Tag Archives: email writing

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!

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?

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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.

Fun with Adjectives

In grammar, understanding the parts of speech helps you to write grammatically sound sentences.

The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.

Let’s have a little fun with adjectives today.

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. (Nouns are words that name things.)

We all know that adjectives come in three degrees – positive, comparative, and superlative.

Here are some examples:

Adjective Positive Degree Comparative Degree Superlative Degree
cold cold colder coldest
effective effective more effective most effective
good good better best

 

The (underlined) adjectives in these sentences are wrongly used. How would you correct them?

1.      Terry is the best of the two applicants.
2.      We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.
3.      Some systems don’t work as good as others.
4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

 

Did you get the correct answers?

Correct Adjective

1.    Terry is the best of the two applicants.

better

2.    We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.

fewer

3.    Some systems don’t work as good as others.

well

4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

fastest

 

Getting the correct answer is the easier part. More importantly, do you know why the original sentences are wrong?

Correct Adjective

1.    Terry is the best of the two applicants.

better

Explanation:

“Best” is the superlative degree of the adjective “good”, and it is used for comparing more than two elements.

Here, there are only two applicants, so the comparative degree (better) should be used.

2.    We had less complaints before we implemented the new system.

fewer

Explanation:

“Less” is used for uncountable nouns.

The noun “system” is countable, and “fewer” is the correct adjective.

3.    Some systems don’t work as good as others.

well

Explanation:

In this sentence, “good” describes the word “work”.

However, “work” is not a noun. It is a verb, and an adverb (well) is needed to describe it.

4.    This is the most fastest machine among the four models presented.

fastest

Explanation:

“Fastest” is the superlative degree of the word “fast”, and it does not need the word “most” to indicate this.

Things You Must Know as a Secretary or Admin Support Professional (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1 of this 3-part series for secretaries, PAs and admin professionals, we talked about the importance of knowing your role and being savvy about workplace behaviours.

In this second part, we will discuss communication at the workplace.

Written Communication

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

The key purpose is to communicate, so make sure your message is clear and accurate.

You don’t always need to document the communication, but when you do, make sure that all the necessary details are included – even details that your reader already knows.

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.

Be savvy about the formats required for different business documents – letters, email, reports, minutes, etc.

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. Therefore, make an effort to communicate effectively.

In part 3, we will talk about how you should manage interpersonal relations at the workplace.

Using Lists in Your Writing

A participant referred to one of our programme brochures and asked me this question:

I would like to clarify the use of the full-stop as reflected in your brochure.

Under the Workshop Objectives section, each point ends with a full-stop.

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Workshop Objectives

(1)  Learn a planning tool to generate and organise your ideas logically before writing.
(2)  Write to build and maintain a positive relationship with the reader.
(3)  Structure sentences correctly, concisely and clearly.
(4)  Present your message in the most effective and reader-friendly format.
(5)  Identify and avoid common grammar mistakes in business writing.

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However, in the same brochure, under the Workshop Highlights section, there is no full-stop after each point.

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Workshop Highlights

Planning and Organising Your Points Logically
–  The basic requirements of business writing
–  Deciding on essential points to include
–  Using the most logical flow for your points
–  Telling the reader what to do or expect

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Why is that so? Is it due to the use of a numbered list versus a bulleted list?

Here is my answer:

This concerns the use of lists in our writing, and there are guidelines for using punctuation marks in lists.

For the Workshop Objectives section, each line is expressed as a full sentence; therefore, each sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full-stop.

For the Workshop Highlights section, each point is expressed as a phrase; therefore, there is no full-stop at the end of each phrase.

(We felt that phrases work better as the programme highlights. In fact, the capital letter in the first word is not strictly necessary.)

We do not decide whether to use full-stops or not based on whether the list is numbered or bulleted. It depends on whether each line is expressed as a full sentence or a phrase.