Business Writing Tip #95—Describing the Steps of a Procedure

Often at work we have to write instructions. It might be handover instructions for a new staff member, or perhaps things you need your colleagues to do while you’re enjoying a well-earned holiday. Either way, you need to write out the details of what you want people to do in a way that is clear and easy to follow. Here are some tips and useful vocabulary you can use.IMG_0388

Use active voice

Send an email to Jennifer Coen inviting her to speak at the annual meeting.

Organise board meeting for March 2014.

Check my voicemail each day.

When writing instructions, use sequence words when it’s important for things to be done in order

First, agree on a date for the March 2014 meeting with the boss.

Next, check availability of board room and book board room.

Then contact board members for agenda items.

Or you can use numbering

  1. Agree on a date for the March 2014 meeting with the boss.
  2. Check availability of board room and book board room.
  3. Contact board members for agenda items.

Useful Vocabulary for Writing a Narrative

For those things that are first

Firstly …

The first step is …

First of all …

The first stage is …

To begin with …

… begins with …

Initially …

… commences with …

If something has to happen before something else

Beforehand …

Before this …

Previously …

Prior to this …

Earlier …

And if things need to happen at the same time

At the same time …

During …

Simultaneously …

When this happens …

While …

For those things that come next

Secondly, Thirdly etc., …

After this …

Next …

The next step is …

Then …

In the next stage …

Subsequently …

In the following stage …

Later …

Following this …

As soon as _______ has finished its work …

Then, for the things that come right at the end

Eventually …

… until …

Lastly …

… finishes with …

Finally …

… concludes with …

In the last stage …

The last step is …

It’s nearly 2014 – Free gifts – business ebooks


It’s nearly New Year and to celebrate I’m giving away my Kindle ebooks on 31 December 2013 and 1 January 2014. They will all be FREE. You don’t need a Kindle to read them. Kindle readers are available for many different platforms – so make sure you have one, then download my books.

Here’s the link to If you’re Kindle is registered in a country other than the US, search Kindle Dalice Trost and they should all show up. Remember that the dates are based on dates in the US, so if you’re somewhere else, keep checking.


Business Writing Tip #94—Let’s Talk About Quite and Rather

These two little words can cause problems for non-native English speakers, so I thought it was time to take a look at how we usually use them. ‘Quite’ and ‘rather’ are degree modifiers. We use them to express the degree to which a certain quality is present.


‘Quite’ is more than ‘a little’ but less than ‘very’.

  • It’s quite important that we reach a decision soon, or we won’t have time to implement it before the next review. (It’s not essential that we reach a decision … but it would be good.)

We can also use ‘quite’ with some verbs.

  • I quite like the new campaign that the marketing department has come up with.

It sometimes means ‘completely’ when it’s used with some adjectives—for example, in the expressions:Tip 94 graphic

  • Quite sure
  • Quite right
  • Quite true
  • Quite clear
  • Quite certain
  • Quite wrong
  • Quite safe
  • Quite obvious
  • Quite unnecessary
  • Quite impossible

And ‘not quite’ is ‘not completely’.

  • They haven’t quite finished the new building yet so we won’t move offices until next month.


‘Rather’ is a word that is similar to ‘quite’ but which we use mainly with negative verbs and ideas.

  • It will be rather difficult to get everyone’s agreement on this new proposal because it will mean a lot of extra work for people and they are already very busy.

When we use it with positive words it means ‘surprisingly’ or ‘unusually’.

  • These proposals from the sales department are rather interesting.

Both ‘quite’ and ‘rather’ can be used before nouns.

  • The offices are in quite an old building and we need to consider relocating.
  • It’s a rather expensive proposition.

‘Rather’ is quite flexible and can go before or after ‘a’ or ‘an’.

  • A rather expensive proposition
  • Rather an expensive proposition


Business Writing Tip #93—Do Collective Nouns Take Singular or Plural Verbs?

This is a bit of a vexed question. Some people insist that collective nouns should always take a singular verb; others are adamant that they should take plural verbs.

Whatever you decide to do after reading this post, it’s up to you. But one thing I would suggest—if you’re writing on behalf of an organisation, check their style guide. If their style guide doesn’t address the issue, come up with a decision and ask them to document it in their style guide. (If they don’t have a style guide, recommend they create one.)

What is a collective noun?

Before we go any further, what is a collective noun? Collective nouns, according to Mark Tredinnick in The Little Green Grammar Book are nouns which, ‘though singular themselves, refer to notional or real gatherings of people, other animals, plants, works or ideas’. Some examples are:

A Mob of Roos

A Mob of Roos

  • Team
  • Board
  • Government
  • Department
  • Family
  • Army
  • Repertoire
  • Faculty
  • School

And of course there are many others.

What the experts say

Now Mark Tredinnick is a firm believer in collective nouns taking singular verbs. But there are other views on this. Michael Swan, in Practical English Usage suggests that either singular or plural can be used, although if we are using singular determiners (a/an, each, every, this, that) it’s best to use a singular verb.

Are you confused yet?

To add to the confusion, the BBC has different policies on singular or plural verbs with collective nouns, depending on which department is using it.

BBC Radio News says they are plural (The Government have introduced a bill…), and BBC Online likes them to be singular (The Government as introduced a bill…). BBC Television News doesn’t have a policy! They use whichever they think sounds best ‘in the context’.

My view, for what it’s worth

To throw in my two cents worth, I say use whichever version you like. But be consistent.

If you are always going to use singular verbs, always use them. If plural, always plural. And if you are going to mix them up like BBC TV News, be consistent within each sentence. So to quote their example of what NOT to do:

The jury was out for three hours, before they reached their verdict.

It should, of course, be:

The jury was out for three hours, before it reached its verdict.


Be consistent and put it in the style guide.

Happy writing,



Business Writing Tip #92—More About Uncountable and Countable Nouns

Last time we looked at using ‘much’ with uncountable nouns and ‘many’ with countable nouns.  There are some more words which can be used only with one of the types of nouns. Here’s a table to help you, with some examples.

little, less, leastnoyeslittle energy
few, feweryesnofew people
muchnoyesmuch money
many, severalyesnoseveral surprises

In spoken English you may hear people use “less” with countable nouns, and you’ll probably see it in the supermarket checkout queue (5 items or less). This is not standard English and you should definitely avoid it in writing.