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 #184—Decluttering Tips

The world seems full of tips about decluttering. There are books, websites and TV shows devoted to giving us advice on how to declutter our homes, our desks, our bookshelves, even our lives. They all suggest we will be much happier once we have got rid of the clutter.keep-calm-and-declutter-17

Decluttering is something we can usefully apply to our business writing too, and it will make our readers much happier.

Many of the long words we use in business are no better than their shorter alternatives. Here’s a list of examples, taken from William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, to help you declutter.

Long word/phraseShorter equivalent
assistancehelp
numerousmany
facilitateease
remainderrest
initialfirst
implementdo
sufficientenough
attempttry
referred to ascalled
With the possible exception ofExcept
Due to the fact thatBecause
He totally lacked the ability toHe couldn’t
Until such time asUntil
For the purpose ofFor

Other phrases to watch out for are:

  • It should be pointed out …
  • I might add …
  • It is interesting to note …

Think about the meaning of your sentence with and without such phrases and words, and see if the meaning remains clear once you’ve deleted the clutter.

By cutting out the clutter, and paring your work back to the basics, you will be able to see your essential message clearly.

‘But what about style?’ I hear you ask.

Style is important, particularly in sales and marketing copy where you want to engage your readers in a specific way.

Once you’ve decluttered, once you’ve defined the essential message, then you can start to add words. But you will be adding them deliberately, thoughtfully, not just tossing them into the mix from your subconscious.

So when you’re writing:

  • First give your subconscious free rein and get the words on the page, or the screen.
  • Then strip it back. Be ruthless with it until your words convey the essential message.
  • Then, thinking of your audience and your purpose, dress the text up with words that you have thought about, that you have considered carefully, that help achieve the purpose of the piece, and that will appeal to your readers.

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 #177—Keep it simple

I just spent a week enjoying some sun and beach time, staying in a holiday unit. A notice in the apartment reminded of the need to keep it simple.

In the kitchen a notice was displayed asking us to leave the apartment neat and clean when we left. It included a small amount of information about the recycling bin and then told us that ‘More information can be found in your compendium.’lone gull

I laughed out loud. ‘Compendium’ is hardly a word one expects to see in a beachfront holiday apartment. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw the word. What’s wrong with ‘information pack’ or ‘apartment guide’?

When I got back to Canberra I picked up the notes of a business writing course written by a fabulous trainer, who is also a good friend of mine, Anne McDougall. She included a great example. This is a sign that she saw in London.

Soliciting of gratuities by refuse collectors is expressly forbidden.

That is, ‘Dustmen mustn’t ask for tips.’

Big words don’t make us seem more intelligent. They have their place, but it’s not in notices that are designed for the general public. Some of the audience will have no trouble understanding, but think about the people with literacy issues, people who speak English as a foreign language, young children . . . All that these long words do is make it harder for the audience to understand. (Multisyllabic expressions obfuscate the meaning of the utterance for the person who is perusing your written musings to determine a course of action.)

Keep it simple.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #176—Style Notes for Business Letter Writing

abcToday I thought I’d write a few tips about business letter writing style. This list is adapted from Business English HQ.

Remember the ABCs. Audience, brevity, clarity. Next time you write a letter, think about the following:

  • Use clear language. Avoid using long, complicated sentences. Use short, simple sentences that are easy for your reader. Business English HQ suggests twenty-five words or less.
  • Write from your company’s perspective. Remember that whatever is read, outside of your organisation, represents the organisation. Show your strengths and the strengths of the company you work for.
  • State your purpose in the first sentence. Get to the point quickly. People have so much information to process these days. Make your first sentence one which lets your reader know why you are writing.
  • Keep your readers’ needs and interests in mind when you’re writing. Do they need facts, or interpretation? How much do they already know?
  • Use lists—lists help you present information in short blocks and provide white space. These make your letter easier to read. Use parallel structures. By this I mean that all the verbs are in the same form. E.g. write, state, keep, use, etc.
  • End your letter with a call to action. What do you want them to do? If you want a meeting, try “When can we meet to fine tune the details of the proposal?” Or if you need approval for something, “Please approve this proposal by close of business on Wednesday 24 June.”

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 #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.

 

On using adjectives

This week I submitted an assignment for one of the MOOCs I am studying (Write 101X – English Grammar and Style). I chose to write about the use of adjectives. Past posts have looked at the issue of wordiness, and sometimes adjectives are one of the culprits in creating this problem. Having taken the time to write this piece, I decided to use it here as well …

Until yesterday I thought proliferations of adjectives had a place. I was certain there had been times I’d enjoyed descriptive passages that oozed with them—passages like, ‘Frenetic and offhand, deranged and savvy, funny and brutal, crisp and wayward …’ (Jon Pareles). But as I looked at the books I read, I started to question their use or, rather, their overuse.row of garages

Of course, some adjectives are delightful. I recently described the row of garages in this photo as having ‘rustic charm’. I cannot find another expression to convey how I feel about the garages that I photographed on a recent ramble. ‘Rustic’ captured the air of neglect that surrounded them, the muted colours of their faded doors, and the location of the garages in front of an overgrown tangle of trees and bushes. However, if I had written this last sentence (‘the air of neglect … trees and bushes’), I would have been telling my viewers what to think about the photo. I may have limited their view and prevented them from seeing whatever it is that they saw. ‘Rustic charm’ left them room to think for themselves, at the same time as it gave them insight into my sensibilities.

Sometimes adjectives are essential as they define the noun. A terminal illness is different from an illness. The problem seems to be when the adjectives are designed to describe, rather than define.

When people read imagination plays a part. Some elements may need to be described, but, for me, literature works when my brain works. (I almost wrote literature is effective, but to be effective seemed much weaker, and much wordier, than the verb ‘work’).

As I considered the nature and usefulness of adjectives, I randomly selected some books from my shelves. Was my selection random? Perhaps not. The authors are those I admire; each book represents the genres I prefer to read. I digress. I picked up these books to search for adjectives, and to seek proliferations. I was sure I remembered reading and enjoying some.

I opened the first and found a description of a boy: ‘hay-haired, shaggy and filthy’ (The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt). A short string of adjectives. Are they necessary? Well, this description serves to illustrate the differences between this boy and the two others watching him; the differences in their circumstances. No words wasted. Two of the three define.

Next I turn to Night Letters by Robert Dessaix. The book falls open and I immediately see, ‘Brilliant man! Dangerously brilliant! Dangerous because he was so brilliant—composer, poet, writer, diplomat, inventor, confidant of cardinals and princes.’ Here nouns are pulling the sentence along, creating an image without a string of adjectives.

The authors of the remaining books I selected have also failed to write strings of adjectives. It seems that careful writers replace many of their adjective-noun combinations with stronger, more appropriate nouns. Or make sure that their adjectives are defining, not merely descriptive.

Business Writing Tip #61—Avoid Stuffy, Outdated Expressions

Today’s tip is a short one.

Unless you want to sound very stuffy and old-fashioned, avoid using words and phrases that are never used in conversation. Or, in other words, if you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it! conversation

Here are some examples of expressions to avoid:

  • Attached herewith…
  • This is to advise you…
  • As per your request…

There are simple, elegant, plain English alternatives which are perfectly polite.

  • I have attached (or enclosed)…
  • I’m writing to let you know… (in some cases you don’t even need this.)
  • As requested…

I think my favourite of all time was when I received a letter which finished with the words

“I remain, Sir, your obedient servant.”

I seriously had to wonder which century I was living in…and why the author addressed me as a man.