Business English Quick Tips: over-writing

 

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Over-writing

For many people, writing does not come easily no matter how thorough your thinking or how well prepared you are to make a start. Even though we may speak with great fluency, chattering on at nineteen to the dozen, when faced with the prospect of writing any of it down on a blank screen or unmarked piece of white paper, our brains can freeze solid. It’s that old small step/huge leap US astronaut Neil Armstrong was talking about.

Remember that although it’s easy to talk about what you need to write, there’s something that feels frighteningly final and permanent about recording any of your words. That makes it quite daunting and it is still daunting even for professional writers, although not quite so daunting after many years’ practice.

When we do manage to get writing, we tend to over-complicate our message and wrap it up in all sorts of unnecessary verbiage which, at the end of the day, just gives us something to write down while our brains get to the point. And if this outpouring-style method works for you, that’s OK – provided that you then chop all the garbage out of it and reduce it to something sensible.

Sadly, far too many so-called “corporate style” documents don’t get put through the garbage-chopping process before being published, either because the writers don’t dare cut anything the Chairman has written or because someone high up thinks long-winded, over-worded prose somehow looks more grand and superior.

Especially now, in our online age, this is – well, garbage.

But what exactly is “over-writing?” Here is a tongue-in-cheek example of what I mean:

Piece of writing # 1:

The instrument in question is constructed from lightweight wood the interior of which houses a cylindrical core of carbon. It is necessary to sharpen the surrounding wood at the end of this instrument in order to obtain a conical point and expose the carbon core appropriately. Once this preparatory start-up sequence has been implemented the technology involved enables the object to be held in the dominant hand and, through the application of the correct degree of pressure and suitable movement of hand and arm, the carbon point will convey an image upon the piece of paper placed directly beneath it. At this time it is not a meaningful proposition for the foregoing technique to be demonstrated in a live situation, due to the hardware’s non-permanent redistribution to a remote location.

Piece of writing # 2:

I’m talking about a pencil. It’s made of wood with some carbon inside it. If you sharpen one end, you can write with it. Right now I can’t show you how it works because I’ve mislaid it.

Whereas most people will tend to start with a draft that’s like piece of writing #1 and after much editing work and sweat end up with something closer to #2 (we hope), what many of us professional writers do is conduct some or all of that editing process in our heads. This way the first draft looks more like #2, hence saving time, energy, fingernails, etc. Developing your writing ability so you can do this too is not something you’ll achieve overnight, but with a little help it’s a process you can learn and eventually it will become automatic. It’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle.

Now: for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

Business English Quick Tips: of or have? And other common goofs

 

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Of, or have? And other common goofs

…Of/have: such commonly spoken and written words, but sadly not interchangeable. If you’re talking about something in conditional terms, you need to say “I could have … would have … should have.” The use of the word “of” instead is incorrect and despite it sounding right when you speak it, should not be used in your writing if you want to be correct.

But that’s not the only common mistake we tend to be guilty of in our business writing … in fact I researched the most common goofs currently in business use recently and came up with more than 1.500 terms … and that’s still growing exponentially. I’ve put all my findings together in an eBook you might like: Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them.”

In the meantime, here is a selection from the book of the most commonly goofed-up terms in business and other writing. I’ve dealt with two truly major areas of confusion – “they’re/their/there” and “your/you’re/yours” separately.) Although you’re unlikely to incur the death penalty for getting these and other common goofs wrong … to do so can and often does make you look unprofessional.

Accept – Except … accept = to agree, to agree to receive … except = apart from, leave out

Allude – Elude … to allude to something is to hint at or refer to … to elude means to escape or bypass … e.g. “he alluded to his recent comments about her but what he meant eludes me…”

Allusion – Illusion … allusion = something hinted at or suggested … illusion = imagined vision or sight

Alot – A lot … A lot needs two words. Or you can allot something, which means to allocate or give out.

Altogether – All Together … altogether = completely, entirely … all together = everyone at once

Brake – Break … brake (n. and v.) = device to stop motion, act of doing so … break = to damage, often beyond repair

Bridal – Bridle … bridal = to do with brides and weddings … bridle = what a horse wears on its head

Chile – Chili – Chilly … Chile = country in South America … Chili = very hot, spicy vegetable and its derivatives … chilly = rather cold

Cite – Sight – Site … cite (v.) = to mention or point out … sight = vision … site (n.) = given area, e.g. construction site

Coarse – Course … coarse = rough … course = conduit for water, etc., also series of lessons or instruction

Could of … Might of … Should of … Would of …etc. WRONG! Of is a preposition and doesn’t belong here. It’s could have … might have … should have … would have … etc. If you want to be picky, it’s called the conditional perfect tense of the verb.

Currant – Current … currant (n.) = berry fruit e.g. blackcurrant, also type of dried grape … current (adj.) = of the moment, up to date

Dependant – Dependent … dependant = noun, e.g. someone who depends on you … dependent = adjective … so in theory you could say “this dependant is dependent on me for …”

Did’nt … Is’nt … Would’nt … Should’nt … etc. WRONG! The apostrophe goes where the missing letter is, so the correct versions are didn’t, isn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, etc.

Elicit – Illicit … elicit (v.) = to draw out of … illicit = not permitted

Emigration – Immigration … emigration = leaving to become a citizen in another country … immigration = arriving in another country to become a citizen there. Remember that emigration only has one “m.” TIP: remember which is which by the fact that “immigration” goes IN, with an “I,” and emigration goes out, as in EXIT.

Eminent – Imminent … eminent = famous … imminent = due to happen very soon

Fewer – Less … fewer = smaller number of things you can count … less = smaller quantity of something that can’t be counted e.g. water, etc.

Hear – Here … hear = to listen to … here = at this point or place

Irregardless … this word doesn’t exist! It’s either regardless, or irrespective

Lets – Let’s … lets = allows, or (UK) rents out … let’s = contraction of let us

Lose – Loose … lose (v., pronounced “looz”) = to misplace or be deprived of something … loose (adj., pronounced with a soft “s”) = free from attachment. Spellings often cause confusion, but then so does much of the English language…

Palate – Palette – Pallet … palate = the roof of your mouth … palette = type of tray on which artists lay out

Patience – Patients … patience = calm perseverance … patients = people receiving medical treatment

Prostate – Prostrate … prostate = a gland within the male lower urinary tract … prostrate = lying down face down

Right – Rite – Wright – Write … right (v., adj., adv.) = correct, correctly … right (n.) = opposite of left, also something you’re entitled to … rite (n.) = formal act or ceremony … wright (n.) = worker, e.g. wheelwright, playwright … write (v.) = to put words together, the physical act of doing so

Seperate – Separate … separate = WRONG! Correct spelling = separate (v. and adj.)

Stationary – Stationery …stationary (adj.) = at a standstill … stationery (n.) = writing materials, paper, etc.

To – Too – Two … one of Banana Skin Words’ early purchasers asked me why I hadn’t included this one and I said because I thought it was too obvious! Anyway, for reference … to (prep.) = expressing motion or direction … too = also … two = the number 2

Were/wasn’t … many people use the word “were” when they’re just talking about themselves in the past tense. It’s not quite so simple, though:

  • I was at the meeting
  • You were at the meeting
  • S/he was at the meeting
  • They were at the meeting
  • I wasn’t at the meeting
  • You weren’t at the meeting
  • S/he wasn’t at the meeting
  • They weren’t at the meeting

Whose – Who’s … whose = belongs to whom? … who’s = contraction of who is

Now: for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

Business English Quick Tips: negative writing

 

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Negative writing

We’ve all heard of the “half empty versus half full” concept and how which way you look at it can determine what sort of person you are. When it comes to business writing, though, we can’t afford any of the so-called “woo-woo” pseudo-psychological aspects of positivity. Being positive is a very important and basic part of keeping the show on the road, especially in areas like employee communications and PR (public relations).

Negative writing in business can generate a number of undesirable emotions in the reader, ranging from fear through to hostility and resentment. However it doesn’t take much to turn what could be seen as threatening or downbeat text, into something that removes or reduces the bad stuff.

For example…

Negative

This report is of no use to me whatsoever; obviously you haven’t spent enough time on it.

Positive

I think it would be helpful if you were to spend some more time on this report, so it addresses more closely what we need.

Negative

It doesn’t look like I’ll have everyone’s input on time for the sales meeting

Positive

I’d appreciate it if everyone can make sure they get their input to me in time for the sale meeting

Another (related) form of positive writing – and thinking, for that matter – that can work wonders in the business world is knowing how to feature the best in what might otherwise be considered negative announcements and/or developments.

John Butman, an American business writer I worked with some years back and with whom I wrote a book called “Writing Words That Sell,” was an absolute genius at turning negative business communication into text that was as positive as possible. I’m sure he won’t mind if I share this example of his from the book.

The example was to show readers how to structure a speech, to be given by the CEO to all staff of the company, breaking some rather worrying news…the company was to relocate to southern Greenland. Here’s how John sought to make this news and its explanations as positive as possible in the circumstances:

  • We’re going to talk today about some exciting new prospects for our company
  • We know that business today is changing rapidly
  • We know that the growth of electronics, in particular, has had a major effect on the nature of component module units
  • This has led us to develop the new ZX90-E CMU which incorporates a special systems element for electronic connections
  • We are so excited about the potential of the ZX90-E that we have decided to expand into new markets
  • The most exciting market for the new electronic style flange covers happens to be in southern Greenland
  • We believe that, by concentrating on the south Greenland market, we shall double our growth in the next three years
  • If we can achieve this goal, we shall be in an excellent position to expand, raise salaries and offer profit-sharing opportunities to all employees
  • That is why we have decided to relocate our corporate headquarters and all manufacturing operations in southern Greenland
  • Because you are so important to us, we wanted you to be the first to know about this change
  • This change of operations does not mean that there will be mandatory redundancies – we would be delighted to move the entire staff to southern Greenland
  • Naturally, for those of you who do not wish to relocate, we have a generous separation program
  • For those of you who can make the move with us, we look forward to a great new period of prosperity and growth
  • We believe that, in this changing business world, we are making the right move at the right time
  • Thank you very much

You can see more about John and his work on his website, here: http://www.ideaplatforms.com/

Now: for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

Business English Quick Tips: metaphors and similes

 

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Metaphors and similes

Metaphors and similes are useful figures of speech, but they are like a hot condiment you put on your food: a little is great but too much can ruin it!

Basically they are comparisons in which you describe your subject by likening it to something else – usually something bizarre and/or unexpected – rather than just using an adjective to describe it.

A metaphor achieves the same objective, but without using “as” or “like”:

After the meeting, the Chairman snorted and stamped his feet with rage

She sat down at her desk, flopping childishly into the chair

Unlike similes which are easy to pick out, metaphors can be a little more obscure. If you’re unsure about whether an expression is a metaphor or not, perform a reality check: would this happen in real life? If the answer’s no, then that’s a metaphor.

A simile is one of these comparisons that uses the words “as” or “like” for a link:

After the meeting, the Chairman was as an angry as a bull in full charge

She sat down at her desk abruptly, like a child playing musical chairs

With similes, you can tell right away that the comparison is not meant literally.

Watch out for clichés

Of course metaphors and similes are very useful to make your writing more interesting and enjoyable to read. The downside is that many popular business and social clichés are either metaphors or similes! For example:

Metaphors:

Getting all your ducks in a row

Thinking outside the box

Low-hanging fruit

Push the envelope

Let’s hit the ground running.

Has legs and can go really far…

I don’t have the bandwidth

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

Too many chiefs and not enough Indians

Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes

Similes:

As mad as a hatter

Like a bat out of hell

As cool as a cucumber

Like trying to nail jelly to the wall

As proud as punch

As smart as a whip

Like herding cats

As clean as a whistle

As easy as ABC

Like a knight in shining armor

And above all, watch out for too many of them

As I mentioned above, with metaphors and similes it’s easy to get too much of a good thing by using too many. Take this short paragraph for example:

They waited outside the door of the meeting room, with bated breath and the nervousness of wild kittens. Even John, normally as strong as an ox and as cool as a cucumber on such occasions, shuffled a short tap dance routine in the corridor. Alyson, who is always the queen of cool, looked at John as if he had just stepped in dog poop. “We’re really have to push the envelope with this presentation, everyone,” she barked loudly, “and as soon as we get in there we’ve got to hit the ground running. We’ve to show them that we think outside the box and deliver their wildest dreams.”

Feeling nauseous yet? Me too. I know I have exaggerated the use of metaphors and similes in that paragraph but even a diluted version – which is something you often see not only in literary novels but also in business storytelling – can make you gag after a while.

Now: for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

Business English Quick Tips: me, myself and I

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

Welcome back after the Holidays break.

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Me, myself and I

Back when grammar was rather more strictly enforced than it is now, sorting out whether to use “me” or “I” was simple. When you need to use a first person singular pronoun, it’s “I” when it’s the subject of the sentence, and “me” when it’s the object.

Where the picture gets more complex is when you do something with someone else.

How often have you seen written down, or heard people say, “me and my colleague went to that seminar yesterday…?”

Or, “you’ve no idea how badly that decision affected my colleagues and I…”

Both are wrong. If you don’t immediately see why, trying taking the other person/people out …

Me went to that seminar yesterday…

You’ve no idea how badly that decision affected I…

See? Simple solution.

What about “myself?”

According to many of the “grammar police” manuals I’ve looked at, technically it’s OK to write “myself” as an alternative to “me.” Although I respect those rules there are times – many times – when I feel that to use “myself” makes you look pompous and overly formal.

Instead, using the word “myself” is an effective way to create emphasis in a sentence. For example:

I don’t find that software particularly useful, myself

I am claiming half those expenses back for myself

Myself, I prefer to clear emails before I start work in the morning

And for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

 

Business English Quick Tips: long sentences

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Most of us have, at one time or another, clutched our brows in horror at the hideously long sentences you so often see in legal documents, like the following 97-word doozy I cut and pasted from one of my book publishing contracts:

“The Publisher reserves the right to terminate this Agreement at any time, for non compliance by the Author to the terms of this agreement, by giving notice of termination referring specifically to this clause, and if it does so in reliance on this clause, then the Publisher shall relinquish all rights to the completed or part completed work as detailed in this Agreement, and the Publisher shall have no further liability to the Author whatsoever in respect of the non-publication of the Work, and may arrange for another author to write a work on the same subject.”

If you were to read that aloud you would be suffering from oxygen starvation by the penultimate line. And even reading it silently, because it drones on about so many different notions you need to read it two or three times before you can understand it fully (unless you’re a lawyer…)

Lawyers argue that punctuation in legal documents can be dangerous because it can alter the meaning, or at least the interpretation, of a clause so opening it up to uncertainty. So instead they’ll often write 100-word whoppers without so much as a comma, and leave it to more lawyers to decide just what the hell it actually does mean.

If you have time for a quick (well, not so quick) chuckle, check out this link

It’s from one of my favourite organizations, “Plain English Campaign” and shows you examples of sentences running at 630 words and 513 words. Utterly mind-blowing.

In business we can’t afford to mess around with meanings, but at the same time we can’t afford to mess with the brains of customers, staff, suppliers, etc. by expecting them to winkle out what we’re saying to them from a pile of words the size of a haystack. So, in the main, long sentences are a no-no.

Golden rule of sentences

Here we borrow a maxim from the advertising world and say, “only one main thought per sentence.” OK, the occasional use of a second clause in a sentence is forgivable, but be careful. It doesn’t take much to split a long sentence into two much more powerful ones (you can guess what your challenge is going to be, can’t you?) And don’t forget what I wrote about bullets and lists earlier in this series.

As I’m sure you know, clarity is vital in business communication. But it’s not just clarity: it’s clarity, quickly. The faster your reader absorbs your message, the more powerfully it will affect him or her; it’s that simple.

For a really useful 200-page guide to business writing in English, check out “Business Writing Made Easy” – you’ll find it very, very helpful! Click here

And for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here

More after the Holidays … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

photo credit: ohsarahrose via photopin cc

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