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 #181—Build Relationships

Often we write emails in a hurry, and we automatically use ‘stock’ phrases. Think about ‘Further to our phone conversation’ or ‘I received your email’.

These phrases communicate by providing a reference to let your reader know why you are writing. But they don’t sound much like a person wrote them, do they?

You are not a machine, and neither is your reader. So think about bringing some humanity, and some personality, to your emails. It will help strengthen your relationship with the reader.IMG_0282

Here are some suggestions:

  • It was great to speak to you…
  • I was so pleased to meet you today…
  • I enjoyed meeting you earlier today…
  • I thought our chat this morning was really useful …

Use your email openings to build the relationship and to let the other person know it will be a pleasure to communicate with you. It’s the equivalent of a smile and a greeting in the office corridors.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #179—Memo, Letter or Email?

Email is so common these days it seems to have taken the place of traditional letters, or memos. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and wondering whether memos and letters still have a place in business writing. And I’ve concluded they do.

So, when might we consider a memo, or a letter, rather than an email? Here are some email layoutideas. Of course you can always distribute a memo or letter via email (attach the main document rather than including it in the body of the email).

When the message will have a long life

By this I mean that a memo is ideal if your message is going to be read, and referred to, over a period of time. For example, if it’s to announce a new policy, to introduce an important report or to provide some technical details. Think about how many times you expect people to refer to the item. If you think they’ll read it again and again, use a memo.

When the format is important

Some documents include tables, graphs, bulleted or numbered lists, graphs, headings … These are added to make the document clear and easy to read, but sometimes these elements can be distorted in an email. If the layout and format is important, avoid sending the information in the body of an email.

If people are likely to print your document

Sometimes it’s important for people to have a printed copy of your document. It might be something they need to refer to regularly (think about a proofreading checklist). Again send the document as an attachment.

For formal communication

By producing a document on letterhead, with company details and the names and contact details of the recipient and author, you indicate that the contents are important. Your document is more likely to be taken seriously.

When you are communicating with clients

An email is fine with vendors and peers, but if you are writing to someone you serve (customer, patient, etc.) a letter remains the traditional format.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions on when a letter or memo is better than an email.

Happy writing.





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 #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 #132—Structure Matters

I’ve talked about structure before but I thought it would be a useful topic to revisit. Structure matters. Structure helps your reader find their way through your document. It also helps you make sure you have covered everything you need to cover. Take a look at the email structure in the graphic. Include all these items and you will have email structure canva graphican effective business email. For example:

Something old Re your phone call yesterday about the annual report input …

Something new I’ve discussed it with the team and we will have the consolidated input ready for you by Thursday.

What to do Please let me know if you need any further information from my team.

I love you Kind regards

Simple, isn’t it? When it comes to a report you might include the following components:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Analysis of current situation
  • Analysis of options
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • Conclusion and recommendation

Of course, your report might look different. Include the sections that you need. Just remember, by planning it first and deciding on a structure, you are giving yourself a useful checklist to make sure everything’s included. And by using the section names as headings, you are providing useful signposts for your reader. Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #123—Contractions

contractionsIn formal business writing we don’t often use contractions but, as you can see, we do use them in blogs. We also use them quite freely in emails.

There are two kinds of contraction.

Noun/pronoun/etc. + (auxiliary) verb

  • I’m ready.
  • Do you know when you’ll get here?
  • I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.
  • Where’s the 3rd floor conference room?
  • Somebody’s coming to represent the marketing department at the seminar.

(Auxiliary) verb + not

  • The reports aren’t ready.
  • He won’t be late for the meeting, will he?
  • I haven’t had a chance to finish the report yet.
  • Can’t you do it at lunchtime?

Now what about the rules?

Short form ’s (for ‘is’ or ‘has’)

Can be used after:

  • Nouns
  • Questions words
  • ‘Here’ and ‘now’
  • Pronouns
  • Unstressed ‘there’

Short forms ’ll, ’d and ’re

Commonly used after:

  • Pronouns
  • Unstressed ‘there’

Rarely used in writing after nouns and questions words, although we often contract the words when we pronounce them.

  • Your boss will be pleased. (not boss’ll)
  • He was wondering what had happened to make you late for the meeting. (not what’d)

What about when there’s more than one subject?

We usually avoid contractions when we have two subjects.

  • The boss and I will be coming to the meeting this afternoon. (not The boss and I’ll)

Where does the apostrophe go?

We put the apostrophe in the same place as we would have put the letters we left out.

  • Has not becomes hasn’t.

Notice though that there’s only one apostrophe in each of the following words, although more letters are missing.

  • Shan’t instead of shall not
  • Won’t instead of will not

Happy writing!

Adapted from Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

Business Writing Tip #116—Direct and Indirect Writing Styles

There are times when we are comfortable asking for something in a direct style, and times when we want to soften our requests or comments. We use indirect language more when we want to be formal, or polite; perhaps when we don’t know someone very well. Or sometimes we use it to deliver bad news!more flowers in Letna 

What are the differences? Here are some suggestions (adapted from Paul Emmerson’s Email English).

Language functionDirectIndirect
RequestsCan you ...?Could you …?
Please could you …I was wondering if you could …
Could you possibly …?
Asking for permissionCan I …?Is it all right if I …?
Could I …? I wonder if I could …?
Offering helpCan I …?Would you like me to …?
Shall I …? Do you need any help with …?
Making a suggestionWhat about … (+ -ing)?Why don't we …?
Shall we …?Perhaps we should …?
Softening commentsThere is a problem.I'm afraid there is a small problem.
It seems there is a slight problem.
That will be very expensive.That might be quite expensive.
Won't that be a bit expensive?
That won't be cheap, will it?
We can't do that.I'm not sure we can do that.
That gives us very little time.Actually, that doesn't give us much time.
It will be better to ask [person's name].Wouldn't it be better to ask [person's name]?
I disagree.I can see what you're saying, but …
Don't you think that …?
To be honest, I think it might be better to …
I think there may be an issue here.