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.


– 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).


– 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.


(3) The Complex Sentence

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


– 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).



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.


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.


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:

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.


5 Tips for Your Business Writing

Timm Gunn, co-host of the Emmy-winning reality show Project Runway, once said that in this Internet age, the word “manners” seems antiquated. Life moves so rapidly that it’s easy to feel justified in being rude.

Therefore, many people write short and curt messages. Others don’t acknowledge email. Yet others forget that their readers are busy, and have little time to read long and tedious messages.

Business writing is always about the reader – not the writer.

What is the point of showcasing your writing prowess, when your reader cannot understand your message easily?

And just because you have all the information, should you include it all to show the reader how much you know?

To make reading even more challenging, the tone is sometimes cold and unfriendly. This makes the reader feel uncertain or unwelcome.

Here are some quick tips for your writing:
(1)  Ensure logical flow in your writing – especially when the message is complex.  

Circle key words in your paragraphs, and see if they convey a logical sequence of ideas. Better still, plan your content before you start writing.

(2)  Eliminate old-fashioned words and phrases.   

“Attached herewith” and “the undersigned” come to mind. Others include “as per your message dated” and “pursuant to your email of”.

(3)  Keep sentences to below 20 words.  

Most people can follow the flow easily in a sentence that contains 20 words or fewer. Beyond that, this becomes a challenge.

(4)  Take some care with the layout.  

Use one paragraph for each key point, and leave a line-spacing between paragraphs. Use headings and lists where appropriate.

(5)  Eliminate grammar mistakes in your writing.  

Read a good grammar reference book or attend a grammar workshop if grammar is a challenge for you.

The way you write projects your professional image. Make sure it is a positive image.


Writing to Unhappy Customers?

When customers complain, it is easy to label them as being demanding or difficult. However, something could be causing them real distress.

Examples of Customer Complaints

Here are some examples of difficult customer service situations you may have to deal with in writing:

  • You are an environmental officer. A resident has complained about cigarette smoke wafting up from the unit below his.
  • You work in the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore’s land-use planning and conservation authority. Some residents have complained about the noise generated by diners at the restaurants at the foot of their apartment block at night.
  • You work in a hospital. A patient’s daughter has complained about the perceived poor treatment her father had received during his hospitalisation.
  • You work in a fashion boutique. A customer wants to return a dress she bought recently, but she has misplaced the receipt.
  • You work in a hotel. A guest has complained about having to pay extra for WIFI service in the room.

In each of these examples, there is a gap between what the customer expects and what the organisation can provide. This conflict must be managed carefully to preserve the goodwill.

The Challenges of Writing to Unhappy Customers

Unhappy customers could be asking for things you cannot provide, or asking for decisions you cannot make. It is difficult to say no to them and still preserve the relationship.

The key challenges in writing to them are:

  • You must explain the situation accurately and objectively.
  • You must manage your tone so that you don’t sound condescending or insincere.
  • Your writing must be clear and grammatically sound.
Write with a Positive Mindset

When you receive complaints and negative feedback, you decide how you want to react.

Here are some negative (but common) reactions:

  • Look for ways to defend yourself.
  • Mentally list incidents in the past that show how troublesome this customer can be.
  • Look for justifications to say no to the customer.
  • Forward it to someone else to handle.

Positive reactions would include empathising with the customer and looking for ways to make the customer feel better.

Writing to an unhappy customer is challenging, but it is worth the effort if you can retain the loyalty and confidence of the customer.

Don’t under-estimate the damage that an unhappy customer can do, especially with the many social media platforms today, where an unhappy customer can broadcast his or her unhappiness easily and widely.

Sharpen Your Written and Verbal Communication Skills

In today’s business world, where being connected is more crucial than ever, the ability to communicate effectively is highly sought-after.

If you provide administrative support in your organisation, you must be effective in both your written and verbal communications.

Written Communication

Written communication serves two purposes – to communicate (get a message across) and to document (put on record the communication).

Pay attention to your grammar and language. Know the level of formality you need for your written message, and use plain English and short words as much as possible.

Find out and use the acceptable formats required for different business documents – letters, email, reports, minutes, etc.

Your written communication must satisfy three criteria:

(1) It must be clear.

If you just need to communicate something, make sure that the message is clear and accurate. If you need to document the communication, include enough details to make it a complete record.

(2) It must be appropriately formal.

If you are writing to a close colleague, you can be less formal and more relaxed in your writing style. However, if you are writing to a superior or a customer, make sure you use an appropriately formal style.

(3) It must tell the reader what to do or expect.

Do not leave the reader guessing. Your message should have only one outcome – the outcome that you want. Not the outcome that the reader infers from your imprecise writing.

Verbal Communication

– Speaking in Front of an Audience

When you speak in front of an audience, consider these three aspects:

  • Visual aspect – Dress appropriately, and manage your body language to gain the confidence and respect of your audience.
  • Vocal aspect – Project your voice so that your audience does not need to strain to hear you. Articulate your words clearly and correctly.
  • Verbal aspect – Choose your words wisely. People form word associations, and your message can be influenced by your choice of words. For example, to tell your audience that you welcome them to do something is very different from saying you allow them to do something.

– Participating at Meetings

At meetings, make sure that you are seen and heard.

Be prepared, and project an organised and competent image. Lean forward, show interest in what others are saying, and contribute your ideas clearly and confidently.

Communication is the most important link in most operations. Effective communication means fewer delays, reworks, and mistakes.

Two Things You Must Know as a Secretary or Admin Support Professional

If you provide administrative support to your boss and your team, be proud of your job. You play an important part in your organisation’s admin support system.

Here are two things you must know in order to stand out as a valuable resource to your organisation:

(1) The Role You Are Playing

Your primary role is to support your boss and team.

To play this role well, you must understand the key objectives of your boss and team in the organisation. Is it to ensure customer satisfaction? Is it to generate revenue? Is it to work within a certain budget?

Knowing this is not enough. Use this knowledge. Make sure that the outcome of your tasks contributes toward these objectives.

For example, if you have to decide between outsourcing a service or doing it in-house, do not mindlessly consider the costs or the quality. Your consideration should be based on what your boss or the team is trying to achieve. Is it cost-efficiency or superior quality?

Apart from providing great support to your boss, be a team player. Ensure that office procedures are streamlined, and that communication among team members (including your boss) is smooth and effective.

(2) Acceptable Workplace Behaviour

Are you savvy about workplace behaviour? Do you unwittingly commit unintentional acts or make remarks that can affect your professional image?

Here are some quick rules of thumb regarding how you should behave at the workplace:

  • Show respect to everybody. Avoid name-calling or making derogatory remarks about people or situations.
  • Don’t share offensive jokes. (eg: jokes related to gender, religion, personal appearance, etc.)
  • Don’t flirt at the workplace. This can seriously undermine your credibility.
  • Manage conflict appropriately. Withdrawing and keeping silent when you are angry may be seen as being passive-aggressive, so whenever appropriate, talk things through with the other party.

Be friendly, respectful and dignified. This will earn you the respect and confidence of your boss and co-workers.

Know the 12 Tenses in English

Here are some questions I get asked frequently:

  • Exactly how many tenses are there in English?
  • What do these tenses look like?
  • How are they used?

Here is an overview of the 12 English tenses:


Don’t be overwhelmed by these tenses. The point is, you probably use only some of these tenses regularly. There are some that I hardly use (e.g. future perfect tense and future continuous tense).

Understand how the 12 tenses work, but get really familiar with those that you use regularly. I find that the most commonly used tenses are:

  • simple present tense
  • simple past tense
  • present perfect tense
  • past perfect tense
  • present perfect continuous tense

Tenses are crucial in English, as your reader or listener relies on these to understand your meaning. Use them correctly.

Does the Customer Just Want the Bag?

Sometimes, it is easy to assume that customer service is just a financial transaction, especially in areas where the exchange seems simple and straightforward.

Let’s say Sophia buys a bag. When she does that, she would have these expectations:

(1) Quality

In Sophia’s mind, the monetary value of the product must correspond with its quality.

Let’s say she pays $30 for a bag. If, after 3 months of use, it starts to show wear and tear, she may not be too surprised.

Her expectations would be different if she were to pay $100, $200, $500 or $1,000 for the bag.

Whatever the amount, the customer usually has a quality expectation of the product or service purchased. A wise service provider should be clear about this expectation and manage it effectively.

(2) Product Knowledge

Before Sophia buys the bag (or even after she does so), she might want to know more about it.

Where was the bag made? Is it a limited edition? What kinds of materials were used? What production process – was it hand-made? What colours are available? Are returns and exchanges possible?

Customers can become upset or lose their confidence if a service provider cannot manage expectations related to product knowledge.

(3) Courtesy and Respect

Everyone has esteem needs, and customers are no different. In fact, this need is even more explicit due to the financial nature of the transaction.

Customers can be turned off by real or perceived disrespect shown by service providers.

Therefore, in providing service, your words and actions must show respect and courtesy.

What Do These Expectations Mean to Service Providers?

As a service provider, you should care about what customers want and expect, and what makes them unhappy, so that you can respond in a focused and effective manner.

Many customers are left dissatisfied even after you try your best to resolve issues for them. Why?

This is because when customers complain, you may think that the problem is solved if you give them what they want.

However, customers may still feel un-cherished and dissatisfied when a company offers them what they want in an inappropriate manner, or does not address issues that have upset them.

When you deal with an unhappy customer, treat that as a chance to put things right. Don’t be quick to assume that the customer is difficult, unreasonable, or creating extra work for you.

A happy customer can tell ten others about their experience with your organisation. So can an unhappy customer.


Don’t Be a Mystery – Use Grammar Correctly


In business writing, if you make mistakes with your grammar, there are two possible outcomes:

(1)  The mistake is small and does not affect understanding. (But it can make the writer look careless.)

Yesterday, the manager say she would submit the quotes by today.

The word “say” is in the wrong tense, as this is a past event.

Correct: Yesterday, the manager said she would submit the quotes by today.

This can be considered a small mistake, as the word “Yesterday” makes it clear that the event is now over.

(2)  The reader will have absolutely no idea what you are saying. In other words, your message is a mystery.

The technician interview inform that the part not in stock.

Understanding is impossible here, as the writer has disregarded the use of tense forms.

Here are possible interpretations of this sentence:

  • The technician interviewed informed (someone) that the part had not been in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed (someone) that the part was not in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed (someone) that the part would not be in stock.
  • The interview of the technician confirmed that the part was not in stock.

If a message can be interpreted in so many ways, it is a weak message. (Shockingly, this was taken from a report.)

Use grammar correctly in your business writing. Pay attention to the time reference of events, and use tense forms accordingly to describe them.

Don’t be a mystery to your reader!

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