Business Writing Article
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
Yes you can:
End a sentence with a
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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.
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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