Thursday, March 21, 2013


Now that we have looked at things you should not do in your writing, let’s take a look at my top 10 rules of good business writing. If you follow these rules you will be helping yourself to become a better business writer.

1. Remember Your ABC

Good written communication results when you say exactly what you want to say using an appropriate tone. Your message must meet these essential specifications:

Accurate          Check facts carefully
                        Include all relevant details
                        Proofread thoroughly

Brief                 Keep sentences short
                        Use simple expression
                        Use non-technical language

Clear                Use plan, simple English
                        Write in an easy, natural style
                        Avoid formality or familiarity

2. Be courteous and considerate

Courtesy does not mean using old-fashioned expressions like ‘your kind consideration’ or ‘your esteemed order’. It means showing consideration for your correspondent and being empathetic – that means showing respect for your reader’s feeling. Writing in a courteous style enables a request to be refused without killing all hope of future business. It allows a refusal to be made without ruining a friendship. Courtesy also means:

  • Reply promptly to all communications – answer on the same say if possible.
  • If you cannot answer immediately, write a brief note and explain why. This will create goodwill.
  • Understand and respect the recipient’s point of view.
  • Resist the temptation to reply as if your correspondent is wrong.
  • If you feel some comments are unfair, be tactful and try not to cause offense,
  • Resist the temptation to reply to an offensive letter in a similar tone. Instead answer courteously and do not lower your dignity.

3. Use appropriate tone

If your message is to achieve its purpose the tone must be appropriate. The tone of your message reflects the spirit in which you put your message across. Even when writing a complaint or replying to one, your message can be conveyed in a way so as not to be rude or cause offense. Ignoring the need to use an appropriate tone could result in a message that sounds aggressive, tactless, curt, rude, sarcastic or offensive. This will not meet your desired objectives.

Instead of
We cannot do anything about your problem.

This problem would not have happened if you had connected the wires properly.

Your television’s guarantee is up, so you will have to pay for it to be fixed.

I am writing to complain because I was very unhappy with the way I was treated in your store today.
Unfortunately we are unable to help you on this occasion.

The problem may be resolved by connecting the wires as shown in the handbook.
Your television’s guarantee has ended,
so unfortunately you must bear the cost of any repairs.
I was most unhappy with the standard of service I received in your stores today.

You alter your tone of voice to convey messages in different ways. Much of what you say is also interpreted through non-verbal clues – eye contact, gestures, inflections of the voice, etc. This type of reading between the lines’ is not possible with the written word. Therefore it is vital to choose your words carefully. You can be firm or friendly, persuasive or conciliatory – it depends on the impression you wish to convey. It is important to try to get the tone right because using the wrong tone could cause real offense to your reader.
Here are some expressions to avoid in your business writing:

  • Your failure to reply …..
  • You did not see …..
  • We must insist …..
  • You should not expect to ……
  • Your refusal to co-operate ……
  • You have ignored …..
  • This is not our fault …..
  • I can assure you …..
  • You failed to ……
  • I have received your complaint …..

4. Write naturally and sincerely

Try to show a genuine interest in your reader and his/her problems. Your message should sound sincere while written in your own style. Write naturally, as if you are having a conversation.

Instead of
I have pleasuring in informing you

We do not anticipate any increase in prices

I should be grateful if you would be good enough to advise us.

Please fvour us with a prompt reply

Please revert to us soonest
I am pleased to tell you

We do not expect prices to rise

Please let me know

I hope to receive a prompt reply

I hope to hear from you soon

5. Remember the KISS principle

Business people today have many documents to read. A message that is direct and straight to the point – while retaining courtesy – will be appreciated. As you work on developing your writing ability, you should constantly practise your KISSing skills.
KISS stands for:
                        K = Keep
                        I = It
                        S = Short and
                        S = Simple

KISS means instead of long or complex words, use short ones:

Instead of
Endeavour, attempt
Advise, inform
Hurry, speed up

KISS also means instead of long phrases, use one word where appropriate:

I should be glad if you would
In spite of the fact that
With regard to
At the present moment in time
Conduct an investigation
In view of the fact that
In the event that
In the very near future
At a later date
We would like to ask you to

Research has been conducted into the degree of understanding of sentences of different lengths. Take a look at these figures:

Number of words in the sentences

Percentage of people who will understand on the first reading
7-10 words
15-20 words
27 words or more

You can meet the KISS objectives by using sentences that contain 27-20 words.

Avoid these phrases altogether:

I have noticed that
It has come to my attention that
I am pleased to inform you that
I am writing to let you know that
I must inform you that
Please be informed that
Please be advised that
Thanking you in anticipation
Thank you and regards
Kindest regards

6. Use modern terminology

Old-fashioned phrases add nothing to your meaning. Such unnecessary, long-winded phrases are likely to give a poor impression of the writer and may even lead to confusion. A good business message will use no more words than are necessary to convey a clear and accurate message.

Instead of
We are in receipt of your letter of 12 June

We have received your letter of 12 June

Enclosed herewith you will find….
Please find enclosed……

Please be good enough to advise me…..

Please be reminded…..

……the above-mentioned goods
Thank you for your letter of 12 June

Thank you for your letter of 12 June

I enclose……

Please let me know…..

Please remember……

…..these goods

7. Include essential details

If the recipient of your message must ask a question, or if something is unclear, then something has been omitted from your messing. Do not leave anything to chance. Include all essential information.

Instead of
My flight arrives at 3.30 on Wednesday.

I thoroughly enjoyed your article in last month’s newsletter.

Our Sales Manager will contact you soon.

My flight BA 121 from Dubai should arrive at Singapore Changi Airport at 1530 on Wednesday 12 June.

I thoroughly enjoyed your article on feng shui in last month’s company newspaper.

Mr John Matthews, our Sales Manager, will contact you soon.

8. Be Consistent

Consistency is not only important in the way your message is presented, it is important within the message itself.

Instead of
The people attending will be John Wilson, G Tumer, Mandy Harrison and Bob from Sales

I confirm my reservation of a single room on 16/3 and a double room on 17 Oct.
The people attending the next committee meeting will be John Wilson, Gloria Tumer, Mandy Harrison and Bob Tumer.

I confirm my reservation of a single room on 16 July and a double room on 17 October.

9. Use active and passive voice

 ‘Voice’ is a grammatical term that refers to whether the subject of the sentence is acting or receiving the action. Using active voice can considerably improve your writing style. Active voice makes your writing more interesting, more lively and more… well, active!

Check out these two examples of a similar message:

Active voice: Tim played the violin.

Here, the subject is the actor, Tim. You can almost see Tim paying the violin, totally absorbed in his music. The sentence is alive and interesting.

Passive voice: The violin was played by Tim.

Here, the subject is the violin. The action is gone. The emphasis has been moved from the subject performing the action to the subject receiving the action. It is not so easy to visualize what is happening. The sentence is dull and boring.

Here are some tips that help you to tell when a sentence is passive:

  • Which for the sentences that starts with the action rather than the actor. Sentences that start with the action are often passive.
  • Watch for various forms of the verb ‘to be’ such as – is, are, was, were, will be, have been, should be, etc. These verbs may not always indicate that the sentence is passive, but they often give you a clue.

Passive voice was preferred by our great-grandfathers because they did not want to show any responsibility in their writing. It also created a distance between the writer and the reader. Yes, passive voice was perfect for our great-grandfathers.

Our writing today, however, should show responsibility, and it should be more personal and natural, more focused. Remember my golden rule ‘If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it!’

Instead of
The design of our new systems was simplified by the use of hydraulics.

The new system was developed by our staff.

The investigation has been concluded by our client, and the paperwork has been signed.

The cheque was presented to the charity by the Prince of Wales.
The use of hydraulics simplified the design of our new systems.

Our staff developed the new system.

Our client has concluded the investigation and signed the paperwork.

The Prince of Wales presented the cheque to the charity.

Is passive voice ever appropriate? Yes, there are some occasions when passive voice would be more appropriate.

  • It may be better to make a particularly important noun the subject of the sentence, thus giving it extra emphasis.
Example: It would be better to say:

Our restaurant has been recommended by all the leading hotels in Dubai.

This emphasizes ‘our restaurant’ rather than;
All the leading hotels in Dubai recommend our service.

  • When you want to place the focus on the action, not the actor.
Example: The noise was heard all over the island.
Here, the emphasis is on the noise, not the people who made the noise.

  • When you want to hide something or when tact is important.
Example: An unfortunate mistake was made.

10. Compose CLEAR communications

Finally, when writing any message ask yourself whether it meets the CLEAR objectives. Your message should be:

Clear        Leave no doubt in your reader’s mind. Help yourself by being specific, avoiding vague expressions, using familiar words and using simple English. Remember also to use straightforward language that your reader can understand, written in a friendly, natural, conversational style.

Logical       Structure your messages logically, remembering to use the 4 point plan. Start with an introduction, develop your points logically in the central section, and come to a natural conclusion in which you state the action you need from the reader. Finish with an appropriate one-liner.

Empathetic     Put yourself in your reader’s place and ask yourself how the reader will feel when he/she reads your message. If anything is unclear, or if anything is worded badly, then change it before you send it.

Accurate          Make sure all the relevant details are included – times, dates, names, facts and figures.

Right            Proofread carefully (not just spell check) to make sure everything is 100% right before you send the message.


1 comment:

  1. Exactly if we are writing a letter then we supposed to use active voice where doer (actor) is important.
    This is also the basic fundamental thing to write an essay/letter..

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