Writing

Posts

, ,

Quick tips on editing your own work

In an ideal situation, one of your colleagues, an internal editor, or proofreader (or InCorporate Trainer) will help you perfect your written masterpiece before you unleash it onto the world. But let’s say you’re left to edit your own work and said work is a lengthy document, or one with sensitive information in places. For one reason or another, your document needs to a final check. I don’t mean a spellcheck. But definitely do one of those as well.




Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download




Edit your work after you’ve finished writing

Writing and editing belong to two separate phases of the writing process. When the editing work begins, you are no longer the author. An editor is not emotionally attached to the words. He/she will mercilessly cut out the most poetic of phrases and well thought out sentences if they interfere with the readability (for example).

  • Cut long sentences in two
  • Replace negatives with positives
  • Use simple language
  • Reduce prepositions
  • Don’t use words you don’t need

More editing tips behind this link. Or if you’re editing an English document, here’s a good post with examples of wimpy words and feeble phrases, and much more.

Take a break first

If you begin the editing process immediately after you finish writing, it can be difficult to catch errors, especially the very small ones. Have a coffee, take a walk around the block or, better yet, leave your writing for a day or two and then come back to it with a fresh perspective.

Edit your work in a different format

You might be surprised how helpful it can be to transfer your work to another format for proofreading. Some possible ideas: print your work on paper, view it on your tablet, project it on the wall or temporarily change the font of your entire document.

Start big

Rather than worrying about spelling, commas and full stops at the beginning of editing, start with a broad overview. Do you need to add or cut a section? Did you forget to include important information? After reading your work, did you realize that you need to re-write something? If yes, do it at this first stage of your edit. Otherwise, you might end up proofreading material that you cut later. Does your document still need:

  • Paragraph headers
  • A summary or a conclusion
  • Links to sources/resources
  • Graphics

Slice and dice

When you’re satisfied with the format and overall structure of your document, it still needs further fine-tuning. This is the time to reduce the number of words in your document and search for shorter, more concise ways to communicate what your audience needs to know. Look out for:

Read your document aloud

You could say “the fact of the matter is that editing is essential”, or you could say “editing is essential”. Readers have little patience for verbose writing. In addition to helping you spot errors with spelling and pronunciation, reading aloud will help you get a feel for the rhythm and tone of your document. Do you get tongue-tied trying to read one sentence? Re-write it so it flows more smoothly. Look out for:

Tell yourself, “It’s finished.”

Leonardo Da Vinci said that a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned. Even if you don’t consider your document a work of art, you will probably never be 100% satisfied. However, after you’ve edited your document as much as possible, call it a day and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

We offer a variety of writing skills seminars:

,

Writing audit reports, the four-eyes principle, and the danger of “red pen mania”

70-20-10 target training

When writing audit reports the “four-eyes principle” can add value. A second set of eyes provides an element of security. The 2nd reader catches looks at the complete audit report with fresh eyes, spots things the report writer may have missed, and picks up on structural, stylistic and language issues.  However “red pen mania” (also known by some as “correction compulsion disorder”) can give the four-eyes principle a bad name. Give a manager a red pen (in other words the organisational authority to check someone else’s written work), and you may get more than you bargained for!

The other day I had the good fortune to interview a French client who is a senior compliance officer working at a regulatory organisation overseeing the financial institutions in a European country.

What does a typical audit report look like and how strict are the guidelines?

The format is dictated by the subject matter. The biggest difference in approach and contact would be between internal reports and reports for recipients outside the organisation, our clients if you will.

How do you go about drafting an audit report?

I would describe the approach as “forensic”. There is a lot of detailed research, fact gathering and analysis. I stress again, we have to be absolutely sure of our facts.

And who is the primary recipient of the report?

Internal reports as a rule are addressed to senior management. External reports are read by the CEOs of banks and other financial institutions, so we have to be sure of our facts. Remember, if we discover a compliance failure, the company will be spending a lot of money to put it right. We have to be sure of our facts.

Is there a 4 eyes principle?

4 eyes? How about 6, 8 or even 10 eyes principle?

How does this work in practice?

The responsible manager and his or her team drafts the first report and this is fine-tuned at a junior level, before being submitted to the next level of management. Ideally the accuracy and completeness of facts should be the first priority. Language style and grammar should be done when the accuracy of facts has been achieved.

Are suggestions for improvement open to discussion?

Interesting point. When a more senior manager makes a suggestion, it is more than a suggestion. Of course, as the compliance officer responsible I have to ensure the facts are correct and complete. What often happens is that a senior manager, does not dispute the facts, but asks what exactly does this mean or you need more information on this point. This feedback is always welcome and is an important part of the 4 eyes system.

What about language and style?

Accuracy (facts) and style (language) are both important and, as I said, getting the facts straight is not an issue. Neither are suggestions on wording. Remember what we point out as an action area incurs big costs We have to be careful not give the impression we “ordered” a particular course of action, otherwise our “client” can blame us, if a particular course of action does not work or, even worse, leads to financial loss. We would tend to pinpoint the problem and encourage the client to develop an appropriate remedy. Once again, 4 eyes feedback is here is invaluable.

I have the impression there is an area of 4 eyes feedback that is problematic. Would you care to elaborate?

You’re right. Case officers are generally intelligent and literate and do not write gibberish. In any case there is a language clarity check at a junior level. Style is a problem. Style or phrasing is often a personal preference. Unfortunately some senior managers, even if the facts are fine, feel obliged to fine tune the language – even when it does not need fine tuning. So then the red pen comes out and “we considered” becomes “it was considered that”; or “the problem I am alluding to” becomes the “problem to which I am alluding”. And if the senior manager does not like or understand alluding, then expect talking about, the rationale being plain English.

So what was the worst case of red pen mania you ever came across?

Bearing in mind an average report goes through 30 plus drafts, the world record in my experience was 55 drafts. After 36 drafts I just accepted all corrections (using the word correction tool, so it was quick and painless). Amazingly the reports kept coming back. One manager started correcting his own corrections! In my opinion, there are three things going on here. First the natural need to show power. Second the problem of insecurity and competence. And last but not least a problem peculiar to governmental bureaucracies. They do not have the cost discipline, and therefore the time discipline, that would nip this in the bud. I have worked in the private sector. I am by no means a neo-liberal market fanatic, but this would not happen in the private sector. Yet government organisations have too much slack and can afford this self-indulgent waste of resources.

Thank you for your insights. We respectfully ask all audit managers to remove all red pens from their desks. And by the way, what do you do with junior managers who have difficulties writing clearly and concisely with completeness of facts?

[laughs] They are sent on a report writing course. For example at Target Training. So keep offering your seminars on writing audit reports and we’ll keep sending our employees!

The three basic rules to capitalization

Speaking a language involves understanding, recognizing and successfully using a set of grammar rules. However, when writing in a language, a whole new set of rules have to be learnt and used. English is no different. One question I get quite often from my participants who are writing a report or preparing slides for a presentation is when to capitalize a letter. Because we are speaking about English, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward. There are a few basic rules, but the rest are a matter of style. As usual, the most important thing is consistency. Remaining consistent makes your writing more professional and polished. Otherwise, your work looks lazy and shoddy.

That said, the three basic rules to remember can be broken down as follows:

  1. Capitalize the first word in a sentence. This is an easy one that is pretty consistent across languages with Latin-based alphabets.
  2. Capitalize the pronoun ‘I’ in any location. Remember that you are important! You are so important that you use a big letter when talking about yourself.
  3. Capitalize all proper nouns. If it is the official word for something, capitalize the first letter. This goes for cities, countries, companies, brand names, days, months, people’s names or nicknames, etc.

That seems pretty basic and covers just about everything, so what else is there to worry about? Well, what about titles of reports and presentations? Here you can do it one of two ways. Either capitalize only the first letter of the title, or the first letter of each important word, like in the below example.

  • A study on customer behavior with supporting data
  • A Study on Customer Behavior with Supporting Data

Once again, consistency is key. After you have picked your style, make sure you use it on each subsequent page or slide. If you are preparing a presentation, the same rules apply for each bullet point. Thus, is it important to use the same style for your bullet points as you are using for your titles. This will give your final presentation a polished and professional look.

What other grammar problems do you come across when you write in English? How are the rules for English different than for your native language? Let us know in the comments box below.

Contact us now




 

Understanding contracts and decoding legalese

It doesn’t matter what language or how well you know it, everything goes out the window when the lawyers start talking – especially when it comes to contracts. Legalese is the word we use to describe the special and complex language lawyers use in their profession.  Even for us native speakers, legalese can be a dense network of unknown terms and phrases that may mean one thing but often mean another.

Why do lawyers use such language?

Some think it’s to charge higher fees, but there is a more complicated answer. In the English legal system (and other legal systems, as well), stare decisis – or precedent – is used. This means that past cases are examined in order to interpret the law today. The goal is to maintain consistency throughout time so that the outcome of a case can be accurately predicted. One downside of this is that phrases from the distant past are still in use, which can be very confusing for the modern-day reader.

Another problem encountered by writers of contracts is just simple semantics. The lawyers disagree on the meaning of a word or phrase. In this case, more writing is necessary in order to clarify what exactly and precisely is meant. The lawyers are trying to make the contract as air tight as possible without any possibility of misinterpretation. I know you’re thinking, “If I can’t understand what was written in the first place, how can I misinterpret anything?” Well, that’s the goal of this blog post: to look at a few elements of contracts and put them in layman’s terms so that you can understand what’s written in the contract.

What is a contract?

Basically, it’s an agreement between two parties. In this agreement, something is done or not done in exchange for something of value. To make a contract binding, there must be an agreement between competent and assenting parties and supported by consideration along with mutuality of obligation. Is that clear enough?

Here it is in plain English: The parties wanting to enter into a contract must be of a sound mind, old enough and with the authority to do so. This is called capacity. The parties also have to agree to exchange something of value, and this is called consideration. Without it, a contract is not necessary. There also has to be an offer and an acceptance of the offer. This is what the phrase mutuality of obligation means. As long as the reasons behind the contract are legal, then a contract meeting the above criteria is also legal. The agreement is when an offer is both made and accepted. Without either, there is no contract.

There are a few types of contracts. If a contract is signed by all parties and is completely legal, it may be voidable if one of the parties, for example, lacked capacity to sign it. The contract may be void if the execution of the contract would be, in fact, illegal. However, if everything is done correctly, and the contract is carried out to completion, then it is an executed contract. If something remains to be done, then it is an executory contract. In an option contract, one party has the option to enter into another contract at a later date. If, for example, you are renting a flat with an option to buy within a certain time period, this is an option contract.

That’s a good start to such a dense topic. In a future post, I will discuss the everyday meaning of a few legal terms and phrases likely to be found in a contract. If you have any baffling legalese that you would like me to explain, just use the comments function and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

 

Writing escalation emails: 8 tips to help you strike the right tone

As an InCorporate Trainer embedded in the purchasing department at a major player in the automotive industry, my job is to help participants deal with communication challenges. One of the biggest challenges my German purchasers struggle with is striking the right tone when communicating serious messages. We take concrete steps in training to move away from being too direct by familiarizing participants with the softer phrases we tend to use in English. But how soft do you really want to be when you are not happy and the situation demands stronger language? How do you successfully strike this balance without being perceived as rude or arrogant? Let’s try to answer this by looking at a concrete example:

The situation

A participant recently had to tell a company that they had raised their prices too much for the current economic climate. After years of the prices being raised significantly, they decided enough was enough. They demanded an official statement explaining why this had happened once again, before a formal review of the business relationship would take place.


Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download
8 tips to help you strike the right tone

At a time when you may be pretty angry, it’s important to stick to the facts and to avoid emotions showing obviously in a situation that escalates to this level. Having said that, it needs to be clear that you are angry about what has happened. Finding such a balance is really difficult – for native and non-native speakers alike.

Here are 8 tips you can use to help you find this balance in your next escalation email.

  1. Leave out the ‘hope you are well’ style pleasantries.
  2. Use the first paragraph to talk about your history with the company to remind them that you are an important business partner.
  3. Outline why the situation has escalated.
  4. Explain why you think what has happened is not acceptable. Keep it from getting too personal and leave softer phrasing out.
  5. Remind the company again of what they may lose by ruining the business relationship with you.
  6. Make your demand for future action clear. Using phrases like ‘we expect’ or ‘we require’ are clear and direct.
  7. State the impact of the future action.
  8. Use a formal sign off such as ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ to make it clear that the situation is serious. The use of formal language is a very good indicator in English that a matter is serious. Usually when we know people in business, the language we use tends to be informal. The shift back to formal in a long-standing relationship is a sign that the relationship is in danger.

The 8 tips in action

Here is an email which shows the 8 tips above in action.

Dear Mr Smith,

(1) Our company XXX has been dealing with YYY for a number of years now and in this time we have established a strong business relationship (2), with expenditure reaching $1.5 million per annum on your products. 

(3)Each year the price of the product has steadily risen, first from $9 per unit to $12 in 2012 and then again in 2013 to $14 per unit. You have insisted that higher costs in producing and materials have led to these significant rises and that they are out of your control.

However, upon finding out that the price of the product is now $16 per unit, we believe that this is the result of increased profits on YYY’s part, particularly because the purchasing manager at your company confirmed as much in our last negotiation meeting.

We at XXX believe in keeping business relationships for the long term, and feel it is important to treat your counterparts with the utmost respect (4). At this point in time I don’t feel that YYY is respecting our business, which has amounted to a total of $10 million over the last 7 years and involved us making YYY our preferred supplier of this particular product in that time (5). We expect a statement from you by November 11th, 2015 outlining your reasons for the last increase in price and why you believe this is fair (6).

Once we have received this statement we will decide on our future course of action and review our relationship with YYY accordingly (7).

Yours sincerely,

Ms Muller

Do you have any other tips? We’d love to hear the steps you take towards striking the right tone between outlining the seriousness of the situation, yet not coming across as rude.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

,

How to ensure your internal audit report drives decision making

expressng congratulations target training

Internal audit reports – a waste of time?

Free Download

influencingAfter a cursory glance at recent headlines on FIFA, IAAF and VW you might be forgiven for thinking internal auditing and corporate governance have failed spectacularly. On the assumption that all these organisations have a functioning internal audit system in place, I can only assume that the most concise, most clear and most complete audit report does not stand a chance against a political decision taken in the upper echelons of an organisation’s management – which brings us to our message: despite these high profile negative examples, an audit report should support management in their decision making. So how do I, as an internal auditor, ensure my reports drive decision making?

Writing your internal audit report with your reader in mind

The answer is in a nutshell accessibility and readability. Let’s start with the reader, the manager. Try a little organisational empathy and put yourself in his or her shoes. They want clarity on the key issues; time is a factor so they want the issues visibly flagged up. In my experience of working with various audit departments I have seen corporate guidelines which demand all audit reports are minimalist and reduced to bullet points consisting only of problems and measures. At the other extreme I have seen “traditional”reports, complete with footnotes and dense prose, which would make Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister green with envy. So, obfuscation or clarity?

Balancing your content and context when writing internal audit reports

As we deliver training on report writing for internal auditors , let me come off the fence. I recommend a minimalist approach. Your organisation should agree a report structure that sets out the information efficiently. I would also recommend standard language and formulations so as to ensure consistency and common understanding. The manager should be able to say, “My focus was directed immediately to those issues that needed action, I was quickly aware of the probable causes and there were concrete proposal for improvement.” The auditor should be able to say, “I was able to organise my working notes quickly and efficiently and did not need to spend too much time deciding which structure and which formulation to use”.

Of course an audit report should be written clearly, concisely and completely. Yet more important for the decision making is the report format and formulations and how the information is organised. It might not be pretty but it will drive decision making.

 

,

Common contract language decoded

target training

Free Download

effective introductions target trainingI remember the first time I had to deal with a contract in German. I felt like I didn’t know what I was agreeing to and it made me really nervous. It seemed like the message was hidden behind complicated words which I didn’t truly understand. So when several of my participants who work in the purchasing department asked me to help them understand the language of legal contracts in English, I could really identify with their apprehension. If you are responsible for deciphering the meaning of a work-related contract or in your personal life, it is very challenging- even if you are confident about your language skills.

Understanding contract language doesn’t have to be quite as difficult as you might think, if you know some of the basic vocabulary which is commonly used. Below we are going to look at some commonly used phrases which you might encounter in contracts and what they mean in plain language. We’ve arranged them in categories to help you. (These phrases are intended to help you understand what is meant; they do not replace your legal department.)

At the beginning

  • This contract agreement sets forth the terms and conditions during the term hereof. = In this contract you will find the basic requirements related to the agreed time frame.
  • These are the obligations pursuant to this document. = These are the requirements which are relevant for this document.
  • Article 1, hereinafter referred to as 1.0, stipulates the mandatory conditions. = Article 1, which is shown as 1.0 later in the document, states which conditions are required.

What are the conditions?

  • The user is obligated to adhere to the conditions expressly set forth in this agreement. = The user needs to follow the conditions listed in the agreement.
  • Conditions are subject to change in accordance with the standards set forth in this agreement. = The rules can be changed in the way shown in the agreement.
  • A breach of contract leads to the immediate termination of this agreement.= The contract ends if the contract conditions are broken.

What are my rights?

  • The company retains all intellectual property rights and modifications thereof. = The intellectual property rights and changes belong to the company.
  • The aforementioned conditions do not affect the companies’ rights. = The previous terms do not change the companies’ rights.
  • The stipulations set forth in this agreement are binding.= The agreements in this document are obligatory (not optional).

What is it going to cost?

  • Unless otherwise agreed to in writing, charges will be invoiced upfront. = Costs are collected in advance, unless other arrangements are written into the contract.
  • The user is not entitled to any refunds, credits, or early termination for any reason. = The user has no right to ask for money back, credits or to end the contract earlier than planned.
  • Premature termination of the contract shall not release the user of their obligation to pay any fees that have accrued. = The user still needs to pay fees which they created even if the contract ends early.

More on contract language

 

, ,

The basics of reader-oriented writing

Virtual teams target training

Free Download

cult guidelines VT poster A3Good writing is more than perfect grammar or a large vocabulary

Writing is a skill that requires practice regardless of what language you write in. This holds true not only for fiction, but also for writing reports and other business correspondence. How many times have you received a poorly written email or read a report from a colleague that left you scratching your head? The problem often lies in who the writer is focused on. Too often, that focus is either on the writer or the content and not where it should be: the reader. By focusing on the needs of the reader, the writer can deliver the message more effectively and ensure the attention of the reader will be maintained.

The goal is to put the reader in the spotlight

You want to keep the reader’s interest stimulated so they keep reading. Once you are able to answer the questions below and have analyzed what you want to achieve, then you are ready to choose a format or text structure and start writing. You will find that your writing is more directed, and you will gain confidence in your writing ability because you will know why you are writing.

Who are my readers?

Such a simple question, but if you don’t know who your audience is, you are basically writing for yourself, and then it becomes just an ego piece.

Where are my readers from?

This could be relevant. Knowing where your readers are from will help you understand them from a cultural perspective.

What excites them?

This should be the question, not “How do I not bore them?” Once you discover what excites your readers, you will have them hooked, and they will keep coming back for more.

What are they afraid of?

The knowledge of what your readers’ fears are will help you keep the reader engaged by avoiding topics that would cause them to stop reading your piece.

What do I want to share with them and why?

This takes the first question and goes a bit deeper. It is important to understand the reasons behind writing in the first place. It is assumed you have a message or information you want to convey, but knowing why the audience would be interested makes it easier to write more effectively.

How is my content relevant to my intended audience?

It is important to try and see things from the reader’s perspective. If you don’t know the relevancy of your message, the intended audience won’t know it, either. They also won’t waste their time reading what you have written.

What is my and my organization’s history with them?

If you have previous experience with your audience, you can draw on this and learn from it in order to produce more interesting content. Take a previously produced piece and ask yourself how it could have been better. From this introspection, your subsequent pieces will be increasingly valuable to your readers.

How do they like to receive information?

The structure and layout of your content is just as important as the message. Maybe your readers don’t like dense passages full of explanations and prefer lighter writing with graphical explanations. Maybe it’s the opposite. Either way, you owe it to them to find out.

What questions do they have?

Once you understand your readers well enough, you can predict what questions they would ask. By including the answers in your writing, the readers feel you know them well, and they trust you more.

We’re always delighted to hear from you

You know what to do…

(If you are interested in learning more about reader-oriented writing, please consider Target Training’s seminar on this topic)

,

The importance of writing in plain English

Writing in plain English is important when communicating with others in a business setting. Everybody knows this (or should), but why should plain English be used? The most obvious reason why is to ensure your message is being understood exactly as you meant it. By stating your message plainly and simply the first time, you will not have to waste valuable time and energy clarifying your intent in subsequent emails or contacting people again through other means such as a phone call. Another reason to simplify your business writing is money.

Consider this*:

  • UK businesses lose £6 billion a year because of badly written letters.
  • General Electric saved $275,000 by redrafting manuals into plain English.
  • The US Navy estimated plain English could save it between $250–$300 million every year.

writing emails free ebook

Time is money

Time wasted equates to money lost. Think about what plain English could mean for your business. In a typical office, the average employee receives about 100 messages a day. How much time is spent writing the original document? How many people end up reading the document? How much time is spent reading, processing and clarifying it?

Many people need to be re-trained to write in a simpler way. This is because they are not used to writing in a business environment or for non-native speakers. People also want to show off their large vocabulary or knowledge of grammar.

8 tips for writing in plain English

  1. Remember your audience. They may also be non-native English speakers with a lower level than yours.
  2. Organize your message.  Make sure your message follows a logical path.
  3. Write as if you were talking to the reader. An easy, conversational style will keep you from overcomplicating your sentences.
  4. Keep sentences short. Longer sentences are taxing on the reader. You’re not writing a novel, so don’t write like Jack Kerouac!
  5. Be specific rather than general. The reader doesn’t want to play the guessing game!
  6. Don’t repeat yourself. There is no reason to say the same thing three different ways.
  7. Use simpler words. There is no reason to show off your large vocabulary. This goes back to point 1.
  8. Don’t use jargon. This also goes back to point 1. Not everybody uses the same jargon, even within the same company.

If you have experience with having to write plain English, then you might have your own tips to share. I’d love to hear them and pass them on to my participants. For more tips on writing plain English, here are two interesting links I found.

*Source: Joe Kimble Writing for Dollars

Writing numbers

Virtual teams target training

Writing in English is confusing enough, but what do you do when you want to talk about numbers in a report, press release or even on the English version of your company’s website? Do you write the actual number or write the number in words? There are a couple of rules, but the main thing is to remain stylistically consistent throughout. Here are some tips along with examples:

alf

Write out numbers smaller than ten

  • I’m taking three days of holiday next week.
  • The report I’m reading is 311 pages long.

Hyphenate the numbers twenty-one to ninety-nine

  • We hired fifty-three people in the last fiscal year.

Use the numeral if discussing measurement, time or proportion

  • Our next meeting starts in 15 minutes.
  • His plane should land around 7:30 tomorrow morning.
  • Our factory is 12 km from the main office.

When discussing precise numbers, do not spell them out

  • The average score on the Azubi’s exams was 88.2.

Use a hyphen if the number and unit of measurement describe a noun

  • A three-meter section of piping needed to be replaced.

You might have to use both numbers and words when the numbers are consecutive

  • Our incoming class of Azubis includes 14 twenty-year-old men.

Use numerals for years and dates

  • Our company was founded in 1883.
  • Our next convention is on 5 May 2016.

Try to avoid starting sentences with numbers, but if you do, spell them out, unless it’s a year

  • Seven hundred and fifty-liters of paint were delivered to the wrong address.

Numerals are also best when talking about sums of money

  • We had over €3.4 million in sales last quarter.
  • The cost was €1.20 per unit.

Some other stylistic points are writing noon instead of 12 pm in order to avoid confusion and to use numerals for fractions (unless they start a sentence). What difficulties have you run into when writing numbers? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

,

Email phrases for praising (virtual team) performance

sending emails

Research shows that when we work in virtual teams managers tend to praise far less. In an earlier life, I worked as an analyst for an international corporation in Boston. A large part of my job was generating weekly reports and sending them off to various people. I never received a response, so I never knew if what I was I was doing was adding any actual value. This lack of feedback, whether positive or negative, was sometimes demoralizing.

It is vitally important to praise a job well done

Everybody likes to know that they are doing a good job and are on the right track in their tasks and projects. Working in virtual teams can feel isolating – and it’s motivating to know that your work is being noticed.

Praise does several things:

  • It improves the morale of both the team and the team member
  • It motivates people/teams and increases productivity
  • It’s an opportunity to give positive feedback
  • It builds commitment

New Call-to-action

Email phrases for praising performance

Here are 17 phrases you could use the next time you want to praise one of your team members (or all of them) in writing:

  1. The work you did on the project was outstanding.
  2. You are an asset to both our team and our organization
  3. Your performance this past year has been exceptional.
  4. The quality of your work is routinely excellent.
  5. Your professional attitude is much appreciated.
  6. I have been very pleased with your efforts.
  7. Your extra effort and dedication have made this project a success.
  8. I must commend you for your dedication to our team.
  9. You have made a great contribution to the project.
  10. Your consistent professionalism has ensured the success of this project.
  11. You have been an invaluable addition to our team.
  12. Thank you very much for taking the initiative to find a solution to the problem.
  13. You can take pride in the work you have put into this project.
  14. The success of this project is a direct result of your efforts.
  15. Your enthusiasm and passion are exemplary.
  16. Your disciplined approach to problem solving led directly to this project’s success.
  17. You earned my respect with your inspiring performance on the project.

Mix and match and be specific with your praise

It is easy to mix and match the phrases in order to personalize how you want to praise each of your team members. For example, if you take #3 and #6, you can change it to: “I have been very pleased with your performance this year.” Or, you can use two or more and combine them into one sentence: “I have been very pleased with your efforts, you have made a great contribution to the project.”

Who doesn’t like praise?

Everyone enjoys receiving praise, don’t they? My colleague, Kate Baade, wrote in a recent post that it’s important to point out the positives as and when they happen. Don’t wait until the once a year performance appraisal interview to give praise. Kate, I fully agree.

 

,

Email MADNESS!! Misusing and abusing email –and what you can do to stop this

Email replies target training

Knowing how to use email is simply assumed

Did you know that the majority of email traffic comes from the business world, with business users sending and receiving an average of 121 emails a day in 2014? Email is the most pervasive form of communication in the business world, and therefore effective email writing means effective business communication. But surprisingly (or perhaps not) email doesn’t always mean effective communication, does it?

One of the more interesting aspects of being a trainer is the opportunity to meet, talk with and learn from other professionals in a wide range of jobs and industries. The following is a true story. I’ve changed names to protect the innocent – and the guilty. Sadly though, I’m guessing that as you read this you’ll have your own stories of email madness spring to mind.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

The use, misuse and abuse of email communication (yes, this is a true story)

I met Sven in an open seminar. Sven was the manager of the facilities management department at a large manufacturing company. His administrative location had just moved premises, and as you can imagine this was an incredibly busy time for Sven and his team. However even though (or perhaps because) Sven was busy he was determined to attend the time management seminar his HR department had organized with us. Sven set his out of office reply up the night before, and I met him on a cloudy morning the next day.  The training went very well as the group shared, discussed and developed practical solutions to the problems they faced. Then at lunch time the following emerged …

Somebody (let’s call him Michael) had sent Sven a mail and received Sven’s out of office reply. Sven had not changed his automatic signature block and Michael knew that Sven had moved offices, so why did his signature block still have the old address? Michael concluded that this could well be an IT problem, but as he wasn’t sure he sent a mail to his 12 teammates asking if they had experienced something similar. Of these 12 teammates, one sent a mail to the IT help desk, one of them sent a mail to his line manager (let’s call her Marie) … and one of them sent a mail to Sven’s colleague, who then sent a mail to Sven.

Marie sent a mail titled “URGENT – critical email problem” to the CFO. The CFO, who was in a meeting, saw the title and sent a mail to the Head of IT asking what the problem was and how quickly it could be resolved. The Head of IT sent a mail to the IT help desk asking what the problem was and how long it would take to be resolved. … and I think you can imagine the rest yourself. At some point during lunch time somebody from the IT help desk phoned Sven to ask whether he knew his signature block was old. At this point Sven explained it was his oversight – and that he’d update it when he got back into the office the next day.

Key learning points that all email users should keep in mind

Now obviously the above is not strictly speaking about just an email problem. But the elements of the story do highlight some all-too-frequent behaviours. Here are 4 key learning points which, if they’d been followed would have prevented the situation above:

Just because you can send an email it doesn’t mean you have to!

It is possible to over communicate sometimes. How many emails do you receive each day? One of the biggest sources of stress at work is the sheer volume of emails that people receive. So, before you even begin writing an email, always take a few seconds and ask yourself: Is this really necessary? Then ask yourself the same question again before you hit “send”.

Know when to use cc , and when not

Discuss this with your colleagues and agree on a “code of conduct”. Keep in mind that people can interpret what “cc” means in different ways. They can also read meaning into who was and was not copied in.

Think carefully about the subject lines in email

In particular think about how often you want to use words such as URGENT, NEED HELP, PRIORITY etc. If you use them too often in your subject lines, you should be prepared that when you really need to draw attention to your email, your reader won’t be interested.

Know when to pick up the phone

Email is not always the most effective form of communication. Sometimes, picking up the phone is faster. Email is great for giving information, sharing updates or making simple requests. However use the phone if something could be a sensitive or emotional topic, or if you need to deal with questions that are likely to need some back-and-forth discussion.

Your email madness

As I was preparing this post, everyone I spoke to about it had their own email madness story to share. You can use the comments function below to share your example of email madness with our readers.

Saying goodbye via email

Email replies target training

Originally published on 10.02.2014

We need to say goodbye a lot. It sounds like a really easy thing to do, doesn’t it? But there are different situations in which we need to write emails for saying goodbye. Do you say the same thing to the colleague who is going on maternity leave as you do to the colleague who has just been made redundant? What about someone who is moving on to another department, or someone who has been promoted? Does how you say goodbye change according to how much you like the person? Each situation needs to be handled slightly differently and with an appropriate tone.

Email structure and phrases for saying goodbye

writing emails that people read

1.  Congratulate them (when appropriate)

  • Congratulations on…
  • Well done….
  • I hear congratulations are in order.

2.  Tell them you’ve enjoyed working with them / that you’re going to miss them

  • It’s been great / nice / a pleasure working with you.
  • We’re going to miss you around here.
  • The place won’t be the same without you.

3.  Say you hope it goes well for them

  • I’d like to wish you all the best for…
  • Good luck with…
  • I hope everything goes well with…

4.  Ask them to remain in contact

  • Keep /stay in touch.
  • You know where I am if you need anything.
  • Don’t be a stranger.

Examples of saying goodbye in business situations

Promotion

Hi John,

I just heard you got the Senior Analyst job in France. Congratulations on the new position. We’re going to miss you around here. I’ve really enjoyed working with you and wish you all the best for this new challenge. Keep in touch.

Kate

Moving to another department

Hi Luis,

I just heard you’re moving over to marketing. Well done. That sounds like an interesting move. Good luck and don’t be a stranger.

Kate

Leaving the company (not by their own choice)

Hi Rob,

I was really sorry to hear that you’ll be leaving us. It’s been great working with you and I’m certainly going to miss having you around. All the best for the future.

Take care,

Kate

Going on parental leave

Hi Lena,

It can’t be long now! I hope everything goes well for you. Send us a photo and see you when you’re back. We’re going to miss you. Enjoy your last few nights of quiet!

Lots of luck,

Kate

You can change your level of warmth by adding more information, adding words of emphasis (really, very), and by taking out some steps. By using the structure and phrases above, you can make saying goodbye less awkward. Want more help with emails or to improve your writing overall at work? Download our latest Ebook “Writing emails that people read.”

, ,

Emails with effective subject lines

Reader oriented reports

How many emails do you get a day? Too many, right? For good or bad, emailing surpassed telephoning as our primary method of communication in the workplace years ago. Yet today we still receive poor, confusing and ineffective emails – and worst of all we still write them too! If you want to improve the quality and impact of your emails, there’s no better place to start than at the beginning – start by writing an effective subject line.

The email subject line is where writing effective emails begins. It is often the first thing that your reader sees, and plays a key part in whether they open the email immediately, later or not at all. And it’s pretty simple to do. Here’s how …

writing emails that people read

 1) Write your subject line first

Too many of us either just hit reply, forward or even write nothing at all in the subject line. An email with a blank subject line isn’t going to get the attention it deserves, may go unread and will certainly be difficult to find later on. Obviously you’ve planned your email before you started writing, so write the subject line before you write your email.

2) Keep your subject line simple, clear and honest

An effective subject line should be simple to understand, clearly convey why you are writing, and accurately summarize the email’s contents. This helps your reader prioritize the email’s importance without having to open it. It also help you to build trust with your reader , as you’ll quickly be seen as somebody who is clear, open and reader-oriented.

3) Keep your subject line short, with key words at the beginning

A typical inbox reveals about 60-70 characters of an email’s subject line. That’s about the length of the last sentence. HOWEVER today more than 50% emails are ready on mobiles. This means you’ve got 20-30 characters to get it right. Place the most important words at the beginning!

4) Help your reader (and yourself) by using obvious keywords

Your reader, and perhaps you, manage the flood of emails via search functions, filters and folders. That’s why it’s important to include keywords related to the topic of the email that will make it searchable later.

5) Don’t cry wolf too often

Think carefully about how often you want to use words such as URGENT, NEED HELP, PRIORITY etc. If you use them too often in your subject lines, you should be prepared that when you really need to draw attention to your email, your reader won’t be interested.

6) Make sure you reread the subject line before you click send

Once again, check that your subject line accurately reflects what you wrote, that the key words are at the beginning and your subject line will be easily searchable.

A very short, practical exercise

  1. Open your inbox and look at received emails. Based on the simple guidelines above, how many of the emails in your inbox have effective subject lines?
  2. Now open your own sent mails folder. To what extent would you describe your own subject lines as effective? Can you anticipate the content of your own emails based on the subject lines you wrote? Give yourself a score out of 10.
  3. Now set up a reminder in your calendar to repeat step 2 in 14 days time.

,

Happy Birthday emails

telephone calls target training

What do you say when you wish a colleague a happy birthday?

In the modern business world, we have contact with a lot of people on a day-to-day basis. We all have one thing in common: birthdays! Wishing a colleague a happy birthday is a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them. Regardless of the company or the culture, it is nice to be wished a happy birthday.

I am sure you have had that sinking feeling when you realize that you have missed someone’s birthday. As a manager, I feel that it is important to wish my colleagues (this includes people that report to me and people I report to) a happy birthday. If I didn’t do it, I would be concerned that people would be offended and my relationships would suffer.

It is easy to wish your friends a happy birthday but how do you do it professionally to colleagues?

We don’t tend to say “congratulations” to people on their birthdays. The only time we might say it is when someone turns 18 or 100!

 writing emails that people read

Some example emails you could use:

Formal

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am writing to wish you a happy birthday. I hope that you enjoy the day.

Many happy returns!

Kind regards,

Jonny

Informal

Hi Phil,

I just wanted to drop you a quick line to wish you a very happy birthday!

I hope you have a great day.

Take care,

Jonny

Belated (nachträglich)

Hi Phil,

I just wanted to wish you a happy belated birthday. I am sorry I didn’t contact you yesterday, I was on a business trip in Poland and didn’t have internet access or network on my phone.

Did you have a good day?

Let’s catch up soon,

Best wishes,

Jonny

 

Happy birthday to you

It makes people feel valued if you remember an important day in their lives. A simple wish as happy birthday strengthens relationships and can avoid potential offence. I have found it useful to keep a record of people’s birthdays on my Outlook calendar. That way, I don’t have to worry about forgetting.

Want to improve your emailing skills?

Our blog has a large number of posts that could be of interest to you. Click to view more posts on emailing.

,

20 phrases for closing an email

emailing and telephoning business

Originally published on 08.07.2013

A common problem

We often hear how writing emails in English can cost just too much time. One solution that works for many people is to begin building a “toolbox” of useful phrases.  A toolbox is a simple idea – you just start keeping a list of common and useful expressions – perhaps on your desktop or in a notebook next to your keyboard? There’s nothing wrong with reusing some standard phrases if it helps save you time and communicate clearly. You probably already have 2 or 3 sentences you reuse again and again. But sometimes the tone just isn’t right, is it?  To help you find the right words when you need them here are 20 great expressions for closing an email.  As you read through them ask yourself two simple questions:

1. When would I use this?

2. When will I use this?

Expressions for thanking                                                                                                     

  1. Thank you for your help. / time / assistance / support
  2. I really appreciate the help. / time / assistance / support you’ve given me.
  3. Thank you once more for your help in this matter.




Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download
Expressions with a future focus

  1. I look forward to hearing from you soon / meeting you next Tuesday.
  2. I look forward to seeing you soon.
  3. I’m looking forward to your reply.
  4. We hope that we may continue to rely on your valued custom.
  5. We look forward to a successful working relationship in the future.
  6. Please advise as necessary.
  7. I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.

Expressions for showing them you want to help

  1. If I can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  2. If you require any further information, feel free to contact me.
  3. If you require any further information, let me know.
  4. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
  5. Please let me know if you have any questions.
  6. I hope the above is useful to you.
  7. Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  8. Please contact me if there are any problems.
  9. Let me know if you need anything else
  10. Drop me a line if I can do anything else for you.

You can check out more ways to improve your writing at work here.  Don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions or additional phrases you’ve used that work.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

Giving and asking for recommendations

target training

Giving and asking for recommendations

Have you ever wanted to recommend a person, their services or even a good restaurant to someone else but didn’t know how to do it? Have you ever wanted someone to recommend you to others? Maybe you have a special skill that you’d like others to know about. You might have heard about a position, but need someone to recommend you in order to apply. Perhaps you just want to share some useful information with others and want them to know how much you liked it. All of these situations require us to give or ask for recommendations. Below you’ll find some examples of how to do this.
Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

Asking for recommendations:

  • Could you put in a good word for me?
  • Could you let others know about this experience?
  • Could you pass this on to others?
  • Would you mind sharing your experience?
  • Would you add me to your contact list?

Giving recommendations:

  • I highly recommend using this product / service.
  • This person is highly trained / very skilled / very professional.
  • We found the information presented very useful.
  • I only have positive things to say about this product / this person / this service.
  • I would be happy to give you their contact information.
  • Please mention my name when you contact them.

Here are some examples:

Employee / colleague asking for a reference:

I am writing to you since we have worked on many projects together. You always seem very pleased with my ideas and the way that I deal with problems that come up, so I would like to ask you to share this information with a potential new supervisor. As you know, I am applying for a position in the [name] department and I need a recommendation from someone who has worked with me. Would you put in a good word for me?

Response to the request:

You are right, I am very satisfied with the work that you have done in the past. I’d be happy to act as a reference for you since I think that the [name] department would also benefit from your skills. If they contact me, I’ll definitely pass your name on as a potential candidate.

Possible reference statement:

I would be happy to recommend [name] for the position you are trying to fill. [He / she] is very highly qualified and has always successfully dealt with the topics we have worked on together in the past. I only have positive things to say about [him/ her]. Please mention my name to them if you decide to shortlist them for an interview.

Try it and tell us about it

Now that you have some ideas about how to ask for and give recommendations, why not try it out by asking a colleague for feedback on a presentation or a project you have recently completed?

Maybe you can do someone a favour by recommending them to others. Or perhaps you want to let us know what you think of the information presented in our blog? Please feel free to use our comments box below.

 

 

,

Email replies: How to avoid emotional emails

Email replies target training

Do you send emotional email replies?

Professional email communication is essential in business situations. However, people sometimes let their emotions get the best of them and send an email they later regret. Multiple punctuation marks, all-capital letters along with a rude and unprofessional tone are often used to show how upset the sender is. We have all received them at one time or another. You may have been guilty of sending one, as well.

A quick reaction to receiving such an email would be to immediately send a response even angrier than the original, but what would that solve? Answering with your own angry and emotional email would only lead to more problems later. The important thing to remember when receiving such an email is to remain calm. There is no reason to maintain the angry dialogue by responding in the same manner, but simply ignoring the email won’t make the issue go away either.




Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

3 Tips on what to do to avoid emotional replies

Don’t write your response immediately. If you do, some of your own lingering emotions may show in your writing. Put the email aside until later in the day.

1.  After some time:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Try to see the situation from the sender’s position

2.  Ask yourself:

  • Why are they upset?
  • Is the issue a legitimate complaint, or has the sender lost sight of the big picture?
  • How can I help solve the issue?

3.  When writing your response:

  • Stay professional, diplomatic and objective
  • Stick to the facts
  • Do not respond to any of the original email’s unprofessional language or personal attacks

Emotional emails are often written to get a reaction and to bring awareness to a particular issue. Make sure you acknowledge this issue, but don’t try to pass the blame on to somebody else. By remaining professional, the sender will often realize how unnecessary their tone and language was.

Helpful phrases to help avoid emotional emails

Intro sentences:

  • “Thank you very much for taking the time to write me today.”
  • “I hope my email finds you well.”
  • “I have just read your email concerning…”

Addressing the issue:

  • “I understand your concern about…”
  • “With reference to your inquiry about…”
  • “Thank you for bringing … to my attention.”

Closing sentences:

  • “I appreciate your continued professionalism and patience as we resolve this issue.”
  • “Working together, I believe we can find a reasonable solution to this issue.”
  • “Your email has helped bring attention to this important issue.”

By keeping your email clear, concise and diplomatic, you open the door to a more efficient dialogue while also strengthening your professional relationships. Always avoid using language that you wouldn’t use if speaking to somebody face-to-face. If you have any phrases you like to use in these situations, please let us know below.  Also, check out our seminar on reader-oriented writing in English to improve your overall email communication.

Out of Office Message: Quick Reminders

Out of office message

How is your Out of Office Message?

Writing your out of office message is often the last thing you do before going on holiday or going on a business trip. Even though you might be in a rush to leave, make sure you think about the following tips to ensure that you have an accurate, informative and professional message.


Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download
5 Quick Out of Office Message tips

Keep your message short and simple

Nobody wants to read an essay about why you are away. Keep to the important facts and make it easy to read.

Make sure that your return date is correct

If you use the same message each time you are away, make sure you change the date. It sounds simple but I am sure that we have all read out of office messages that have the wrong date and know how useless it is.

Does “Out of the office until Monday” mean you will be back on Monday or Tuesday? To be really clear, write, “I will be back on Monday.”

Who to contact while you are away

If you give the name of a contact person who is standing in for you during your time away, remember to include their contact details, if this is appropriate.  A name on its own creates more work for the person trying to contact you.

Use the Spell check

If you have spelling mistakes in your message it will look lazy and can create an unprofessional image of you and your company.  Make sure you read through the message, spell check it and check the formatting is ok. If in doubt, send yourself an email after you have turned your out of office on. That way, you will see how your message will look to other people.

Turn it on/off 

Don’t forget to turn it on! Also, remember to turn your out of office message off when you come back, it can be very confusing for people if you forget.

Example of an Out of Office Message you could use

 

I am currently out of office and will be back at work on Monday 14th April 2014. Your email will not be forwarded or read during my absence.

If you have any questions or need urgent support with (xyz) while I am away, please contact:

 John Smith  at  0049 123 456 789  or  john.smith@yourcompany.com

Best regards,

Jonny West

Do you agree with all of these points? Do you have any other tips that you would like to share?  Let us know in the comments area below. Also, check out our professional writing seminars if you are interested in improving your business communication.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

Clarification Emails: Structure and Phrases

office job target training

How do you write your clarification emails?

How many times have you gotten an email and asked yourself: What is this person trying to say?  What do they want exactly?  This has happened to all of us at some point in our jobs.  Even though this situation may be unavoidable, there are ways to respond to make sure you get the information you need.  Although you may be irritated or frustrated, it is important to not be too direct with your reply.  This could be read as offensive and possibly damage your professional relationship with the recipient.  Below is a helpful structure, and some phrases, to help you politely get what you want with your clarification emails.


Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download
Email structure and phrases for clarification emails

1.  Thank the person for the information

  • Thanks for the information on the conference.
  • Thank you for sending along the details regarding the project timeline.
  • Thanks for the email Peter.

2.  Clarify what you don’t understand/still need

  • I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean by ABC.  Could you please provide more details?
  • Regarding the deadline, are you saying that we should wait a few weeks?  Any additional information would be greatly appreciated.
  • I understand XYZ, but could you please clarify what you mean concerning ABC?

3.  Reference the next step politely

  • I am looking forward to receiving the updated information today.  Thanks for your help.
  • Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you this week.
  • I appreciate you taking the time to get back to me by the end of the day.

Examples of clarification emails

 

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the information on our meeting agenda.  I’m afraid I don’t understand what you want to do exactly after lunch.  What do you mean by “Discussion 1pm to 2pm”?  Thanks for clearing this up when you get a minute.

Matt

 

Hi Susan,

Thanks for sending along the spreadsheet I requested.  Regarding the “Reasons” column, did you leave that blank because we don’t need that information now?  Any additional information on that would be greatly appreciated.  Look forward to your response.

Matt

 

By replying to unclear emails politely and clearly, you can save time for both people and get the information exchange you want.  Let us know what has worked for you for clarification emails in the comments area below.  Want more help with emails or to improve your writing overall at work? Click here for information.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you: