should be:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancelled the order and refunded the money to the customer.

(2) If the issue is still ongoing, and the writer is referring to it as a standard procedure, then the sentence should be:

  • On receiving the customer’s instructions, they cancel the order and refund the money to the customer.

The differing tense forms (“cancel” and “refunded”) can confuse the reader. This is not a small mistake, and the writer has the responsibility to convey the message clearly.

Your readers cannot read your mind; they can only read your writing.

Slide1

This is just one example of how using grammar wrongly can change the intended meaning in your message.

Use grammar correctly in your business writing. If you don’t, it could just mean embarrassment, or it could result in a confusing message leading to miscommunication.

__________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

Writing to Unhappy Customers? – Five Points to Note

Customers are often frustrated by perceived insincere responses to their complaints. They feel that writers use template-style messages with meaningless words and phrases without dealing with the real issues.

Here is an example.

Henry’s organisation manages a building with retail shop spaces.

A tenant, Ms Chew, has written in to complain about the noise and dust generated by a neighbouring unit that is undergoing renovation works.

Ms Chew has also asked for a waiver of rental payment for the following month, as she says that her business has been affected.

Henry wrote this reply. What do you think of it?

Dear Ms Chew,

We refer to your email dated 26 April 2018 regarding your request for waiver of the monthly rental for May 2018.

We have taken measures to reduce the noise and dust generated from the renovation works like restricting drilling works to timings outside retail hours. We have also deployed more cleaners around the areas undergoing renovations.

We will send your feedback to the on-site contractors, so that they can further minimise the inconvenciences caused.

We are unable to accede to your request for a waiver of rental as it is unfair to tenants who have duly paid the monthly rental.

Please note that the renovation works should be completed by 10 May 2018, and we seek your patience and understanding in this matter.

Please contact us again if you have further queries.

With Best Regards,

Henry Ho

Customer Relations Executive

_______________________________________________________________

Five Points to Note in Responding to Complaints

(1) State Your Writing Purpose Clearly and Correctly

When Henry stated that Ms Chew’s email was about the waiver of rental payment, it might have missed the point.

Ms Chew may not appreciate being portrayed as someone asking for waiver of rental payment. There were other issues troubling her, and these could be more important than the rental payment.

(2) Show Empathy for the Other Party

In Henry’s message, there was no empathy shown at all for Ms Chew’s difficulties.

Before he explained the actions he had taken, Henry could have shown some empathy. For example, he could have written:

“The noise and dust generated must have been inconvenient and indeed upsetting for you, and I am sorry to hear about that.”

A simple empathy statement like this would demonstrate that Henry was not just writing from his point of view, and that he had actually considered it from Ms Chew’s point of view.

(3) Be Logical and Reasonable When You Reject a Request.

Henry wrote that waiving the rental payment for Ms Chew would be unfair to tenants who have duly paid the monthly rental.

To Ms Chew, this is not even logical. Other tenants are not affected by the noise and dust, so how can the comparison be fair?

We cannot always give the other party what they want. However, we must explain it clearly and logically.

(4) End on a Positve Note.

Henry ended the message by saying that Ms Chew should contact him again if she had further queries.

To begin with, Ms Chew did not have a query, so there cannot be further queries. She had some real concerns to deal with. To describe that with the word “query” can seem dismissive.

This is not a positive way to end the message.

(5) Use Words and Phrases Meaningfully.

In responding to complaints, refrain from using standard templates.

Of course you can cut and paste from an older message, but tailor it carefully to meet the needs of your existing situation. Words and phrases work differently under different circumstances.

For example, the phrase “Please note that…” is commonly used in email writing. However, innocent as it may seem, the phrase actually sounds pompous.

Can’t we just tell the reader something without first asking them to “note” it? It even feels like we are stressing something to someone who is not really paying attention, or who may be a bit slow in understanding.

Do we really want to give that impression to a complaining customer?

________________________________________________________________________

Here is a possible revised message to Ms Chew:

Dear Ms Chew,

Thank you for your email dated 26 April 2018. We are sorry to hear about the situation you are facing.

The noise and dust generated by the renovation works in unit 02-98 must indeed be inconvenient to you, and I can understand your frustrations about this.

We have taken measures to reduce the noise and dust generated by the renovation works. For example, we have now restricted all drilling works to timings outside retail hours.

We have also deployed more cleaners to the areas outside units #02-95 to #02-100, so as to ensure the general cleanliness of these public areas.

At the same time, we will send your feedback to the on-site contractors, so that they can further minimise the inconveniences caused to you in whatever ways possible.

As for your request for a waiver of rental, much as I understand your situation, I am not able to waive your May rental payment.

As you know, most tenants need to undergo some renovation works in their units when they move in. This usually causes some inconvenience to other tenants. As such, we feel that the best way forward would be for all tenants to be patient and understanding in these situations.

The renovation works will be completed by 10 May 2018, and we seek your patience and understanding in the meantime.

Please email or call me at Tel: 6788 8766 if I can be of help in any way.

With Best Regards,

Henry Ho

Customer Relations Executive

________________________________________________________________

What Has Counting Got to Do with Grammar?

Yes, what indeed?

Grammar is the system and structure of a language, and counting, as we know it, is for mathematics.

But what if we were referring to countable and uncountable nouns?

Nouns are naming words. They give a label to things, and the two main categories of nouns are:

(1) Proper Nouns

These are actual names given to brands, people, countries, pets, etc.

Examples

  • Peter
  • Singapore
  • Apple

(2) Common Nouns

These are general names given to things, places, people, etc.

Examples

  • man
  • country
  • mobile phone

Under the category of common nouns, there are two classifications: countable nouns and uncountable nouns.

The way to determine a countable or uncountable noun is this:

  • Can you add an “s” or “es” to the word to show plurality?
  • Can you use a different form of the word to show plurality?

If you can do one of these, it is a countable noun. If you cannot, it is an uncountable one.

Examples

Countable Noun Uncountable Noun
office – offices water – water
manager – managers staff – staff
project – projects equipment – equipment
woman – women furniture – furniture

So, back to our question – what has grammar got to do with counting? Turns out that it may have very little to do with counting.

Whether a noun is countable or uncountable does not rely on the physical ability to count something. You have to abide by the rule of grammar.

This sign was seen at a construction site:

Sign - Equipments

Question: Where is the mistake?

Answer: The word “equipments” is wrongly used here. (It should be “equipment”.) There is no plural form for the word equipment, as it is an uncountable noun.

So what do you do if you are unsure about this grammar point? You check the dictionary.

For example, a quick check with the Longman online dictionary shows this:

Slide1

(Caution: Many words come with various usage definitions. Be sure to read carefully for the definition that you need. Some words can be used in either the countable or uncountable form, depending on your context.)

Getting your nouns right can save you from writing things like “staffs’, “furnitures”, “equipments”, “luggages”, etc. These are uncountable nouns and should not take a plural form.

Three Sentence Structures to Use in Business Writing

In English, there are 4 sentence structures:

  • The Simple Sentence
  • The Compound Sentence
  • The Complex Sentence
  • The Compound-Complex Sentence

For business writing, I recommend that you use the first 3 structures.

I will tell you about the 3 recommended sentence structures, but first, here’s a quick explanation of what makes up a sentence.

What are Clauses?

Clauses are groups of words that make up sentences. There are 2 types of clauses:

(1) the independent clause (can exist on its own grammatically)

  • usually conveys the main idea(s) in the sentence

(Eg: Peter tested the machine)

(2) the dependent clause (cannot exist on its own grammatically)

  • usually conveys secondary idea(s) in the sentence

(Eg: but did not write the investigation report)

If you combine these 2 clauses, you can make a sentence.

(Eg:  Peter tested the machine  but did not write the investigation report.)

The 3 Recommended Sentence Structures for Business Writing

These are the 3 recommended structures for business writing:

(1) The Simple Sentence

The simple sentence consists of one independent clause.

Examples

– Peter tested the machine.

– He did not write the investigation report.

(2) The Compound Sentence

To explain this in the simplest way, the compound sentence consists of two independent clauses (joined with a linking device).

Examples

– Peter tested the machine, but he did not write the investigation report.

– Peter tested the machine; however, he did not write the investigation report.

– Peter tested the machine; he did not write the investigation report.

This structure is especially useful when you want to place equal emphasis (weightage) on both these ideas.

Slide1

(3) The Complex Sentence

Again, to explain this in the simplest way, the complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one dependent clause.

Example

– Peter tested the machine but did not write the investigation report.

This structure is especially useful when you want to place more emphasis (weightage) on one idea (independent clause) and less on the other (dependent clause).

Slide1

Summary

If you have only one idea to convey in a sentence, you will obviously use a simple sentence.

If you want to convey 2 ideas of equal weightage in a sentence, use the compound sentence.

If you have 2 ideas in your sentence, and you want to emphasise one over the other, use the complex sentence.

Application

In our daily writing, you will very often need to convey complex information.

Now that you know more about the 3 sentence structures you can use, put this knowledge into practice.

Slide1

How to Speak English Better Immediately

I know of many people who wish that they could speak English better. They do speak English, but they feel that they don’t speak it well enough.

Here are three things you can do to improve your spoken English immediately.

(1) Work on Your Articulation

There are some words that we don’t articulate correctly. We may not be able to correct all of them; however, we should at least work on the words we use regularly.

Don’t just rely on your instinct or copy what others are saying. There are ways of checking for articulation online (eg: dictionary.com).

Alternatively, learn the phonetic symbols so that you can confirm the articulation of words in a dictionary.

Examples of commonly mispronounced words:

–  Wednesday: The meeting is confirmed to run on wed-nes-day. (The correct articulation is wenzday.)

–  lavender: Our office is on la-VAN-da Street. (The correct articulation is LAIR-vender.)

–  colleague: Tom is my ker-league. (The correct articulation is KOR-league.)

(2) Manage Your Intonation

Intonation refers to the way your voice goes up and down in pitch when you speak.

Many people tend to speak with a rather flat or narrow intonation. This means that they place more or less equal stress on almost every word in their speech.

At other times, they don’t place any stress on key words, or they stress the wrong words.

For example, these sentences may convey different tones, even though the words are the same:

  • We ARE busy, and we will work on this tomorrow.
  • We are BUSY, and we will work on this tomorrow.
  • We are busy, and we WILL work on this tomorrow.
  • We are busy, and we will work on this TOMORROW.

English is a stress-based language, and people rely on your intonation to understand your meaning.

Intonation in your speech also shows emotion and enthusiasm, and these are important elements in communication.

(3) Be Mindful About Grammar

You cannot speak with incorrect grammar and hope that the listener will understand your intended meaning every time.

It is fun and easy to use Singlish when we speak, but when the message is critical and accuracy is important, be mindful of your grammar. Switch to standard English.

Why Should You Improve Your Spoken English?

At the workplace, when you speak clearly and correctly, you project enthusiasm and confidence, and you come across as being more professional.

Your overall professional image is determined by how you dress, how you act, and how you speak. Don’t let your spoken English be your weakest link.

 

Writing to Unhappy Customers? – Five Points to Note

Customers are often frustrated by perceived insincere responses to their complaints. They feel that writers use template-style messages with meaningless words and phrases without dealing with the real issues.

Here is an example.

Henry’s organisation manages a building with retail shop spaces.

A tenant, Ms Chew, has written in to complain about the noise and dust generated by a neighbouring unit that is undergoing renovation works.

Ms Chew has also asked for a waiver of rental payment for the following month, as she says that her business has been affected.

Henry wrote this reply. What do you think of it?

Dear Ms Chew,

We refer to your email dated 26 April 2018 regarding your request for waiver of the monthly rental for May 2018.

We have taken measures to reduce the noise and dust generated from the renovation works like restricting drilling works to timings outside retail hours. We have also deployed more cleaners around the areas undergoing renovations.

We will send your feedback to the on-site contractors, so that they can further minimise the inconvenciences caused.

We are unable to accede to your request for a waiver of rental as it is unfair to tenants who have duly paid the monthly rental.

Please note that the renovation works should be completed by 10 May 2018, and we seek your patience and understanding in this matter.

Please contact us again if you have further queries.

With Best Regards,

Henry Ho

Customer Relations Executive

_______________________________________________________________

Five Points to Note in Responding to Complaints

(1) State Your Writing Purpose Clearly and Correctly

When Henry stated that Ms Chew’s email was about the waiver of rental payment, it might have missed the point.

Ms Chew may not appreciate being portrayed as someone asking for waiver of rental payment. There were other issues troubling her, and these could be more important than the rental payment.

(2) Show Empathy for the Other Party

In Henry’s message, there was no empathy shown at all for Ms Chew’s difficulties.

Before he explained the actions he had taken, Henry could have shown some empathy. For example, he could have written:

“The noise and dust generated must have been inconvenient and indeed upsetting for you, and I am sorry to hear about that.”

A simple empathy statement like this would demonstrate that Henry was not just writing from his point of view, and that he had actually considered it from Ms Chew’s point of view.

(3) Be Logical and Reasonable When You Reject a Request.

Henry wrote that waiving the rental payment for Ms Chew would be unfair to tenants who have duly paid the monthly rental.

To Ms Chew, this is not even logical. Other tenants are not affected by the noise and dust, so how can the comparison be fair?

We cannot always give the other party what they want. However, we must explain it clearly and logically.

(4) End on a Positve Note.

Henry ended the message by saying that Ms Chew should contact him again if she had further queries.

To begin with, Ms Chew did not have a query, so there cannot be further queries. She had some real concerns to deal with. To describe that with the word “query” can seem dismissive.

This is not a positive way to end the message.

(5) Use Words and Phrases Meaningfully.

In responding to complaints, refrain from using standard templates.

Of course you can cut and paste from an older message, but tailor it carefully to meet the needs of your existing situation. Words and phrases work differently under different circumstances.

For example, the phrase “Please note that…” is commonly used in email writing. However, innocent as it may seem, the phrase actually sounds pompous.

Can’t we just tell the reader something without first asking them to “note” it? It even feels like we are stressing something to someone who is not really paying attention, or who may be a bit slow in understanding.

Do we really want to give that impression to a complaining customer?

________________________________________________________________________

Here is a possible revised message to Ms Chew:

Dear Ms Chew,

Thank you for your email dated 26 April 2018. We are sorry to hear about the situation you are facing.

The noise and dust generated by the renovation works in unit 02-98 must indeed be inconvenient to you, and I can understand your frustrations about this.

We have taken measures to reduce the noise and dust generated by the renovation works. For example, we have now restricted all drilling works to timings outside retail hours.

We have also deployed more cleaners to the areas outside units #02-95 to #02-100, so as to ensure the general cleanliness of these public areas.

At the same time, we will send your feedback to the on-site contractors, so that they can further minimise the inconveniences caused to you in whatever ways possible.

As for your request for a waiver of rental, much as I understand your situation, I am not able to waive your May rental payment.

As you know, most tenants need to undergo some renovation works in their units when they move in. This usually causes some inconvenience to other tenants. As such, we feel that the best way forward would be for all tenants to be patient and understanding in these situations.

The renovation works will be completed by 10 May 2018, and we seek your patience and understanding in the meantime.

Please email or call me at Tel: 6788 8766 if I can be of help in any way.

With Best Regards,

Henry Ho

Customer Relations Executive