Tag Archives: administrative skills

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.

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(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).

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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.

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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.

 

Quick Tips for Good Business Writing

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Here are three quick tips to make your writing more effective (as shown in the revised message):

(1) Use Paragraphs Effectively

Each paragraph should contain one key point. A long paragraph with several key points is difficult to read and understand.

(2) Omit or Replace Unnecessary Words and Phrases

“Attached please find” and “As you can see” are pompous and unnecessary. They add bulk without adding meaning. Remove or replace them.

(3) Avoid Long Sentences

There are two ways to do this:

(a) Break a long sentence into shorter sentences.

(b) Remove unnecessary words (e.g.: “unless you decide to schedule something else on that day”)

Apply these tips to see an immediate improvement to your business writing.

Spot the Grammar Mistake

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This was a sign put up in a taxi. Can you spot a grammar mistake in the message?

Answer:

“Eat healthy” is incorrect.

“Healthy” is an adjective, as in “a healthy person”.  Adjectives are used to describe nouns and pronouns.

However, “eat” is neither a noun nor a pronoun here. It is a verb.

An adverb is required to describe this verb, and the adverb for the base form “healthy” is “healthily”.

Therefore, the correct way to say this is “Eat healthily”.

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Want to master grammar in a friendly and relaxed learning environment?

Join our class Use Grammar with Confidence on 16 & 17 August 2016.

 

After the Meeting, What Should Minute Writers Do?

If you write minutes of operational meetings, you should know the necessary things to do before the meeting.

These include things like reading the previous minutes, talking to people regarding their Matters Arising items, finding out the latest statuses on discussion items, etc.

However, do you know what you should do after the meeting?

These are questions you should consider:

(1)  How long should you take to write up the first draft?

Should you take a day? Two? Is there an ideal or acceptable time frame?

Generally, one day would be the ideal time frame to write up the draft. The longer you take to do this, the higher the chances of forgetting some points, even with the notes taken at the meeting.

This happens with other people too, so checking with them sooner rather than later may get you better results.

(2) Who should vet your draft?

Only the chairperson should vet your draft.

The chairperson will check for accuracy, language and sensitive wordings. No new or extra information (not discussed at the meeting) should be added.

Other individuals, even those who attended the meeting, should not vet the minutes.

(3) How long should the chairperson take to vet the minutes?

While it is hard to dictate this, make an effort to get the vetted minutes back in three days. Again, the longer the minutes sit with the chairperson, the more obscure the recall.

And once you get the vetted draft back, make the amendments and distribute the minutes within one day.

 

 

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 preserving the meaning in your message , and not having it distorted by grammar mistakes.

Example:

  • 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”?

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.

However, if the issue is still ongoing, and the writer is referring to it as a sort of operating 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 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.

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

Make sure that you use grammar correctly in your business writing.

If you don’t, it could just mean embarrassment, or it could mean a confusing message leading to miscommunication.

You Can Give an Effective Presentation

The fear of giving a presentation is very real among professionals. Many people dread it and try to avoid it.

However, being able to speak confidently in front of an audience is becoming necessary for career success. In the information age, you are only as valuable as the ideas you have to share.

Many course participants have asked me how to look and sound confident during a presentation.

When I tell them that being prepared is key, these are some replies I get:

  • But it’s not really a presentation. I just need to share information during meetings, and my focus is really on the information I’m sharing. Isn’t that preparation enough? And really, these are not presentations.
  • I don’t think it’s about being prepared. I’m just not very good at speaking, and to speak in front of people – that’s just hard.
  • But I always prepare! I have all my details on my slides. In fact, I spend a lot of time on my slides. But I still feel I’m not able to connect with my audience.

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Here’s a quick self-assessment on your presentation savvy. Answer True or False:

(1)  The best way to be prepared for a presentation is to have your notes in hand. During the presentation, just refer to your notes and read it out to your audience. If you read clearly, that makes up for the lack of body language and eye contact.

(2)  You can’t possibly establish eye contact with everyone in the audience, so it’s better to look at the screen and talk from there. This way, at least you don’t miss out any points.

(3)  When presenting, it is OK to have your hands in your pockets. It is better than waving them around or gesturing too much.

(4)  While presenting, you should stay at one spot. Walking around just distracts the audience.

(5)  When you use PowerPoint slides, put as much information as you can on your slides. That way you won’t have to worry about missing out any details.

See if your observations are accurate:

(1)  The best way to be prepared for a presentation is to have your notes in hand. During the presentation, just refer to your notes and read it out to your audience. If you read clearly, that makes up for the lack of body language and eye contact.

FALSE.  Just reading from your notes is the quickest way to lose your audience’s interest and attention. You might as well just give them the notes and have them read by themselves.

Your audience need eye contact. They need you to convey your message not just through your words, but also through your body language. They need to feel that you are engaging them, not just talking at them.

(2)  You can’t possibly establish eye contact with everyone in the audience, so it’s better to look at the screen and talk from there. This way, at least you don’t miss out any points.

FALSE.  Even if you cannot establish eye contact with everyone in a large audience, you should “sweep” the room with your eyes.

If the audience is watching your back, your profile, or your bent head most of the time, they lose interest very quickly. (Also, they may not be able to hear you if you are not facing them.)

(3)  When presenting, it is OK to have your hands in your pockets. It is better than waving them around or gesturing too much.

FALSE.  Putting your hands in your pockets as you speak gives the signal that you would rather not be involved in whatever you are speaking about.

It’s a casual gesture, and when prolonged, can convey a lack of commitment.

(4)  While presenting, you should stay at one spot. Walking around just distracts the audience.

IT DEPENDS.  You can choose to move around or stay at one spot. If you decide to move, take at least three steps. Any fewer and you may end up rocking on your feet.

For some topics and room setups, staying at one spot might be less distracting. For others, moving around might provide the necessary visual interest to keep your audience interested.

(5)  When you use PowerPoint slides, put as much information as you can on your slides. That way you won’t have to worry about missing out any details.

FALSE.  You want your audience to pay attention to you. If you have text on the screen, the audience will feel compelled to read them. Why compete with your own slides?

List the key points for the audience, and take the audience through each point. Without detailed information on the slides, they will focus their attention on you.

Slide1If you have to give a presentation, careful and effective preparations will help you to manage your anxiety and ensure success.

Even if you are called on suddenly to speak before an audience, know the basic principles of visual and vocal projections, and you will engage the audience and make an impact.

Is Your Thinking Causing You Stress?

You cannot totally avoid stress at the workplace.

Some amount of stress is necessary to motivate you; however, being overwhelmingly stressed can have negative effects on your mental and physical health.

If you constantly feel stressed, examine your own thinking. Do you need to change your own paradigm?

Here are some thinking errors that can lead to stress:

(1) You have an “all-or-nothing” mindset.

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Re-evaluate the importance of tasks or their components. Strategise and focus on the most crucial ones.

Be realistic about what you can and cannot do in a finite amount of time with a finite amount of resources.

(2) You tend to magnify the consequences of situations.

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In the process, you make yourself worried and panicky.

Stop torturing yourself! Use logical thinking to analyse the situation. If you are really worried, talk to the people involved to find out more.

(3) You tend to focus on the negative.

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If negative thoughts are keeping you up at night, you have to make a conscious effort to think positively.

(4) You believe that you can read other people’s minds.

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No you can’t.

You don’t know why your boss did not assign that job to you – without asking. You don’t know why your colleague did not return your greeting this morning – without asking.

Ask. There may be a simple reason.

“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”

– Hans Selye (Hungarian researcher of stress and its effects on the human body)

Are You Assertive? Three Quick Ways to Check.

Have you ever had a disagreement with a colleague, and you were not happy with how you handled the situation? Maybe you were too meek, too apologetic, or too aggressive?

Would you like to be able to handle disagreements, conflict, or unreasonable requests assertively? What does being assertive even mean?

Here are three quick ways to check if you are assertive in handling conflict:

(1) Do you let the other person know clearly how you feel?

It is easy to say “I don’t agree” or “I may not be able to help you”, but to be assertive, you need to be more precise.

Say how you feel. Here are some examples:

  • I am not willing to type this report because it needs more commitment than I can offer, and it is not really my responsibility.
  • I am not comfortable signing this proposal, as it contains some inaccuracies.
  • I prefer not to be involved in this discussion, as I feel it is not appropriate until we get more details about the situation.

Do not assume that other people know how you feel. To avoid ambiguity, tell them respectfully.

(2) Do you focus on the issue rather than the person?

When dealing with workplace conflict, focus on the issue. This leads to problem solving.

Here are some examples:

  • You are causing a delay in our month-end closing again with your late report. (focus is on the person)
  • Your report is late, and this is causing a delay in our month-end closing again. (focus is on the issue)
  • You always assign work to me at the last minute. There is simply no time to get it done. (focus is on the person)
  • I need more time to get the work done, but when it is assigned to me at the last minute, it is difficult for me. (focus is on the issue)

If you focus on the person, it is likely to lead to blaming and unhappiness.

(3) Do you try to preserve the relationship?

There is a clear difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Being assertive means you deal with a conflict situation while preserving the respect and dignity of all parties involved. In other words, you are mindful of how the other person might feel, and you do not say or do things that may jeopardise the relationship.

Being aggressive means you only take care of your own feelings and needs. You do not care about how the other person might feel.

Here are some examples:

  • Your minutes are terrible. Are you even trained to do this? It is not my job to teach you how to write these minutes! (aggressive)
  • Your minutes do not capture all the discussion points clearly. Do you think some training might help? You could approach HR to discuss this if necessary. (assertive)

Being assertive leads to more positive outcomes. It will certainly reduce the risk of damaging the relationship, which will likely lead to distrust and more conflict.

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise and Accurate?

A friend in the banking industry once asked me this question:

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Sometimes, we write minutes for meetings that are just for information. These minutes are used to demonstrate good governance to regulators and the authorities.

Therefore, these minutes are splattered with phrases like “The committee noted / The team discussed…” (Eg: The committee noted the steep rise in visitor arrivals for the year 2015.)

What do you think of this way of recording?

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Your minutes should demonstrate your efforts at promoting good governance. It is for this reason that your minutes have to be clear, precise and accurate.

Examples of Unclear Writing

Here are some common unclear ways of writing 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 2016.

(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.

(OR)

The committee leader, Peter Tan, informed the meeting 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 2016.

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.

Example

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 June 2016.

(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 2016.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 June 2016.

(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 5 & 6 April 2016.