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BUSINESS WRITING BASICS
BUSINESS WRITING BASICS
Self-Counsel Press (a division of) International Self-Counsel Press Ltd. USA Canada
PREFACE 1 BUSINESS WRITING — THERE HAVE BEEN SOME CHANGES Reader Focus Clear, Concise Writing Grammar and Spelling Organization Tone Visual Appeal In Summary 13 WAYS TO MIND YOUR READER’S BUSINESS AND PUT YOUR OWN ON THE BACK BURNER 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS YOU NEVER LEARNED IN SCHOOL The Reader Word Choice Sentences
xiii 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5
6 12 13 13 21
Paragraphs Appearance 25 26 34 35 38 39 42 49 50 54 58 4 WAYS TO ADD PERSONALITY TO YOUR WRITING AND WIN FRIENDS Different Kinds of Tone Starting to Write Being Courteous Selling Your Message 42 WAYS TO MASTER LETTERS AND MAKE YOURSELF LOOK PROFESSIONAL ON PAPER Organization Writing Format 42 WAYS TO WRITE EMAILS THAT WILL INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING READER BUY-IN Format Email Etiquette Surviving Your Reader’s Inbox Subject Lines Opening Lines 20 TIPS FOR WRITING SHORT REPORTS AND MEMOS THAT GET READ AND ACTED UPON Organization Writing Window Dressing 37 WAYS TO TAKE THE STRESS AND DRUDGERY OUT OF REPORT WRITING AND MAKE YOUR REPORTS READABLE Step 1 — Analysis Step 2 — Gathering the Details Step 3 — Organizing the Information Short reports 5 6 83 85 91 93 94 95 102 103 105 111 7 8 116 118 119 120 120 viii BUSINESS WRITING BASICS .
COACH OTHER WRITERS.Formal reports Graphics Getting ready to write Step 4 — Writing Step 5 — Resting Step 6 — Editing 120 126 128 132 135 135 137 138 139 139 140 140 141 144 144 146 146 151 156 9 25 TIPS FOR BUILDING A BUSINESS CASE THAT INFLUENCES DECISION MAKERS The Reader The Template Executive Summary Current State Analysis Solutions/Alternatives Cost and Benefit Analysis Risk Management Implementation Conclusions and Recommendation Final Thoughts 16 THOUGHTS ON DESIGNING POWERPOINT SLIDES 29 WAYS TO WRITE FOR THE WORLD WIDE WEB 44 SUGGESTIONS TO WRITE FASTER. AVOID WRITER’S BLOCK. AND BECOME AN EFFECTIVE GHOSTWRITER Writing Faster Avoiding Writer’s Block Helping Others Improve Their Writing Being a Ghostwriter 10 11 12 163 163 167 168 169 CONTENTS ix .
SAMPLES 1 Hard-to-Read Letter 2 Easier-to-Read Letter 3 Format for Information Letter 4 Format for Bad-News Letter 5 Format for Persuasion Letter 6 Information Letter (Reader name unknown) 7 Information Letter (Block style) 8 Information Letter (Modified block style) 9 Information Letter with a List (Modified semi-block style) 10 Bad-News Letter (Block style) 11 Bad-News Letter (Modified block style) 12 Bad-News Letter (Modified semi-block style) 13 Persuasion Letter (Block style) 14 Persuasion Letter (Modified block style) 15 Persuasion Letter (Modified semi-block style) 16 Poor Email 17 Revised Email 18 Examples of Disclaimers 19 An Email Written in Letter Style (Poor) 20 Message Rewritten in Email Format 21 Poor Email 22 Message Reorganized for Email Delivery 23 Format for Information Short Report 24 Format for Problem-Solving Short Report 25 Format for Persuasion Short Report 26 Format for Internal Proposal Memo 27 Information Memo with Distribution List 28 Letter of Transmittal 29 Report Title Page 30 Executive Summary 31 Time Sheet 27 28 52 53 55 62 70 71 72 74 76 77 78 79 81 87 87 90 96 97 99 100 106 107 108 109 113 122 123 124 131 x BUSINESS WRITING BASICS .
32 33 34 35 Short Solution/Alternatives Section Risk Section for a Business Case on Purchasing New Software Implementation Section for a Business Case Conclusions and Recommendation 142 145 147 148 11 50 104 129 130 14 17 18 36 51 56 59 105 127 134 135 32 48 69 101 115 136 150 155 162 WORKSHEETS 1 Planning Tool for Reader Analysis 2 Planning Tool for Letters 3 Planning Tool for Short Reports 4 Storyboard Planning Tool for Reports 5 Time Sheet TABLES 1 Easier-to-Read Words 2 Connecting Words and Phrases 3 Clichés to Avoid 4 Tone 5 Formats for Writing Letters 6 Opening Lines 7 Closing Lines 8 Formats for Writing Short Reports 9 Methods of Organizing Information Reports 10 Organization for Comparative Reports 11 Numbering Systems for Reports CHECKLISTS 1 Business Writing Style 2 Appropriate Tone 3 Letters 4 Emails 5 Short Reports and Memos 6 Editing Reports 7 Business Cases 8 PowerPoint Slides 9 Websites CONTENTS xi .
It was a waste of his time. Now effective writers “speak” about what the reader wants to know and needs to know. inappropriate tone. He was “much too busy to consider the reader” before he composed an email message or letter. a young man firmly opposed this idea. Even until the end of the last century.Chapter 2 13 WAYS TO MIND YOUR READER’S BUSINESS AND PUT YOUR OWN ON THE BACK BURNER One of the main changes in business writing over the recent years has been in terms of writers’ focus. missing information. writers tended to write about what they knew and what they wanted the reader to know. His manager claimed the young man produced dull. This change in focus from the sender’s interests to the receiver’s needs means that writers must understand their readers before they begin to write. lifeless material that often rambled or irritated readers. In one of my workshops. Nor was it unusual for him to receive phone calls or emails requesting additional information. Yet this same person also admitted his readers didn’t always follow through the way he wanted. Vague ideas. and sometimes he had to write a second letter to clarify the first. boring delivery — these are some of the things 6 . irrelevant details.
or are simpler words better? In addition. Here are some questions to ask yourself about your readers before you begin to write: 1. although long-time residents of a country may know numerous words for an item. Ensure your typeface is a reasonable size. 7 . How much education do the readers have? Do they have a general education or are they specialists in the same field as you? Is it appropriate to use jargon or “insider” words? 3. you will have to generalize. they still may want clear. helpful personality. new arrivals may know only one. What is the approximate age of the readers? Are they in the workforce? Although older readers may prefer a more formal tone. the better your correspondence will be. But the more you focus on your reader. 13 WAYS TO MIND YOUR READER’S BUSINESS .” In other words. if you sit back and think before you begin to input your ideas. and present the message in a manner that will appeal to them. there are occasions when you don’t know much about your reader.. you will be an effective writer.that can detract from your message if you fail to think about your reader before you write. There is a marvelous saying that applies both to report and correspondence writing: “Typists pound keyboards. If you are answering a letter or email from a stranger or responding to a quick phone call. concise documents. talk their language. What is the vocabulary level of your readers? Is English their main language? Are they comfortable with long. complicated words.. Undoubtedly. However. and writers stare out windows. consider yourself a typist. And if you learn to see through your readers’ eyes. 2. then your correspondence will develop an interesting. if you busy yourself on your keyboard before you are clear about your reader and the reason for writing. Many business people are becoming older and reaching the point where they require reading glasses.
What special interests or concerns will the readers have regarding this information? Are you writing a report for politicians whose constituents are affected by your message? If so. 7. third.4. If you know they want the recommendation at the top of the first page. 8. or you may have to be particularly persuasive and explain where the money can be found. reduce or eliminate the background and concentrate on the current details. 6. or fourth time you’ve written? If so. you had better include a strong analysis of the pros and cons of your message. How are you related to the reader? Are you writing to your boss. don’t give them a ten-page document. emails to your boss and colleagues are less formal than letters written to clients. or the board of directors? Your tone must change accordingly. the public. that’s where you should put it. a client. What do your readers do for a living? How much understanding do they have of this particular subject? Conveying information of a legal nature to a lawyer requires different words than conveying the same information to a layperson. a potential customer. 8 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . 5. Are you writing a proposal to people who believe another company should be the chosen vendor? You will need some strong arguments and some creative thinking to convince them otherwise. What sort of reports do the readers normally want to receive? If you know they prefer reports of no more than two pages in length. Are there any economic or staff constraints that will be foremost in the readers’ minds when they read your material? If you are recommending spending money your organization doesn’t have. Generally. the president of your company. so that background details are needed? Is this the second. 9. How many times have you written to these readers about this topic? Is this the first time. you may be wasting your time with this correspondence.
The tradition in France is to begin reports with the theory behind the problem and follow with the history. How do you want your readers to react to your message? Do you want them to take some action? In that case. some words have a different range of meanings according to the country. Their writing style is indirect. concise. If your readers are in a different country. What do the readers need to know about this topic in order to take action? And what do they want to know? As soon as you have focused on this information. Therefore. your request should be concrete. 13 WAYS TO MIND YOUR READER’S BUSINESS .. German reports include detailed background information whether readers require it or not. In reports. they developed differently. Japanese writers are extremely polite and begin letters with references to impersonal topics.10.” and include numerous details and adjectives. the French word for teacher is le professeur. Although English.. as opposed to the North American desire for clarity and conciseness. such as the weather. in English the term professor is used only for a teacher at a university. and Italian are all based on Latin. Portuguese. Stay alert to the different meanings of words. The British consider the North American “natural” tone disrespectful. For example. their writing rules may differ. you can eliminate all other details. This affects the organization of the message. 12. you will want to maintain their goodwill and future cooperation. Writers from Latin countries often subscribe to the theory “more is best. However. They tend to play down bad news. It is not only courteous but also good business sense to try to adapt your writing style to theirs. 9 . The British have a much more formal writing style and tend to use expressions North Americans consider outdated. and direct. If the information is bad news. French. Spanish. 11. the Japanese tend to present information in chronological order.
if your boss is pleased with the report you have written. you will start getting the response you want from your readers. or do you need them to be concerned so they’ll contribute to your charity? This information alters your word choice. with the appropriate tone. In addition. you will produce reports and correspondence more efficiently. Worksheet 1 is a planning tool for analyzing your reader. Are there any secondary readers? Secondary readers are people to whom a copy of your correspondence is given. 10 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . That manager is your second reader. in the long run. as you will be writing more clearly. For example. you will find that. he or she may pass it on to a manager. and the report should be written and organized in a manner that will meet his or her needs. 13. If you use it before you begin to write.Do you want them to feel some emotion? Do you want them excited about your idea or your product so they will want it.
11 .WORKSHEET 1 PLANNING TOOL FOR READER ANALYSIS PRIMARY READER Reader’s background Relationship to writer Vocabulary level Tone Information reader already has Details the reader needs to know Details the reader wants to know Reader’s reaction Action you want reader to take Are there any secondary readers? Pleased Upset Indifferent Basic Informal Standard Neutral Technical Formal 13 WAYS TO MIND YOUR READER’S BUSINESS ...
such as mathematics. or they have taken courses that concentrate on academic writing. The reader is usually an expert in the field and is paid to read and to critique the document. clear. documents are usually written for multiple readers who may not be familiar with the subject matter. This chapter is devoted to specific. In academic writing. which is not the same as business writing. easily adopted tips that ensure your correspondence — whether it travels by “snail mail” 12 . and easy to read. the writer is trying to convince a limited audience that he or she knows a great deal about a specific topic. In addition. the readers don’t have to — or don’t wish to — take the time to sort through and interpret long. few people have received extensive training in this area. today’s business communications require a style of writing that is concise. They have either specialized in courses that require little writing. Academic writing differs from business writing primarily in terms of the reader and the goal. complicated messages. In the business world. Business documents are prepared under time and money constraints.Chapter 3 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS YOU NEVER LEARNED IN SCHOOL Although writing ranks as one of the key skills needed in business today. Therefore.
But polysyllabic words are still available for creative or recreational writing. I suggest you go back and do so. 3. This will reduce the chance for misunderstandings. jargon can explain concepts more clearly 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Although there are over a million words in the English language. If you’re writing for such a group. Reading comprehension studies show that people absorb information faster if it is written slightly below their normal comprehension levels. I devoted a whole chapter to it. If you have not yet read Chapter 2. Simple words work best. most of the words in the English language have more than one meaning. In addition. simpler words to use in their place. simple words. Everything hinges on this information. Table 1 shows a list of words that have been standard fare in business correspondence and offers you some alternative. Jargon is the technical language used by a specific group or profession. clear-thinking individual.000 words and learns just two new words a year. The number one rule of all communications — written or spoken — is to know your audience. THE READER 1. Knowing your reader is the key to success. Jargon has its place. choose short. And if they are in business — whether they are on their own or working for someone else — they don’t have time to check a dictionary or ponder the meanings of unfamiliar words.. WORD CHOICE 2. Some readers may ask what will happen to the English language if we eliminate the fancy words. customer-oriented. To ensure the average reader interprets your message correctly.or by electronic methods — meets the needs of the marketplace and projects an image of you as a professional. the average adult has a working vocabulary of only 5. 13 .. It is so important.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . occurrence . . . . . signify . . . despite. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . incident review. . . . . . . . . . . despite the fact that . . whether or not . . help try result. . ease improve expect determine. . . . . aid send now. . . . . . initiate . . implement . . . . . . . . . . . USE lessen. . . . . . . . . . . forward . . . in order to . . . . . . . . cognizant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . outcome speed up help. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . information mean support. . . . . . . . . . . eventuality . . . . . . . . as per your request . . . . . . . . . begin to requires but. . . . . . . . . . . . . immediately . . . . regardless event. . . . . . . . . . . . anticipate . . . . . notwithstanding . . . . . variation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . under no circumstances . . . . . consequence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . facilitate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . substantiate . . . . prove never use change if 14 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ascertain . . . . . utilize . . . . . . .TABLE 1 EASIER-TO-READ WORDS INSTEAD OF alleviate . . . . endeavor . . . . . ameliorate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . necessitates . . . . . . . . . enable . . . . expedite . . . . perusal . . right away start start. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . outcome although allow. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . find out as you requested aware result. . .
and concisely than plain English. They lean toward 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Otherwise. we are also sending you our latest brochure. such as very. For example. In addition. read the sentence aloud to determine if you really need it. If two words mean nearly the same thing. the less expressive one should go. Good business writing is economical. Most of the time. In my past experience … (How many experiences have you had that weren’t in your past?) In my experience … First and foremost First The word that is often overused. Each word you write should have a purpose. the sentence reads better without it. efficacy is familiar to health-care professionals but leaves others shaking their heads. This means all unnecessary words should be eliminated. or connect ideas. we are sending you our latest brochure. a breakdown in communications could occur.. detract from your professional image. Example Better I understand that you are looking for a new account manager. set a tone. Intensive words. Intensives should be used with care. and it helps build rapport with a technical reader. Likewise. the word iterative is quite common with engineers. Whenever you find yourself writing it. 15 . 4. I understand you need a new account manager. highly. 5. Every word is included for a reason: to convey a message. Example Better Example Better Example Better In addition. but is confusing to most other people. greatly. and extremely.. Use jargon when you know the word is appropriate for the intended audience.
I have yet to find anyone who overuses this technique. If you don’t use connecting words. your writing will appear disjointed. 16 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . they may even give up and turn to easier-toread material. or illustrates (yellow light) the preceding point. Connecting words or phrases will help you “drive” your reader through your material. it is now acceptable to use them. as everyone gives the words his or her own subjective meaning. but too many will give your correspondence a stilted. in addition. Table 3 lists common clichés and their modern replacements. Table 2 lists some connecting words you can use to move your writing along in different situations. Readers will be forced to interpret it themselves. You might get away with the occasional cliché. Words such as however. these words serve as excellent connectors in emails and some letters. and to summarize signal the reader that the upcoming statement supports (green light). For more formal documents. I recommend a connecting word or phrase approximately every third sentence. 7. Although this practice was frowned upon years ago. Clichés are words and phrases that were refreshing in bygone years. Clichés are boring. Example Better I was very pleased to talk with you last week regarding … I was pleased to talk with you last week regarding … 6. insincere tone. Note: Sentences may begin with and or but.overstatement. you would use in addition and however. They also imply information that cannot be measured. therefore. which may cause the reader to doubt your reliability. conflicts with (red light). They make it sound as if we are talking to our reader. Now they are meaningless.
next. obviously so. as a result. in other words Conclusion therefore. also then. accordingly. to sum up. naturally. on the other hand for example and. later. subsequently Same direction furthermore. likewise. after. third. on the contrary Illustration to illustrate. formerly. second. in addition Contrast however. while INFORMAL again. to be sure of course. besides. 17 . moreover. first. yet. in comparison Time eventually. nevertheless.. in conclusion Emphasis in any event.TABLE 2 CONNECTING WORDS AND PHRASES PURPOSE Comparison FORMAL similarly. still. meanwhile. in short but.. since. still 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS .
” Attached is/are Enclosed is/are Enclosed is/are Here is/are These words are legalese. Delete them. Referring to your request. At this point in time Attached please find Please find enclosed Enclosed please find You will find Hereto/herewith/hereby/ said/above/same/thereof/ wherein/hereinafter I remain Permit me to say I would like to take this opportunity to This letter is for the purpose of We wish to acknowledge receipt of As per your request. At this time At this writing. say “now. In reference to your letter The writer. I Thank you for … Separately 18 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . The undersigned Thanking you in advance Under separate cover REPLACEMENT If you have a date. As you requested in your letter of May 3. If you mean now. In response to Me.TABLE 3 CLICHÉS TO AVOID CLICHÉ At your earliest convenience. give it. Old-fashioned — delete Useless filler — delete Useless filler — delete Useless filler — delete We have received As requested. Pursuant to your request. At an early date.
Helping verbs include: • Be (am. I have been (helping verbs) invited to tour the plant. is. but it adds additional. were. Strong verbs create powerful messages. are. However. go over your writing and “flag” all words ending with -ance. Whenever possible. Whenever possible. To remedy this problem.. I am invited to tour the plant. had) • Do (does. was. 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Helping verbs aren’t always helpful. Then they search for another verb to fit the sentence. did) • Shall • Should • Would Example Better Example Better I will have (helping verbs) completed the project by Friday. 9. Example Better Example Better This letter is a confirmation of the details of our meeting last Tuesday. replace these words with a verb. 19 . This letter confirms the details of last Tuesday’s meeting. and -ion. There is a category of verbs called helping verbs. Prepare an agenda before the meeting. Not only does this rob sentences of their strength and vitality. They help other verbs express their meanings. -ment. I will complete the project by Friday. replace them with strong action verbs. been) • Have (has. unnecessary words. Many writers unconsciously take strong verbs and turn them into nouns.8. they can weaken a message.. Preparation of an agenda should be done before a meeting.
At our next meeting. Example Better It appears the figures are inaccurate. such as Nov. Example Better At our next meeting. you lose credibility. Take the time to write the words in full.Note: Eliminating all helping verbs is impossible. etc. or just the consonants. it appears. 12. Impersonal phrases such as it was suggested. for amount. 11. we will discuss forecasting. They may consist of the first few letters. Whenever you use these wimpy phrases. some of the items we will discuss are: • Forecasting 20 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS Better . and graphs. your sentence becomes stronger. Would. Abbreviations are fine for emails. we should consider. Example Better Better Would you please send us a copy of the financial statement? Will you please send us a copy of the financial statement? Please send us a copy of the financial statement. Abbreviations are shortened forms of words. or replace them with the more positive words will and can. Eliminate them. it seems. Avoid etc. customer suveys. customer surveys. for November. But every time you delete or replace one. Verbs and phrases should inspire confidence. and could are weak verbs. and new leads. At our next meeting. (except in emails). The figures are inaccurate. amt. we seem to be in favor. new leads. and give yourself the image of an energetic professional. some of the items we will discuss are forecasting. might. 10. and it may be that … are too tentative. They are not recommended for letters or reports as they make the writer look lazy. tables. Be careful when using abbreviations. Impersonal phrases weaken ideas. Delete them.
Initial letters of words can form abbreviations. You should redefine it. If you do need the occasional acronym for faster reading. Better 21 .. Contractions give writing an informal tone. for example.”) Two new account managers. make sure you define it the first time you use it. Too many abbreviations of this type make readers feel they are looking at a bowl of alphabet soup. Contractions are words that have been shortened by omitting letters. They turn on in the beginning. Example Credit Valley Hospital (CVH) is known for its commitment to community involvement. all words should be spelled out — avoid contractions. Use contractions in email messages or in informal letters. the reader may have forgotten what it stands for. tune out in the middle.. and assume they understand what went on. Be careful you don’t bury crucial information in the middle of a long sentence. will help us 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Example In the near future.• Customer surveys • New leads 13. it’s instead of it is or can’t instead of cannot. People read the same way they watch a situation comedy on TV. 14. Credit Valley Hospital becomes CVH. as does “improving our customer service. come back for the end. Staff from CVH regularly volunteer at the food bank. When writing a report. SENTENCES 15. sales will be hiring two new account managers as we work on improving our customer service. For example. It may get overlooked. Note: If more than five pages have passed since you spelled out an acronym or abbreviation. The first and last words of a sentence stand out. (“In the near future” stands out. who will be hired by sales in the near future.
Too many short sentences read like baby talk. Sentences over 18 words irritate readers. Break it into two or more sentences. (Don’t forget to include the period or question mark at the end of the sentence as part of your punctuation count.) Example In addition. 19. We are sending you this information before the final report is released to fast-track the approval process. Break long sentences into two or three shorter ones. The reader will either skip over details or interpret the message incorrectly. Attached is the list of priority short-term capital projects. Sentences requiring more than four pieces of punctuation are hard to read. 17. The best correspondence includes a variety of sentence lengths.) 16. Too many long sentences are confusing. which is scheduled to be presented. I would recommend the board make a priority of a five-year planning document.improve customer service. This early release of the information should help your staff be prepared when the anticipated government review occurs. as 22 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . (“Two new account managers” and “improve customer service” are now the key points. A variety of lengths appeals to readers. Better 18. The average length of a sentence in business writing is 15–18 words. A sentence that includes so many details it requires this much punctuation will be difficult for your reader to digest. Example Our intent in forwarding the list of priority short-term capital projects in advance of the final report has been to fast-track the approval process in anticipation of a review of each capital project to be conducted by government staff with your staff. This is the easiest length for a reader to absorb quickly.
(See Rule 28. Note: This technique will also help you present your points in a logical. Note: Use punctuation with lists if the points are expressed in complete sentences or long phrases (as in the example above).part of its annual review process. If points are listed in order of importance. numbers and letters may give your readers the impression that the first point deserves more attention than the last. but be consistent with your choice.) Example There are three possible solutions under the present legislation: use only the locations accessible to the handicapped. (See example in Rule 12.) Capitalizing the first letter of each point is optional. Lists are the best way to convey three or more points. use numbers. easy-to-read manner.. to senior management in the first week of March. There are three possible solutions under the present legislation: • Use only the locations accessible to the handicapped. I recommend the department make the preparation of a five-year planning document a priority. Better 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . The document is scheduled for presentation to senior management in March as part of the annual review process. No periods are required — even after the final item — if the list is made up of sentence fragments. renovate poorly designed locations. letters.. Better In addition. or install temporary ramps. 23 . Point-form lists help the reader absorb information. • Renovate poorly designed locations. You can use numbers. or dashes ( — ) instead of bullets (•). and they provide white space. however. 20. • Install temporary ramps.
often called backward writing. but it will include the latest figures. but don’t throw out all passive voice sentences. the person or thing that is the subject is doing the acting and appears at the beginning of the sentence. Passive voice sentences say what was done or what was done by whom. we were able to reduce our administrative costs by a grand total of $300. unless you are deliberately trying to upset a reader. In other words. In the passive voice. Better 22. additional work will not be required for two years. easy-to-read sentence.000. (Active voice/who did what) 24 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . the subject is being acted upon and often appears at the end of the sentence or is missing. Examples Suzanne Watson handled the customer’s complaint. Active voice sentences are preferable.000. In the active voice. Although the repairs will cost $12. active voice sentences state who did what. Voice is a grammatical term referring to the relationship between a subject and verb in a sentence. Example This year. 23. Good news stands out more clearly if it is in a short. The repairs will cost $12. Good news should be placed in a short sentence. preferably in a short paragraph. Soften bad news by putting it in a longer sentence and defusing the message. This year we saved $300. Bad news should never be delivered in a short sentence.Don’t forget to indent your lists so they stand out on the page.000 in administrative costs. after a careful fine-tuning of our budget.000. 21. Example Better Example Better The report will be a week late. The report will be a week late.
and (c) gives your writing a more formal tone. don’t eliminate the passive voice entirely. On the other hand. and reports should not be more than three to four lines long. (Active voice/who should do what — the “you” is understood) Any variations in standard procedures should be recorded on Form 2-11. Business writing is psychological. Opening and closing paragraphs in letters. If your opening paragraphs are too long. The 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Technical reports and formal minutes are often written in the passive voice because “the what” is more important than “the who. memos.The customer’s complaint was handled by Suzanne Watson. (b) is not as direct as the active voice. It is ideal for presenting negative findings in a report or for pointing out a problem when you don’t want to place specific blame. Sample 1 shows a letter with a long opening paragraph. (Active voice/who did what) Critical remarks should not be made in public.. (Passive voice/what was done) PARAGRAPHS 24. (Passive voice/what was done by whom) Use Form 2-11 to record any variations in standard procedures.. this paragraph has been broken into three parts. (Passive voice/what was done) Accomplished business writers make a conscious decision when to use the passive voice because it — (a) uses more words. 25 . they will discourage your readers from taking the time to continue reading. In Sample 2.” Example Example You should not make critical remarks in public.
and they should clearly indicate the action the reader is to take. keep paragraphs under eight lines long.opening paragraph is shorter. If your email paragraph fills the screen. Sample 2 shows how the same text can be made more appealing and easier to read. Closing paragraphs should also be brief. If this information is conveyed clearly and concisely. memo. If it appears too difficult to read. 25. Make it easy on your reader — keep your paragraphs short. memo. and the subhead provides more white space. Reading from a computer screen is more difficult than reading hard copy. or report should never exceed eight lines. Yet how a letter. 26. Most people don’t plan the appearance of their documents. APPEARANCE 27. Opening and closing paragraphs for email should be two to three lines long. or report looks plays a major role in whether or not the receiver reads it. body paragraphs should never exceed five lines. Again. Paragraphs in the body of a letter. Sample 1 shows a letter with long paragraphs. to ensure your reader will not miss important information. Appearance is important. Therefore. today’s readers are intimidated by long chunks of information. They will read the first and last sentences and skim the middle. the receiver may ignore the material or put off reading it to a more convenient time. email. you are more likely to get the results you want. 26 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . your reader may not try to interpret it.
our dependence on them is growing dramatically. 27 . local service. When it does. . thereby ending the delays in shipping your micro or peripheral equipment to a factory for repairs. You have the choice of pick-up delivery. Belmont: As you are no doubt aware. Echo is qualified to service microcomputer and peripheral equipment for more than 40 manufacturers. Each center has an independent parts inventory as well as a link-up to our international inventory system. reduced productivity. The Echo Maintenance Agreement Program has been designed to combat the worries that often accompany extensive microcomputer usage. including hundreds of product configurations. and often a large repair bill. we have set up nationwide service centers to provide you with a convenient. computers and peripheral equipment do break down. no matter how small or large your system may be. 2 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . In fact.. industry research indicates that the typical microcomputer system will need servicing at least twice a year.. carry-in. or on-site servicing — whatever is the most convenient and cost effective for you and your company’s requirements.. No matter what system your company has invested in. However. Echo has been authorized by many manufacturers to provide full warranty service.SAMPLE 1 HARD-TO-READ LETTER Dear Mr. chances are that Echo can service it. personal computers play a paramount role in industry today.. you are faced with downtime. In addition. As these sophisticated systems take over more and more business functions.
you are faced with downtime. When it does. thereby ending delays in shipping your micro or peripheral equipment to a factory for repairs. including hundreds of product configurations. and often a large repair bill..SAMPLE 2 EASIER-TO-READ LETTER Dear Mr. Our Warranty Service We have set up nationwide service centers to provide you with a convenient. industry research indicates the typical microcomputer system will need servicing at least twice a year. do break down. In fact. carry-in. Computers and peripheral equipment. .. reduced productivity. What the Echo Maintenance Program Can Do for You The Echo Maintenance Agreement Program has been designed to combat the worries often accompanying extensive microcomputer usage — no matter how small or large your system may be. or on-site servicing — whatever is the most convenient. Each center has an independent parts inventory as well as a link-up to our international inventory system. our dependence on them is growing dramatically. You have the choice of pick-up delivery. Belmont: Personal computers play a paramount role in industry today. chances are Echo can service it. local service. Echo is qualified to service microcomputer and peripheral equipment for more than 40 manufacturers. Echo has been authorized by many manufacturers to provide full warranty service. As these sophisticated systems take over more and more business functions. No matter what system your company has invested in. 2 28 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . however.
if you keep your paragraphs short. 29. for example. you’ll end up with a “ransom note” effect.. you have access to numerous fonts. . memos begin at the top of the page. Although determining the correct balance is subjective. for headings. and computer screens it is better to use a sans serif typeface. You can vary the look by using different sizes of the two fonts. you could use Univers for the headlines. if you use too many different ones. 30. easy-toread page. use lists. Use only one serif (a typeface with short lines projecting from the strokes in each letter) and one or two sans serif (a typeface with no extra lines on the letters) typefaces per document. For a more complex report. slides.. A fairly common practice for reports is to use Times Roman or Garamond for the body and Helvetica or Arial for the headings and subheadings. White space is any space left unprinted. Documents with an attractive balance between white space and print appeal to readers. overheads. All written documents should have margins at least one inch wide on all four sides. Margins are a key part of appearance. It includes the margins and the space between paragraphs and around lists. Some serif fonts are Baskerville. White space gives your readers’ eyes a microsecond chance to rest and a microsecond chance to absorb the message. The margins will increase depending on the dictates of the letterhead and whether the document is bound. White space is crucial. Univers. you will have an attractive. Text is generally easier to read in a serif typeface.28. Helvetica for the 29 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Typefaces should be easy to read. use 18-point Helvetica for a heading and the same font at 14 points for a subhead. and Times Roman. Common sans serif fonts are Helvetica. Bookman. With today’s word processors. and use subheads. Letters should be centered between the top and bottom of the page. and Avant Garde. However.
and Baskerville for the text. Choose your font size carefully. if the message is lengthy. add space between the lines to make the words easier to read. 30 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . 32. Don’t choose a smaller font in an attempt to get all the information on one page. However.subheads. As a general guide. 33. as it is sometimes called. Another common font and type size is 12-point Times Roman. If you are using Bookman. but not always exactly at. print out a few paragraphs in a variety of styles so you can choose the most readable one for your audience. Before you decide on a particular font and type size.) Likewise. This size of font causes rapid back-and-forth eye movement that is irritating. logical word breaks. If you don’t know how to increase the leading. If every line begins at the left margin and ends exactly at the right margin. The size of font you choose depends on your typeface. your reader will find it difficult if you can fit only 30 characters on a line. some people find this hard on the eyes. your reader will have trouble reading the material. A nonjustified or. include spaces and punctuation. a ragged right style is one where the lines end near. Be careful when deciding whether to justify the type on your page. Justification is the term given to how text is arranged on the page. the page is said to be justified. I suggest 12 point. do not use more than three different fonts per document. It is a quick. the right margin. If your font size is so small and your margins so narrow that more than 90 characters fit on a line. Increase leading if type is small. If your line contains more than 60 characters. simple step. Most people find text with a ragged right margin easier to read because of the even word spacing. ask your resident computer guru. 31. and additional white space. (When counting characters. A good guideline is to set the line space — or leading (rhymes with “heading”) — two points greater than the point size of the font.
FILL IN THE ATTACHED DOCUMENTS and we will register you. Examples Enclosed is a copy of our brochure Holding a Successful Workshop. 35. Never use italics for an entire business letter as they project an overly casual appearance. or boldface. Note: One of the most common complaints about email is that senders often use all capital letters. and legislation. magazines.. you must fill in the attached documents. you must fill in the attached documents. and when they are overused they are not available for their usual function — to add special emphasis to a word or phrase. too much bolding or underlining distracts the reader from your message. a document. Please note the article “Public Speaking for Shrinking Violets” in this month’s Successful Business magazine. (overkill) Italics or underlining can be used for references to published works such as books. and italics for emphasis only. Never type the entire body of any document or email in capital letters. making the message difficult to read. some people use italics.. boldface. all capitals for more emphasis. Don’t get carried away. italics. newspapers. In addition. Wrong To be registered.34. However. Use italics for emphasis. This is wasting a valuable tool. Examples We can register you if you fill in the attached documents. boldface. Use capital letters. and boldface to catch and hold the reader’s eye. 31 . 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS . Believing that it adds style or interest. or capitals for large portions of. pamphlets. To be registered. these typefaces are hard to read. or for the entire text of. Don’t underline the same information that you have already bolded.
abbreviations. Read on. ask yourself these questions: WORD CHOICE Ì Will my reader immediately understand each word? Ì Did I use jargon. In reports. Subheads are ideal for breaking up long chunks of text. go over it with Checklist 1 and make sure your writing and presentation are as strong and clear as possible. Example Better Warranty Package New Warranty Package for Large-Screen TVs Once you have written a letter.36. aim for a subhead every five or six paragraphs. Make your subheads as descriptive as possible. they also make the writer look organized. Tone is the way you express yourself in your communications with others. They make it easier to understand and interpret the message. or overly formal. report. enthusiastic. Subheads can run as long as seven or eight words. 38. In long letters. The tone of your communications can win you friends or earn you enemies. Tone is so important that Chapter 4 deals entirely with this topic. The best subhead is one that adequately describes the upcoming information. 37. CHECKLIST 1 BUSINESS WRITING STYLE After you have written your document. or other document. caring. Subheads appeal to readers. You can come across as boring. so if readers only skim the material they will still have a basic understanding of your message. or acronyms? Were they appropriate and understandable? Ì Did I use connecting words to move my reader through the message? 32 BUSINESS WRITING BASICS . try to use at least one subhead per page — whenever you are making a new point.
and -ion? Ì Did I eliminate any weak verbs or phrases? SENTENCES Ì Did I use a variety of sentence lengths? Ì Is the average sentence length approximately 15–18 words? Ì Did I avoid sentences requiring more than four pieces of punctuation? Ì Are most of my sentences in the active voice? Ì Were negative findings reported in passive voice sentences? Ì Did I use lists to introduce a series of ideas? Ì Is good news in short sentences. 33 . -ment. bad news in longer sentences? PARAGRAPHS Ì Are all my paragraphs less than eight lines long in written correspondence and less than five lines in an email? Ì Are opening and closing paragraphs less than four lines? Two to three lines for email? APPEARANCE Ì Is the size and font of the typeface easy to read? Ì Does the text look balanced on the page? Ì Is there plenty of white space? Ì Did I bold and underline appropriate words only? Ì Did I break up large chunks of copy with subheads? 38 PRACTICAL WRITING TIPS ...CHECKLIST 1 — Continued Ì Did I avoid clichés? Ì Can I replace any of the helping verbs or nouns ending in -ance.