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Business Writing Article

Beware the Red Pen Power Rangers
Al Borowski, MEd, CSP, PP

A collective body of non-knowledge exists in American business.

This body of non-knowledge has become the exclusive domain of a self-appointed group I call the Red Pen Power Rangers. The Red Pen Power Rangers sprung up to protect a collection of non-truths, myths, and academic hearsay.

Please do not confuse the Red Pen Power Rangers with managers, supervisors, editors, proof readers or friends who read your writing to correct or improve it. Managers, supervisors, editors, proof readers or friends have every right to correct mistakes, add information you may have forgotten, or take out sensitive information.

The Red Pen Power Rangers use red pens to tell you what you cannot do. This chapter will tell you what you can do.

Yes you can:

End a sentence with a preposition

That is one rule I definitely do not agree with. Please reread that last sentence and check out how I ended the sentence. I ended it with a preposition. If you find a rule in print that tells you ending a sentence with a preposition is poor writing, call me; write me; fax me, e-mail me. I want to know if this rule does exist in any book you have ever seen. For skeptics, please check Rule 1080 of the eighth edition of the Gregg Reference Manual.

"I wish I had this writing program two days ago. I wasted an hour yesterday trying to rewrite a sentence I wrote that ended with a preposition. If I had known I could end a sentence with a preposition, I would have saved myself an hour." That sentence comes from a participant in one of my workshops.

Start a sentence with "because"

Yes, you can start a sentence with the word, "because." Because you chose to buy this book, you will learn to write faster and get better results. That last sentence started with "because," and clearly communicated my guarantee to you.

Use one sentence paragraphs

I find very little logic and no reasonable justification for forcing myself to use two sentences when one will work. If you can convey an idea clearly, completely and correctly in one sentence, please do so.

Please do not interpret my words to mean that all paragraphs should be one sentence long. I suggest you save the one sentence paragraphs for those ideas you want to express powerfully. For example, I recommend you use a one sentence paragraph to begin an important letter, memo, e-mail, report or proposal. This techniques allows you to start with an idea that readers can focus on, read quickly and remember easily. Please reread the sentence that started this article.

Use the same word twice in the same sentence

If you send me a copy of a rule that appears anywhere in a popularly accepted grammar book that tells you not to use the same word twice in the same sentence, I will send you $100. Please tell me how I could have written that last sentence without using the word "you" three times. Iím glad John F. Kennedy ignored that non-rule. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I hope you realize what you can accomplish when you let go of some of the non-rules you learned.

Be honest with me. Were you offended because I used the word "you" nine times in the above paragraph?

Begin a sentence with "But," "And," "Nor," or "Or."

As with one-sentence paragraphs, you can use your literary license occasionally for impact, effect or mental breaks. The key word becomes "occasionally." As a mental break, these devices perform a useful function. I take my cue on beginning a sentence with "But," "And," "Nor," or "Or" from a higher power. If the four greatest, most widely read authors in history used this literary device, they must have known something. Remember Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? They used them and they worked. Again, the key becomes using them sparingly. One of the all time great television newscasters, Walter Cronkite, ended his newscasts by saying, "And thatís the way it is..."

I recommend that you not use this literary devise more than two times per page.

Use contractions

Yes, you can use contractions in business writing. Should you? I canít tell you that. Whether or not you use them depends on your purpose, your audience and whatever your company business writing style guide recommends.

I like and use contractions because they carry a natural and conversational tone. On the other hand, I choose my contractions carefully because half of them denote a negative tone. If you want your letters, memos, e-mails or reports to convey a personal, conversational tone, use contractions. If your bosses tells you not to use them, drop them (the contractions, not your bosses).

Split infinitives

Your business writing may call for you to sometimes split infinitives. If you know or care about infinitives, you realize I split the infinitive in the last sentence.

An infinitive is a phrase that contains the word "to" followed by a verb. I want to go home. In that sentence, "to go" becomes the infinitive.

Consider the following sentences:

 "I want you to quickly run down stairs and get me a cup of  coffee."

  "I want you to very quickly run down stairs and get me a cup of coffee"

The first sentence split the infinitive by one word, the second sentence by two words. I believe all of you understood each of those sentences and would have no problem with them.

I recommend that you not split infinites by more that two words.

Save the topic sentence for the last thing you write.

The topic sentence is the first sentence or the first two sentences of a letter or a paragraph. Although the topic sentence appears first, no rule in any language says you must create it first. Many people waste too much time trying to create the perfect topic sentence before they continue on with their message. If you are one of these people who stare at a blank sheet of paper or a computer screen looking for that perfect sentence, move on. Start writing the body of your document. After you have completed that task, the topic sentence will become easier to write. This technique will probably save you a lot of time and improve the quality of your topic sentence.

Begin a sentence or paragraph with "I".

When I reveal this piece of wisdom to seminar participants, I pause and listen to their reactions. Most seminar participants tell me this is one rule that was pounded into their heads. I have a real problem with that. Participants tell me this rule comes from a their English teachers who said, "Never start a sentence with "I" because it sounds like your bragging." Thatís dumb. Yes, you can start a sentence with "I."

I know my participants are not lying to me because I had a similar situation happen to me when I was writing my Masters Thesis. I started a sentence with "I" and the professor, who was my advisor, told me I couldnít do that.

I said, "Alan, why not?" To which I heard total silence. Again I asked, "Alan, why not?" And, the answer I got was, "Because we donít do that in academia." And again I asked, "Why not?"

At this point I realized I was squeezing too hard and backed off. Iím no fool. He was my audience and I wanted my Masters degree.

So, I asked him, "Alan, how should I start that sentence?" He gave me a nine word phrase to use to begin my sentence. So, I used it.

Let me share the sentence with you and you decide whether or not I needed those nine words in the sentence.

To give an example which the author has used, I often begin a program by having the participants stand and introduce themselves.

Use "I" in business letters.

You can use the personal pronouns "I," "you," "we," "he," "she" in business letters. No matter what job or industry youíre in, you are in a people-to-people business. Many companies and governmental agencies seem to have forgotten that. If you are to succeed in business writing, you must learn how to use the pronouns "I" and "you" effectively. Let me give you an example of how this works.

Pretend that I sell widgets. You ordered 18 purple widgets from me. What you received were 13 pink widgets. You now have the wrong quantity and the wrong color. So, you send me a "nastygram" telling me of your dissatisfaction of getting 13 pink widgets rather than the 18 purple widgets you ordered.

I send you a reply that reads as follows:

We received your claim that you received 13 pink widgets. We checked the warehouse and we do have purple widgets in stock.

We are prepared to ship you 18 purple widgets as soon as possible.

Your comments are greatly appreciated.

Or, you receive this letter:

Thank you for bringing our error to my attention.

I called the warehouse and found out that we do have purple   widgets in stock. I will ship you 18 purple widgets on June 1st.

If you do not receive them by June 3rd, please call me at extension 2929.   

Which letter would you rather receive? Most people in my seminars tell me they would rather receive the second letter. The reasons for this are simple. The second letter is more personal, shows accountability and responsibility.

Also, the second letter shows that the company cares about the reader as an individual not as a number in the computer. The reader received a personal letter rather than a form letter.

Save time, get better results and have more fun with your writing. Share this article with the Red Pen Power Rangers. 

Copyright Al Borowski 2006 All rights reserved

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Al Borowski, MEd, CSP, PP
Certified Speaking Professional
Professor of Positivity

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National Speakers Association member & bsuiness writing author writing business letters is tied to your listening skills improve Business Writing with Certified Speaking Professional, Al Borowski
Business Writing author, speaker and trainer, Al Borowski

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The Communication Skills involved in sales, telephone skills, customer service, presentation skillswriting business letters, listening skills, effective email  and training the trainer come together when Al Borowski helps you Connect All The Dots. Al's high energy, content-rich, fun-filled presentations help business professionals get the complete picture when they speak, listen or write.

© Al Borowski 2006 All rights reserved

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