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.

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.


Business Writing Tip #157—Saying ‘No’ in an Email: Sticky Situations

Have you ever been asked to do something that you really don’t want to do? Someone asks you for a favour. Maybe they want you to introduce them to a business contact or give them a recommendation. I’m sure that there have been times that you really wanted to say ‘no’, but probably end up saying ‘yes’ because, well, it’s hard to say ‘no’, isn’t it?no - road sign

Here are some ideas that might help you out of those sticky situations.

Situation 1: A former colleague asks for a recommendation

A couple of years ago you worked with someone for just a short period of time. You didn’t really know them well, or maybe you just didn’t get on with them. Now that person wants a letter of recommendation, or asks you to write a recommendation for their LinkedIn profile. You would really rather not write anything.

What to write: This is one of the most difficult situations you’ll probably find yourself in. It’s good to be honest, but you also need to be kind. The best bet is to come up with a good reason why you aren’t the best person to write the recommendation.

Thanks for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the best person to write the recommendation for you because … (pick a reason)

  • I haven’t seen you manage a team, which seems to be a major responsibility in the job you’re applying for
  • I am not familiar with your project management skills on large projects, and this is something that seems important in the role you’re after
  • I know you did some research when we worked together, but we worked together for such a short time that I don’t feel I can provide any in-depth comments

Then add:

  • If you have another colleague who is able to discuss your abilities in more depth, I’m sure getting them to write a recommendation will improve your chances. Good luck.

Situation 2: You’re invited to join a committee you really don’t want to join

You’re a member of an association, or an industry organisation, and you’ve gone to some of their events, but they’ve not been brilliant. You may even be thinking of quitting, or not attending anything further. Then the President suggests you might want to join their membership committee. Of course:

  • It is an honour to be asked and you don’t want to offend anyone
  • You don’t have time, and really don’t see the value in being more involved

What to write:

This isn’t so difficult. Thank the President for inviting you, and let them know what an honour you think it is to be considered for the position, but let them know you don’t have time.

Thank you for asking me. I feel honoured by the invitation. However, with my current work and family commitments I wouldn’t be able to give the role the time and effort it deserves. I would feel dreadful if I took it on and then let the organisation down.

Situation 3: You’re asked to introduce someone you don’t know well to an important business contact, and you don’t want to

Someone you hardly know asks you to help them meet your company’s CFO because they’re interested in a career in finance. You don’t really know the person, and your relationship with the CFO is important. You don’t want to be seen as someone who is wasting their time.

What to write: Take advantage of the fact that everyone is busy. Tell the person that the CFO just doesn’t have any spare time right now.

Thanks for contacting me. Our CFO is fabulous and an excellent role model. Unfortunately right now she has a lot on her plate, with the (upcoming merger, company transformation, fast approaching board meeting …) and I don’t feel comfortable adding something else to her load. Are there any questions about working here that I can answer for you?

I hope this gives you some ideas for dealing with these sticky situations. I’ll give you some more in a later post.

Let me know if you’ve ever had trouble saying ‘no’.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #118—Discourse Markers

discourse markers pdf imageIn this post, I’m starting with some jargon. Discourse marker is a term used in linguistics. ESL teachers use it regularly when teaching students to write, but we also use discourse markers when talking. So what is a discourse marker? In his book Practical English Usage, Michael Swan says they are words or phrases that can be used to:

  • Show the connection between what a speaker is saying and what has already been said or what is going to be said
  • Help make the structure of what is being said clear
  • Indicate what speakers think about what they are saying or what others have said.

They show the connection between what is being said and the wider context and we use them to make our text stick together, to make it ‘cohesive’.

So, discourse markers are used in speaking and in writing. Some of the informal discourse markers are often used in informal emails.

I’ve put together rather a long list of these so, instead of including them as part of the post, which was difficult to do without the list looking rather ugly, I’ve created a downloadable pdf.


Business Writing Tip #96—Business Letters

business envelopesYou’ve probably heard of the information explosion. I saw some figures the other day that said a Google search on the words ‘coffee cup’ resulted in 16 million hits in 2011. The same search yielded 130 million hits in 2013.

For your readers, this means that they don’t have much time to read what you’ve written and highlights that you need to be clear and concise. Your readers are willing to put in time to read what you’ve written so long as it is relevant and to the point.

How formal should a business letter be?

Business writing used to be very formal. Now formal language is usually restricted to legal documents, and even in these the guidelines are changing and people are moving towards plain English. At the other end of the spectrum email messages are often very informal.

A business letter will usually be somewhere between formal and informal—sorry, that statement probably doesn’t really help you!

If it’s too formal, you might alienate your readers. It won’t feel as though you have written to them.

If it’s too casual, you may be seen as unprofessional or, even worse, insincere.

I suggest you strive for neutral.

What about ‘We’ and ‘I’?

One question I’m often asked is whether we should use ‘we’ or ‘I’ in business letters.

When you’re talking about yourself, use ‘I’.

  • I am writing to let you know that a team of five will be attending the session.

When you’re writing about the company, use ‘we’.

  • We are unable to go ahead with the project this year, but hope to be able to schedule it for 2015.

Be careful here. When you use ‘we’ and you’re writing on company letterhead, you are making a commitment on behalf of the company.

Other things to consider

  • Make sure you know who you are writing to.
  • Know why you are writing—if you are answering a query, make sure you answer it.
  • Use active voice whenever possible.
  • Be specific.
  • Write clearly and make sure your message is understandable—get someone else to check it before you send it if you can.
  • Make sure any attachments you’ve said are included are sent with the letter.
  • Proof read it before sending.

Effective Writing for the Web (2): Web versus Print

Reading on the Web versus Reading in Print

You may feel that this point is obvious, and to many of you it will be, but I’m sure there are others who may not have considered the differences between reading online and reading paper-based materials.cover image

The basic difference is that you will be reading from a different physical object.

When you read print content on paper it might be books, magazines, newspapers or reports. You will normally read straight through from the front to the back (although there are exceptions to this).

When you read online you might be using a desktop computer, a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. You will be moving from page to page, or screen to screen, often quite rapidly.

Another major difference is the amount of fatigue your eyes will suffer. Reading on paper is much less tiring for your eyes than reading on a screen, which is usually backlit.

Think about this when you’re writing and make sure that your words will translate into easy-to-read text on the screen. Your readers will thank you for it.

Effective Writing for the Web (1): Introduction

Why is Web Writing Different?

When you write for the web, you are writing for people to read your words on a screen. Not on paper. This has an impact on how you write.

Think about how you read something on a screen. Chances are you scan the material. You look for headings that indicate that there is content you are interested in. You may read more quickly than you do when you read words on paper.Web

These fundamental differences in how people read on the web mean that you have to write differently.

Staying on Track

One overriding thought can help keep you on track. Always remember that your reader is reading the material on a screen.

Of course, as with any writing, you have to write to your audience. You have to use the language that your users use and are familiar with. You have to provide content that is interesting and useful for the users.

In this series of posts, we will look at different aspects of web writing and I will give you tips based on my experience and research.

Basic Principles

To kick off the series, I want to start with five basic principles:

  • Get to the point quickly
  • Use a concise, simple writing style
  • Write in plain English
  • Use short, relatively simple sentences and short paragraphs
  • Use active voice, rather than passive voice.

Keep these in mind when you’re writing for the web and you’re on your way to effective web writing.

Business Writing Tip #83—Idioms 1: Idioms for Meetings

meetingIn English we use many idioms. But what is an idiom? According to my Concise Oxford English Dictionary an idiom is ‘a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words’.

In most cases, particularly with some of the more informal idioms, I recommend that you avoid them when you are writing for business. In business writing we are often writing for someone whose native tongue is not English, and idioms can be a barrier to them understanding what we mean.

That said, there are some idioms which are used so often in business that they have become quite acceptable. In this tip we will look at some of the idioms and expressions that are in common use when we talk about meetings.

To adjourn a meeting To end a meeting
To call a meeting to order To start a meeting
To call on someone to speak To invite someone to speak, to give a meeting participant permission to speak
To carry a motion To win acceptance for a proposal or idea in a meeting, usually through voting
To circulate the agenda To distribute the programme of the meeting to participants before the meeting so they know what will be discussed
To defeat a motion This happens when a proposal or idea does not get enough votes to pass. When a motion is defeated the proposed action will not take place.
Follow-up meeting A meeting where participants discuss business that wasn’t completed at a previous meeting, or discuss new business related to an agenda item.
To have the floor To have permission to speak, without interruption, during a meeting
To hold a meeting To conduct a meeting
To put (or lay) something on the table To present a matter for discussion at the meeting
To make (or table) a motion To make a suggestion at a meeting that will be voted on by the participants
To move to do something Another way of saying to table a motion.
To open a meeting To begin the meeting proceedings
To be out of order Used when someone does not obey the speaking rules of the meeting. For example, someone may speak when someone else has the floor.
Robert’s Rules of Order A reference book that provides guidelines on how to conduct a meeting and a code of conduct. It has been adopted officially by some organisations.
To rule someone out of order When the chairperson states that someone is not following the rules of the meeting
To run a meeting To conduct or chair a meeting
To second a motion To agree with a motion that is tabled. In formal meetings someone will move the motion and it will be seconded before it will be put to a vote.
To table a discussion To postpone a discussion until a future meeting
To take minutes To record the details of a meeting to create the official record of the meeting


Business Writing Tip #71—Email Tips

emailI know I’ve talked about emails in a previous post. I shared my top tips with you some time back:

  1. Make your subject line meaningful; and
  2. Put your main point in the first paragraph and use bullet points and short paragraphs to make your email easy to read.

Today I want to share a few more business email tips with you.

  1. When you are writing professional emails, make sure you are using a professional looking email address. You may need to use a gmail or ymail address or something similar, but these can still be professional. You can use your name, or company name, or perhaps a description of your service. Remember though or are not professional – keep these for your friends!
  2. Always include a greeting. Think about it. If you’re walking down the corridor at the office and someone launches into a discussion without saying “hello”, how do you feel? It’s basic politeness.
  3. End with a sign-off phrase. It might be “Kind regards” or “Sincerely”, or even “Thanks for your help”. Again think of how you end a conversation – you don’t just walk away.
  4. Include your name, position and contact details. You want to make it easy for the other person to contact you. They might want to pick up the phone and call you and they probably don’t want to spend time hunting up your number.
  5. And before you hit send, re-read your email, run the spell checker, and make sure you haven’t made any silly errors.

We all think of email as an informal way of communicating, but increasingly we are using it for just about everything in business. I’ll leave you with two parting words:

Be professional.

Business Writing Tip #68—Shall we dance?

Break_dance.svgWell, I’m not really going to answer this … This post is about when we should use the word ‘shall’ and when we should use ‘will’.

According to the Oxford A—Z of Grammar & Punctuation by John Seely, there are three rules.

  1. Use shall with I and we
  2. Use will with all other persons (i.e. 2nd and 3rd person, singular and plural)
  3. Reverse this for emphasis (‘The sea shall not have them.’)

Interestingly shall is most often used in questions, such as Shall we dance? In most cases now though people use will in conversation. Seely claims that will is used ‘fourteen more times more frequently than shall’. And it seems that shall is more common in British English than in American English.

When it comes to asking for advice there’s another difference between British and American English.

In British English shall is used to ask for advice.

  • Which way shall we go?

The American version of English prefers should.

  • Which way should we go?

Somehow though, I can’t quite get my head around Should we dance? And, of course, both of these are more commonly replaced in spoken English by that marvellously lazy contraction Wanna. (e.g. Wanna dance?)