Business Writing Tip #116—Direct and Indirect Writing Styles

There are times when we are comfortable asking for something in a direct style, and times when we want to soften our requests or comments. We use indirect language more when we want to be formal, or polite; perhaps when we don’t know someone very well. Or sometimes we use it to deliver bad news!more flowers in Letna 

What are the differences? Here are some suggestions (adapted from Paul Emmerson’s Email English).

Language functionDirectIndirect
RequestsCan you ...?Could you …?
Please could you …I was wondering if you could …
Could you possibly …?
Asking for permissionCan I …?Is it all right if I …?
Could I …? I wonder if I could …?
Offering helpCan I …?Would you like me to …?
Shall I …? Do you need any help with …?
Making a suggestionWhat about … (+ -ing)?Why don't we …?
Shall we …?Perhaps we should …?
Softening commentsThere is a problem.I'm afraid there is a small problem.
It seems there is a slight problem.
That will be very expensive.That might be quite expensive.
Won't that be a bit expensive?
That won't be cheap, will it?
We can't do that.I'm not sure we can do that.
That gives us very little time.Actually, that doesn't give us much time.
It will be better to ask [person's name].Wouldn't it be better to ask [person's name]?
I disagree.I can see what you're saying, but …
Don't you think that …?
To be honest, I think it might be better to …
I think there may be an issue here.

Administrative Professionals Week – Ebook Giveaway

Sorry, this promotion is now over. There will be another one, so watch this space!

It’s Administrative Professionals Week so I’d like to wish all admin professionals, wherever they are, a fabulous week.

To help you celebrate, three of my Kindle ebooks will be available FREE from 22 – 24 April. Click on the book covers to link to

networking ebook cover

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Business Writing Tip #115—Arranging Meetings by Email

Have you ever received an email asking you to attend a meeting, but it didn’t provide all the information? It’s frustrating, and involves extra work for everyone as you check and ask for the missing data.libensky chateau 2

Remember to always include:

  • Time and date
  • Location/venue
  • What the meeting is about, and preferably an agenda
  • What they should do if they can’t attend
  • And remember to ask for anything you need your email recipient to do

When it comes to emails we again have formal and informal language we use for different functions. Here are some sentences to help you out.

Language functionFormalInformal
InvitationWe would be very pleased if you could come to ...I’m writing to invite you to ...
I would like to invite you to ...Would you like to come to ...?
I would like to invite you to attend our ...Please let me know if you can make it.
Please let me know if you will be able to attend.
PreparationBefore the meeting, it would be useful if you could prepare ...Please prepare ... before the meeting.
It would be helpful if you could bring ...Please bring ... to the meeting.
Accepting the invitationThank you for your kind invitation.Thanks a lot for the invitation.
The date that you suggested is fine.The date’s fine with me.
I would be delighted to attend the ... meeting. I am sure it will be very useful.I’d love to come to the meeting. It sounds like a great idea.
Refusing to attendThank you for your kind invitation. Unfortunately, I have another appointment on that day. Thanks a lot for your kind invitation.
Please accept my apologies.Unfortunately, I have something else scheduled on that day.
I hope we will have an opportunity to meet on another occasion soon. I am sure that the meeting will be a great success.I hope we can meet up soon.
Good luck with the meeting.

(If you’re interested, today’s photo is of Libensky Chateau in Prague. The venue for your next meeting perhaps?)

Business Writing Tip #114—Checking Understanding in Emails

In previous posts I’ve emphasised how important it is for us to be clear in our emails. The Email formatthing is we can’t always guarantee that the other person is going to be clear too. There are often times when we need to check back with them to make sure we have understood them correctly. And there may be times when people ask us for clarification and we need to explain what we meant. This post includes some sentences to help you.

When there may have been a technical problemDid you get my last email sent on [date]?
Sorry, you forgot to attach the file. Can you send it again please?
I got your email, but I can’t open the attachment.
Did you mean to send this? I don’t want to open it in case it has a virus.
When you want to check what the other person meantI’m not sure what you mean by ...? Could you please clarify/explain?
Which ... do you mean?
I don’t understand this point. Could you explain it in a little more detail please?
Are you sure about this point?
When someone has asked you to clarify somethingSorry, what I meant to write was ..., not ...
I thought ..., but I may be wrong.
I’ll check and get back to you.
I have included the correct information below. Please make the necessary changes to your records (more formally: Please amend your records accordingly.)
Sorry, forget my last email. You’re right.
Phrases to close a clarification emailI hope this makes it clear.
I hope this clarifies the situation.
Get back to me if there’s anything else.
Contact me if you need more information.

Business Writing Tip#113 —Participating in Online Forums

Do you participate in any online forums? If you’re doing any online study, it’s likely that you do. Or you may participate in an online networking group.

Just as there are ‘rules’ for emailing, there are ‘rules’ for posting on these forums.forums

I’ve just enrolled in yet another MOOC, and they thoughtfully provided a set of rules that I felt it was worth sharing. The authors have very kindly allowed for people to distribute it freely …

Discussion Forum Rules of Netiquette

Before you post, check these ten golden rules:

  1. Remember that internet access is expensive in some parts of the world, and many people pay per minute. To avoid sending unnecessary posts, read others’ messages first.
  2. Think before you write. Is your message relevant and appropriate? Is it going to injure your colleagues’ feelings? Truth and politeness are both valued, but politeness comes first.
  3. Think after you write. Re-read your message. Is it clear, concise, relevant, and polite? Off-topic comments will not be read by your intended audience. (Start a new thread or a new message instead.) Impolite messages don’t belong in a professional forum. Take a moment to change your mind and revise before your message is sent.
  4. Write for a professional audience. Many people will not take you seriously if you write messages without capitalization or punctuation as in a private text to a pal (i dont like that or wat u want?). Use abbreviations only if you are sure everyone will understand them (imho or btw, for example, may not be understood by those who do not text).
  5. Break your writing into paragraphs. “White space” separates your ideas, makes it easier to quote selectively, and encourages colleagues to read your message thoughtfully.
  6. If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Unless your colleagues are very patient, emails that just say “me too”, “me neither”, “I agree” or (worse) “I don’t know anything about this subject, but …” are likely to irritate others.
  7. Give your message a clear subject title. Try to stick to one main idea per message. Start a new message or thread instead of changing the topic to a completely new idea in an existing thread.
  8. Do not quote lengthy messages or entire digests in your reply. It increases the time and cost online for others. Similarly, a two line “signature” should suffice—especially if you have put up your Profile, as everyone should [if you are participating regularly in a forum]. Do make sure you include your name at the end.
  9. Don’t use fancy graphics and colours and don’t assume that links are clickable. But if you mention a site or article, do include appropriate references so that everyone can find it.
  10. Break one of these rules rather than go against your COMMON SENSE—the best guide to (n)etiquette ever discovered.

This guide was prepared by Nigel Caplan for the Electronic Village Online 2003 (revised and edited by Elizabeth Hanson-Smith), and may be freely distributed, providing this acknowledgement is included: Nigel Caplan, University of Pennsylvania English Language Programs, Dr. Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, University of Oregon, American English Institute

Meeting Minutes – book promotion

Next week I’m running  a promotion on The Minute Manual

On April 14 you can get it for just 99 cents (76% discount). It’s at this price for 24 hours. It then goes up to $1.99 (51% off) for 24 hours, then $2.99 (26% off) for 24 hours, and on 17 April it’s back to its regular list price of $3.99. The dates are based on Amazon dates, so make sure you check them if you’re in a different time zone.

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Business Writing Tip #112—Too Many Words?

Wordiness seems to be a problem that many of my blog readers recognise. One cause of wordiness is overuse of prepositional phrases.

Prepositional phrases (phrases that begin with words like “for”, “at”, “in”, “over” and “through”) often add unnecessary words to sentences and make them
unclear.prepositional phrase wordle

The easiest way to demonstrate this is to show you some prepositional phrases and some sentences which include prepositional phrases, and the revised

Before After
Developments in technology Technological developments
Increase in the level of funding Funding increase
Processes for the management of the budget Budget management processes
Organisation of the meeting Meeting organisation
The reason for the failure of the project for the HR department was the inability of the team in finding suitable resources without incurring additional expenses. The HR department’s project failed because the team couldn’t access the resources without spending more money.
The most recent developments in the finance sector will be included in the results of the report of the state of play in the country at this time. The report of the current situation in Australia will include information about recent finance sector developments.

Now sometimes the revised version is only a couple of words shorter, but when you read the revised sentences you will see that they are easier to understand.

It is okay to use a couple of prepositional phrases, but when a writer uses too many they can become a problem. If you find yourself using a number of them in a sentence, think hard about what the message is that you want to communicate.

What did you really mean when you wrote the sentence?

To illustrate the problem further, here’s another example from The Writing Centre at the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.

The reason for the failure of the economic system of the island was the inability of Gilligan in finding adequate resources without incurring expenses at the hands of the headhunters on the other side of the island.


Gilligan hurt the economic system of the island because he couldn’t find adequate resources without angering the headhunters.