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Section 1: Business Writing

Skills

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Table of Contents
Section 1: Business Writing Skills
"POWER OF THE PRINTED WORD".............................................................................................................3
ELEMENTS OF STYLE......................................................................................................................................6
STAGES OF EFFECTIVE BUSINESS WRITING.................................................................................................... 6
READER SENSITIVITY.................................................................................................................................... 6
GUIDE TO DOCUMENT REVISION................................................................................................................7
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION CRITERIA - 7CS............................................................................................... 8
SENTENCES AND LINES PER PARAGRAPH....................................................................................................... 8
READABILITY............................................................................................................................................... 9
.................................................................................................................................................................... 9
CONCISE VERBS VS. NOMINALIZED VERBS.................................................................................................. 11
WORDY PHRASES....................................................................................................................................... 12
TRANSITION WORDS................................................................................................................................... 13
PARALLELISM............................................................................................................................................. 13
TITLES AND NUMBERS................................................................................................................................ 13
REGIONAL USAGE/SLANG........................................................................................................................... 14
PROOFREADING GUIDELINES....................................................................................................................... 14
PRODUCT EVALUATION............................................................................................................................... 14

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With permission:
International Paper Company

"Power of the Printed Word"

How To Write A
Business Letter
by
Malcolm Forbes
Adapted from thoughts of Malcolm Forbes,
Founder of Forbes Magazine

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. Chrisanthopoalos" 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
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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.

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.

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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

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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.
Be polite:

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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.

Guide to Document Revision


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.

Correctness:

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.

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.

Courtesy:

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.

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:

Although the company usually does not give semi-annual raises, all
employees will receive a raise in June. (complex sentence with a dependent
clause)

Revision:

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 wellwritten 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:

The decision was made by the manager at the last moment.

Active:

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:

You did not complete all the items on the form.

Better:

All the items on the form were not completed. (Better tone)

Poor:

The construction company finished the building on Wednesday.

Better:

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

Avoid Normalized Verbs

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

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

Concise

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

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.

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