Free Kindle Ebook – 29 and 30 September only!


My Kindle ebook, The Busy Person’s Guide to Networking, is available free of charge from Amazon on 29 and 30 September 2012 (US Pacific Coast time). If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry. Amazon provide Kindle reader software for other platforms.  

I hope you enjoy the book and have a great weekend.




Business Writing Tip # 17 – It’s all French to Me, or Latin, or …

It’s all French to Me, or Latin, or …

But of course it should not be. It should be English.

Avoid foreign phrases and jargon if you can think of a simple English equivalent.

Apart from the very common and widely accepted ‘etc’ it is best to avoid using foreign words in your writing. You are writing to be understood. You may be familiar with déjà vu, comme il faut, inter alia, ad nauseam, et al., ipso facto and objet trouvé, but using these terms distances you from your reader. Readers of English may once have commonly understood these expressions, but it is unrealistic in an age of global Business English, to expect your readers to know what you’re talking about. And you don’t want to send them scurrying off for a dictionary every sentence, do you?

The same goes for jargon. You may diarise and prioritise; you may want your team to take a ‘helicopter view’ or ‘get their ducks in a row’; a hospital patient may be told to ambulate or mobilise. But what is wrong with ‘put this in your diary’ and ‘make this a priority’? Look at the overall situation, or make sure you are prepared? In hospital wouldn’t it be far simpler to ask patients to walk or move about?

Business Writing Tip # 16 – Cut it out

If you don’t need a word, remove it.

If it doesn’t add anything to the meaning that needs to be there, get rid of it. Be ruthless. Often when we write more words, rather than less, we obscure the meaning, or make it harder for our reader to understand what we really want to say. When you edit your work (you do edit before you send, don’t you?), check for these. Your readers will thank you for it.


The main offender in this category is the wonderful, often amusing, tautology – that is, when we say the same thing, over and over, again and again in different ways. Listen to people speaking and you’ll hear it all the time. It’s amazing how often we repeat ourselves. But it’s out of place in business writing.

  • You don’t want to repeat yourself, over and over, again and again.
  • You don’t want to return back.
  • Please rewrite the report again. (This could be okay. You might have already rewritten the report once.)

    If it’s not useful, cut it out.


Then of course there are the words that we use to intensify another word. But take care. ‘Very’ before ‘large’ or ‘small’ is fine. But ‘very’, ‘quite’, ‘exceptionally’ and the like have no place anywhere near ‘unique’. It is unique, or it is not – there are no degrees of uniqueness. So cut them out.

Also avoid having strings of modifiers. ‘The tiniest, smallest minority voted against it.’ A ‘small minority’ does the same work, more elegantly.


Next there is officialese. Which of the following is easiest to read and understand?

‘I refer you to the matter previously discussed in this forum and to the minutes of the meeting of 18 August 2012. In accordance with our previous agreement I would appreciate it if you could sign them and return them promptly to my office before the end of the month, 31 August, to ensure that we have a record of you having seen them. Thanking you in anticipation.’

‘Please take a look at the minutes of the 18 August 2012 meeting, sign them, and return them to me by the end of the month. Thank you.’

Unnecessary Auxiliaries

Unnecessary auxiliaries also give an air of officialdom. This example is from Joe Glaser’s Understanding Style.

‘Students would be well advised to keep a journal, for this can help them consolidate what they may have learned.’

‘Students, keep a journal to consolidate what you learn.’

Elongating usages

These are where we use a string of words when one word, or a shorter string, will perform the task perfectly well. Here are some examples:

Old Fashioned Modern Business English
The way in which he spoke to me The way he spoke to me
As a result of the fact that Because
To make an application To apply
It is recommended that training be instigated [We] should start training
In the most efficient manner Efficiently
At that point in time Then
At this point in time Now


Hi everyone,

I’ve just added a consolidated pdf of Business Writing Tips 11 – 15 on the resources page.

Or you can download them here.

If you would like to receive a weekly email from me (on Saturdays) with links to the previous week’s blog posts, please sign up for my email newsletter.



Business Writing Tip #15 – Write Short Sentences

Long sentences are not incorrect. The thing is, with long sentences the grammar and syntax often become complex, which may lead to confusion.

Long sentences have principal clauses and subordinate clauses; they often include a number of pronouns referring to different things and people; they need to be punctuated carefully to make them easily understandable to the reader; and often the focus of the sentence gets lost.

It is good to vary sentence length. To have some long. And some short. Sentence length variety makes writing more interesting to read. But you don’t want to make it hard for your reader. You don’t want them to have to struggle to work out what you mean.

In literature, readers may be more accepting of long sentences. In business, short, concise and clear are the keywords to remember when it comes to sentence length.


  • include only one idea per sentence – at the most, two
  • make sure the relationship between the subject and the verb is clear
  • use conjunctions and transitional phrases to make your work read smoothly


Business Writing Tip #14 – Avoid Being Too Formal

Unless you’re writing to a head of state you really don’t need to be incredibly formal with your writing.

Polite is good.

Do Check Spelling of Names and Correct Titles

People are sensitive about their names. It is a mark of respect to make the effort to spell it correctly whether it’s a letter, email or handwritten note. It may not win you any points, but getting it wrong will surely lose you some.

Business Letters

How to Address People

If you don’t know their name, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is an appropriate salutation. If you do know their name but haven’t met them or don’t know them well, use ‘Dear Ms Xx’ or ‘Dear Mr Yy’. If you are already on first name terms with them, if you don’t use their first name they may wonder why you are being so formal, and they may be offended.

How to Sign Off

When you use their name it is usual to sign of ‘Yours sincerely’. If you don’t know their name use ‘Yours faithfully’.

I once received a letter with the sign off, ‘I remain, Sir, your obedient servant’. Clearly this person had forgotten that I was a woman (it was addressed to Ms Dalice Trost) and was following a formula. This formula was frequently used by the armed forces. It really has no place in business life. It is excessively formal, and virtually meaningless.

Writing like this positions you firmly in the middle of last century.

Business Emails

Business emails are usually less formal than letters. That said, many of the complaints about correspondence from companies relate to excessive informality. If you are emailing someone who has emailed you and you are not sure about which tone to use, mirror the tone that they used. In other words, reply where possible in a similar way to the way that they addressed you. If they wrote ‘hello’, write ‘hello’ rather than ‘hi’.

Business Writing Tip #13 – Know who it’s for

Know who your audience is and write for it.

Knowing who you are writing for goes hand-in-hand with identifying your reasons for writing. Keep who and why in mind and you will be able to engage your reader and keep them reading.

This is a principle that holds true for any written communication, whether it’s a business letter, report, sales letter or advertisement. Think about what you know about the recipient – their position in the company, their age, their gender, their technical know-how. Then use the information when you write.

Knowing who you are writing for will help you:

  • Choose the appropriate vocabulary – you will know if they understand your business’s jargon or not. If not, don’t use it
  • To avoid words that put up barriers and use those that are clear and simple to understand – ‘make unclear’ not ‘obfuscate’, ‘the item I mentioned in the previous paragraph’ not the ‘aforementioned’
  •  Adopt the right tone – you can be familiar with your coworkers, but if you’re writing to a board member or a client, you may want to be more formal. ‘Good morning’ rather than ‘hi’

Business Writing Tip #12 – The right word

Make sure you use the right word.  In English there are words that sound the same but have different meanings.

Using the wrong word is a fairly common source of errors in Business English. There are many words that sound the same or very similar, but are spelt differently and have quite different meanings and usages.

Most of your readers will understand the meaning even if you use the wrong spelling. But incorrect spelling and word use looks unprofessional. Remember, every piece of written communication you send out gives an image of your brand.

Here is a short list of some words that are commonly mixed up:

  • Stationary and stationery
  • Compliment and complement
  • Loose and lose
  • Where and we’re
  • Hear, here
  • Their, there and they’re
  • Your and you’re
  • Its and it’s
  • Affect and effect
  • Write and right

If in doubt, check.


Business Writing Tip #11 – Include all the info

Make sure you have included all the information you need to convey

This tip takes us beyond answering the who, what, where, when, why and how. And beyond making sure your information is clear. It’s almost a combination of the two, but I think it deserves a tip of its own.

In this tip I’m referring to the importance of not assuming your audience knows what you are talking about. It’s about making things easy for them and saving them time.


The deadline for my request in yesterday’s email is now 15 September.

On the surface this looks fine – but how many emails did you get yesterday? Do you know exactly what they are referring to? It’s probably pretty easy to find out, but wouldn’t it be easier if the writer was more explicit?

The deadline for the quarterly sales report I asked you for yesterday has been brought forward from 30 September. I now need it by 15 September. clock in Prague

This second version is much clearer and you don’t have to go away to hunt up the reference. You know exactly what they’re talking about.

Now you don’t have to spend time checking back to find the original email.

Think about how precious people’s time is and avoid wasting it.