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Management Centre

Business Writing

Contents
Contents..................................................................................................................................................................1

ALL CONTENTS COPYRIGHT © 2004-2008 H&H ASSOCIATES WEDNESDAY, 05 NOVEMBER 2008


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Purpose............................................................................................................................................................ 1
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Administration and introduction – personal objectives..........................................................................................1

The pros and cons of writing compared to telephoning, meetings and informal......................................................1

Putting ideas on paper.......................................................................................................................................2

Know your audience..........................................................................................................................................2

Planning your writing – the 4 essential questions to ask.......................................................................................2

Be Positive! ......................................................................................................................................................3

Know Where Passive Verbs Belong....................................................................................................................4

Language – KISS, not Keep It Short and Simple -Do More with Less!...................................................................5

Effective letter writing - things to consider to make letters effective........................................................................7

The steps in letter writing....................................................................................................................................7

Structure of normal and persuasive letters...........................................................................................................7

Practical task on planning letters, memos, faxes and e-mail messages ................................................................9

Style and tone..................................................................................................................................................10

Words, sentences and paragraphs ...................................................................................................................15

Report writing..................................................................................................................................................17

Practical tasks on words, sentences and paragraphs ........................................................................................20

Spelling and punctuation ................................................................................................................................20

Practical tasks on spelling and punctuation ..................................................................................23

Practical tasks on delegates’ own written work...................................................................................................32

Effective use of graphics in business writing......................................................................................................33

Revising your writing – reviewing and proof-reading...........................................................................................34

Appendix – Definitions & Resources.......................................................................................................................36

Resources.......................................................................................................................................................36

Definitions........................................................................................................................................................36

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Purpose

After completing this course, delegates should be able to:


Write business letters, memos, faxes and e-mails that get results
Plan writing in terms of objectives, content and structure, for the reader
Choose the best style and tone for a particular purpose and reader
Persuade through writing
Select appropriate language
Construct sentences and paragraphs to best effect
Use good grammar, correct spelling and effective punctuation
Avoid common pitfalls and mistakes

Administration and introduction – personal objectives

The pros and cons of writing compared to telephoning, meetings and informal

I would broadly categorize the benefits of writing into three groups:

Pragmatic

-- Creating permanent records (e.g., minutes) of verbal exchanges.

-- As an alternative to verbal communication (e.g., e-mail).

Educational

-- As a technique for imparting ideas (e.g., presentations, books).

-- Learning to write well can also help one to speak and think more effectively. These
include improving idea organization, brevity etc.

-- The act of writing in another language also helps one learn that language.

Emotional

-- Clarifying the mind (e.g., journaling, blogging). For some it is like exercise, a
necessary daily duty to oneself.

-- Distilling ideas - the mere transference of one's musings to paper often brings new
epiphanies and even modifications to preconceived viewpoints.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and the only certainties about the benefits of
writing are that they depend specifically on the subject, situation and of course
Putting ideas on paper

Force field analyses - make two vertical lists forces for and forces against
Fishbone diagrams link cause and effect

Know your audience

We all have a preference for words with a bias for haring visualising or feeling and the
preference of the audience should be considered in our writing. pick up the signals of
your audience.

Visualising
“I see what you mean” to “we pictured the scene”
Hearing
“I listened intently” to “we sounded them out”
Feeling
“I grasped the point” to “they touched a nerve”

Planning your writing – the 4 essential questions to ask

When you’re wondering what to cover in a message, how to organize your thoughts,
and what to leave in and out, forget about what you have to say. Instead think about your
reader: What does your reader want to know? What are your reader's questions?
It helps to imagine a conversation with your reader. For example, if you are writing to
announce a meeting, imagine telling someone face-to-face about the meeting. That
person would ask:
• Why are we meeting?
• When is it?
• Where?
• What’s the agenda?
• Who will be there?

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• Do I have to attend? What if I can’t?
• Do I need to prepare? How?
List all the questions your reader may have. Then consider the order in which your
reader would ask them. If you have listed any of the questions in a different order,
rearrange them to meet your reader’s needs.
Now, one by one, write the answers to your reader’s questions. For example:
• Why are we meeting?
We are meeting to decide whether to hire a
part-time permanent employee or a summer
intern to work on the winter marketing campaign.
• When is it?
The meeting takes place on Monday, April 25,
at 2 p.m. for no more than 45 minutes.
Go through each one of your reader’s questions and answer it. When you’re finished,
you’re not only finished organizing—you’re finished writing! Just edit, proofread, and
send.
Be Positive!

Child-rearing books advise readers to communicate positive messages to children.


They counsel parents to avoid the negative “Don’t slam the door” and to say instead
“Close the door gently.”
Why? In this case, the child needs to learn what’s right—not just what is wrong.
Also, if we say what children can do, they see options rather than roadblocks, and they
are apt to respond positively.
Adults are grown-up children. They need positive messages too. If you want to get an
affirmative response from your readers, try these tips for focusing on the positive.

State what to do—not what to avoid.

Yes Always process


: orders within two
days.

No: Never take more


than two days to
process an order.

Say what you can do—not what you


can’t do.

Yes We can meet first


: thing Monday
morning.

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No: We can’t meet now.
It has to wait until
Monday morning.

Use neutral rather than blaming


language.

Yes Let me clarify what I


: meant.

No: You misunderstood


what I said.

Use words that create a positive


feeling.

Yes At this company we


: value natural
resources.

No: At this company we


don't waste natural
resources.

Take every opportunity to


communicate positively.

Yes Thank you for your


: letter.

No: We have received


your letter.

Know Where Passive Verbs Belong

If you use a grammar-check feature, your sentences probably get flagged at times for
a fault called “Passive Voice.” This flag is typically accompanied by advice to “Consider
rewriting with an active voice verb.”
Is this fault serious? If your sentences get flagged often, should you call a psychologist
to work on passivity issues? No! In fact, our grammar-checker has already flagged three
of our sentences at the beginning of this Business Writing Tip, and we aren’t worried a
bit.
We aren’t worried, but we do pay attention. That’s
because there is a lot of good advice about limiting
the use of passive verbs. For instance, we are told to
change:

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“The surface should be primed” (passive) to “Prime the surface” (active). This change
makes sense. Readers need precise instructions.
“Your gift is appreciated” (passive) to “We appreciate your gift” (active). This is another
fine suggestion. “Is appreciated” sounds impersonal, whereas “We appreciate” feels
warm.
When we make these changes, we are replacing wordy, vague phrases with concise,
direct words. That’s excellent.
But there are four places where passive verbs fit just right:

1. When you don’t know who performed the


action.
Passive: Her car was stolen twice.

Not: Someone stole her car twice.

2. When it doesn’t matter who performs the action.


Passive: The boards are pre-cut.

Not: A worker pre-cuts the boards.

3. When we want to avoid blaming someone.


Passive: The drawings were lost.

Not: Andy lost the drawings.

4. When we want to soften a directive.


Passive: This paragraph could be shortened.

Not: Shorten this paragraph.

Passive verbs are perfect in these four instances. Likewise, the passive verbs in our
opening sentences also work well (“get flagged” and “is typically accompanied”).
Know where passives verbs belong, and you won’t be intimidated by your grammar-
check software again. Our grammar-checker just flagged the previous sentence, but we
know the passive verb there suits our purpose and sounds just right!

Language – KISS, not Keep It Short and Simple -Do More with Less!

For over a decade, the message at work has been “Do more with less!” As writers, we
have this challenge too. And we can be much more efficient if we use less wordiness. By
cutting down on extra words, we cut down on both writing and reading time.
The paragraph below contains 70 words. Can you cut it down to 35 words or less?
This document is for the purpose of giving the reader a detailed explanation of the
inventory process. It describes the activities we currently do in the majority of instances

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on a daily and weekly basis. In order to provide an introduction to the process for
employees who work on a temporary basis, we also have prepared an overview, which
describes the highlights of the inventory process in just two pages.
Here is a 30-word revision:
This document explains the inventory process in detail. It describes our usual daily and
weekly activities. We also have prepared a two-page overview to introduce the process to
temporary employees.

Which paragraph above is clearer—the 70-word version or the 30-word revision?


To lighten up your sentences, watch for heavy phrases like these:
for the
= for
purpose of
the
= most
majority of
in order to = To
provide an
introductio = introduce
n
on a daily
= Daily
basis
on a
Routinel
regular =
y
basis

Do you think you can do more with less? Try this experiment:
When you finish writing a paragraph or a page, imagine it needs to be one-third shorter
because of space constraints. Then see how many words you can cut. You’ll probably be
surprised about the excess baggage your sentences are carrying. And your readers will
thank you.
It’s true—we can do more with less!
Every now and then we get stuck. The blank screen or empty page just stares at us
dully. Meanwhile, the digital clock shifts through the minutes. We fidget.
Need to break through writer’s block? Then do it—break out of what you are doing
and try something different. Here are a few techniques.
Imagine that you are talking with your reader. Think about the things your
reader wants or needs to hear. Then “tell” (write) any part—beginning, middle, or
end. Don’t worry about the perfect opening.
Write without censoring yourself. Pay no attention to whether the writing is
good. Just let the words and ideas flow. Then choose your “keepers” and build
from them.
Review some of your past writing that makes you feel proud. This look will
build your confidence and may give you specific ideas.

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Talk with coworkers. Don’t wait until you’re done to tell about your struggles.
The screen is blank now.
For a project that takes several sittings, end a sitting when you know what
comes next, and make a note of it. That way, you won’t face a mental block when
you begin the next time. (This idea is courtesy of Ernest Hemingway.)
Take a break that includes a change of scenery, or shift to another activity.
When you’re stuck near the end of a piece and have covered everything, quit.
Enough is enough!

Effective letter writing - things to consider to make letters effective

Dear Sir or Madam: (use if you don't know who you are writing to)
Dear Dr, Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms Smith: (use if you know who you are writing to, and have
a formal relationship with - VERY IMPORTANT use Ms for women unless asked to
use Mrs or Miss)
Dear Frank: (use if the person is a close business contact or friend)
The Reference
With reference to your advertisement in the Times, your letter of 23 rd March,
your phone call today,
Thank you for your letter of March 5 th
The Reason for Writing
I am writing to inquire about

The steps in letter writing

Structure of normal and persuasive letters

Use short sentences. More than fifteen words in a sentence reduces the clarity of the
meaning. After drafting your communication, seek out commas and 'and's, and replace
with full-stops.
Write as you would speak - but ensure it's grammatically correct. Don't try to be formal.
Don't use old-fashioned figures of speech. Avoid 'the undersigned', 'aforementioned',
'ourselves', 'your goodselves', and similar nonsense. You should show that you're living in
the same century as the reader.

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As to how informal to be, for example writing much like normal every day speech (for
example I'd, you'd, we've) bear in mind that some older people, and younger people who
have inherited traditional views, could react less favourably to a writing style which they
consider to be the product of laziness or poor education. Above all it is important to write
in a style that the reader is likely to find agreeable.
Avoid jargon, acronyms, technical terms unless essential.
Don't use capital letters - even for headings. Words formed of capital letters are difficult
to read because there are no word-shapes, just blocks of text. (We read quickly by seeing
word shapes, not the individual letters.)
Sans serif fonts (like Arial, Helvetica and this one, Tahoma) are modern, and will give a
modern image. Serif fonts (like Garamond, Goudy and this one, Times), are
older, and will tend to give a less modern image.
Sans serif fonts take longer to read, so there's a price to pay for being modern. This is
because we've all grown up learning to read serif fonts. Serif fonts also have a horizontal
flow, which helps readability and reading comfort. (Serif fonts developed before the days
of print, when the engraver needed to create a neat exit from each letter.)
Avoid fancy fonts. They may look clever or innovative, but they are more difficult to
read, and some are nearly impossible.
Use 10-12 point size for body copy (text). 14-20 point is fine for main headings, bold or
normal. Sub-headings 10-12 bold.
Any printed material looks very untidy if you use more than two different fonts and two
different point sizes. Generally, the fewer the better.
If your organisation stipulates a 'house' font then use it.
If your organisation doesn't then it should do.
Black text on a white background is the easiest colour combination to read. Definitely
avoid coloured backgrounds, and black.
Avoid background graphics or pictures behind the text.
Italics are less easy to read. So is heavy bold type.
If you must break any of these font rules, do so only for the heading.
Limit main attention-grabbing headings to no more than fifteen words.
In letters, position your main heading between two-thirds and three-quarters up the page.
This is where the eye is naturally drawn first.
Use left-justified text as it's easiest to read.
Avoid fully justified text as it creates uneven word spaces and is more difficult to read.

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Remember that effective written communication is enabling the reader to understand
your meaning in as few words as possible.

Practical task on planning letters, memos, faxes and e-mail messages

Memos

Step 1
Analyze the situation carefully. Define the purpose of the email and ensure you
understand who your target audience is. Gather all peripheral information so you can
convey the message clearly and factually. If the email is a response email, make sure you
read all correspondence involved with your memo.
Step 2
Organize the information thoroughly. Define the main idea of the memo and stick to that
idea. Do not address any other issue other than the one at hand. In other words, limit the
scope of the memo.
Step 3
Define your approach to the memo. Decide whether this a positive memo full of good
news or if this is a negative memo where you need to consider the reaction of the
receiver. Approach all external emails with the utmost care and maintain your approach
throughout the entire communication.
Step 4
Write the email being sure to be polite, emphasize positive aspects and use bias-free
terminology. Slang has no place in a professional email memo. Not everyone will
interpret slang the way it is meant.
Step 5
Open the memo with a statement of the main idea. Recap what the message is about.
Details of the message go in the body of the email. Expand on the situation or relate the
course of action in the body. Always close the memo with a cordial tone. No matter how
hot or tense the situation may be, maintain your professionalism and close with respect.
Step 6
Always leave yourself enough time for revisions. Be sure to proof the message, looking
for typos, spelling errors and alignment issues.

Emails-Ten quick tips

1. Always fill in the subject line with a topic that means something to your reader.
Not "Decals" or "Important!" but "Deadline for New Parking Decals."

2. Put your main point in the opening sentence. An e-mail shouldn't sound like an
episode of Lost.

3. Never start a message with a vague "This." ("This needs to be done by 5:00.")
Because most of us have to read dozens of e-mails a day, specify which "this"
you're talking about.

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4. Don't use ALL CAPITALS (no shouting!). or all lower-case letters either (unless
you're e. e. cummings).

5. As a general rule, PLZ avoid email abbreviations and chat room acronyms: you
may be ROFLOL (rolling on the floor laughing out loud), but your reader may be
left wondering WUWT (what's up with that).

6. Be brief and polite. If your message runs longer than two or three short
paragraphs, consider (a) reducing the message, or (b) providing an attachment.
But in any case, don't snap, growl, or bark.

7. Remember to say "please" and "thank you." And mean it. "Thank you for
understanding why afternoon breaks have been eliminated" is prissy and petty. It's
not polite.

8. Add a signature block with appropriate contact information. In most cases, this
means your name, business address, and phone number, along with a legal
disclaimer if required by your company. Do you need to clutter the signature
block with a clever quotation and artwork? Probably not.

9. Edit and proofread before hitting "send." If your messages look like excerpts from
a ten-year-old's chat room, don't be surprised if they're forwarded with a chortle to
people you've never met.

10. Finally, reply promptly to serious messages. If you need more than 24 hours to
collect information or make a decision, send a brief response explaining the delay.

Style and tone

The term, "style," in this guide to business writing refers to the shape, voice, and force of
sentences.

Business writing style differs significantly from academic writing style.


Consider the following sentence, recommended to student writers in a textbook about
academic writing:
Clinton’s national service plan to be short sighted and insensitive to the experiences of
many college students who are struggling to put themselves through school only to face
enormous financial burdens upon graduation."

Consider these stylistic variables:


Sentence Length: Long (50 words)

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Sentence Structure: Complex (1 main clause + at least one subordinate clause)
Voice: Active ("I find.")
Point of View: Self-reference, first person singular ("I")
Social Reference: Yes. (The writer refers to other voices, McPherson’s and
Schapiro’s, on the same subject and formulates a thesis/position in relation to
these voices.)
Agent of Action Identified: Yes. ("I")
Reference to Mental States--An Individual in the Act of Thinking: Yes. ("I
find.")
The above sentence does satisfy the requirements for a "good" academic sentence. Still,
you will never read a sentence like the one above in a business document. Business
readers do not want to know what is going on inside a writer's mind. Instead, they want
writers to propose plans or recommend actions that will benefit the company, and to do
so as concisely as possible.

To develop an effective business writing style:


• Use shorter sentences.
• Use simpler sentence structures.
• Use active voice.
• Write from the point of view of the company.
• Write more univocally. (The voice of the company is always already a social
voice).
• Identify the agents of actions unless there is a good reason for hiding agency.
• Avoid nominalising verbs. (Changing verbs into nouns, i.e. "decide" into
"decision.")
• Recommend action rather than refer to individual mental states.
• Avoid qualifiers that weaken recommendations or express doubt.
• Avoid self reference and references to individual states of mind.

Use shorter sentences:


"U.S. Research, Inc. conducted the interviews."
Use simpler sentence structures:

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"The product name must meet the following tests:" (Not, "If we want the product to sell
well in the Northwest and eventually in select, international markets as well as to
compete with distributors of similar name brands, the name must meet the following
tests:)

Use active voice:


"The term, ‘Cascade’ conjures images of nature." (Not, "Images of nature are associated
with the term, ‘Cascade.'")

Write from the point of view of the company:


"The company must change the name of its bottled water product." (Not, I recommend
that the company change the name of its product.")

Write more univocally. (The voice of the company is always already a


social voice).
"The company must change the name of its bottled water product." (Not, "Even though
Jerry in the Advertising Department and Sue in Public Relations disagree, the company
must…etc.")

Identify the agents of actions:


"The sales representatives adopted a new approach." (Not, "A new approach was
adopted.")

Avoid nominalising verbs: (changing verbs into nouns, i.e. "decide" into
"decision.")
"The managers decided to change the name of our project." (Not, "The managers made a
decision."

Recommend actions rather than refer to individual mental states:


"We recommend names that parallel the age-old and pure qualities of the product." (Not,
"We believe you should use…," or "We think," "We imagine," "We presume," etc.)

Avoid qualifiers that weaken recommendations or express doubt:


"We recommend that your company avoid ‘earth surface’ words." (Not, "We tentatively
recommend that your company, if at all possible, avoid,’ earth surface’ words.")

Caution: These rules may change depending upon the company and
rhetorical situation, but they offer a starting point to improve your
business writing style.
Note: Many of the above sentences came from an actual business
document-- a Northwest marketing company’s proposal that their client

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company change the name of its bottled water product from "Sweetwater"
to "Earth2O."
ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES AND ADVICE ABOUT
STYLE
To help you write any business document that requires you to make recommendations,
consider the following advice.

1. Select words in an appropriate register for your


reader.
Register: The vocabulary and tone that fits a particular social group.
Examples:
"almost like joining a fraternity or sorority" (more effective for student audiences)
"or whatever" (more effective in informal, personal communications)
"paradigm shift" (more effective for academic audiences)
"Your existing workforce consists of state-of-the-art robots." (harsh tone)
"Workers today are reluctant to kill themselves for money." (exaggerated tone. )

2. Use active rather than passive voice.


Active voice: Uses action verbs.
Passive voice: Uses forms of the verb, "to be," (is, be, am, are, was, were, been)
Examples of Passive Voice:
"What the company is missing is…."
"Conclusions have been drawn and recommendations have been made."
Changed to Active Voice:
The company lacks…
The report concludes with recommendations.

3. Use the imperative voice for recommendations:


Imperative Voice: Begins with a verb, assumes the subject, "you."
Explanation: The imperative voice is concise and eliminates the moral tone of "should"
and the overly emphatic tone of "must."

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Examples:
"Balance work with the lives of employees."
"Recognize the value of middle management."
"Create self-managed work-teams."

4. Use verbal rather than nominal forms of words.


Nominal forms: Verbs changed into nouns or adjectives.
Examples:
"Person-organization fit issues"
"Management directed policies"
Verbal forms: Change nouns back into verbs.
Examples:
"Company policies fit employee expectations."
"Managers direct policy."

5. Use parallel structure, particularly within lists.


Parallel structure: Phrases that repeat the same grammatical structure.
Explanation: Parallelism enables readers to read documents more efficiently.
Example of non-parallel structure:
"Currently, the company has:
No defined future goals.
Short sighted without budget and long term mission.
Merit system.
Do not appear prepared to meet rapid changes."
Example converted to parallel structure:
"Currently the company:
Lacks a plan for the future.
Needs a mission statement.
Rewards merit only for individual production.

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Adjusts too slowly to market forces."

6. Eliminate Unnecessary Words to Communicate


Concisely:
Example:
"My suggestion is that we must begin to socialize our employees into the Lincoln culture
so that they internalize the core values of cost-reduction and high-quality that Lincoln
embraces."
Example revised:
"Train employees so they will internalize the core values of the company."

7. Divide long sentences into shorter sentences.


Long Sentences: 25 words or more.

8. Avoid qualifiers.
Qualifiers: Words that weaken claims.
Examples:
"It may be necessary to…."
"Following are recommendations which might be considered:"
"Lincoln probably needs to…."

9. Avoid personalizing pronouns, and therefore


personalizing problems.
Example:
Change "You need to"… to "Lincoln Electric needs to…"

Words, sentences and paragraphs

How long or short should a paragraph be? What should it contain? How should the
paragraphs in your document link to each other? These are all good questions because,
when writing a business report, proposal, letter, email, or any other document, good
paragraphing skills are important.

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Briefly stated, a paragraph is a group of sentences about one specific idea. This
paragraph, for instance, deals with the definition of a paragraph. There is no set length for
a paragraph, but, generally, three full sentences is considered the minimum and half a
page is considered the maximum.
A paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, that is, a sentence which addresses the
subject of the paragraph. It may, as in the first paragraph in this essay, begin with a
question. The other sentences in the paragraph should supply information that helps to
explain the topic.
Sometimes it is easy to determine when to start a new paragraph—because you have
moved from one topic to another. You may have written a large number of sentences
about a specific topic, let’s say more than twelve (or more than 200 words). At that point,
you may need to ask the question Is this paragraph too long? As has been stated, there is
no limit in terms of the number of sentences in a paragraph, but, when a paragraph takes
up about half of a page or when it looks like it is too long, then it may be too long. If,
upon reading it, you find that the topic has shifted slightly, that is a good place at which
to divide the paragraph. For instance, if the topic sentence is how much the business
climate has changed during the past twelve months, and, after a number of sentences in
which you explain that idea, the topic has shifted to the importance of communication in
the workplace, that may the point at which to begin a new paragraph.

Besides knowing when to end a paragraph and when start a new one, you should also
develop smooth transitions between paragraphs. Sometimes, this is easy. Phrases such as
“In addition to…” or “Conversely….” or “Despite….” are obvious transitional phrases.
However, it is not necessary to use a transitional phrase to link a new paragraph to the
previous one. Simply repeating a key word that had been used in the previous paragraph
works just as well. In this essay, using the word “paragraph” or the phrase “good writing
skill” helps in terms of linking paragraphs.

In addition, simply writing a topic sentence which spells out that the new paragraph is
about a topic that relates to the previous one is an efficient way of creating a transition.
An example of that, in that same report about the business climate, would be the
following topic sentence: “Of course, one year’s business climate may vary quite a bit
from how it had been the year before.”
Good paragraphing is not a science; however, it is a skill that is important in terms of
good writing. To sum up, a paragraph is a collection of sentences that refer to the topic
sentence. A paragraph is generally at least three sentences long, and should not, if at all
possible, exceed half of a page. Transitions between paragraphs lend a fluid smoothness
to the finished business document.
Like many other writing skills, understanding the basics is the first step in terms of
mastery. Writing with care and proofreading what you have written is a fine way in
which to practice writing skills, including paragraphing. After a period of time, you will
find that writing solid paragraphs which link to the others in a piece of writing

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Report writing

Typical structure template for writing a report:


• Title, author, date.
• Contents.
• Introduction and Terms of Reference (or aims/scope for report).
• Executive Summary (1-2 pages maximum) containing main points of evidence,
recommendations and outcomes.
• Background/history/situation.
• Implications/issues/opportunities/threats, with source-referenced facts and
figures evidence.
• Solution/action/decision options with implications/effects/results, including
financials and parameters inputs and outputs.
• Recommendations and actions with input and outcomes values and costs, and
if necessary return on investment.
• Appendices.
• Optional Bibliography and Acknowledgements.
Map out your structure before you begin researching and writing your report.
Ensure the purpose, aims and scope of the report is clearly explained in your terms of
reference.
The executive summary should be very concise, summarising the main recommendations
and findings. Provide interpretation of situations and options. Show the important hard
facts and figures. Your recommendations should include implications, with values and
costs where applicable. Unless yours is a highly complex study, limit the executive
summary to less than two sides of standard business paper.
The body of the report should be divided into logical sections. The content must be very
concise. Use hard facts and figures, evidence and justification. Use efficient language -
big reports with too many words are not impressive. The best reports are simple and
quick to read because the writer has properly interpreted the data and developed viable
recommendations.
Do not cram lots of detail, diagrams, figures, evidence, references etc., into the main
body of the report. Index and attach these references as appendices at the end of the
report.
Where you state figures or evidence you must always identify the source.

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Show figures in columns. Try to support important figures with a graph.
If it's appropriate to acknowledge contributors then do so in the introduction or a separate
section at the end.
If ever you are confronted with the task of writing a report and you are unsure of how to
go about it, here are some tips.
It's common to be asked to write reports in business and organisations, for all kinds of
reasons. Sometimes reports are required for good reasons - sometimes they are simply a
waste of time. Sometimes reports are requested with clear terms of reference and criteria,
but mostly they are not. It's common for reports to be requested with only a vague idea
given as to what is actually needed - commonly there is no written 'brief' or specification.
The writer then spends days agonizing over what the report should include and look like,
how long it should be, whether to include recommendations, whether to attach detailed
information, etc. All this confusion is unnecessary and can be avoided by asking some
simple questions.
Many people new to report-writing think that it's not the done thing to ask what the report
should look like, often for fear of appearing unsure or incapable. But the fact is that
before writing reports or business plans of any sort the writer should always first seek
clarification of exactly what's required.
Don't assume that the request is reasonable and properly thought-through - in many cases
it will not be. If the request for a written report is not perfectly clear, ask for clarification.
Experienced people ask and seek clarification all the time - it's perfectly sensible and
logical to do so.
Seeing sample reports from other industries and organisations is not always very helpful.
Sample reports from completely different situations can be very misleading, aside from
which, good sample reports are actually quite difficult to find anyway because most are
subject to commercial or other confidentiality. In any event, there are so many different
types of reports and report formats that there's no guarantee that an example from
elsewhere would be right for your particular situation.
You are often better simply to follow the guidelines above, and avoid wasting time
looking for elusive report examples. Trust your own judgement. Creating a sensible
structure and building your own report is generally quicker and better than seeking
inspiration elsewhere.
Importantly ask your employer or boss or client (whoever has requested the report) for
their ideal format and if appropriate ask for examples of what they consider a suitable
format for them. It's perfectly reasonable to seek clarification in this - you are not a mind-
reader. There's a whole load of mystique around reports and business plans which is
rarely dispelled because folk are afraid to ask - so break the cycle of doubt and
assumption - ask.

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As already explained, when writing anything - especially reports - the shorter the better is
normally the case, especially when the audience is senior and strategic management or
directors.
In truth most long reports generally don't get read, and what's worse is that some bosses
don't have the sense to help the writers see how they could have submitted something far
shorter. So the mystique persists.
Everyone - especially people new to report-writing thinks they should know how to do it,
and nobody generally puts their hand up and dares to break the taboo by asking "What
exactly do you want this report to look like?" In fact many bosses can't write a decent
report themselves, which makes them even less likely to offer to explain what's required.
So, when faced with your next vague request to "Write a report..", cut through the crap,
as they say, break the taboo, and ask people what they want:
Discuss and agree the report specification with the person requesting it - if they aren't
sure themselves, then help them to define the criteria by asking helpful questions, such as
-

• Is there a written specification or 'terms of reference' for this report?

• Where did the original request for this report come from and what do you think they expect and
need?

• Can we find out more about what is expected from this report?

• How many words or pages?

• Who this report is for and what will they use it for?

• What format do you (or they) prefer?

• Would people actually prefer a PowerPoint presentation of the main points instead of a bloody
great big report that no-one will bother to read?

• Do you want recommendations and actions in the report? Or just a conclusion?

• Do you want detail referenced and appended or available on request?

• Is this report really truly necessary? - might there be a better quicker more effective way to give
the person asking for it what they actually need, whatever that is?

• If you don't know what someone wants a report to be like, or what the report is for, then don't
let people kid you into thinking that you should be able to guess.

• Ask some helpful questions to agree a sensible report format, length, outcomes, etc., and you'll
avoid the agonizing guesswork, and save everyone's time.

• Finally - when you yourself next have to ask one of your people, or a supplier, or anyone else
for that matter, to "write a report..", think about all of the above carefully and ask yourself the
questions that will help you first confirm that a report is actually necessary, and then to define
and provide clear and helpful guidelines, or a specification, or 'terms of reference', so that the
person having to write the report can fully understand what sort of report is required and why.

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Practical tasks on words, sentences and paragraphs

Write a HAIR report

Spelling and punctuation

Ten Tips for Better Spelling


1. This may be the best-known spelling rule:

i before e, except after c

or when sounded like "ay"

as in neighbor and weigh

Here are some words that follow the rule:

IE words: believe, field, relief

CEI words: ceiling, deceit, receive

EI words: freight, reign, sleigh

Some exceptions: either, foreign, height, leisure, protein, weird

"CIEN words" are another exception to the rule. These include ancient, efficient, and science.

2. Here's another familiar spelling rule: "Silent e helps a vowel say its name." This means that
when a word ends with a vowel followed by a consonant and then silent e, the vowel has a
long sound. That's the difference between rate and rat, hide and hid, and cube and cub.

3. Have you heard the expression "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking?"
This means that when there are two vowels in a row, the first usually has a long sound and the
second is silent. That's why it's team, not taem; coat, not caot; and wait, not wiat.
Remembering this rule will help you to put vowels in the right order.

4. Learn the basic rules for spelling with plural nouns so that you know whether to use s or es
and how to make plurals of nouns that end in y or f.

5. In general, though, memorizing rules isn't the most effective way to learn spelling. Most rules
have exceptions—and besides, you are best at learning words that you have made an effort to
understand. A good way to understand a word is to break it into syllables. Look for prefixes,
suffixes, and roots. Practice each short part and then the whole word.

dis-ap-pear-ing

tra-di-tion-al

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After you break apart a word, ask yourself: How is this word like other words I know? Spelling the word
traditional may make you think of spelling functional and national. Finding patterns among words is one
of the best ways to learn spelling.

6. It's also helpful to try making up a funny memory aids. For example, do you have trouble
remembering which has two s's—desert (arid land) or dessert (a sweet treat)? Remember that
with dessert, you'd like seconds. Similarly, do you have trouble remembering how to spell
separate? Remember that there's a rat in the middle.

7. Another kind of memory aid is to make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word can
be used to make the spelling word. The sillier the better—goofy sentences may be easier to
remember.

chili: cats have interesting little ideas

physical: please have your strawberry ice cream and lollipops

8. Make sure that you are pronouncing words correctly. This can help you to avoid some
common spelling errors, such as canidate instead of candidate, jewelery instead of jewelry,
and libary instead of library.

9. Put together a list of words that you find difficult to spell. Go over your old papers and spelling
exams to track down these troublemakers. Once you've got your list in hand, see if some of
the tips above will help you.

10. And lastly: Don't rely on electronic spellcheckers! They can miss errors—especially when you
have used the wrong word but spelled it correctly. To prove it, we've taken a sentence and
messed up all the words. And the spellchecker thinks it's fine.

"I might need some new shoes for gym," Harry told our Aunt Ann.

"Eye mite knead sum knew shoos four Jim," Hairy tolled hour Ant an

By way of introduction to apostrophes, here are some examples of common mistakes:


• the team played it's part (should be: the team played its part - its, although
possessive, is like his, my, hers, theirs, etc., and does not use the possessive
apostrophe)
• its been a long day (should be: it's been a long day - it's is an abbreviation of it
has)
• your correct (should be: you're correct - you're is an abbreviation of you are)
• one months notice (should be: one month's notice - the notice is governed by
the month, hence the possessive apostrophe)
• the groups' task (should be: the group's task - group is a collective noun and
treated as singular not plural)
• the womens' decisions (should be the women's decisions - same as above -
women is treated as singular, irrespective of the plural decisions)

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The purpose of a single apostrophe is to indicate missing letters, as in I'm happy, or
you're correct, and word constructions like don't, won't, wouldn't, can't, we've, etc.
Apostrophes are also used to indicate when something belongs to the word (possessive),
as in the girl's book. This extends to expressions like a day's work, or a month's delay.
The possessive apostrophe moves after the S when there is more than one subject in
possession, for example the girls' fathers, or the footballers' wives, or three weeks' notice,
but not for collective nouns like the children's toys, the women's husbands, or the group's
aims. And take care with the word its, as in the dog wagged its tail, where (as with his
and hers) the apostrophe is not used, and should not be confused with it's, meaning it is,
which does use the apostrophe according to the missing letters rule. Apostrophes are
generally considered optional but are not 'preferred' (which basically means that fewer
people will regard the usage as correct) in pluralised abbreviations such as OAPs, and
tend not to be used at all in well known abbreviations such as CDs and MPs.
Increasingly, apostrophes in common abbreviations such as CD's and MP's are
considered by many to be incorrect, and so on balance are best avoided. The use of
apostrophes is more likely to be preferred and seen as correct where the abbreviation
contains periods, such as M.P.'s or Ph.D.'s, although in general the use of periods and
apostrophes in abbreviations is becoming less popular and therefore again is probably
best avoided. In single-case communications (all capitals, or no capitals - which is
increasingly popular in emails and texts) omitting apostrophes in pluralised abbreviations
can cause confusion, so forms such cds or CDS should be avoided if possible, although
the 'correct' punctuation in this context is anyone's guess. Grammatical rules change
much slower than real life. Other plural abbreviations or shortened words such as photos
(photographs), mics (microphones), could technically still be shown as photo's and mic's,
reflecting older traditional use of the apostrophe in abbreviated words, but these days this
is generally considered to be incorrect. The use of apostrophes in numbers, such as 1980's
or over-50's, is also less popular than a generation ago, and whilst optional, apostrophes
in numbers are increasingly regarded as incorrect, so the safer preferred forms for the
examples shown are 1980s and over-50s. The use of apostrophes is still preferred for
pluralising short words which do not generally have a plural form, such as in the
statement: there are more x's than y's, or do's and don't's. The last example makes for a
particularly confusing form and is another common spoken term that's probably best
avoided putting in print or in any sort of formal communication (because even if you get
it right there's a good chance that the reader will think it wrong anyway..)
Aside from the safe recommendation above to generally restrict apostrophes to missing
letters and possessive words, if in doubt, try to see what rules the reader or the audience
uses for such things - in brochures, on websites, etc., and then, unless they are patently
daft, match their grammatical preferences accordingly.

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Practical tasks on spelling and punctuation

The 25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words


Business writers can avoid the problem of having supervisors, colleagues, and editors
mark words as being misspelled by using the spellings preferred in their countries.
Two words also have variants that appear in dictionaries. However, business writers have
clear preferences for one of the spellings and expect to see that spelling in business
documents. We want you to know the preferred spellings so you avoid criticism.
Select the correct or preferred spelling in each of the following questions to test your
spelling of the most commonly misspelled words.

1. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) acomodate
b) accomodate
c) acommodate
d) accommodate
e) Don't Know

2. Which of the following spellings is preferred in American English?

a) acknowledgment

b) acknowledgement

c) acknowlegment

d) acknowlegement

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e) Don't Know

3. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) arguement

b) argument

c) arguemant

d) arguemint

e) Don't Know

4. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) comitment

b) comitmment

c) commitment

d) comitmant

e) Don't Know

5. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) consensus

b) concensus

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c) consencus

d) consenssus

e) Don't Know

6. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) deductible

b) deductable

c) deductuble

d) deductabel

e) Don't Know

7. Which of the following spellings is always preferred in American English and


preferred as an adjective in British English? ("He has insulin-__________
diabetes.")

a) dependant

b) depindant

c) dependent

d) dependunt

e) Don't Know

8. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) embarras

b) embaras

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c) embarass

d) embarrass

e) Don't Know

9. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) existance

b) existence

c) existanse

d) existanc

e) Don't Know

10. Which of the following spellings is correct for a page at the beginning of a
book?

a) foreward

b) forword

c) forworde

d) foreword

e) Don't Know

11. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) harass

b) haras

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c) harrass

d) herrass

e) Don't Know

12. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) inadvertant

b) inadvartant

c) inadvartent

d) inadvertent

e) Don't Know

13. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) indispensabel

b) indispensible

c) indispensable

d) indespensible

e) Don't Know

14. Which of the following spellings is preferred in American English?

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a) judgement

b) judgment

c) judgemant

d) judgmant

e) Don't Know

15. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) liason

b) liasson

c) liasone

d) liaison

e) Don't Know

16. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) license

b) lisense

c) licens

d) lisence

e) Don't Know

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17. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) occassion

b) ocassion

c) occasion

d) ocasion

e) Don't Know

18. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) occurrence

b) ocurrance

c) occurrance

d) occurance

e) Don't Know

19. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) perserverance

b) persaverence

c) perserverence

d) perseverance

e) Don't Know

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20. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) prerogative

b) perogative

c) perogitive

d) preragitive

e) Don't Know

21. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) privelege

b) privilege

c) privlege

d) privelige

e) Don't Know

22. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) procede

b) proceede

c) proced

d) proceed

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e) Don't Know

23. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) seperate

b) separete

c) separate

d) seperat

e) Don't Know

24. Which of the following spellings is PREFERRED?

a) supersede

b) supercede

c) superceed

d) suparseed

e) Don't Know

25. Which of the following spellings is correct?

a) withhold

b) withhuld

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c) withold

d) withhald

e) Don't Know

26. Which of the following spellings is preferred in British English?

a) acknowledgment

b) acknowledgement

c) acknowlegment

d) acknowlegement

e) Don't Know

27. Which of the following spellings is preferred in British English?

a) judgement

b) judgment

c) judgemant

d) judgmant

e) Don't Know

Practical tasks on delegates’ own written work

Simplify “In the event that the directory is incomplete, the user should return the
directory to the issue source for disposal.”

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Try This “If you have bank pages in your directory return it”

Effective use of graphics in business writing

The adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true enough, but in Business
Writing, a picture is only as valuable as its supporting text.
Including graphical information in a Business Communication is a common technique
used by Business Writers to break up text blocs, add interest, and present data. But
although Business Writing and graphics generally go hand-in-hand, too many graphical
representations in one document are more apt to confuse rather than inform the reader.
When readers get lost, you can bet the message gets lost as well.
Make no mistake; it is always a good thing for Business Writers to draw on their
creativity to enhance the interest and impact of their writing. And let's face it, the content
of many Business Communications begs for a little dazzle. But with a good Graphics
Package, a writer can easily add interest to a document with a full array of colours, fonts,
charts, and tables.
Of course, for all the good things graphics can do to enhance a Business Document,
writers must be sensitive to "graphics overload". Granted, this is relative and difficult to
predict. Technical and Financial Documents will obviously contain more facts and
figures than general Business Communications. But even the most general Business
Communications will sometimes include a chart or table.
That said, what represents a good a balance between text and graphical information in a
typical Business Document?
Experience has shown that an 80-20 ratio (i.e. 80% text to 20% graphics) to be a good
rule of thumb. Writers can and will go above this ratio on occasion, but when this ratio is
significantly exceeded, readers' eyes will start glazing over - guaranteed!
It should be noted that if a Business Communication is to be summarized and presented
verbally, additional graphics will often be included as part of a Power Point or Overhead
Presentation. If this is the case, treat these additional graphics as attachments to your
document as opposed to integrating them into the body of the original document.
Here are a few pointers to consider about graphics:
* Graphics are more effective when used judiciously.

33
* Use colour or 3d
* Use the full axis space
* KISS – Bar Charts should not have more than twelve bars. Pie charts should not have
more than eight sections; line charts should not have more than four lines
* Graphical information should never used as "filler".
* Simplify charts and tables. Detail can be included as attachments.
* Try to strike a good balance between text and graphics.
* In the end, it's the message that is important, not the "bells and whistles".
How you write and present information is primarily a product of your writing style and
organizational custom. If you are analytically-oriented, or if you work in a technical
environment, your writing will reflect this bias. There is nothing inherently wrong with
this, unless you are trying to reach a broad readership.
Effective Communicators strive to write for the broadest appeal. Do you?

Revising your writing – reviewing and proof-reading

 Laying out information in a way that enables sped readers to absorb it quickly will
help convey your message
 Make sure you are using plain English

 Avoid business jargon

 From downsizing to reducing

 Hands-on to practical

 Avoid double entry

 Revert back to revert

 Viable alternative to alternative

 Past history to past

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 Apply fog factor – number of log words / number of sentences (clear writing has a
fog factor of between 2 to 3)

 The cloze test – delete every 36th word and then every 10th word – then read it to
a colleague – if they cannot give you a replacement word then your wring is not
clear

 KISS
 By turning nouns into verbs

 Avoid extended endings – Visualise to see, utilise to use,


compensate to pay, attributable to due etc

 By deleting redundant phrases – at a later date to later, in the vent


that to if, come to a conclusion to conclude etc

 By deleting redundant words – on the grounds that, in as much as,


in view of, in the light of to just “because”

 Avoid signs for words as they can be misread

 Avoid clichés –

• Herewith please find enclosed to I Enclose,

• It is our opinion to I believe

 From: Utilisation of the computer in payroll preparation will bring a reduction in


clerical costs

 To: using the computer to prepare payrolls will reduce clerical costs

 Avoid mixed metaphors – pretty ugly, perfectly terrible, deafening silence etc

 Simplify – create one idea per sentence

 Watch the grammar – e.g. “After travelling all day, Aberdeen came into sight.”
Try “After travelling all day, we saw Aberdeen.”

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Appendix – Definitions & Resources

Resources

ACCA - http://www.accaglobal.com/

ICAEW- http://icaew.com

AIA - www.aiaworldwide.com/

Accounting web - http://www.accountingweb.co.uk/

ACAS - http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=837

Definitions

What is business writing?

Memorandums, reports, proposals, and other forms of writing used in organizations to


communicate with internal or external audiences. See also:

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