Business Writing Tip #174—A Common Redundancy

Have you noticed that when we’re speaking, whether we are giving a presentation or carrying on a conversation, we often repeat ourselves, using different words. We say things a number of times in different ways. Like I’ve just done. When we say the same things in different ways we call it ‘redundancy’.redundancy

The amount of redundancy is one of the major differences between written and spoken English. It’s very common in spoken English but not so common when we write. Usually when we write we only express each idea once. This is because we are striving for the ABCs—Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity.

But it’s not just repeating ideas. There is one expression I see regularly in written English, which I would say is not ‘good’ English.

Here it is:

The reason I am writing this is because I want you to understand that in business English it is a good idea to remove redundancy.

The word ‘because’ is always about the reason. It implies ‘reason’.

So for the sake of ABC:

I am writing this because I want you to understand that in business English it is a good idea to remove redundancy.

So I am writing this blog post because I want to make it clear that when you use ‘because’ you don’t need to include ‘the reason is’.  (Not, “So, the reason I am writing this blog post is because …”)

Got it?

Happy writing.

Today’s image is courtesy of Niels Heidenreich (https://www.flickr.com/photos/schoschie/3182804947)

Business Writing Tip #171—A useful tool to check your writing: SOAPSTONE

Just a few days ago I discovered a useful text analysis tool. It seems it’s used regularly in education these days, so some of you may already be familiar with it. You can use this tool before you write, to plan your writing, and you can use it at the end to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

The tool is SOAPSTONE.

When we look at the first part of the word, SOAPS, each letter stands for something that we need to think about with our writing.soapstone checklist image

        speaker

O          occasion

A          audience

P          purpose

S          subject

The final part of the word, Tone, refers to the tone of our writing.

To use this tool effectively there are a series of questions to ask yourself.

Speaker

  • Who are you?
  • What is your perspective on what you are writing?
  • What are your values in relation to what you are writing?
  • What details will you reveal?
  • Why is it important that your audience know who you are?

Occasion

  • How does your knowledge of the occasion affect what you are writing about?
  • What are you writing for, and how does it fit into the bigger picture?

Audience

  • What are the characteristics of your audience? And their values?
  • What assumptions are you making about your audience?
  • How are the audience members related to you?
  • Why are you addressing them?

Purpose

  • What to you hope to accomplish with your writing?
  • How would you like your audience to respond?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • What evidence are you going to provide to your audience?

Subject

  • What are you talking about?

Tone

  • What do you want your audience to feel?
  • How will your attitude make the piece of writing more effective?
  • What is your attitude? (Try choosing a few words before you write that accurately reflect the attitude you want to convey)

Try using this tool next time you write. Thinking about, and answering, each of these questions will help you make sure that your writing achieves what you want it to achieve.

I’ve put the questions into a downloadable checklist that you can print and keep on your desk.

Happy writing

 

Business Writing Tip #170—Another Tip for Better Sentences

Sometimes I find tips for better writing in unexpected places. That happened this month. I recently dropped in at a family history exhibition and met Carol Baxter. She’s an author and the ‘History Detective’. She has a newsletter and in the most recent edition she included such a great writing tip that I had to share it with you. So this tip is adapted from Carol Baxter’s newsletter. Carol calls it ‘chronological writing’.

So what is chronological writing? At its simplest it’s about writing things in the order that they happened. Most of us probably do this quite unconsciously at the macro level, when we are thinking about the overall structure of our writing, but Carol’s tip was about doing it at the sentence/paragraph level. In her words, ‘It’s much easier for a reader to comprehend what we are saying when the first occurrence is written first and the second occurrence is written second.’

For the first example I’ll use Carol’s text, then I’ll follow it with a business example.

Take a look at these three sentences.Boo (800x800)

  • Mary fed the cat then went to the shops.
  • After feeding the cat, Mary went to the shops.
  • Mary went to the shops after feeding the cat.

The first two the actions are written in the order they occurred. First feed the cat, then go to the shops. The third breaks the rule. As a reader you are following Mary to the shops but then you have to go back in time to where she is feeding the cat.

Now there’s nothing wrong with the third sentence. It’s just that if you write many of these sentences in your piece, your reader might become confused about what is happening when.

  • At the meeting we reviewed the proposal and quotes, then decided to buy the XYZ printer for the department.
  • After reviewing the proposal and quotes at the meeting, we decided to buy the XYZ printer for the department.
  • At the meeting we decided to buy the XYZ printer for the department after reviewing the proposal and quotes.

Again, the third example is not wrong. It’s quite clear. But turn your timelines around too often and you may end up with a confused reader.

Why not add chronological sentences to your editing checklist? Ask yourself, ‘Are my sentences following the order or events?’ If they’re not, is that okay – or are there too many that aren’t?

Happy writing.

BTW, you can find Carol’s website here.

Business Writing Tip #166—It’s like writing to your Mum

some booksI’ve recently returned to Australia after many years abroad and one of the great joys, apart from watching the birds in the back yard, has been digging through my boxes of books that have been packed away for 18 years. My sister’s greatest joy is probably reclaiming space in her attic and spare room as I move my books out!

In amongst the books I discovered a gem by Dr George Stern called Spot on! Correspondence and report writing, with guidelines on plain English. As I rediscovered this little book I found a tip that I really like. Stern calls it the “Dear Mum” principle. He states that we use respectful, but normal, language when we write to our mothers, and that this is the kind of language which we should use when writing for business.

Here’s the list of examples he provides:

Officialese'Dear Mum' language
I refer to your letter of 1 May.Dear Mum, Thank you for your letter of 1 May.
I would appreciate an early response. Dear Mum, Please answer soon.
I appreciate your assistance. Dear Mum, Thank you for your help.
I will proceed providing you agree. Dear Mum, I will go ahead if you agree.
You wrote to me concerning the grant. Dear Mum, You wrote to me about the grant.
You wrote to me relating to the grant.Dear Mum, You wrote to me about the grant.
This is further to my last letter. Dear Mum, I am writing to you again.
It is my view that they are right.Dear Mum, I think that they are write.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #165—More Plain English

I’ve written a few posts about plain English and gave you some expressions back in Tip #77. Remember KISS – Keep it Simple and Straightforward.Kiss - Rodin - Paris

Here are 25 more cumbersome expressions and useful replacements for them. Sometimes the replacements are complete omissions.

Examples

  • While I was in the process of writing this blog post, I drank two cups of coffee.
  • While I was writing this blog post . . .
  • During the month of February, sales figures increased by 3 percent.
  • During February . . .
is responsible forhandles
by means of by, with
comply with follow
has a requirement for needs, requires
have an adverse effect on hurt, set back
in accordance with by, following, per, under
in an effort to to
in order for for
in the process of (omit without replacement)
in view of because, since
is in consonance with agrees with follows
it is essential that [one] [one] must
it is incumbent upon [one] to [one] should, [one] must
it is requested that you please
pertaining to about, of, on
provide guidance for/to guide
relative to about, on
set forth in in
similar to like
successfully accomplish/complete accomplish/complete
take action to (omit without replacement)
the month (or year) of (omit without replacement)
the use of (omit without replacement)
under the provisions of Under
as prescribed by in, under

Business Writing Tip #162—Phrasal Verbs (Part 3)

Again, as promised in my last post, here are some more useful phrasal verbs. This is the third, and final, post in this series.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To hand (something) out To distribute I’ll handout a copy of the presentation during the meeting.
To hang on To wait a short time Hang on a second. I’ll be right there.
To keep (something) up To continue We need to keep up our efforts to boost the sales figures.
To let (someone) down To disappoint The suppliers let us down by not delivering the agreed quantities.
To look into To investigate A team has been set up to look into the declining sales figures.
To look out for To be careful and take notice Given our recent drop in sales, we need to look out for new opportunities in the market.
To pass (something) out To distribute ( see also to hand something out) I’ll pass out a copy of the presentation after the meeting.
To pass (something) up To decline (usually something positive) Don’t pass up on this great opportunity. The sale ends tomorrow.
To put (something) off To postpone The company has put off introducing the revised pricing structure until the next quarter.
To run into (someone/something) To meet someone/something unexpectedly I hope we don’t run into any problems with the project schedule.
To send (something) back To return The new equipment isn’t working correctly. We’ll have to send it back.
To set (something) up To organise, to arrange Please set up a conference call with the Polish office to discuss the quarterly sales figures.
To shop around To compare prices The company needs to shop around to make sure that it gets the best possible deal on the new printers.
To sort (something) out To resolve a problem This report isn’t clear. We need to get together and sort out exactly what we want it to say.
To take (something) back To return an item If the customer is not happy with the printer performance, we need to take it back and offer them an alternative.
To think (something) over To consider I’d like you to think over the various options and we’ll make a decision at tomorrow’s meeting.
To turn (something) down To reject, to refuse We presented the agreed position at the negotiations, but the other side turned them down.
To try (something) out To test We will be installing the new printers and trying them out over the next couple of days.
To use (something) up To finish the supply We’ve used up our annual training budget, so we need to be creative about how we fund training over the next two months.

That’s it for phrasal verbs for now. They are often used in emails between colleagues, or with customers with whom we have a strong relationship, to avoid being overly formal when we write.

Trying out life in Australia again after living abroad

Trying out life in Australia again after living abroad

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

Content

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.

Problems

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.