Moving …


Just to let you know I am moving back to Australia this week and I haven’t had time to write and post a business writing tip. They will resume soon 🙂

Happy writing

Business Writing Tip #160—Phrasal Verbs

IMG_2319Phrasal verbs are a useful aspect of English which help us with the register of our writing. If we are writing something very formal, for example a report, we probably wouldn’t use them. But if we want to write an email to a long-standing customer who we have known for some years, the verbs we would usually use when we write at work might seem too formal. We might accidentally offend our client who could be wondering, “Why are they being so distant with me?” Phrasal verbs work perfectly in this kind of situation.

First, a definition. Michael McCarthy and Felicity O’Dell give the following definition in English Phrasal Verbs in Use: Advanced.

“Phrasal verbs are verbs that consist of a verb and a particle (a preposition or adverb) or a verb and two particles (an adverb and a preposition, as in get on with or look forward to).”

Maybe this made everything clear to you, or maybe it didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you know that you can make your writing less formal by using phrasal verbs.

Here’s a list of some phrasal verbs that are useful in business English.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To ask around To ask many people the same question Could you ask around the office and see if there’s someone available to work this weekend?
To back someone up To support Thanks for backing me up when I presented the proposal.
To not care for To not like I don’t care for the proposed office layout. Let’s see if there’s a better way.
To chip in To help If everyone chips in, it’ll only take about half an hour.
To cut back on To consume less, to reduce It looks as though we’re heading for an overspend. We need to cut back on some of our expenses.
To do something over To do again I thought my report was safe, but my computer crashed and the hard drive is fried. I need to do it over.
To drop by To visit without an appointment I’ll be over your side of town tomorrow afternoon. Is it okay if I drop by?
To drop someone/something off To take something/someone somewhere My car’s broken down. Can you drop me off at the station after work?


I’ll give you some more examples in my next post.

Happy writing.

About the photo: This photo is a detail on the interior walls of the Czech National Technical Library.

Business Writing Tip #159—Writing Progress Reports

If you’re involved in any kind of project (a piece of work with a defined beginning and end) you may need to provide progress reports. These update people on what is happening with your project. You may prepare them for your supervisor, or for a client, and they can be written reports, letters or presentations.  In this post we’re looking at written reports. Basically, your report will summarise what has been achieved, what is currently being done and what is planned for the next time period. Depending on who you are writing it for, you can use either formal (e.g. for a client) or informal (e.g. for your team) language.

Purpose of a progress reportsisyphus

A progress report informs stakeholders about:

  • How the project is going in general
  • How much of the work has been completed
  • What part of the work is currently being undertaken
  • What work still remains to be done
  • What unexpected challenges or problems, if any, have arisen during the project

A progress report can:

  • Reassure stakeholders that the project is going smoothly and will be completed on time
  • If it’s a research report, provide stakeholders with a brief update of some the findings
  • Give your clients and supervisor a chance to evaluate your work on the project and to request changes
  • Be an opportunity to discuss problems in the project and to forewarn stakeholders that there may be delays or cost overruns.
  • Help you stick to your work schedule so you will complete the project on time


Project Background

The amount of detail you provide here will depend on the size of the project and how often you are reporting. This section can include any, or all, of the following:

  • Project purpose
  • Specific project objectives
  • Project scope
  • Date the project began and the date the project is due to be finished
  • People working on the project
  • People for whom the project is being done
  • If it’s a major report, include a summary—an overview of the contents of the report’s contents

Achievements since last report

What have you completed since the last report? Link this to the tasks listed in the project schedule.


Mention any issues that have arisen since the last report. These might be problems that you can solve yourself, problems that you need technical expertise to solve, or even problems that your client needs to help with.

What next?

This is an update against the project plan, highlighting what activities you will be undertaking next. Once you’ve started a project you will have a better idea of scheduling and cost considerations, so relate this section back to your original proposal and highlight where you are against the original plan.

Assessment of achievements against schedule and budget

If this is a report for a client, this will often be the bottom line for them. Of course some projects are complex and the scope changes during the life of the project, but in other cases, failure to meet objectives on time and on budget can result in sanctions. Highlight any expected variations in this section

Alternative ways to structure your report

By task:

Task 1:

  • Work Completed
  • Current Work
  • Planned Work

Task 2:

  • Work Completed
  • Current Work
  • Planned Work

By progress

Work Completed

  • Task 1
  • Task 2

Current Work

  • Task 1
  • Task 2

Planned Work

  • Task 1
  • Task 2

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #158—More ways to say ‘No’

IMG_2298In my last post, which many people seemed to find useful, we looked at some sticky situations where people often find it hard to say ‘no’. As promised, here are some more.

Situation 4: A colleague or friend asks you for money that you don’t want to give

Let’s face it—people ask you for money, a lot. It might be a fundraiser for a school, or a medical research charity; it might be for sponsoring an orphan, or for sheltering the homeless. Most times you are asked for money it’s for a good cause, but it’s not possible to support everything. And there are times when you have your own, legitimate uses for your money.

The problem: A friend wants you to buy chocolates to support their son’s fundraising for an animal rescue charity. You often donate money to good causes, but just last month you donated for her daughter’s school, and the month before that it was for the son’s swimming squad. It’s all just become rather too much, and you’re trying to save for a holiday.

What to write: This is an ideal opportunity to highlight how much you give to good causes. Put the blame on another good cause.

  • I think it’s wonderful that your children are so involved in the community and give their time and effort to fundraising. And animal rescue is such a good cause. It’s a shame though because I’ve just donated my charity budget to (put the name of your favourite cause here). Please pass on my best wishes to your son.

Situation 5: Your boss wants you to take on an extra task, and you don’t feel you have the time

Saying ‘no’ to your boss can be difficult, but there are times when it’s necessary. I’m not talking about a boss asking you to do something that is your responsibility anyway. Here I’m talking about those times when the boss wants you to do something extra. Often you will want to say ‘yes’ to these opportunities, but there will be times when you just have too much on your plate and you can’t take on the extra load.

The problem: Your boss asks you to collate the sales figures for the department for the quarter. You are already working on some new promotional campaigns, and you’ve recently volunteered to join the company’s CSR committee. Your really don’t have the time, or the inclination, to take on what is essentially a routine task that’s not going to build your skills.

What to write:

  • Thanks so much for thinking of me for this opportunity. I’m sorry but, on this occasion, I really have to say ‘no’. As you know I’m working on the new promotional campaigns and I believe that this is a better use of my time. I know the sales figures are important, but I need to focus on the more important task right now. If you want me to do them next quarter, let me know and I can schedule my work around them. That said, I think it would be really useful for (insert name here) to work on the sales figures because he’s new to the department and it will help him understand the big picture.

Situation 6: There’s a vendor you really don’t want to work with

Sometimes in business we meet people that we don’t enjoy working with. They may be too pushy, or they may be providing a product or service you don’t need.

The situation: In your last job you organised staff training and an annoying stress management trainer used to cause you more stress with their constant follow-up phone calls and emails than they would ever be able to manage away. His programmes were expensive—way beyond the organisation’s budget—and, after attending a taster session, you were not convinced that they were value for money. You’ve moved to a different company and he’s found your new details. He wants you to set up a sales meeting for him with your new company’s training department.

What to write:

  • Joe, it’s great to hear from you. I’m still getting a feel for how things work here but, from what I can see, the company already contracts with a training company that covers all aspects of their training needs. Best of luck to you in the future.

Situation 7: An event you don’t want to attend

There may be a hundred reasons why you don’t want to attend a social event. If you’re an introvert, you probably find such events tiring. Or you may have recently stopped drinking and the last thing you want to do is be in a place where you’ll be tempted. If you go, you may resist the temptation, but is it really fun to be out with a group of people that you know will be drinking heavily? Maybe you have a prior family commitment. Or you may just not want to go!

The situation: It’s your colleague’s birthday and everyone is going for drinks after work. They then plan to head to a cheap restaurant for dinner followed by a bit of a bar crawl for the rest of the evening. You want to maintain a good relationship with your colleague though.

What to write: This is a tricky one … you don’t want to lie, but most people don’t accept the ‘I really don’t want to’ line … so you may need to be a little creative.

  • So sorry I’m going to miss this, but it’s my aunt’s birthday today too and I have to go to the family celebration. They’ll be mad if I don’t. How about we get together for a quiet coffee and a chat next week? Have a great time.

Happy writing.