Two weeks ago, I gave a webinar about how to write with impact in Business English. The webinar was addressed to my fellow teachers and looked at ways I help my clients improve their Business English (BE) writing skills.
I advertised the webinar in a post here and was delighted when record numbers enrolled in the course. Not everyone could attend the live session butI do hope that those who didn’t were able to catch up with the recording.
For those of you who’d like to watch the recording, I’ve got it here:
As I mentioned above, the session was for teachers, so I thought I’d adapt the session for my readers who are learners in this post by picking out the salient (key) points of my webinar. I hope you find it helpful.
What my clients want
When it come to writing skills, most of my clients want to:
- write like a native speaker (whatever that means)
- have more vocabulary
- use more complex sentences
- use more sophisticated language
- take less time writing
Does this look familiar to you? Is this what you want?
What my clients need
What they actually need is to:
- be clear about why they are writing. What is their objective?
- think about their reader
- have a clear structure with a clear start and finish
- have better cohesion of thought
- use plain, uncomplicated English
- keep it short and simple (KISS)
As a writer, you need to ask yourself 5 basic questions* before you put pen to paper.
- Who are you writing to? Internal or external? colleague, superior, client, supplier? *Always consider your reader*
- Why are you writing? A phone call is too long; you’re writing to multiple recipients; the message needs to be documented; you’re looking to establish your authority.
- What exactly is the message you want to communicate? What outcome are you looking for? Inform, persuade, remind, complain?
- How much time can you spend on this? 2 minutes, 1 hour, half a day?
- Do you have the relevant information/knowledge to write?
When you have answered the above questions, the next stage is to plan the information.
Here are some planning techniques* you could use:
- Establish the objective
- Brainstorm the content
- Select and reject
- Prepare an outline with the main points
- Expand on the details
- Keep to the plan
Remember that writing needs to flow. Your reader needs to follow the internal structure of your document and the connections between your ideas. Therefore, it’s important to have a clear structure in your writing.
Structure: Sentences and Paragraphs
- Keep your sentences short – shorter sentences mean fewer mistakes
- Shorter doesn’t mean simple sentences
- Use a mixture of simple, compound and complex sentences to give variety to your writing
- Use chronological (first, second, finally, then) and logical linkers (as a result, in contrast, in addition) to make your writing smooth
- Use replacement words: “Sales were well above target. In Eastern Europe, they reached 3 million euros and this represents a 10% rise on last year”*
Paragraphs are essential for longer emails and documents. Each paragraph shouldn’t be more than 2-6 sentences and it should always start with a topic sentence. Use headings and bullet points to make your writing visually clear.
Getting the style right
Formal, standard or informal?
Which style will depend on who your reader is. Once you’ve chosen the appropriate style, it will dictate how you write.
Longer words, impersonal and indirect, more use of the passive voice, perfect grammar and punctuation are expected
Direct and shorter phrases, less formal vocabulary, personal and direct in style, proficient language is expected
Conversational expressions, everyday words, less structure, mistakes are acceptable
Using positive words like: activity, agreed, evolving, helpful, manageable, productive, solve together, team are more likely to get the results you want than negative words such as: busy, crisis, difficult, impossible, incompetent, stupid, waste of time*
“Less is more”
Use short words where possible. Instead of these: approximately, attempt, at this point in time, currently, for the reason that try these: about, try, now, now, because.*
My vocabulary is limited
That’s not a problem.
- Use words you know. Plain, uncomplicated English is best.
- Use vocabulary your reader knows. Avoid jargon unless it is expected.
- Simplify and adapt your vocabulary if your reader doesn’t share your professional background.
The Writing Process
Writing the first draft
You will notice from the above that grammar, spelling and punctuation are the last items you address before editing the entire document and pushing the send button.
I hope I have given you some food for thought.
If you found this post helpful and feel that others would benefit, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you’d like to receive my posts directly into your inbox.
Ciao for now
*Source: Business Minimax- English for Business Writing, Bob Dignen and Jon Dyson (2009) York Associates
Other Sources: English for Business, Nick Brieger (2011) Collins