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Closing Lines in Business Documents

Heather’s question: “In one of your biztips, you closed with ‘Trust this helps.’ Should it not be ‘I trust this helps’?”

BizWritingTip response: You are right in your thinking. “Trust this helps” is not a complete sentence. However, in business writing, it is common practice to be a little less strict with our closing lines in electronic messages.

Examples (informal closes)
Looking forward to seeing you.
Hope you have a good weekend.

All effective business writers understand the three tones of business writing: formal, neutral, and informal. The formal tone is used for reports and for official letters. It rigidly adheres to all grammar rules, but the tone can come across as rather stiff. The emphasis is on the writer or the writer’s organization.

Example (formal close)
I trust this information helps.

When reading most letters and emails, readers tend to prefer a style that sounds more conversational. It usually increases your reader’s buy-in of the message.

Note: I am not recommending disregarding grammar rules in letters and emails. My comments relate only to the closing line.

Text Shorthand in Emails

Robert’s question: “We are having a debate in our office as to whether it is acceptable to use ‘r’ for ‘are’ and other similar shortcuts when sending emails internally.”

BizWritingTip response:  Emails are a standard form of business communication, and they should be treated the same as any business document. People expect to read them the same way as they would read the morning newspaper.

The letter “r” for “are,” and other short cuts such as BTW for by the way, are considered text messaging short hand. Please don’t use this shorthand in a business email – even though it is to a colleague. It is considered disrespectful. Save your text shorthand for chat rooms, text messages, and instant messaging.

I often compare writing styles to clothing. When you write a lengthy report, you are in formal attire – a tuxedo or ball gown. When you write a letter or short report, you are wearing standard business attire. Emails are dress down Fridays – but no jeans. Think golf attire. Instant and text messaging are your bathing suits.

All forms of writing and dress are appropriate at the proper place and time. Just as you would never wear a tuxedo to a pool party, you would never wear a bathing suit to the golf course.

Grammar Tip – Abbreviations That End a Sentence

Linden’s question: “Must the abbreviation ‘Ltd’ have a period after it? If you do use a period after it, how do you deal with the end of the sentence? Are there two periods, one for the abbreviation and one for the sentence?”

BizWritingTip response:  Any abbreviation composed of upper and lower case letters should have a period after it. Therefore, Ltd. is correct.

Never put two periods at the end of a sentence. The period at the end of the abbreviation serves also as the period at the end of the sentence.

Examples (correct)
I work at Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Before that, I worked in the automotive industry.
I work at Sleeman Breweries Ltd., which is a great company.

For more information on abbreviations, please type the word abbreviations in the search box.

Word Choice – Would Versus Could

BizWritingTip reader: “I am not sure when to use ‘could’ as opposed to ‘would.’ For example, I often write: ‘Would you be able to send me the figures?’ It seems more polite, but is it grammatically correct?”

BizWritingTip response: Yes. It is grammatically correct. “Would” and “could” are similar words with slightly different meanings. It is up to you to decide what impression you want to give. The root word of “would” is “will.” Using “would” shows you are giving the reader permission to say “no.” It is the more formal choice.

Examples
Would you please send me the figures on Friday? (You have an option — yes or no.)
Will you please send me the figures by Friday? (Less formal — you still have an option.)

The root word of “could” is “can.” Both words are used to express ability. However, “can” is used for the present tense and is straight forward.

Example
Can you send me the figures by Friday? (Do you have the ability to send me the figures by Friday?)

“Could” also carries the sense of ability but under some condition.

Examples
If you have the time, could you please submit your expense account by the end of the day?
We could have won the contract if we had lowered our prices.
Could you please send me the figures by Friday? (The unwritten condition in this example is “if you are able.”)

Now what about the punctuation marks for these questions? Putting a question mark after a request makes the “ask” more polite. Putting a period after a request makes the “ask” more demanding.

Examples
Would you please send the report to the board secretary? (Polite request)
Would you please send the report to the board secretary. (Demanding)

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Grammar Tip – Explaining Colons

The colon (:) is an important punctuation mark in that it signals to your readers that an explanation follows. Unfortunately, many readers tend to overuse it.

If you are staying on the same line, you must have a complete sentence before you use a colon.

Correct

Our client list includes many companies from the automotive sector: GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan. (The words before the colon form a complete sentence.)

Incorrect

Our client list includes: GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan.?(The words before the colon do not form a complete sentence.)

Correct

Our client list includes GM, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan.??The colon is also used when introducing a list.

Correct

The following information is enclosed:

  • A handbook including an overview of the association
  • A calendar of the year’s events
  • A members’ directory
  • Your membership number

Word Choice – Organize or Organise

Gail’s question: “It is becoming more difficult to remember the correct Canadian spelling of words, especially since Microsoft software only references American grammar and spelling.  For example, I would spell “organisation” with an ‘s.’ Is this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: My favourite reference books for Canadian spelling are The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Both books claim that organize is spelled with a “z.”  This is also the American spelling.

Organise and organize are both accepted in British spelling.  However, a 2004 UK survey stated that 60% of the respondents favoured the –ise ending.

If you want more information on the differences between Canadian, British and American spelling, check out the earlier BizWritingTip Blog: How should I spell it?

By the way, you might want to ask your IT department how to set up a Canadian English dictionary in your version of Word.

Email Tip – Out-of-Office Messages

Gillian’s question: “I am wondering about including the reason for your absence in an out-of-office message if it is of a personal nature other than vacation. Do you require a reason such as a death in the family, medical or maternity leave?  Is it fair or acceptable to say ‘… for personal reasons …’?”

BizWritingTip response: There are no specific rules regarding out-of-office replies. However, I don’t believe in using personal information in generic business emails. The people you work with directly will most likely know why you are away anyway. And as Voltaire said, “The secret of being tiresome is in telling everything.”

In addition, you never know who will end up reading your notices. (Thieves have been known to use personal information gained in auto-replies and to cross reference it to target empty houses.)

Here are two out-of-office replies that I consider professional.

Examples

Thank you for your message. I am out of the office until Monday, January 18. In my absence, please contact name, phone number and email address.

I am sorry I cannot respond to you immediately, but I am out of the office from January 5 to January 16. I will review your message upon my return. If you need immediate assistance, please contact name, phone number and email address.

Do Not

  1. Make jokes or say “I am probably by the pool drinking a pina colada while you are reading this.”
  2. Use asterisks, extra punctuation, or text messaging short hand (r instead of are). They are not appropriate and probably do not meet your corporate standards.

Example (incorrect)

………………… on holidays in Panama until January 30, 2011. 🙂 🙂 🙂

****************** need help *********** call Pam at 416-214-5677.


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Word Choice – Might and May

A BizWritingTip reader asked, “Can you explain the difference between might and may?”

Yes, I can. Both might and may imply permission or possibility. And might is the past tense of may.

Examples

The figures may be accurate. (possibility)

You may include the cleaning bill in your expense account. (permission)

I might have been able to attend, but I had forgotten about the meeting. (past possibility)

Incorrect

I might be able to attend the meeting next week.

Correct

I may be able to attend the meeting next week.

Writing Style – A Business Case in the Real World

In today’s workplace, it is a wonderful skill to be able to write a business case.

In fact, many business schools spend weeks training their students how to write a comprehensive proposal that covers all angles: Situational Assessment, Problem Statement, Project Description and Objectives, Solution Description, Cost and Benefit Analysis, Financial Assessment, Implementation Timetable, Critical Assumptions and Risk Assessment and Recommendations.

Yet in reality, few managers have time to read such detailed documents. Therefore, the reports are often ignored, placed on the back burner or referred to someone else or to a committee to explore. The best business cases are those that can be read and understood quickly by the recipient. The preferred length is one page.

This does not mean that all the information mentioned earlier is not considered and researched. In fact, a one-page proposal normally takes longer to prepare, because the writer has to fully understand the idea being proposed and all of its ramifications. Then she has to focus on the reader, his needs and his “fear factor.”

Remember it is always easier for a reader to say “no” when it comes to a proposal. Saying “no” often means no complications, nothing to go wrong, and no financial downside. Therefore, to persuade a busy reader every detail must present a strong argument for him to say “yes.”

A good business case includes all the details that will sell the idea to the specific reader, and it can be done in one page!

Grammar Tip – Dot, Dot, Dot the Ellipsis

People often want to know about the punctuation they refer to as dot, dot, dot. It is actually called an ellipsis. It is formed by using three spaced periods and indicates there are missing words.

As one of my workshop participants said, “It is really saying yada, yada, yada.”

Correct – As usual, the weekly meeting was boring, irrelevant, a waste of time … . I don’t know why we keep having it.

Incorrect – As usual, the weekly meeting was boring, irrelevant, a waste of time… I don’t know why we keep having it.

Note: According to grammar books, there should be spaces before, during and after the periods. If the ellipsis ends the sentence, there is no need to add a fourth period.

Be careful when using an ellipsis. At times, it could make you look lazy, particularly if the reader is not sure what the missing words are. Some email writers use it instead of periods. They believe it emphasizes their points. It doesn’t. Most readers find it distracting.

Another way of adding an ellipsis is to go to the Insert menu on your Word program and select Symbol. The ellipsis produced by the font designers has shrunk the spacing between the periods, but as long as you put the spaces before and after it is acceptable.