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 #182—Judgement Day

Whenever we meet people, they judge us. They assess our look (clothes, smile, hairstyle, skin colour …) and our manner (how we speak, how we relate to others …). There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s human nature.Judge-holding-gavel-008

It’s the same when we ‘meet’ people through our writing—for example through emails or business letters, advertisements or sales pitches. People judge us, and our organisations.

Of course when people ‘meet’ us through our writing, they have no idea how we’re dressed, or whether we are well-groomed. But that doesn’t mean they’re not judging. When it comes to writing you will be judged on your word choice, your punctuation, how well you communicate your message, the layout …

These aspects of your writing don’t only affect understanding. They can affect your reputation and that of your company.

And every day, when someone reads what you have written, it’s judgement day.

Do your best to get it right, every time, and make a good impression.

Some things you can do to improve your writing

  • Practise! The more you write, the better your writing will become.
  • Ask your colleagues and friends for feedback. Listen to them and think about what they’ve said.
  • Read as much as you can. You can read about writing, but if that doesn’t interest you so much, read whatever you enjoy reading. Think about it. Why do you enjoy it? What word choices has the author made? How do different authors communicate their ideas?

Happy writing.

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 # 167—A Few Words about Sentences

2048px-Lego_Color_BricksSentences are one of the main units of writing, one of the building blocks. We have words, and we have paragraphs and, in between, we have sentences.

At its most basic a sentence has two parts: a subject and a predicate. And to be a complete sentence it must have both parts. In some writing incomplete sentences are fine, but in business writing it’s best to write complete sentences (writing sales copy is probably the only exception to this).

First some quick definitions . . .

Subject: who or what the sentence is about

Predicate: says something about the subject

The shortest complete sentence in English is:

I am.

‘I’ is the subject. ‘Am’ is the predicate.

To find the subject of your sentence, first find the main verb and then ask ‘who?’ or ‘what?’

Example:

Yesterday, after lunch, the client contacted me.

The main verb is ‘contacted’. Who or what contacted? The client.

But it’s not always simple . . .

Both parts of the sentence can be simple, complex or compound, or a combination of each.

This is where a careless writer may get into trouble, writing long, rambling sentences. A good rule of thumb on sentence length is ‘No sentence should have more than 20 words’.

Now, like all rules, you may need to break this one; it’s more general guidance than a rule.

Simplex, complex and compound

Here’s a simple example:

  • The committee has approved the proposal.

The subject is ‘the committee’ and the predicate is ‘has approved the proposal’.

Now a more complex example:

  • The Finance Committee, which met on Monday 13 April 2015, has approved the proposal put forward by the HR Committee that apart from graduate recruitment, recruitment be frozen for the next two months.

The simple subject is ‘the finance committee’ and the simple predicate is ‘approved the proposal’.

Then there are complex subjects and predicates:

  • The committee and the board have discussed and approved the proposal.

Here there are two nouns in the subject (the committee and the board) and two verbs relating to that subject (discussed and approved).

Happy writing.

 

Image by Alan Chia (Lego Color Bricks) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Business Writing Tip #156—Tips for Taking Minutes: After the Meeting

In the last tip I wrote about what to take notes of during a meeting. Now the meeting’s over. What next?

You’ve taken notes and recorded decisions, action items, deadlines and people responsible. You’ve recorded all the information on your minute taking template. The minutes are a formal record of the meeting and it’s important to be accurate. One way to do this is to finalise them immediately, or as soon as practicable, after the meeting.

So it’s time to write everything up and finalise the minutes.

After the Meeting

If your handwriting looks like this, you might want to write your notes up immediately ...

If your handwriting looks like this, you might want to write your notes up immediately …

  1. Immediately after the meeting, review your notes and add additional comments, or clarify what you didn’t understand. Do this while the information is fresh in everybody’s mind (and while you can still read your own handwriting!) Type your notes in the template you created before the meeting—this will make your notes easier for you, and others, to read and use.
  2. Number the pages as you go. Keep everything in order and make sure that you can easily follow your notes. Sometimes you may find that information on an item that occurred early in the meeting was supplemented by something that occurred later. You can put these together if it helps improve the flow and readability of the minutes.
  3. Focus on the decisions and action items, rather than the discussion. It’s not important to remember who said what. It is important to know who is responsible for doing what after the meeting.
  4. Be objective and avoid adding personal observations.
  5. Only use people’s names when they move or second a motion, or when they are the person responsible for an action. Avoid saying who said what.
  6. When you need to refer to other documents, for example documents that were presented at the meeting, attach them as an appendix to the minutes and include a reference to the appropriate passage. Avoid trying to summarise or rewrite them.
  7. When you’ve finished typing up the minutes, ask the chair to review them for accuracy and clarity.
  8. Distribute the minutes to the meeting attendees. Keep your notes, and the template, in case you need to review them later, or someone wants to double check a point.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #151—Reflexive Pronouns

I love English. I even love grammar. I try not to be a pedant and I avoid insisting on archaic rules. But I do have a pet peeve.

I hate, hate, hate the misuse of the reflexive pronoun myself which is creeping into our language.books 1 (480x640)

Myself is a reflexive pronoun. The other reflexive pronouns are yourself, herself, himself, itself, oneself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves.

Here are some examples of misuse, followed by corrected examples with short explanations of why the original is wrong.

  • David Jones at the ABC and myself have been in full contact about this.

David Jones and I have been in full contact about this. (In this example the pronoun is part of a compound subject David Jones and I.)

  • Rose and myself are away for the day.

Rose and I are away for the day. (Another compound subject)

  • Tim Brown and myself have, I believe, been successful in setting up one or two areas of expertise in this area within the organisation over the past few years.

Tim Brown and I have, I believe, been successful in setting up one or two areas of expertise in this area within the organisation over the past few years. (You guessed it, it’s another compound subject.)

  • The correspondence between the company and myself was lengthy and complicated.

The correspondence between the company and me was lengthy and complicated. (This one is a compound object of the preposition between, so we need to use the object pronoun me.)

So how can we use myself and the other reflexive pronouns?

Now that I’ve shown you some examples of incorrect usage, let’s have a look at how we can use reflexive pronouns in English. Reflexive pronouns refer to a noun or pronoun that precedes it in the same clause.

  1. Use them when you are talking about actions where the subject and object are the same person.

He found himself outside of the conference room without any idea of what he was going to say.

The next time this printer jams, I’m going to order myself a new one.

  1. Use them for emphasis. In the words of Michael Swan, author of Practical English Usage, we use them to mean “that person/thing and nobody/nothing else”.

It’s quicker if you do it yourself.

The manager spoke to me herself.

The office itself is pleasant, but it’s a long way from the city centre.

  1. Use them instead of personal pronouns—sometimes. After as, like, but (for) and except (for) we can use them, but we don’t need to.

Everybody arrived early at the meeting, except myself. (or except me)

Happy writing. I’m taking myself off to read a good book now. 🙂

Business Writing Tip #150—Reducing Wordiness (Revisited)

Those of you who are regular readers may remember that I’ve discussed the issue of sense of stylewordiness in previous texts. I’m currently reading a fabulous book about writing style, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to English, by Steven Pinker. He refers to this issue and has a useful list of phrases with ‘leaner alternatives’.

Here’s his list:

make an appearance withappear with
is capable of beingcan be
is dedicated to providingprovides
in the event thatif
it is imperative that wewe must
brought about the organisation oforganised
significantly expedite the process ofspeed up
on a daily basisdaily
for the purpose ofto
in the matter ofabout
in view of the fact thatsince
owing to the fact thatbecause
relating to the subject ofregarding
have a facilitative impacthelp
were in great need ofneeded
at such time aswhen
Is is widely observed that xx

If you love English and want to know more about style, I recommend Pinker’s book.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #149—More Proofreading Tips

I was surprised last week. So many people responded to Business Writing Tip #148 with its two proofreading tips. Many commented through LinkedIn, and some on my blog, to offer their own tips. I thought it might be useful if I put them all in one place.proofreading annotated

So here goes:

  • Whenever possible, print the document. As well as making it appear different, printing it out gives you a chance to escape from your computer and your eyes have a chance to take a rest from screen glare.
  • Check for spelling errors by starting at the end of the document and reading each word in backwards order. This stops you from thinking about the meaning and allows you to focus on the spelling of each word.
  • Pretend you’re in first grade and force yourself to read one word at a time. You can even try pointing at each word as you read it.
  • To check your grammar, read the document from start to finish focusing only on meaning and looking for common errors (e.g. confusion between there, their and they’re).
  • Read each sentence focusing on the punctuation.
  • Never rely on the spell check or grammar check.
  • Read the document out loud—this makes you read each word individually and will help you catch errors. It can also help you with punctuation and highlight if you have used enough sentence-length variety. Listen to the rhythm of your writing. You will also ‘hear’ if you have overused particular words.
  • For errors that you regularly make, compile a list of the most common word combinations using that word. Then create autocorrect entries with the correct version. For example if you type form instead of form, build a list that includes and changes:
    • away form to away from
    • form the to from the
    • question form to question from
    • help form to help from
    • go form to go from
  • Create a buddy system with a colleague—someone who will proofread your documents and whose documents you will proofread. A fresh pair of eyes can often see errors that we miss.
  •  Take a break. Walk away from your document for a couple of hours, or even a couple of days. You will look at it with fresh eyes when you seen it next time.

Thanks to the following people (in alphabetical order using first names) for these tips:

  • Amy M Figot
  • Carol Duhart
  • Eileen Behr
  • Fiona den Besten
  • Kate Barker
  • Kath Fowler
  • Kirsty Stuart
  • Penny Vosburg
  • Roxanna Short
  • Ruth Putnam
  • Sarah Ofer
  • Steven Walker
  • Sue France
  • Susan Nelson
  • Suzy Smith
  • Terrye
  • Wendy Kilbourne
  • Willy Duister

Business Writing Tip #146—The Long and the Short of It

absalom - longest sentence

This book contains a sentence which, at 1,288 words, is believed to be the longest sentence in English literature.

Variety is the spice of life. This proverb may seem clichéd, but as with all clichés there is an element of truth in it, particularly when we talk about sentence length. If you want your writing to be boring and to send people to sleep, use the same sentence length and structure for each sentence.

What is a sentence?

A sentence is a group of words and marks that includes a subject, which may be implied, a verb, and a final punctuation mark. Sentences can be short, or longer, or somewhere in between.

Here are some short sentences:

  • You went.

The word ‘You’ is the subject, ‘went’ is the verb, and then there’s a full stop (period).

  • Go!

Again ‘you’ are the subject, but this time it’s implied. ‘Go’ is the verb, and then, because it’s an imperative, there’s an exclamation mark.

In previous posts I’ve claimed that it is good to write shorter sentences rather than longer ones in business writing. We do this to make sure that our meaning is clear, and so that we don’t confuse our readers. But, that said, we don’t want all of our sentences to be the same length. If they are all short our writing can seem very choppy.

The key is variety. Humans like variety in most things, and sentence length is no exception.

Look at this paragraph.

  • The photocopier needs replacing. It is not producing clear copies any more. Also parts are expensive. Three new models were assessed. We recommend buying the XYZ model.

See what I mean? Definitely choppy.

How to fix writing with too many short sentences

  • The photocopier needs replacing because it is not producing clear copies any more. Also parts are expensive. We assessed three new models and recommend that we buy the XYZ model.

This is the same content, but it’s far more interesting to read. In this version I’ve joined short sentences with the conjunctions ‘because’ and ‘and’.

Another way to join short sentences is to change one of them, if appropriate, to a subordinate clause.

  • The photocopier, which is not producing clear copies any more, needs replacing.

Why write short sentences?

Short sentences are not always wrong. Use a short sentences if you want to

  • Capture your readers’ attention.
  • Emphasise an important point.
  • Help your readers read the text quickly.

But what about long sentences?

We come up against some common problems when they’re not written carefully. One of the main ones is that writers use pronouns to replace other words and to avoid repetition, but in long sentences, it is not always clear which noun the pronoun is replacing.

  • The chairperson and the meeting attendees agreed on the proposal that the students, faculty and general public should have access to the resources, but they were not sure how to do this.

In this sentence, it is not completely clear who was not sure—is it the chairperson and the meeting attendees? Probably. But it might have been the students, faculty and general public. With sentences like this our readers have to work hard to try and find out what we meant to write.

Another challenge when we have a number of long sentences, one after the other, is that our writing can seem dull. Sometimes business writers are tempted to turn verbs into nouns, and to use the passive voice. Both of these practices tend to result in longer sentences which are more difficult to read.

But, how much variety is enough?

I hate to admit it, but there’s no definitive answer to this question. I suggest that, when you’ve finished drafting, you take a good, hard look at your sentences lengths. Is there variety? Read your writing aloud and listen to how it sounds. The more you do this, the more you will be able to ‘hear’ when you have a problem.

 

Business Writing Tip #143—Hidden Verbs

In previous tips I’ve talked about verbs—action verbs, linking verbs, auxiliary verbs, modal verbs. Today I want to tell you about hidden verbs. Verbs that lurk in the shadows, pretending to be something they are not, and creating a writing style that is old-fashioned and, in my view, rather ugly.

Verbs are the fuel, the energy, of our sentences. They add power and move us forward. They give direction. They make our reader want to keep reading. They keep our reader’s interest. But only, only, if they are used well. If they are used badly, if we scatter weak verbs through our prose, they slow things down and make our writing difficult to read.hiding cat

The principal culprit in this crime is the hidden verb. This is the verb that we transform into a noun and then hook on to a weak verb.

Let me give you an example.

  • To make an application for employment with our company, please complete the attached form.

The hidden verb in this sentence is ‘apply’ and I have ‘nounified’ it, and joined it with the rather weak verb ‘make’.

Change it and it becomes much easier to read.

  • To apply for employment with our company, please complete the attached form.

Sadly there are people who feel that if words are good, then more words are better. This is not the case. In business writing, we only need as many words as it takes to make our meaning clear.

Here are some more ‘before’ and ‘after’ sentences (please note these examples focus on the hidden verbs, not on other style issues):

  • We need to carry out a review of the department’s budget to gain an understanding of where we are making overspends.
  • We need to review the department’s budget to understand where we are overspending.

 

  •  If you are unable to make the payment of the $850 instalment on the due date, you need to make an application in writing for approval of the late payment.
  • If you can’t pay the next instalment ($850) on the due date, please apply, in writing, for approval of the late payment.

 

  • Please undertake the calculation of the revised figures before we make our submission of the quarterly projections.
  • Please calculate the revised figures before we submit our quarterly projections.

The Hidden Verb Hunt

When you are hunting hidden verbs, there are some clues to look for.

  1. The ‘nounified’ versions often end in:
  • -ment
  • -tion
  • -sion
  • -ance
  1. Look for the following verbs and check if any hidden verbs are lurking near them:
  • achieve
  • effect
  • give
  • have
  • make
  • reach
  • take
  1. Look for the words ‘the’ and ‘of’ near each other. Often there’s a verb hiding between them.

Some Common Hidden Verbs

  • Conduct a review (review)
  • Make an announcement (announce)
  • Perform an analysis (analyse)
  • Make an adjustment (adjust)
  • Give consideration to (consider)
  • Make the payment (pay)
  • Production of … (produce)
  • Conduct an assessment of … (assess)
  • Performance of … (perform)
  • Make a calculation of … (calculate)
  • Reorganisation of … (reorganise)
  • Make a recovery … (recover)
  • Bring about the introduction of … (introduce)
  • Negotiation of … (negotiate)
  • Achievement of … (achieve)

Do you need another reason to uncover your hidden verbs? Removing them helps reduce wordiness.

Usually I sign off with Happy Writing.

Today, I’ll change it to,

Happy Hunting.