Business Writing Tip #202—Take Care When Using Acronyms

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a phrase, or a name. Think ASAP (as soon as possible), UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Some we use every day, and others are less common.

When you are writing for business, remember that you want to make it easy for your reader to understand your message.acronym-wordcloud

Even though you might be familiar with an acronym and use it regularly, your reader may have to stop and think about it, or even look it up. This is especially true in a global business environment where non-native English speakers may not have encountered specific acronyms before.

Acronyms can be useful. They provide a shorthand to terms we use regularly, and many are embedded in the jargon of a particular field of study or organisation.

Just remember to use them with care, especially in business writing.

Here are some tips:

  • The first time you use a particular acronym, provide the term in full before the acronym. For example, close of business (COB), business-to-business (B2B)
  • Avoid starting a sentence with an acronym
  • Omit the word ‘the’ when the acronym is pronounced as a word (UNICEF, not the UNICEF)

Acronyms can be a convenient shortcut in informal business correspondence (emails and texts), once you are certain the person you are corresponding with knows the acronyms you are using. You may find yourself writing emails full of CRM, CTA, CPC, IMO, and the like. Just always remember, you want your reader to be able to understand your communication quickly, without spending time looking up acronyms on line.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #200—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (3)

Business Writing Tip #200—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (3)

My final post in this series of action verbs to use in job applications follows on from the  last two posts. In past posts I covered communication, management, finance, research, training, and technical skills. In this post we’ll look at words you can use to describe creative, helping and administrative skills.Dreamjob sign

Creative Skills

  • conceptualise
  • create
  • design
  • develop
  • found
  • illustrate
  • shape
  • revitalise
  • introduce
  • plan
  • integrate
  • fashion
  • institute
  • perform
  • originate
  • innovate
  • direct
  • establish

Helping Skills

  • assist
  • assess
  • diagnose
  • clarify
  • refer
  • rehabilitate
  • expedite
  • coach
  • facilitate
  • counsel
  • diagnose
  • guide
  • educate

Administrative Skills

  • approve
  • dispatch
  • operate
  • retrieve
  • arrange
  • execute
  • screen
  • catalogue
  • prepare
  • generate
  • implement
  • classify
  • collect
  • inspect
  • process
  • tabulate
  • purchase
  • inspect
  • monitor
  • record
  • validate
  • specify
  • generate


Business Writing Tip #199—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (2)

As promised in my last post, here are some more useful action verbs for job applications. In this post I’m covering research, training and technical skills.job app image

Research Skills

  • clarify
  • critique
  • diagnose
  • extract
  • identify
  • inspect
  • interpret
  • review
  • summarise
  • survey

Training Skills

  • adapt
  • advise
  • clarify
  • coach
  • communicate
  • coordinate
  • develop
  • enable
  • encourage
  • evaluate
  • explain
  • facilitate
  • guide
  • inform
  • instruct
  • persuade

Technical skills

  • assemble
  • build
  • calculate
  • compute
  • design
  • devise
  • engineer
  • fabricate
  • maintain
  • operate
  • overhaul
  • program
  • repair
  • solve
  • train
  • upgrade

Business Writing Tip #196 – Common Causes of Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

In the last tip we looked at-subject-verb agreement, and the verb forms you need to use.

But what kinds of errors do people make when it comes to subject-verb agreement? There are four common errors. It is easy to get confused when:

  1. The sentence contains a compound subject

Compound Subjects

When two or more nouns and the coordinating conjunctions and, or and nor form the subject of a sentence, it is referred to as a compound subject. You might have two singular subjects, two plural subjects, or one singular and one plural subject.

The verb form depends on the conjunction.

With And

When you use and, use a plural verb form.

For example:

  • Mohammed and Christine are finalising the report.
  • My phone skills and written communication are excellent.

Hint: If you can use they in place of the compound subject, use the third person plural verb form.

With Or or Nor

If you use or or nor the verb agrees with the subject nearest to the verb.

Two singular subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor Christine has time to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or Christine is finalising the report.

Two plural subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor the supervisors want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or the supervisors are finalising the report.

Plural and singular subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.

Singular and plural subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  1. The subject of the sentence is separate from the verb

The sentence might include a phrase or clause that separates the subject and the verb. It might be a prepositional phrase which adds more information, or a dependent clause. The subject and verb still need to agree.

  • The team members with the highest sales figures get the bonuses.
  • The photocopier in the room next to the kitchen is the best one for double-sided, colour copying.
  • The new printer that I bought has the ability to print more quickly than our old printer, and it is cheaper to run.
  • The sales people who build the strongest relationships with their clients are the most successful.
  1. The subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun (e.g. anyone, everything)

Most often an indefinite pronoun is the subject of a sentence it will take the singular verb form. But there are exceptions. You need to think about the noun that the pronoun would refer to, and whether that is singular or plural.

Indefinite Pronouns That Always Take a Singular Verb Indefinite Pronouns That Can Take a Singular or a Plural Verb
Anybody All
Anyone Any
Anything None
Each Some
No one


  1. The subject of the sentence is a collective noun (e.g. team)

Collective nouns identify more than one person, or thing, and considers them as a singular unit. Therefore you need to use a singular verb.

  • The team is going on a retreat to develop its business plan for the next 12 months.
  1. The subject appears after the verb

This is not so common in written Business English, but you may see it.

For example:

  • There are fifty widgets in the storeroom.
  • Here is the report.

If you have trouble with this in sentences that begin with “There are” or “Here is”, turn the sentence around.

  • Fifty widgets are in the storeroom.
  • The report is here.

Happy writing!

Business Writing Tip #195—Subject-Verb Agreement

subject-verb agreementOne thing most people know about English is that the verbs need to agree with the subjects. Agreement is the grammatical match between words and phrases.

One of the main forms of agreement is subject-verb agreement and making sure your subjects and verbs agree will help you create a strong, professional impression with your business writing.

Subjects can be either singular or plural, and the verbs must agree in number with the subject.

That is, a singular subject goes together with a singular verb form, and a plural subject belongs with a plural verb form.

Regular Verbs

The pattern for regular verbs is predictable. The third person singular (he, she, it) adds an ‘s’ to the verb. Other forms do not end in ‘s’.

  Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I decide. We decide.
Second Person You decide. You decide.
Third Person He/She/It decides. They decide.


When it comes to spelling there is one thing you need to remember.

If the verb ends in –sh, -z, -ch or –s you need to add –es, rather than just –s.

For example:

  • I finish, she finishes.
  • You watch, he watches.
  • I fix the photocopier. The technician fixes the photocopier.

Irregular Verbs

English has many irregular verbs. Some of the most common are be, have and do.


Be Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I am. We are.
Second Person You are. You are.
Third Person He/She/It is. They are.


Have Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I have. We have.
Second Person You have. You have.
Third Person He/She/It has. They have.


Do Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I do. We do.
Second Person You do. You do.
Third Person He/She/It does. They do.

In the next post we will look at some of the common reasons errors occur.

Happy writing.


Business Writing Tip #194 – The Semi-colon

Many of you may know the semi-colon as the symbol you use when you want to create a winking emoji, like this ;). But the semi-colon serves other purposes.wink emoji

It looks like a comma topped with a full stop. It creates a break, a separation, between ideas, that is stronger than a comma, but less than a full stop (or period, if you are using American English).

Two of the most common uses of the semi-colon are separating items in lists, and joining two sentences.

1. Separating items in lists, when some items in the list contain commas

Normally when we list items in a sentence we separate them with commas.

David, Jan and Christina will attend the presentation.

(Sometimes you will see David, Jan, and Christina will attend the presentation. This is not wrong. It’s just a usage variation.)

But what if we have:

  • David, Jan and Christina from ABC company
  • Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company
  • Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company

And they’re all attending the presentation. We already have commas separating items, but we need to make sure we help our readers by making sure the sentence is clear. Look at:

David, Jan and Christina from ABC company, Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company, and Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company will attend the presentation.

This sentence is ambiguous. We know that Jan and Christina are from ABC company, and Michael and James from PQR, but do we know which company David is from, or Ameer, or Rosa? We can probably make a good guess, but by using semi-colons we help our readers and they do not have to guess.

David, Jan and Christina from ABC company; Ameer, Julia and Mario from XYZ company; and Rosa, Michael and James from PQR company, will attend the presentation.

This sentence groups the people, making it clear which company they are from.

Another example:

The department purchased a colour printer; three PC and two Apple laptops; six new, adjustable desks, and six blue, ergonomic office chairs.

It’s easy to see how many items are in the list, and which words go together.

2. Joining two sentences

Have you heard of an independent clause? It is a group of words that can stand on its own. It is, in fact, a sentence. And sentences end with full stops. But sometimes, we might want to suggest a strong link between two independent clauses, or to put it another way, two sentences.

Example (a)

The purchasing manager placed an additional order today. She ordered new office furniture. Ergonomic chairs and adjustable-height desks were on sale.

This group of sentences is perfectly fine.

Example (b)

But you could write:

The purchasing manager placed an additional order today. She ordered new office furniture; ergonomic chairs and adjustable-height desks were on sale.

This second version suggests that the reason she ordered the furniture today is because these items were on sale.

The other reason we use semi-colons is for style. In example (a), we have three short sentences. Writing a string of short sentences can make the writing feel abrupt, or choppy. Mixing up sentence lengths usually makes writing more interesting to read.

So there you have it. Some information on semi-colons and how to use them. Dust them off and give them a try.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #192—Using Hypertext Links Effectively

visit our websiteHyperlinks, or hypertext links, are elements of electronic documents, such as emails and webpages, that take your reader to another place, either in the same document or in another document. Your reader will click on the link and be taken to the target location.

Unfortunately, some authors use ugly constructions when they are hyperlinking. In this tip we’ll look at effective hyperlink practice. Please note that the underlined links are only to show how they would be if they were linked. The links in this tip aren’t active.

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Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #190—Use Positive Language


Your choice of words will influence how your reader feels about you, and the organisation you are representing in your business writing.

Compare:new STOP

You have left me with no option but to reject your proposal because you can’t conduct the training personally.


I will be happy to accept your proposal if you agree to conduct the training personally.

Which one would you prefer to receive?

Some words and phrases in English can trigger negative reactions. They don’t always. It depends on who is reading them, and how they are feeling at the time. Sometimes it’s best just to avoid using them to avoid a negative response to your words. English is a rich language and there’s sure to be a way to say something positively.

Here’s a list of words and phrases to use carefully, or not at all.

  • Absolutely
  • Disaster
  • Not
  • Unacceptable
  • Failed
  • Obviously
  • With prejudice
  • Can’t
  • Horrified
  • Never
  • Without exception
  • Completely
  • Immediately
  • Demand
  • Neglected
  • Shocked


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

Business Writing Tip #180—The 6 Cs of Business Writing

In this tip I want to share six important ideas with you. I call them the 6Cs.

  1. Concise: Time is money. Avoid wasting other people’s time and make your writing easy to read. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  2. Correct: Your business writing is you representing the company. Consider the company’s image. Spelling and grammar are important so proofread carefully.The 6Cs of Business Writing
  3. Courteous: Be polite. Sometimes when we are emotional we write things that are damaging or even rude. Write quickly, but stop before you hit the send button. Reread before you send. Remember your writing is representing the company, and yourself, and reputation is important.
  4. Clarity: Make sure that your writing is precise and your meaning is absolutely clear. Ask a colleague to check what you have written and to let you know if there are any ambiguities you missed.
  5. Complete: Include all the information you need to include.
  6. Coherent: Ensure you have a logical flow of ideas and that your writing isn’t jumping all over the place.

Happy writing.

PS You can download a pdf version of The 6Cs of Business Writing.

I created the infographic in Canva.