Effective Business writing – Common mistakes part 1

Greetings. I have been offline for a while working on other projects and now I’m back. I have become more enamoured with video for educational and promotional purposes. Here is a short clip I made from some software. It outlines one common mistake that many of my students make when doing business writing. The link in the video is another about writing I am working on. Enjoy.

This video is being brought to you by http://how-to-write-that.net

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Effective business writing – more on analyzing your audience

Now here’s a big question if you are analyzing your audience. How old is your reader?  Different age groups have different perspectives.Baby boomer Here are three major demographic groups to keep in mind when analyzing your audience.

Baby boomer – (1943-1963) –  This group is success-oriented, team-oriented, anti authoritarian (remember these are the former flower children). Don’t ever call a 60-year-old baby boomer “old”. Boomers love possibilities and constant change but invented the term ‘workaholic’, and set high standards for themselves and others. They like to ‘climb the ladder of success’, and you’ll find many of them in executive positions in organizations at the moment. They like open direct and detailed communication.

 

Gen X – These people were born about 1965 or so to around 1980 – Scarred with a touch of cynicism from having parents who may have suffered from the recessions of the 70s and 80s, this group is conservative but entrepreneurial. They understand that a job is not for life. They don’t anticipate companies will be loyal to them, and conversely, they will not be loyal to them either. (“If you want loyalty, get a dog” this group has been known to say.)

They value independence, creativity, work-life balance, flexibility, and invest in their own development.

This group prefers email. Keep your message short, sweet and informal. Ask them for feedback and give them regular feedback.

Gen Y –  These are teenagers  to  early 30 somethings, children of boomers, also known as echo boomers.

They grew up during the high tech revolution and couldn’t imagine a world without ATMs and cell phones. They prefer positive real-time feedback, autonomy, value input, and tend to be positive.  They also value technology,  making and spending money, and have a healthy appreciation for diversity. It’s a given. Also never talk down to a Gen Y or use an overbearing tone in any written communication.

 

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Effective Business writing- analyzing your audience

In business writing, analyzing audience is a crucial step in the writing process, as I said in the last post. In fact, all business writing is reader-centred. Whether you are writing a novel or a technical report, you’re always writing for the reader. In business writing, there are some key questions you can ask about your audience.

What is the position of the reader? Is the reader your manager or your employee. The power relationship matters very much when you are writing a business document. No doubt, any correspondence with your manager will have a tone of formality and careful thought about what you put and what you leave out.

How much does the person know about the subject? Is this a technical reader, an expert in the subject, or is this person less technical than yourself? I worked for someone once in a wireless company who did not much about the technology he was promoting, but had product specialists who helped with the technical details. To him, my correspondence did not need to be full of jargon.

When you are considering how much a person knows, also consider what he/he knows about the actual situation. A sales manager may not know as much about what is going on the front lines as a sales person. Also, ask yourself, what that person needs to know about the situation.

What is the mindset of your reader? Is he/she open or close-minded? Traditional or unconventional? All these factors will affect how you shape your message for a good piece of business writing.

What education does your reader have? Most people read at a high school level. Consider whether your reader has been university educated or even has advanced degrees. This is a person who may not be accepting of awkwardly written correspondence.

Is your business reader in North America or outside North America? This matters. North Americans prefer a more direct style of communicating.

 

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Five Business report writing tips

report writing tips

Reports seemed to have challenged my students this term; indeed, they challenge many people, so here are five  business report writing tips for you in case you have to write one soon.

 

1.  Plan your report. We spend a lot of time on planning, yet it is something people are reluctant to do. How do you plan? Understand that  what ever you are writing about can be broken down into sections and segments. Ask yourself, what is this report about, and what do I want to accomplish. Most reports are highly informational. There is a fair bit of detailed information you are going to provide to your reader, usually, so he or she can make an informed decision.

2. Brainstorm. Once you are clear what your main topic and purpose are for your report, a good idea is to brainstorm. I like to use good old fashioned pen and paper. Very quickly, jot down all the different subtopics associated with your area. Try not to think too hard about it. These eventually will form the headings or subheadings in your report.  Brainstorming is a key business report writing step that will help you direct your research.

3. Think about your audience. All business report writing is about audience. We focus a lot on assessing the audience , your readers–on who they are, what the mindset is, the language level and the business concerns that the reader(s) have. This will help you carve out the right information. A big mistake my students make is they create “writer-focused” documents instead of reader-focused documents. Remember this well. It’s about the reader, always.

4. Sort and select your information appropriately. The biggest decision you will have to make as a writer is answering the questions: “Does my reader need to know this”. If they don’t, leave it out. So often I get assignments with “information dumps”.  It’s not about how much information you supply the reader, but how appropriate it is .

5. Be sure to edit your work. This is standard advice I give to everyone. We always miss things. In business report writing, you need to proofread, that is edit for spelling, grammar and punctuation. And you also need to edit for tone and style, that is for conciseness, and a reader-friendly tone, one that speaks directly to  him or her without using the dreaded passive voice,  ‘deadwood’  or ‘obfuscated verbiage’ (translation: bloated language).

 

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Writing an effective letter of complaint

Writing an effective letter of complaint something we all need to know how to do. Why would you want to do this? You bought something, it didn’t work properly, you were overcharged on your credit card, you want the charge to be reversed, a delivery shipment arrived with the wrong items, or the product or service that you ordered is not performing as expected. You are disappointed, you are angry and you want your money back (or at the very least an exchange). Here then, is effective complaint letter format (I’m going to assume that you already know about how to set up the basic parts of the letter including your vendor’s contact information. your own, the date, the salutation and the complimentary close).

Continue Reading →

Four ‘sound-alike’ spelling errors writers make

If you want ensure that your writing credibility remains intact, whether you are blogging, writing for work or creating student papers, then it’s important to watch for these four common ‘sound alike’ spelling errors writers make.

Continue Reading →

Is the letter dead?

Is the letter dead? I posed this question to my students on a discussion forum last term and the consensus was that we still write them from time to time, but most people use email.

Continue Reading →

What my students learned about writing

I had a good group of students this term in my night class, and many of them shook my hand after the exam when they said goodbye. They told me they learned something this term.

Continue Reading →

Four vocabulary building tips

A powerful vocabulary will make you a powerful writer, so here are four vocabulary building tips.

Continue Reading →

The person shift – watch out for it in your writing

As I review student assignments, I’m noticing one of the most common errors is the person shift. For example, in a report on business etiquette in other countries, a student writes, “In Saudia Arabia, men wear dark conservative suits. Avoid wearing short skirts if you’re a woman.” There! The writing just shifted voice from “third” detached voice to the “you” voice.

Continue Reading →

Some business email etiquette guidelines

email etiquette
Most people communicate at work using email; thus, knowing and understanding a few business email etiquette guidelines can save you a lot of grief later. Here are some things you should watch for.

1. Watch out for sending before you mean to. I have done this. The email landed in the wrong person’s inbox, and in those of multiple recipients. That was embarrassing. So draft your message. Use Notepad or Wordpad if you have to, but avoid entering the recipient’s address before you’re absolutely ready to send.

2. Be sure you remember the attachment. Having to send the second email can make you look unprofessional. So before you hit “send” check and double check that your attachment is properly loaded.

3. Avoid being impatient: Don’t expect your recipient to answer your email within 30 seconds of getting it. Don’t show up at the person’s desk and ask if he/she got it. Don’t send another email 30 minutes later and ask if he/she got the previous, and don’t call. The point of email is to give your recipient the option of asynchronous communication – to not have to respond in an instant. I know that when I get more than one email within 24 hours from a student, it starts to become pesky. In fact it’s a major turn off, and I tell that person to be patient. So be patient. It’s good business email etiquette. Give your recipient a day or two to respond before following up.

4. Watch out for forwarding jokes, special offers or other trivial emails. It is good business email etiquette to keep your work email account strictly for work. Use personal email for private correspondence. Some of those “forwards” could end in the wrong inboxes (inside the workplace and out). This could have a number of drastic consequences from losing customers, to getting you fired if the emails are exceptionally inappropriate.

5. Watch out for being impulsive with your responses after you return from vacation. When you return to the office after being away, read all new e-mails before firing off responses. Life did go on when you were away, and you’ll need to get up to speed on some issues before responding appropriately to some emails. You could end up duplicating the communication of a co-worker if you don’t touch bases with everyone before replying This could lead to confusion, errors, and at the very least, wasted time for everyone involved.

So email writer beware. Being attentive to business email etiquette will serve you well and save you from embarassment and some drastic consequences.

Print Print

Related Posts:

Continue Reading →

Passive voice sentences-when to use them

I’ve been marking refusal letters lately and that means accepting an appropriate use of passive voice sentences. But let’s back up.

What is the Passive Voice?

The passive voice is the indirect form of the language. It de-emphasizes the subject that is taking direct action and emphasizes what is being acted upon. Here’s an example:

Active voice: The manger refused the credit application. (Very direct)
Passive voice: The credit application was refused (by the manager).

You will notice that the second sentence doesn’t draw attention to the person who refused the application. That’s why corporations and government like to use this form of the language to avoid drawing attention or blame to anyone.

In our business writing course, we study refusal letters, where I encourage students to deliver the “refusal statement” using the passive voice.

For example: “Credit cannot be extended now”. Notice how it doesn’t say who refused the credit, and it softens the blow of the reader having been just rejected for credit.

In general, I’m not a great fan of the passive voice. It sets the writer up forwordier sentences (and you really want to strive for conciseness in writing), and it creates a tone in writing that is disconnected from the reader, one that is less reader-focused and less conversational.

The active voice – Writers who use the direct construction, the subject/verb construction create more reader-friendly concise writing. This is especially important in the online environment.

So think twice about using passive sentences and use them sparingly.

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

MLA Documentation style

It`s that time of year at the college where everyone is hard at work on their research papers; research means documentation, and in one of my courses we are using MLA style. I have posted a PowerPoint on SlideShare.com (neat tool) which I`ll display here, that gives a run down on some basic MLA tips. Documentation as you know is extremely important, especially in this age of easy information access and a feeling that all you have to do is cut and paste, and viola! you have your essay.

Continue Reading →

Proofreading 101-Four tips

Confession time: proofreading is something I have to work hard at, especially when I’m looking at my own work. That’s because I’m not detached. Most of us have a hard time spotting our own errors, but I have some tips to help.

Continue Reading →

Business writing 101-Writing an interoffice memo

Writing an interoffice memo is a common practice in most jobs. Memos typically are short informative messages sent from one person in an organization to one or more people. These days the memo can be sent as e-mail (most common), electronically formatted and published emailed document, e-mail with an attachment, or hard copy. The hard copy is just a back up for the one that was sent through the network.

Memo set- up When writing an interoffice memo we use a document with four tags.

To – (enter the name of the primary receiver(s) of the message here;
From– (enter your name if you’re the author)
Subject – (no more than six words describing the memo’s main point, Date – This is usually today’s date, the date the memo is being sent.
An additional memo tag is “CC”, which technically stands for “carbon copy” and is meant for secondary readers, those to whom the message is also of interest.

The dimensions of writing

A simple memo

When writing your interoffice memo, structure is important. We often use direct structure where the main message is clearly and directly stated in the opening. Often this may be the same as the main purpose of the message (sometimes we call this front-loading).

The middle paragraphs or sentences, explain the memo in more concrete detail, developing the message, and finally, the closing paragraph ends the message on a note of goodwill and usually invites the reader to follow up if necessary.

Here is an example of one type of interoffice memo: the instructional memo. This document usually has a bulleted list of gentle command to the reader, giving he/she some guidelines or instructions. The list is in parallel structure, and each item starts with an active verb

Print Print

Related Posts:

Continue Reading →

Grammar humour

some funny grammar rules that have been floating around for a while.

Continue Reading →

Why English is hard to learn

English is full of words that sound the same as others but are spelled differently and have different meanings. In English you will also find the same word, same spelling even, can have different meaningsdepending on what part of speech it is. This totally confuses many of my students, but native speakers are also not immune. So here goes: 10 reasons why the English Language is hard to learn (source unknown)

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm used to produce produce.

3. the dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7. Since there was no time like the present, he though it was time to present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. They were too close to the door to close it.

How do you deal with words that sound the same? Use a dictionary. See what the words mean in context. Be clear on which part of speech it is. (i.e. is it a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb for example).

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Business writing 101-dump trite phrases

Dump trite phrases from your business writing. They don’t belong. They make your writing sound stuffy and unreadable. Once upon ago, these phrases were they in fashion, but now are tired and worn. They sound unnatural and not conversational. And contrary to popular belief, business writing is plain and conversational, not pompous and starchy. As I also mentioned before, business writing needs to be concise. So here are some phrases to chunk down to plain English.

*Instead of saying as per your request ( bit old fashioned), why not say as your request, or as you requested.
*Instead of saying pursuant to your request (would you speak that?)why not say at your request.
*Instead of saying in accourdance with your wishes, why not say as you wish.
*Instead of saying with reference to, why not say about.
*Instead of saying thank you in advance, why not say thanks.
*Instead of saying every effort will be made, why not say we’ll try.

Some of these phrases sound a bit “lawyer-like” -the legal profession is notorious for its long-winded and archaic language. Always ask yourself, “would I actually use that phrase if I were speaking it to the person?” The answer is no! So in addition to the above, watch out for words such as “herewith” “heretofore” and “undersigned”. They sound important but really, they create a gap between you and your reader. Business writing is always about the reader. The goal is always to write as if you are speaking to him/her, as if he/she is sitting in front of you. So dump the trite phrases!

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Business writing 101-write concisely

Welcome to Business Writing 101, where I’ll be offering up some tips from the trenches. Our tip for today: write concisely.

Writing concisely means saying in as few words as possible. Often when we compose writing, our first draft can come out rather long- winded. That’s OK. The most important thing is that you got it down. But your first draft is never your best. And besides, your business readers are busy. Any thing that frustrates their reader experience will affect your message. They do not want to get tangled up in yards of long winded prose. So, here are some tips to carve out the unnecessary verbiage ( translation: how to keep it brief).

    Avoid long lead ins. Many of us begin a document with “I’m writing to tell you that”, or “this letter is to inform you that”… and this is stating the obvious. Of course you’re writing. So why not get down to business. For many routine documents, you are going to be relaying information or news.

    So cut to the chase. Instead of saying “This is to inform you that the office will be closed tomorrow”, why not say, “The office will be closed tomorrow”. That phrase had six words, whereas the previous one had 12 and said the same thing. Conciseness rules in business writing. Your readers busy.

Get rid of wordy compound prepositions.

    Instead of saying at a “later date” why not say “later”
    Instead of “at this point in time”, why not use “now”
    Instead of “due to the fact that”, translate that into “because” or “since”

Watch out for redundancies – these are phrases with several words that mean the same thing

    Some thing that is “exactly identical” is just ‘identical”
    If you have a “personal opinion”, then you have an “opinion”
    If you have a “proposed plan”, then you also have a “plan”

Print Print

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Continue Reading →

Why learn business writing skills

oor writing skills cost my business because I, and other senior management, have to spend time reviewing and redrafting document and letters. Employers bear the rugnt of the cost of training and educating their employees in ares such as basic writing skills.

Continue Reading →

Page 1 of 2