Tag Archives: Email

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A lot has been said about not using an outdated writing style, or being too formal or informal, in business writing.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

 

 

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.

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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.

__________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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.

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:

Slide1

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.

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.

Relax – It’s Only Grammar

Must we get grammar right all the time?

Although getting it right all the time would be ideal, it can be tedious. But you do want to make an effort.

Some may think that grammar is not the most important issue to focus on, as long as the words in the message are correct or appropriate.

However, did you know that using the wrong grammar can change the meaning of your message entirely?

Luckily, not all grammar mistakes have such a great impact. In fact, some minor errors can be overlooked (and often are), because they do not affect the message much.

Other more serious errors, on the other hand, must be avoided, or a different message (from what you intended) could be conveyed.

So just how well have you mastered grammar?  Take this grammar competency check to find out.

________________________________________________________________________

Grammar Competency Check

Correct the mistakes in this message: 

Dear Mr Tan,

I am writing about your request on the re-formatting of your PC hard-disk with no extra charge (Warranty No: 767668).

We do understand that because you have purchased an extended warranty on 20 Dec 2014, you did not expect to pay other charges for the servicing of your two month old PC.

However, your service warranty only cover hardware problems.  As your PC failure was caused by a virus introduced by a programme install after your PC Purchase, the Warranty did not cover this software problem.

Although I would like to help you, it was difficult for me to justify.  I hope you understand our position on this.

As he has explained to you on 3 Jan 2015, we can reformat your hard-disk with a fee of S$50.00 (plus GST).  Please call him at Tel: 6234 5433 if you wished to make a service appointment.

With Best Regards,

Thomas Tan

Service Department Manager

__________________________________________________________________________

The corrections are underlined and in bold: 

Dear Mr Tan,

I am writing about your request for the re-formatting of your PC hard-disk at no extra charge (Warranty No: 767668).

We do understand that because you purchased an extended warranty on 20 Dec 2014, you do not expect to pay other charges for the servicing of your two-month-old PC.

However, your service warranty only covers hardware problems.  As your PC failure was caused by a virus introduced by a programme installed after your PC purchase, the warranty does not cover this software problem.

Although I would like to help you, it is difficult for me to justify a fee waiver.  I hope you understand our position on this.

As our service technician, Mr Albert Lim, explained to you on 3 Jan 2015, we can reformat your hard-disk at a fee of S$53.75 (inclusive of GST).  Please call him at Tel: 62345433 if you wish to make a service appointment.

With Best Regards,

Thomas Tan

Service Department Manager

__________________________________________________________________________

Although most of the grammar mistakes in this message are minor and do not affect understanding, they do make the writer look careless and even a bit incompetent.

For example, in the last paragraph, the sentence beginning with “As he has explained to you” has a serious grammar flaw.  The pronoun “he” is not clear in indicating who it refers to, and this affects the reader’s understanding.

Understand and master the use of grammar. You don’t need to fear speaking or writing in English; in fact, communication can become a joy when you can convey your message in exactly the way you want it.

Five Ways to Improve Your Business Writing

Participants of my business writing classes usually say that business writing is important because it provides a form of documentation.

However, many business messages I read do not provide documentation. In fact, sometimes they do not even communicate effectively.

Why do I say that?

Messages could contain long and tangled sentences with needlessly complex words. Grammar mistakes make the writing incoherent. The message could be displayed in a messy layout, and comes across as uninviting and tedious to read (imagine a long paragraph containing five key ideas).

To make reading even more challenging, the tone is sometimes cold and unfriendly.

Here are five ways to improve your business writing:

(1) Make sure there is logical flow in your writing – especially if 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 outdated words and phrases.

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

(3) Keep sentences to below 20 words.

Most people can follow the logical flow quite easily in a sentence that contains 20 words or fewer. Beyond that, quick understanding is a challenge.

(4) Take some care with the layout.

Use one paragraph for each idea you want to elaborate on, and leave a line-spacing between paragraphs. Use headings and lists where appropriate.

(5) Eliminate grammar mistakes in your writing.

Grammar mistakes could be minor (they don’t affect the understanding of your message), or they could be serious (they change the meaning in your message completely).

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

The way you write reflects on your professional image. Make sure you portray a positive image.

Business Writing – a Competency Check

Here’s a self-test to see how much you understand of business writing:

How would you improve or correct these sentences? (These were all extracted from actual business messages.)

1. Attached herewith is the report that you requested for at our recent meeting.

2. Please kindly revert to us asap.

3. A decision will be made by the manager, and you will be informed of the outcome.

4. The management reached a unanimous determination expediently, and subsequently they communicated the results to the committee members via email.

5. The programme officer, as well as her colleague Sheila, were invited to attend the conference in Thailand, however she felt that she was more qualified than her to attend the conference.

How did you do? See if you have identified these areas for improvement or correction:

1. Attached herewith is the report that you requested for at our recent meeting.

“Attached herewith” is outdated and boring to read. Use something friendlier like “here is” or “I’m attaching”.

The word “requested” does not need the word “for” as a complement.

In business writing, the word “recent” says nothing. Include the date of the meeting.

2. Please kindly revert to us asap.

“Please” is enough when asking for reader’s action. “Please kindly” is excessively meek.

The word “reverted” is wrongly used here. The correct word is “reply”.

Abbreviations like “asap” are not appropriate in business writing, especially if the message is formal.

3. A decision will be made by the manager, and you will be informed of the outcome.

The passive voice is used here, making the message cold and unfriendly.

To make it friendlier, revise it to “The manager will make a decision, and we will let you know the outcome by 25 February 2015.”

4. The management reached a unanimous determination expediently, and subsequently they communicated the results to the committee members via email.

There are simply too many long words in this paragraph.

To make it more readable, revise it to “The management reached a consensus quickly and emailed the results to the committee members.”

5. The programme officer, as well as her colleague Sheila, were invited to attend the conference in Thailand, however she felt that she was more qualified than her to attend the conference.

There are some grammar errors here. Also, the referencing of pronouns is unclear. Here are two possible ways of revising it (depending on the actual meaning of the message):

– The programme officer, together with her colleague Sheila, was invited to attend the conference in Thailand. However, she felt that Sheila was more qualified than she to attend the conference.

– The programme officer, together with her colleague Sheila, was invited to attend the conference in Thailand. However, she felt more qualified than Sheila to attend the conference.

Remember this – If your writing can be interpreted in more than one way, your message is ambiguous, subjective and unclear.