Business Writing Tip #202—Take Care When Using Acronyms

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a phrase, or a name. Think ASAP (as soon as possible), UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Some we use every day, and others are less common.

When you are writing for business, remember that you want to make it easy for your reader to understand your message.acronym-wordcloud

Even though you might be familiar with an acronym and use it regularly, your reader may have to stop and think about it, or even look it up. This is especially true in a global business environment where non-native English speakers may not have encountered specific acronyms before.

Acronyms can be useful. They provide a shorthand to terms we use regularly, and many are embedded in the jargon of a particular field of study or organisation.

Just remember to use them with care, especially in business writing.

Here are some tips:

  • The first time you use a particular acronym, provide the term in full before the acronym. For example, close of business (COB), business-to-business (B2B)
  • Avoid starting a sentence with an acronym
  • Omit the word ‘the’ when the acronym is pronounced as a word (UNICEF, not the UNICEF)

Acronyms can be a convenient shortcut in informal business correspondence (emails and texts), once you are certain the person you are corresponding with knows the acronyms you are using. You may find yourself writing emails full of CRM, CTA, CPC, IMO, and the like. Just always remember, you want your reader to be able to understand your communication quickly, without spending time looking up acronyms on line.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #201—Four Quick Fixes to Make Your Business Documents Clearer

fix-to-make-clearThe English language has a rich vocabulary and we can use it to express anything we want to express. Business English, though, needs to be clear, and easy to read. You don’t want your readers to be running off to check the dictionary all the time, or to struggle working out the meaning of complex sentence structures.

I have written previous tips about using Plain English, and I always recommend it for business writing.

There are, however, other ways that you can help your reader understand what you are saying.

Fix 1 – Use Images

You can use graphs and charts to describe trends. Pictures can highlight aspects of your text, or illustrate points.

  • Images are particularly useful in technical documents. A diagram of a component will usually be much easier to understand than a written description.
  • Or perhaps you are writing a report comparing different conference venues. To make it easy to compare different venues you can include floor plans which show information such as:
    • room size,
    • shape,
    • possible seating arrangements.

Fix 2 – Use Tables

Tables can organise information and make it easy for readers to find specific details. For example, a table is a practical way to present a budget, making debits and credits clear. You can use tables to present sales information, client details (names, addresses, contact numbers, special requirements, etc). Columns can be highlighted to indicate what information is most important, and your reader can then choose whether to delve deeper in the data. You can also use tables to model what-if scenarios and the like.

Fix 3 – Use Lists

You can see from the paragraphs above, the lists in Fix 1 are easier to read than the full block of text in Fix 2. Lists can show a hierarchy of information. They also add white space which helps a reader scan the text quickly and find the information that is most relevant to them.

Fix 4 – Use Examples

If you look at the three fixes above, you will see that I have given the general fix (for example, tables can organise information), and then I’ve made it clear what I mean by giving examples. People often find it easier to understand concrete examples, rather than abstract concepts.


If you’re wondering how best to make your information clear, always look beyond using words alone. Think of using images and your layout to help make things clear. Remember that in most cases your readers won’t know as much as you do about the topic and you want them to understand your messages easily.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #200—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (3)

Business Writing Tip #200—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (3)

My final post in this series of action verbs to use in job applications follows on from the  last two posts. In past posts I covered communication, management, finance, research, training, and technical skills. In this post we’ll look at words you can use to describe creative, helping and administrative skills.Dreamjob sign

Creative Skills

  • conceptualise
  • create
  • design
  • develop
  • found
  • illustrate
  • shape
  • revitalise
  • introduce
  • plan
  • integrate
  • fashion
  • institute
  • perform
  • originate
  • innovate
  • direct
  • establish

Helping Skills

  • assist
  • assess
  • diagnose
  • clarify
  • refer
  • rehabilitate
  • expedite
  • coach
  • facilitate
  • counsel
  • diagnose
  • guide
  • educate

Administrative Skills

  • approve
  • dispatch
  • operate
  • retrieve
  • arrange
  • execute
  • screen
  • catalogue
  • prepare
  • generate
  • implement
  • classify
  • collect
  • inspect
  • process
  • tabulate
  • purchase
  • inspect
  • monitor
  • record
  • validate
  • specify
  • generate


Business Writing Tip #199—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (2)

As promised in my last post, here are some more useful action verbs for job applications. In this post I’m covering research, training and technical skills.job app image

Research Skills

  • clarify
  • critique
  • diagnose
  • extract
  • identify
  • inspect
  • interpret
  • review
  • summarise
  • survey

Training Skills

  • adapt
  • advise
  • clarify
  • coach
  • communicate
  • coordinate
  • develop
  • enable
  • encourage
  • evaluate
  • explain
  • facilitate
  • guide
  • inform
  • instruct
  • persuade

Technical skills

  • assemble
  • build
  • calculate
  • compute
  • design
  • devise
  • engineer
  • fabricate
  • maintain
  • operate
  • overhaul
  • program
  • repair
  • solve
  • train
  • upgrade

Business Writing Tip #198—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (Part 1)

Sometimes it can be tough to think of verbs to use in your CV, cover letter or in a statement addressing selection criteria for a job. To help you out, I’ve put together a list to help you describe some of the things you do at work. These words are also useful if you are writing position documentation (job descriptions, position profiles, duty statements, selection criteria and the like).CV image

In this post I’ve included verbs for communication, management and finance. I will cover some other categories in the next post.

Communication Skills

  • arbitrate
  • arrange
  • author
  • correspond
  • direct
  • draft
  • edit
  • influence
  • interpret
  • lecture
  • mediate
  • moderate
  • negotiate
  • persuade
  • publicise
  • reconcile
  • translate
  • write

Management Skills

  • administer
  • analyse
  • assign
  • chair
  • conduct
  • consolidate
  • contract
  • coordinate
  • delegate
  • develop
  • direct
  • evaluate
  • execute
  • improve
  • increase
  • organise
  • oversee
  • plan
  • prioritise
  • produce
  • recommend
  • review
  • schedule
  • strengthen
  • supervise

Financial Skills

  • administer
  • allocate
  • analyse
  • appraise
  • audit
  • balance
  • budget
  • calculate
  • compute
  • develop
  • forecast
  • manage
  • plan
  • project
  • research





Business Writing Tip #197—Tips for Writing Job Application Cover Letters

When you’re applying for a job, you’ll usually send in a CV (or resumé) and a covering letter. In this post we’ll look at some things to consider when you’re preparing your cover letter.Dreamjob sign

Tailor it to the Individual/Company

Whenever possible, address the individual you are writing to by name. You might need to phone the company and ask for the recruitment manager’s name. Simply writing “Dear Sir or Madam”, or something similar, is a lazy approach that suggests that you weren’t interested enough to find out who you are writing to. If, in spite of all your efforts, you can’t find the name, the best approach is probably to write “Dear Hiring Manager”.

Also, make sure that whatever you write in your cover letter relates to the job in question. Avoid using a one-size-fits-all letter.

Explain your reason for writing

Remember to include your purpose. If you are writing in response to an advertised vacancy, include the details of when and where you saw the job advertised. If you are writing to find out if there is a chance of a job, be clear and specific about the type of work you are looking for.

Explain why you are suitable for the job

Make brief statements about your relevant skills and experience, highlight your strengths, and expand on your CV, rather than merely repeat information. Mention specific aspects of your strengths, including significant details.

Explain why you are interested in working for that company

Show that you know something about the company and its reputation, and clearly indicate how you will add value. Tell them what you can do for them (not what the company can do for you). Highlight experience that supports your claim.

Tell the Hiring Manager how they can contact you

Include a brief paragraph referring to a possible follow-up and letting the company know the best way to contact you.

Sign off

If you have addressed the letter to a name (e.g. Dear Ms Whyte), end the letter with “Yours sincerely”. If you started with Dear Madam/Sir, or Dear Hiring Manager, then end with either “Yours faithfully” or “Yours truly”.


Business Writing Tip #196 – Common Causes of Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

In the last tip we looked at-subject-verb agreement, and the verb forms you need to use.

But what kinds of errors do people make when it comes to subject-verb agreement? There are four common errors. It is easy to get confused when:

  1. The sentence contains a compound subject

Compound Subjects

When two or more nouns and the coordinating conjunctions and, or and nor form the subject of a sentence, it is referred to as a compound subject. You might have two singular subjects, two plural subjects, or one singular and one plural subject.

The verb form depends on the conjunction.

With And

When you use and, use a plural verb form.

For example:

  • Mohammed and Christine are finalising the report.
  • My phone skills and written communication are excellent.

Hint: If you can use they in place of the compound subject, use the third person plural verb form.

With Or or Nor

If you use or or nor the verb agrees with the subject nearest to the verb.

Two singular subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor Christine has time to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or Christine is finalising the report.

Two plural subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor the supervisors want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or the supervisors are finalising the report.

Plural and singular subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.

Singular and plural subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  1. The subject of the sentence is separate from the verb

The sentence might include a phrase or clause that separates the subject and the verb. It might be a prepositional phrase which adds more information, or a dependent clause. The subject and verb still need to agree.

  • The team members with the highest sales figures get the bonuses.
  • The photocopier in the room next to the kitchen is the best one for double-sided, colour copying.
  • The new printer that I bought has the ability to print more quickly than our old printer, and it is cheaper to run.
  • The sales people who build the strongest relationships with their clients are the most successful.
  1. The subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun (e.g. anyone, everything)

Most often an indefinite pronoun is the subject of a sentence it will take the singular verb form. But there are exceptions. You need to think about the noun that the pronoun would refer to, and whether that is singular or plural.

Indefinite Pronouns That Always Take a Singular Verb Indefinite Pronouns That Can Take a Singular or a Plural Verb
Anybody All
Anyone Any
Anything None
Each Some
No one


  1. The subject of the sentence is a collective noun (e.g. team)

Collective nouns identify more than one person, or thing, and considers them as a singular unit. Therefore you need to use a singular verb.

  • The team is going on a retreat to develop its business plan for the next 12 months.
  1. The subject appears after the verb

This is not so common in written Business English, but you may see it.

For example:

  • There are fifty widgets in the storeroom.
  • Here is the report.

If you have trouble with this in sentences that begin with “There are” or “Here is”, turn the sentence around.

  • Fifty widgets are in the storeroom.
  • The report is here.

Happy writing!

Business Writing Tip #195—Subject-Verb Agreement

subject-verb agreementOne thing most people know about English is that the verbs need to agree with the subjects. Agreement is the grammatical match between words and phrases.

One of the main forms of agreement is subject-verb agreement and making sure your subjects and verbs agree will help you create a strong, professional impression with your business writing.

Subjects can be either singular or plural, and the verbs must agree in number with the subject.

That is, a singular subject goes together with a singular verb form, and a plural subject belongs with a plural verb form.

Regular Verbs

The pattern for regular verbs is predictable. The third person singular (he, she, it) adds an ‘s’ to the verb. Other forms do not end in ‘s’.

  Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I decide. We decide.
Second Person You decide. You decide.
Third Person He/She/It decides. They decide.


When it comes to spelling there is one thing you need to remember.

If the verb ends in –sh, -z, -ch or –s you need to add –es, rather than just –s.

For example:

  • I finish, she finishes.
  • You watch, he watches.
  • I fix the photocopier. The technician fixes the photocopier.

Irregular Verbs

English has many irregular verbs. Some of the most common are be, have and do.


Be Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I am. We are.
Second Person You are. You are.
Third Person He/She/It is. They are.


Have Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I have. We have.
Second Person You have. You have.
Third Person He/She/It has. They have.


Do Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I do. We do.
Second Person You do. You do.
Third Person He/She/It does. They do.

In the next post we will look at some of the common reasons errors occur.

Happy writing.


Business Writing Tip #194 – The Semi-colon

Many of you may know the semi-colon as the symbol you use when you want to create a winking emoji, like this ;). But the semi-colon serves other purposes.wink emoji

It looks like a comma topped with a full stop. It creates a break, a separation, between ideas, that is stronger than a comma, but less than a full stop (or period, if you are using American English).

Two of the most common uses of the semi-colon are separating items in lists, and joining two sentences.

1. Separating items in lists, when some items in the list contain commas

Normally when we list items in a sentence we separate them with commas.

David, Jan and Christina will attend the presentation.

(Sometimes you will see David, Jan, and Christina will attend the presentation. This is not wrong. It’s just a usage variation.)

But what if we have:

  • David, Jan and Christina from ABC company
  • Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company
  • Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company

And they’re all attending the presentation. We already have commas separating items, but we need to make sure we help our readers by making sure the sentence is clear. Look at:

David, Jan and Christina from ABC company, Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company, and Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company will attend the presentation.

This sentence is ambiguous. We know that Jan and Christina are from ABC company, and Michael and James from PQR, but do we know which company David is from, or Ameer, or Rosa? We can probably make a good guess, but by using semi-colons we help our readers and they do not have to guess.

David, Jan and Christina from ABC company; Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company; and Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company, will attend the presentation.

This sentence groups the people, making it clear which company they are from.

Another example:

The department purchased a colour printer; three PC and two Apple laptops; six new, adjustable desks, and six blue, ergonomic office chairs.

It’s easy to see how many items are in the list, and which words go together.

2. Joining two sentences

Have you heard of an independent clause? It is a group of words that can stand on its own. It is, in fact, a sentence. And sentences end with full stops. But sometimes, we might want to suggest a strong link between two independent clauses, or to put it another way, two sentences.

Example (a)

The purchasing manager placed an additional order today. She ordered new office furniture. Ergonomic chairs and adjustable-height desks were on sale.

This group of sentences is perfectly fine.

Example (b)

But you could write:

The purchasing manager placed an additional order today. She ordered new office furniture; ergonomic chairs and adjustable-height desks were on sale.

This second version suggests that the reason she ordered the furniture today is because these items were on sale.

The other reason we use semi-colons is for style. In example (a), we have three short sentences. Writing a string of short sentences can make the writing feel abrupt, or choppy. Mixing up sentence lengths usually makes writing more interesting to read.

So there you have it. Some information on semi-colons and how to use them. Dust them off and give them a try.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #193 – Pivot Words

A good writer will give their reader signs to follow; markers to help the reader follow the path through the writing, connecting the ideas. Many of these words are prepositions and conjunctions.Signpost words

I have taken the following information, including the excellent explanations, from the Dartmouth College website.

1.     Additive wordsAlso
These say, "Here's more of the same coming up. It's just as important as what we have already said."Further
in addition
2.     Equivalent wordsas well as
They say, "It does what I have just said, but it does this too."at the same time
equally important
3.     Amplification wordsfor example (e.g.)
The author is saying, "I want to be sure that you understand my idea; so here's a specific instance."specifically
for instance
such as
4.     Alternative wordseither/or
These point out, "Sometimes there is a choice; other times there isn't."other than
5.     Repetitive wordsagain
They say, "I said it once, but I'm going to say it again in case you missed it the first time."in other words
to repeat
that is (i.e.)
6.     Contrast and change wordsBut
"So far I've given you only one side of the story; now let's take a look at the other side."on the contrary
on the other hand
instead of
rather than
even though
in spite of
7.     Cause and effect wordsaccordingly
"All this has happened; now I'll tell you why."since
for this reason
8.     Qualifying wordsIf
These say, "Here is what we can expect. These are the conditions we are working under."Although
9.     Concession wordsAccepting the data
They say, "Okay! We agree on this much."Granted that
Of course
10. Emphasising words Above all
They say, "Wake up and take notice!"More important
11. Order Words Finally
The author is saying, "You keep your mind on reading: I'll keep the numbers straight."Second
12. Time words Afterwards
"Let's keep the record straight on who said what and especially when."Meanwhile
13. Summarising wordsfor these reasons
These say, "We've said many things so far. Let's stop here and pull them together."in brief
in conclusion
to sum up