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Business Writing Skills

Date: July 12, 2005

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Table of Contents Business Writing Skills


ELEMENTS OF STYLE .............................................................................................. 5 STAGES OF EFFECTIVE BUSINESS WRITING............................................................................ 5 READER SENSITIVITY ................................................................................................. 5 GUIDE TO DOCUMENT REVISION ................................................................................ 6 EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION CRITERIA - 7CS ......................................................................... 7 SENTENCES AND LINES PER PARAGRAPH .............................................................................. 7 READABILITY ........................................................................................................ 8 CONCISE VERBS VS. NOMINALIZED VERBS ........................................................................... 10 WORDY PHRASES ................................................................................................... 11 TRANSITION WORDS ................................................................................................ 12 PARALLELISM ....................................................................................................... 12 TITLES AND NUMBERS ............................................................................................... 12 REGIONAL USAGE/SLANG ........................................................................................... 13 PROOFREADING GUIDELINES ........................................................................................ 13 PRODUCT EVALUATION ............................................................................................. 13 EXAMPLE CORPORATE PROFILE ..............................................................................14

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Adapted from thoughts of Malcolm Forbes, Founder of Forbes Magazine Power of the Printed Word How to Write a Business Letter A good business letter can get you a job interview, get you off the hook, or get you money. It's totally asinine to blow your chances of getting whatever you want with a business letter that turns people off instead of turning them on. The best place to learn to write is in school. If you're still there, pick your teachers' brains. If not, big deal. I learned to ride a motorcycle at 50 and fly balloons at 52. It's never too late to learn. Over 10,000 business letters come across my desk every year. They seem to fall into three categories: stultifying if not stupid, mundane (most of them), and first rate (rare). Here's the approach I've found that separates the winners from the losers--it starts before you write your letter:

Know what you want:


If you don't, write it down--in one sentence. "I want to get an interview within the next two weeks." Then, list the major points you want to get across--it'll keep you on course. If you're answering a letter, check the points that need answering and keep the letter in front of you while you write. This way you won't forget anything--that would cause another round of letters. For goodness' sake, answer promptly if you're going to answer at all. Don't sit on a letter--that invites the person on the other end to sit on whatever you want in return.

Plunge right in:


Call the reader by name--"Dear Mr. John Roberts" not "Dear Sir, Madam, or Ms."--and be sure to spell it right. That'll get him (thus, you) off to a good start. (Usually, you can get the name just by phoning the company--or from a business directory in your nearest library.) Tell what your letter is about in the first paragraph using one or two sentences. Don't keep your readers guessing or they might discard your letter--even before they finish it. People who read business letters are as human as you and I. Reading a letter shouldn't be a chore, reward readers for the time they give you.

Write so readers enjoy it:


Write the entire letter from the readers point of view. What's in it for the reader? Beat the reader to the draw by answering the questions and objections that might arise. Be positive. The reader will be more receptive to what you have to say. Be nice. Contrary to the cliche, genuinely nice guys most often finish first or very near it. I admit it's not easy when you've got a gripe. To be agreeable while disagreeing--that's an art. Be natural. Write the way you talk. Imagine the reader sitting in front of you--what would you say? Business jargon too often is cold, stiff, and unnatural. Suppose I came up to you and said, "I acknowledge receipt of your letter and I thank you." You'd think, "Huh? You're putting me on." The acid test--read your letter out loud when you're done. You might get a shock--but you'll know for sure if it sounds natural. Don't be cute or flippant. The reader won't take you seriously. This doesn't mean you've got to be dull. You prefer your letter to knock 'em dead rather than bore 'em to death.

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In your communication:
1. Have a sense of humor. That's refreshing anywhere--a nice surprise in a business letter. 2. Be specific. If I tell you there's a new fuel that could save gasoline, you might not believe me. But suppose I tell you this: "Gasohol"--10% alcohol, 90% gasoline--works as well as straight gasoline. Since you can make alcohol from grain or corn stalks, wood or wood waste, coal--even garbage, it's worth some real follow-through. Now you've got something to sink your teeth into. 3. Lean heavier on nouns and verbs, lighter on adjectives. Use the active voice instead of the passive. Your writing will have more guts. Which of these is stronger? Active voice: "I kicked out my money manager." Or, passive voice: "My money manager was kicked out by me." (By the way, neither is true. My son, Malcolm Jr., manages Forbes money--he's a brilliant moneyman.)

Give it the best you've got:


When you don't want something enough to make the effort, making an effort is a waste. To make the effort: Make your letter look appetizing -- or you'll strike out before you even get to bat. Type it on good-quality "8 1/2 x 11" stationery. Keep it neat. Use paragraphing that makes it easier to read. Keep your letter short -- to one page, if possible. Keep your paragraphs short. After all, who's going to benefit if your letter is quick and easy to read? You. For emphasis, underline important words. Make it perfect. No typos, no misspellings, no factual errors. If you're sloppy and let mistakes slip by, the person reading your letter will think you don't know better or don't care. Do you? Be crystal clear. You won't get what you're after if your reader doesn't get the message. Use good English. If you're still in school, take all the English and writing courses you can. The way you write and speak can really help--or hurt. If you're not in school (even if you are), get the little 71-page gem by Strunk & White, Elements of Style. It's in paperback. It's fun to read and loaded with tips on good English and good writing. Don't put on airs. Pretense invariably impresses only the pretender. Don't exaggerate. Even once. Your reader will suspect everything else you write. Distinguish opinions from facts. Your opinions may be the best in the world. But opinions are not gospel. You owe it to your reader to identify opinions from facts. The dumbest people I know are those who Know It All. Be honest. It'll get you further in the long run. If you're not, you won't rest easy. Edit ruthlessly. Somebody has said that words are a lot like inflated money--the more words that you use, the less each one is worth. Right on. Go through your entire letter just as many times as it takes. Search out and annihilate all unnecessary words, and sentences--even entire paragraphs.

Sum it up and get out:


The last paragraph should tell the reader exactly what you want the reader to do--or what you're going to do. Keep it short and sweet. "May I have an appointment? Next Monday, May 16, I'll call your secretary to see when is convenient for you." Close with something simple like, "Sincerely." And for heaven's sake sign legibly. The biggest ego trip I know is a completely illegible signature. Good luck; I trust you will get what you're after!
MALCOLM FORBES

DELIVERING Relationships Elements of Style


Stages of Effective Business Writing
To produce good writing, you have to make the information fit the document and style that best communicates to readers. Technical and business writing consists of special documents such as memos, reports, manuals, and instructions. It usually requires several stages of text development: Brainstorm what the communication must include. Cluster your ideas into topics. Outline your topics, including subtopics. Write a rough draft. Revise by editing your work. Proofread carefully. Produce the final draft.

Reader Sensitivity
Be positive: Being reader-friendly means treating readers well. You can do this by putting readers in a positive spotlight as much as possible. Minimize use of negative language, especially toward your readers. Use positive language instead. Emphasize what readers can do instead of what they cannot do: Instead of writing: You are not eligible for the discount, Write: Members are eligible for this discount. To become a member, please complete and submit this form. State facts instead of assigning blame: Instead of writing, You did not include a check in your recent mortgage payment mailing, Write: We did not find a check in your recent mortgage payment mailing. Avoid leading with negative information: Instead of writing: Your insurance is being cancelled effective January 31. Write: Our company policy enables customers to qualify for automobile insurance as long as they have a safe driving record. Customers who have been cited at fault in two or more accidents or who have received two or more speeding violations within a six-month period are immediately placed on probationary status. Any additional accidents or speeding citations within the following six months will result in the cancellation of that customers automobile insurance.

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Be polite: Politeness means being courteous, civil, considerate, and respectful to the reader. Politeness is achieved by using proper language when addressing the reader. The appropriateness of the language used is really a factor of the relationship that exists between writer and reader. If the writer and reader do not have a personal relationship, then, in most situations, courtesy titles are used, such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. These titles should be used if the communication is external-the writer is communicating with someone outside his/her organization. If the writer and reader are part of the same company or organization, then polite language depends upon their respective positions in the hierarchy. Superiors can more easily address subordinates on a first-name basis, ignoring courtesy titles. Subordinates should have a personal relationship with superiors before addressing them without using courtesy titles. Be fair: Successful companies are aware of the diversity of the world marketplace and the importance of being inclusive of groups that comprise their customers. From a purely capitalistic perspective, avoiding all types of discrimination in company language makes good business sense because it appeals to as many customers as possible. Therefore, it is good practice to avoid making assumptions about gender-specific social roles, to include information about race and age only when it is relevant to the purpose of the message, and to avoid stereotyping people with disabilities and diseases.

Revising and Checking


According to Mary E. Guffey, author of Business Communication: Process and Product, 2003, the revision process includes: 1. Revising to improve the content and sentence structure; 2. Proofreading to correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, format, and mechanics; and 3. Evaluating to analyze whether the message achieves its purpose.

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Effective Communication Criteria - 7Cs


Clarity: Apply the KISS formulaKeep it Short and Simple. Choose short, familiar, conversational words. Construct effective sentences and paragraphs. Achieve appropriate readability--and listenability. Avoid unfamiliar words, abbreviations, slang or jargon.

Completeness: Answer all questions asked. Give something extra, when desirable. Check for the five Ws and any other essentials. Conciseness: Shorten or omit wordy expressions. Include only relevant statements. Avoid unnecessary repetition, long sentences, relative pronouns, expletives, abstract subjects, and passive verbs. Use the right level of language. Include only accurate facts, words, and figures. Maintain acceptable writing mechanics. Choose nondiscriminatory expressions. Apply all other pertinent C qualities.

Correctness:

Concreteness: Use specific facts and figures. Put action in your verbs. Choose vivid, image-building words. Avoid relative words, indefinite phrases, and abstract words. Consideration: Focus on "you" instead of "I" and "we." Take an interest in the reader, show how the reader will benefit. Emphasize positive, pleasant facts. Apply integrity and ethics. Avoid negative words. Be sincerely tactful, thoughtful, and appreciative. Omit expressions that irritate, hurt, or belittle. Apologize good-naturedly. Use words and phrases that set a positive tone. Make the reply easy.

Courtesy:

Sentences and Lines per Paragraph


A paragraph is a set of related sentences, indicated by indenting the first sentence or by leaving a blank line between paragraphs. In professional writing--where time is money--writing needs to be as simple and straightforward as possible. Therefore, keep sentences short, and use the active voice. Paragraphs are most effective when they are crisp, clean, short, and to the point. Most importantly, good business paragraphs develop one idea at a time.

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In business letters and memos, one-sentence paragraphs are not uncommon, especially in the first and last paragraphs. In reports, one- and two-sentence paragraphs make the report seem too choppy. The number of lines in a paragraph can be used to judge proper length. Paragraphs in letters and memos are easiest to read if they do not exceed 4-5 printed lines. In reports, paragraphs of 7-9 lines are acceptable. Longer paragraphs always appear difficult and uninviting to read. Check the words per sentence in your document for conciseness. If your average sentence length is too long, try these techniques to reduce the length: (1) Check for wordiness--eliminate all unnecessary words. (2) Change passive sentences to active sentences. (3) Break long sentences into two or more sentences. (4) Use a vertical list for a series of items. Items 3 and 4 are especially useful if you have any sentences over 40 words. If your average sentence length is short, your writing may be choppy. Check to see how many sentences have fewer than 10 words and combine some of your short sentences into complex or compound sentences, as shown below. The company usually does not give semi-annual raises. However, all employees will receive a raise in June. Revision: Revision: Although the company usually does not give semi-annual raises, all employees will receive a raise in June. (complex sentence with a dependent clause) The company usually does not give semi-annual raises, but all employees will receive a raise this June. (compound sentence with two independent clauses joined by a conjunction)

Readability
Too many passive sentences should be avoided in business writing. An analysis of well-written business letters and memos reveals that about 80 percent of the verbs are active. In other words, only one out of five sentences should be passive. If your work contains more than 20 percent of passive sentences, please revise the sentences using active verbs. In general, the active voice is more effective in business communications than the passive voice for two reasons: (1) The sentences are usually more concise. (2) The writing is more interesting because the subject of the sentence is taking the action implied in the verb. Passive: Active: The decision was made by the manager at the last moment. The manager decided at the last moment.

Note how using the active voice makes the sentence shorter and how the subject (the manager) is doing the action (decided). With the passive voice, the sentence is longer and the subject (decision) is not doing the action (made). To make passive verbs active, ask yourself who or what did the action. Move that person or thing to the beginning of the sentence as the subject and change the verb as necessary.

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Also, if the subject of a passive sentence is a nominalization (sometimes called a camouflaged verb), consider using the verb form of the nominalization for the verb of your sentence. For example, in the passive sentence example, decision is a nominalization and is the subject of the sentence. In the active sentence, decided is the verb. Nominalizations are created from verbs by the following word endings: -ion, -ment, -ance, and ence. Obviously, many business words are nominalizations, such as information, depreciation, amortization, assistance, insurance, discussion, application, and liquidation. In many instances you will need to use these words; but, when you can use their verb form, do so. Even when a nominalization is not the subject of a sentence, try to revise using the verb, as shown in this example. Please let us know when we can be of assistance to you. Revision: Please let us know when we can assist you.

Replacing assistance with assist makes the sentence shorter and more action-oriented. A working knowledge of passive voice is necessary when considering the tone of your message. Unless you need to use the passive, avoid it whenever you can. However, the passive is often used to improve the tone of a communication and to de-emphasize who took the action if that is not important. Poor: Better: Poor: Better: You did not complete all the items on the form. All the items on the form were not completed. (Better tone) The construction company finished the building on Wednesday. The building was finished on Wednesday. (This example is better, assuming that it is not important or it is implied who finished the work.)

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Concise Verbs vs. Nominalized Verbs
Use Concise Words analyze act assume assist apply appear approve announce believe can conclude consider correct depends discuss desire decide end examine emphasize estimate infer imply investigate know rely realize refer repay recommend request represents react suggest Avoid Normalized Verbs make an analysis of take an action make assumptions about give assistance to make an application make an appearance give approval to make an announcement hold the belief that be in a position to reach a conclusion about give consideration to is corrective of is dependent on have a discussion of have a desire for make a decision to bring to an end make an examination of give emphasis to make an estimation of draw an inference that make the implication that make an investigation of make cognizant of have reliance on make a realization that make reference to make repayment for make a recommendation that make a request is representative of have a reaction to make the suggestion that

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Wordy Phrases
Use single-word substitutes instead of phrases whenever possible without changing meanings. Wordy along the line of (salary) at this time consensus of opinion date of the policy due to the fact that during the year of few and far between for a price of for the purpose of for the reason that from the point of view of have need for in accordance with your request in due course in many cases in most cases in order to in some cases in spite of the fact that in (for) the amount of in the city of in the event that in the neighborhood of $60 in view of the fact that please don't hesitate to write under date of under the circumstances Concise about (salary) now consensus policy date because during seldom, scarce for for; to since; because as need as you requested soon often; frequently usually to sometimes although for in if about $60 because please write dated because

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Transition Words
And Also On the other hand Or But However In contrast Nevertheless On the contrary As a result Because Consequently For this reason First, second, third Likewise Similarly Finally Furthermore Moreover For example For instance Indeed Therefore After As Before In the future Next Then Until When While In conclusion

Parallelism
Parallel structure applies to words joined by a conjunction, joined by a conjunctive pair, appearing in a series, and appearing in a listing. Examples: The whole day was spent returning phone calls, reading the mail, and dictating correspondence. When reading this report, you will: Learn the costs involved in old inventories. Appreciate the new computerized accounting system. Understand the new elements in the zero-based approach.

Titles and Numbers


Names of books, magazines and newspapers should be underlined or put in italics. "Fortune and Business Week are important information sources." "The Wall Street Journal had an article on that topic recently." Numbers included in text vary according to their value and location. Numbers opening a paragraph or at the beginning of a sentence are written as words. "Three hundred bankers rushed Wall Street today." Numbers one to ten (1 to 10) are entered in text as WORDS. "I have three job offers in New York." Numbers above ten are placed in text as digits except when they open a paragraph. "She left her son $4 million in cash and securities."

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Regional Usage/Slang
Regionalisms should be avoided in formal writing. For example, in this part of the country it seems to be common practice to omit "to be," as in, "The job needs done." Since there is no verb in that phrase, it is not a complete sentence. In business writing, including assignments for this class, use "The job needs to be done."

Proofreading Guidelines
Proofread everything, including titles, subtitles, words, punctuation, capitalization, indented items, and numbers. Concentrate on each word. If necessary, read your document backwards to check spelling. Then read sentences and paragraphs out of order. This helps you read what you actually have typed instead of what you believe you have typed. Cover the document with a piece of paper so you can read only one line at a time. This will help you overcome your eyes' tendency to move on too quickly. Read aloud to someone who will follow along on another copy of the document. Examine all numbers and totals. Recheck all calculations and look for misplaced commas and decimal points. Make sure all quotation marks, brackets, dashes, and parentheses come in pairs. Double check all highlighted material. Keep a list of all repeated errors. See if you find a pattern that will help you proofread future documents more effectively. Ask co-workers to proofread your document and to initial it when they are confident they have uncovered all mistakes.

Product Evaluation
Ask yourself, Does this communication achieve its purpose? Obtain feedback from others about the quality of the communication. Encourage feedback from the receiver about the quality of your communication.

DELIVERING Relationships eXample Corporate Profile


eXample is a Solution Consulting firm founded by Business and Technology Professionals with the aim of delivering sustainable BUSINESS VALUE. With our expertise, we build a competitive advantage and enable our clients to compete successfully and grow in this competitive and E-Business driven economy. eXamples approach is centered on the philosophy that the prime objective of a business organization is to grow revenues and cut costs. Everything else that is done such as customer acquisition, market share, cycle time, service levels, quality improvement are basically enablers to driving revenues or cutting costs. eXample believes that clients want solutions to address their business needs. Our Solution Consulting philosophy is clearly oriented around customer as the center of focus and products, skills, technologies or services as a means to achieving the goal of addressing customers needs. We have built our foundation on a deep understanding of three key aspects that impacts a clients business. These are: The clients business resources including people, money, assets, infrastructure, and materials How to make it work together The clients business relationships with customers, employees, partners and suppliers How to make it work together The enabling technologies, techniques and tools Choosing the right solution option for betterment of clients business As is visible, eXample operates in the intersection point of Business Resources, Business relationships and Enabling Technology to deliver sustainable Business value. The canvas is quite wide and eXample has chosen to focus on three key solution areas namely Strategy consulting, Process Consulting and E-Business consulting services to help our clients grow their revenues and prune their cost structure. Additionally, eXample lends a hand with our Professional Services, Training and resourcing expertise spanning a wide range of Business and Technology competencies of relevance to clients. If you are an end client or a Business Solutions or Technology Solutions partner with a large client base, eXample can assist you with our Solution Consulting expertise and help deliver sustainable Business Value. In keeping with this approach, we measure the outcome of all our assignments in two quantifiable parameters namely, CRA (Client Revenue Achievement) and CPA (Client Profit Achievement) that links directly with the business purpose of our clients or partners. eXamples services, solution and competencies is presented in the next page as Annexure eXample Profile

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ANNEXURE

eXample profile
eXample is a Solution Consulting firm offering Strategy, Process and e-Business consulting and training services to global clients in Americas, EMEA, India and Asia Pacific regions targeted at Oil and Gas, Banking and Finance, Manufacturing/Logistics, CPG/Retail, Telecom, IT and Shared Services sector. E-Business Solutions Enterprise Architecture Technical Architecture Network Architecture Business Process mgmt ERP and CRM Supply Chain mgmt. Data warehousing Business Intelligence Human Capital mgmt Knowledge mgmt. Training and Professional Services Outsourced Training Contract Staffing Contract-to-Hire Permanent Hire

Strategy Consulting Business transformation Customer Management Marketing & Alliances Manufacturing IT and E-Business Technology outsourcing Transaction outsourcing Competency building Risk and Compliance

Process Consulting Operational excellence Customer Response Product development Cost reduction Quality Improvement Cycle time reduction Strategic Procurement Working capital mgmt. Shared services mgmt.

Offshore Advisory Engagement models Location selection Partner due diligence Operations plan/build Team building Training and transition Operations oversight Merger/Acquisition due diligence

Clients

eXample competencies Strategy Porters Model, Balanced Scorecard Process 6-Sigma, ISO, TQM, BPR, ABC, Lean Mfg., SQC, TPM, ITIL, COPC Architecture Zachman, TOGAF, CIM, BPM, RUP, .NET, J2EE,SOA/EDA,e-TOM ERP/CRM Oracle 11i, mySAP, Peoplesoft, JD Edwards Data warehouse/ Teradata, Datastage, Informatica, Hyperion, SAS Biz. Intelligence Cognos, BO, Microstrategy, SAP BIW, Actuate, MS-OLAP Languages Java, D2K, C/C++/VC++, C#, PB, VB/ASP, Progress, Informix Operating Systems Windows, SCO-UNIX, HP-UX, Solaris, Linux Databases Oracle, MS-SQL, DB2, mySQL, Progress, Informix, Sybase Appl. /Web servers Weblogic, Websphere, Oracle 9ias, NET, Jboss, Tomcat/Apache Networks (D/V) Cisco, Nortel, Genesis, Netware, HP-OV Security IT, Networks, SOX, BS7799, Audits eXample is