Business Writing Tip #186—Evaluating your Minute Taking and Some Quick Tips

Are you a good note-taker or do you think you could improve? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you evaluate your note-taking.

Do I use complete sentences?

  • If you are using complete sentences, STOP! You’re writing a lot of words you don’t need and these take time away from focusing on the important points.

Are my notes clear or confusing?

  • If your notes are confusing, think about the structure – structure your notes around the agenda and prepare carefully for the meeting by reading any materials so that you understand the topic well.

Do I capture the main points and all sub-points?book cover 2 (331x531)

Do I use abbreviations and shortcuts?

  • If you’re not using abbreviations and shortcuts, and you’re not capturing all the main points, consider how you can improve. Practice taking notes. You can take notes about a news broadcast or current affairs show. Or in the office, you might be attending a meeting where someone else is taking the minutes; this gives you an opportunity to practice. The more you practice, the easier it will become.

Tips for note-taking

  • Concentrate on the meeting.
  • Take notes consistently throughout the meeting.
  • Take notes selectively. Avoid writing down every word. An average speaker speaks at the rate of about 125-140 words per minute, and an average note-taker writes at about 25 words per minute.
  • Organize notes into some sort of logical form using the meeting agenda for the structure.
  • Be brief. Only write down the major points, decisions, action items and important information. If you’re not sure if something is important, check with the meeting chairperson.
  • Write legibly. If you can’t read your notes later, they are useless.
  • Don’t worry about correct spelling and grammar when you’re taking notes.

Hope this information helps.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #185—Dropping ‘Who’ and ‘That’

Sometimes we can drop ‘who’ and ‘that’ from our sentences. Most native speakers know when to do this, but if you ask them for a rule, they’ll struggle to give you one.

Now many ‘rules’ in English can be safely ignored. Think about ‘never split an infinitive’. If everyone obeyed the rule we wouldn’t have The Enterprise’s mission in Star Trek: ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before.’

But when it comes to dropping ‘who’ and ‘that’ we need to obey the rules.

First we need to know what they are. For this I turned to Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use. Murphy explains:English grammar in use

When ‘who’ or ‘that’ is the subject, you have to keep it; when it’s the object you can discard it.

So here’s an example.

The consultant who I met yesterday is working on a review of our costs.

In this sentence I met the consultant. ‘I’ am the subject. ‘The consultant’ is the object.

Because ‘the consultant’ is the object, I can drop the word ‘who’ without any problems. Then the sentence becomes:

The consultant I met yesterday is working on a review of our costs.

But here’s an example where you can’t drop it.

The consultant who is reviewing our costs will be using the office next to yours.

The consultant is the subject. It is the consultant who is reviewing our costs. One way to make this clear is to remove the relative clause (who is reviewing our costs). Then you have ‘The consultant will be using the office next to yours.’

We cannot say:

The consultant is reviewing our costs will be using the office next to yours.

‘Who’ has to stay because ‘the consultant who is reviewing our costs’ is the subject.

Another example, this time with ‘that’:

Where is the report that you said you’d have finished today? (You said you would finish the report.)

‘The report’ is the object so you can say, ‘Where is the report you said you’d have finished today?’

Now with ‘the report’ as the subject:

The report that highlights cost savings is on your desk.


The report highlights cost savings is on your desk.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #184—Decluttering Tips

The world seems full of tips about decluttering. There are books, websites and TV shows devoted to giving us advice on how to declutter our homes, our desks, our bookshelves, even our lives. They all suggest we will be much happier once we have got rid of the clutter.keep-calm-and-declutter-17

Decluttering is something we can usefully apply to our business writing too, and it will make our readers much happier.

Many of the long words we use in business are no better than their shorter alternatives. Here’s a list of examples, taken from William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, to help you declutter.

Long word/phraseShorter equivalent
referred to ascalled
With the possible exception ofExcept
Due to the fact thatBecause
He totally lacked the ability toHe couldn’t
Until such time asUntil
For the purpose ofFor

Other phrases to watch out for are:

  • It should be pointed out …
  • I might add …
  • It is interesting to note …

Think about the meaning of your sentence with and without such phrases and words, and see if the meaning remains clear once you’ve deleted the clutter.

By cutting out the clutter, and paring your work back to the basics, you will be able to see your essential message clearly.

‘But what about style?’ I hear you ask.

Style is important, particularly in sales and marketing copy where you want to engage your readers in a specific way.

Once you’ve decluttered, once you’ve defined the essential message, then you can start to add words. But you will be adding them deliberately, thoughtfully, not just tossing them into the mix from your subconscious.

So when you’re writing:

  • First give your subconscious free rein and get the words on the page, or the screen.
  • Then strip it back. Be ruthless with it until your words convey the essential message.
  • Then, thinking of your audience and your purpose, dress the text up with words that you have thought about, that you have considered carefully, that help achieve the purpose of the piece, and that will appeal to your readers.

Happy writing.


Business Writing Tip #183—Suggested Words for Email Subject Lines

In previous posts I’ve talked about the importance of meaningful email subject lines. I don’t know about you but I’m getting about 100 emails a day (I’m sure some of you get more). I love it when people make it easy for me to know what their email is about.

One great idea is to use one or two words to indicate the category your email falls into. This means that the person you’re writing to can quickly scan the email titles and decide which need to be opened first.

Here are some suggestions to help you write great email subject lines.


Category Word/PhraseExample
Action: Action: submit business plan by 4/5
Reminder:Reminder: Project meeting @ 10 am, 8/8/2015
Meeting:Meeting: HR meeting @ 9.30 am, 13/8 - request for agenda items
Order:Order: Your order 46845, delivery date
Job application:Job application: Pos 563, D Trost
Interview follow up:Interview follow up: D Trost, Pos 563
Sales Report:Sales Report: Q1 2015
Requesting information:Requesting information: cost/range of recycled wood garden beds
Work request:Work request: Q1 delegate figures by 7/4

Happy writing.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons