Tag Archives: Communicating in English

Don’t Be a Mystery – Use Grammar Correctly

 

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

Outcome 1: The mistake is small and does not affect understanding.

Example

Wrong: Last week, the manager meet the client.

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

Correct: Last week, the manager met the client.

This can be considered a small mistake, as the words “Last week” make it clear that the event is now over.

However, it makes the writer look careless and irresponsible.

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

Example

Wrong: The technician interview inform Peter that the part not in stock.

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

Here are some possible interpretations of this sentence:

  • The technician interviewed informed Peter that the part had not been in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed Peter that the part was not in stock.
  • The technician interviewed informed Peter that the part would not be in stock.
  • The interview of the technician confirmed for Peter 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 extracted from a report.)

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

Don’t be a mystery to your reader!

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.

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.)

Example
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.

Example
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!

Quick Tips for Good Business Writing

Slide1

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.

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

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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

 

 

Let’s Get Possessive (A Quick Grammar Lesson)

We know that nouns are naming words. They are used to name people, things, places, etc.

When we want to show possession (or form the possessive), we add apostrophe + s to the noun.

Examples
Noun Possessive Noun
the manager the manager’s office
Sheila Sheila’s plan
the customers the customers’ feedback

Recently, someone showed me a sentence with possessive nouns and asked me a question.

Sentence

Attached is Peter and Sally’s proposal for your review.

Question

Should the verb used be “is” or “are”?

Answer

It depends on what you want to say.

If you mean that Peter and Sally prepared this proposal together, it should be:

  • Attached is Peter and Sally’s proposal for your review.

(There is just one proposal; therefore, the correct verb should be “is”.)

If they prepared separate proposals, it should be:

  • Attached are Peter’s and Sally’s proposals for your review.

(There are two proposals; therefore, the correct verb should be “are”.)

As you can see, there is no mystery to it. You just need to be sure about what you want to convey, and use the possessive nouns accordingly.

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Use Grammar with Confidence (16 & 17 August 2016)

 

 

 

 

Spot the Grammar Mistake

Slide1

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.

 

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.

Slide1

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.

Slide1

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.

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise and Accurate?

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

____________________________________________________________________

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?

___________________________________________________________________

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.