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Business Writing Tips

- Be assertive and forthright

Be assertive and forthright in your business writing. Customers and prospects become distrustful of evasive writers. 

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- Bring about cordiality

When writing to your business colleagues, use phrases like “team effort”, “your valued opinion”, “work together” and the like. This brings about cordiality among co-workers.  

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- Business letters

Keep your business letters concise, factual, and focused. Try to never exceed one page – generally 350 to 450 words.

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- Margins in writing layout

Use left justified margins and ragged right margins in your writing layout. Fully justified text leaves uneven spaces between words, causing the eyes to constantly readjust.

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- Avoid gender bias

Avoid gender-biased nouns and pronouns in your business writing. It is more appropriate and ‘politically correct’ to use gender-neutral words instead.               For example: Replace “chairman” with “chairperson”; use “humanity” instead of “mankind”; write “he/she” instead of “he” when referring to both genders, or change to plural form “they”. Gender-neutral nouns and pronouns make everyone feel included.

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- Avoid using “weasel” words

Avoid using “weasel” words such as “seems”, “perhaps”, “apparently”, “usually”, in your business writing. They give the impression of your being insecure or insincere. For example: ‘It seems that perhaps we may be able to have our meeting on Monday’ may better be written as: ‘We will have our meeting on Monday’. 

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- Format business e-mails in plain text

When writing a business e-mail, format it in plain text rather than HTML. Not all e-mail clients can read HTML.

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- Dateline in business correspondence

Write the dateline in your business correspondence in full, not abbreviated or in figures. For example: Write August 1, 2006, not Aug. 1, 2006; August 1st, 2006;      or 8-1-06.

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- Business letter with cc

If sending copies of a business letter to other individuals, indicate by typing “cc” and the name(s) of the individual(s), left-justified, two lines below the signature and title. (For a sample, please refer here.)

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- Contractions in business writing

Do not use contractions in business writing. For example, write “cannot” and not “can’t”; “you are” and not “you’re”, and so on. Contractions are used only in informal writing or in tables where space in limited.

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- Foreign words and phrases

Foreign words and phrases should be set in italics (e.g., faux pas, ipso facto, prima facie), unless they are very familiar and have been anglicized (e.g., ad hoc, post mortem, status quo).

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- Keep business letters formal and factual

Keep the tone and content of your business letters formal and factual. Feelings and emotions have no place in business letters.

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- Avoid use of jargon and buzzwords

Avoid use of jargon (highly specialized technical writing) or buzzwords (stylish and trendy words used primarily to impress laypersons) in your business writing. They only prevent your message from getting across as most people do not understand them.

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- Correspondence with foreign clients

Business correspondence with foreign clients needs a great deal of care. Not everyone speaks the same language, so express yourself in short, simple, and concise terms.

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- Fonts in business writing

Avoid fancy fonts in your business writing. They may look innovative, but also give an unprofessional look.

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- Emphasis in academic writing

In academic writing, emphasis is expressed only through words. Italics, boldface, all-capitals or other devices cause the writing to appear flashy or loud. 

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- Make your proposals persuasive

Make your proposals persuasive by presenting your evidence in quantifiable terms. Make good use of statistics and published results.

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- Selecting the right tone

Select the right tone in your business correspondence. How you write something is just as important as what you write in order to get the right message across. The tone in writing is how you “talk” to the reader. Inappropriate tone may put the reader off and have the opposite effect to what your intention was. For example:

“We have implemented a change in the policy and you are required to …….”

“Taking certain points into consideration, the Management has decided to make changes in the policy. It is, therefore, requested that you …..”

The first sentence sounds authoritative, as if an order is being given. This tone may cause the reader to either ignore the message, or close the deal off altogether. Obviously this is not the intention, but the tone is giving that effect. On the other hand, if the second approach is taken, the reader will take your request seriously.

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- Personal information in resumes

A common blunder is to put your personal information in your resume. Do NOT give your date of birth, marital status, height etc. in your resume.

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- Attachments in e-mails

Avoid sending attachments in business e-mails. It is best to copy and paste text into body of e-mail. The reasons being:

1. Recipients can read it immediately. (Attachments take time to download)
2. Recipients may not have the right program to open the file. (For example Word 2007 or PaintShop)
3. Attachments can contain viruses.

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- Italics and underlines

Italics and underlines mean the same thing. They are both used to make you take notice of certain words. Although underlining is usually used when hand writing, and italics when typing/using a computer, they may both be used as typographical devices. But remember – use either italics or underlines, never both together within the same document.

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- E-mail subject line

Keep the subject line of your e-mail short, simple, and related to the topic. Besides being meaningful, it makes searching for a specific message easy. Never leave the subject line blank… it may be perceived as junk and deleted. Never start your message in the subject line and continue in the body of the e-mail… it is bad e-mail etiquette.

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- Emoticons in business e-mails

Avoid the use of emoticons in business e-mails. They make your e-mails look unprofessional.

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