Monthly Archives: January 2007

How and When to Use Pronouns

How and When to Use Pronouns

Business writing could be and should be as interesting as other types of writing. In fact, since it generally has to do with making money, spending money, enhancing business, or other related matters, it should be of interest to whomever is reading it. Of course, if the email, evaluation, or other business-related document is dull and redundant, then reading it becomes a chore.

One way of making a piece of writing more interesting to read and, sometimes, easier to understand, is to use pronouns.

“Pronouns…yes,” you may be thinking. “I know what pronouns are. They are those small words that take the place of nouns in a piece of writing and in conversation.” The following words are pronouns: I, he, she, it, you, they, we, who, my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose, me, him, her, us, them.

Here’s how the correct use of pronouns can make writing more interesting (or less tedious) and more readable. Look at the following example: “According to Brown’s resume, Brown has a great deal of experience in terms of the position in question. Brown speaks well and Brown’s ability to listen is a good trait.” Of course, it is obvious that the repetition of Brown and Brown’s makes this excerpt dull and barely readable. Replacing Brown and Brown’s with he and his or she and her would make it more enjoyable to read.

Two important rules must be observed when using pronouns:

1) Do not use a pronoun in a document until you have used the actual noun first. That allows the reader to recognize which noun the pronoun is replacing.
2) Do not use a pronoun more than two sentences after the use of a noun. After that point, the reader may not be sure which noun the pronoun is replacing.

This is, of course, only one good writing tip. There are many others. If you would like your business documents to be proofread and edited by a team of professional editors, you may want to visit

Using the Correct Tense

Using the Correct Tense

When writing a business document, it is important to use the correct tense. Whether you are putting together an email, a memo, a business plan, a report, or any other type of business-related writing, using the correct tense will help to keep the document clear and understandable.

For example, if you are writing a report or a summary about a meeting or a conference, since it already occurred, the verbs should be in the past tense, as in “The meeting started on time, with introductory remarks made by Mr. Smith.” Of course, any comments that relate to ongoing activities need to be in the present. An example of that is “Efforts to maintain our market share are proceeding in a satisfactory manner.” Obviously, references to future actions should be written in the future tense, as in the following example: “The new plan will be implemented within 90 days.”

Not to complicate matters, but, within a sentence, you might need to use past, present, and future tenses. The following is an example of that: “Bob said (past) that what we are doing (present) now is (present) sufficient, and we will not need to change (future) our procedure any time soon.”

When writing emails, evaluations, or other business papers, you do not need to consult a style or an English usage book, but you should make every effort to write carefully and correctly, including using the proper tense in every sentence. Not only will your writing look and sound professional, but it is more likely to be correctly understood. The last thing that you want is for colleagues, supervisors, or other individuals who read your writing to misunderstand what you are saying.

If you are unsure about your writing, and want it to be professionally proofread and/or edited, you can upload it to

Writing Correspondence That Attracts Readers

It’s a problem only if you don’t know how to solve it!

One of the tribulations faced by managers and owners of businesses and all others who write notices, memos, emails, protocols, and various other documents that are of vital importance for employees is that, all too often, they are not read or they are not read carefully. Whether it is a dress code memo or a notice about a new operating system, writing it and putting it out there does not guarantee that it will register with its intended audience.

Before you can solve this serious problem, you have to understand its causes. Why is it that business documents are not always read carefully? Sometimes a written communication is glanced at and pushed aside because employees are busy with what they consider to be more pressing responsibilities. Hopefully, it will be read at a later point. At other times, documents are poorly written or confusing or do not get to the point quickly enough to maintain the interest of the reader. At other times, the main point of a correspondence is as clear as the light of day—if the person reading it remembers a previous correspondence that it refers to.

And then, all too often, the document in question is just plain boring. It might be important, but, if it is tedious reading, it will not be read. Or, it will be skimmed, and not read carefully.

What’s the solution? First of all, write less to mean more. Leave out unnecessary information and details. Of course, on the other hand, if you are referring to a previous memo or plan, provide a way to remind the reader of what that previous correspondence was about. In addition, it is important to get to the point in the title or in the first line of the correspondence, and then explain it simply. A little bit of humor or color definitely won’t hurt. Just as an advertisement needs to hook the consumer from the beginning, your email, memo, or other correspondence has to interest your readers from the first line.

Another problem is poorly written copy. That will turn off some readers. Let’s face it—if the reader cannot make heads or tails out of what you have written, why is he or she going to try? If your writing contains spelling, usage, and punctuation errors which confuse the issue, you are going to lose your audience.

So…before you write, collect your thoughts, use simple, clear language, and try to throw in a little comic spice. And, remember to proofread your copy. Try to eliminate all of those errors that detract from your message.

A professional business editing service, such as, can eliminate errors and revise your copy so that it is clear and sparkling. That is the kind of correspondence that attracts readers.

Writing Effective Ads

Writing Effective Ads

Every business needs exposure. Advertising is the best way to reach large numbers of potential customers, as well as to remind current and former customers of your continued presence.

Your advertisement reflects you and your business. It needs to be catchy, truthful, accurate, and appealing. It does not need to be complicated. If it is being broadcast on television or circulated via the Internet, it does not need to be encumbered with eye-popping graphics or professional musical accompaniment. The text, however, does need to be clear and correctly written. Even though most people do not notice and do not care about errors in text, some mistakes do turn off potential customers.

I would like to concentrate on two common mistakes to avoid when writing advertising copy. They are the incorrect use of apostrophes and quotation marks.

Let us focus on apostrophes first. Some people who write their own advertising copy put together sentences such as We have the best price’s around. The apostrophe in that sentence is incorrect. The word prices is the plural of price. Apostrophes are not used when words are pluralized. Apostrophes are used only for contractions and for possession.

Let’s deal with contractions. They are, of course, combined words. For example, would not becomes wouldn’t. The apostrophe is in place of the deleted letter o. I will becomes I’ll. The apostrophe takes the place of the deleted letters wi.

Using apostrophes for possession involves placing an apostrophe after a noun to show that something belongs to that noun. Look at this example: Smith’s prices cannot be beat. Or take the example of a business name. It should be Brown’s Computer Outlet. The apostrophe indicates that the business is owned and operated by Brown.

In terms of quotation marks, if at all possible, avoid their use. There are several rules and quite a few complicated exceptions involved in the correct use of quotation marks. Simply put, quotation marks should never be used to emphasize text, as in “We have the largest inventory in the area.” They should not be used to express emotion, as in “Only three more days before a big price increase!” Quotation marks are used only to highlight someone’s exact words or for the titles of songs, stories, poems, etc.

If you write your own advertising copy, you can use your spell check function to help you to proofread it. If, however, you want to be completely assured that your advertisement is correctly written, you could use the services of a professional online editing and proofreading service, such as

The Importance of Tone

The Importance of Tone

Ever see something like this?

Dear Mr. Smith:

We have received your inquiry regarding the feasibility of your returning to us a video you recently purchased from our video distribution outlet. Since you appear to not be cognizant of the well-established fact that all video returns must be accompanied by a receipt, we regret your ignorance. However, allow us to enlighten you about this rudimentary matter: If you are not in possession of a receipt of purchase, our company is not in a position to offer you a refund.

For your subsequent video purchases at our fine store, may we recommend that you keep track of your receipts more carefully? We trust that you will be more responsible in the future, and we are glad to have provided this elementary information that apparently eluded you before.

I remain,
Mr. Edmund P. Swank
Owner, Manager, Director, and CEO of Uber-Superior Videos

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that poor Mr. Smith probably won’t be buying any more videos at this place. But consider what would have happened if he had received a letter like this:

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding refunds for video purchases. Our policy, as stated on the information card you received when you signed up for membership, is that a receipt is required to receive a refund for videos purchased at our store. This is to protect us from fraud.

However, we regret your inconvenience and would like to offer you 50% off your next video purchase, as well as a free movie rental. This is our way of saying “Thanks” for being our customer.

Please always remember to keep all receipts, as they will be needed for exchanges or refunds.

Thank you for your business.

Ed Swank
Owner, US Videos

Both letters said the same thing. However, the first letter was stilted, aloof, and condescending. In stark contrast, the second letter acknowledged the customer’s position, used words of courtesy, and politely explained the store’s policy. It even offered an incentive for the customer to return to the store for future purchases.

Remember, tone is important in whatever you write. Always consider carefully how your message is likely to be received, and try to be considerate of the recipient’s perspective.

Writing An Evaluation

Writing An Evaluation

Writing employee evaluations is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. What you write may very well be used in reference to decisions about advancements, pay raises, contract extensions, or whether or not an individual is to be terminated from his or her position.

The task is easier if you have a prescribed outline or format to follow or a form to be filled in, as opposed to having to write it out as a narrative. In any case, before you begin, you must have complete data in reference to the employee, including times and places of details that are to be included in your report.

If you need to write your own thoughts, as opposed to merely checking off boxes or filling in a form, remember to write as factually as possible. Do not write, for instance, “he is frequently late for meetings,” if he has been late three times in two years. You would be better off writing, “he has been late for meetings on three occasions during the past two years.” Rather than writing “her lunch periods are excessively long,” you might want to write, “on more than a dozen occasions (or whatever number you care to specify), she has taken two hours or longer for lunch.” You might want to indicate the length of time that employees of her rank are expected to take for lunch.

Of course, the same is true of positive comments. Do not write, “He is a great worker.” It would be more professional to write, “He fulfills all of his job-related functions in a superior manner.” You should cite times and dates and other details in reference to instances that are of particular importance, whether they are of a positive or a negative nature.

Remember, the person who is the subject of the evaluation may very well have an opportunity to read what you are writing. You want to be factual, fair, and dispassionate. Do not allow personal feelings to enter into your writing. Not only will a biased evaluation be viewed skeptically by whoever is going to read it, but it will reflect badly on you.

Use your best writing skills. Write complete sentences, unless the format does not allow you to do so. Be careful in terms of spelling, punctuation, and English usage. Use a spell check or other editing function, if at all possible.

If you are filling in a form, you might want to compose your sentences and responses on a separate sheet of paper before you fill in the actual form. If you have only one copy of the form, you might want to photocopy it first. It might be a good idea to fill in the photocopied sheet first, and then, when you are satisfied that you have done a first-rate job, transcribe the same information onto the actual form.

Remember, an evaluation report is a vital document that may very well have a major impact on the job and career of an individual. Make sure it reflects your thoughtful effort and good writing skills.

The Golden Rule: Business Communication’s Foundation

The Golden Rule: Business Communication’s Foundation

Dale Carnegie taught that the secret to communication—whether verbal or written—is to see things from the point of view of your message’s recipient. But why is this important? After all, if you need to tell someone what you want, shouldn’t you just tell them what that is? Well, yes, but there are different ways to do this. Consider the following examples of an interoffice memo, all of which are supposed to bring about the same result:

This is HR. Give us today’s files RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!!

This approach may produce varying results, but it’s unlikely to foster the cooperation you’re after. Of course most HR departments wouldn’t send a memo like this. However, some might send one that was along these lines:

We need the files today, thanks.

Problem: Who needs the files? Which files do they need? How soon today do they need them? This happens a lot more than it should. People get a memo and wonder exactly what it is they’re supposed to do. When this happens, someone (often middle management) has to take the time to figure out where the memo came from, which person in the department sent it, and what is it they’re trying to make happen.

Now consider the memo in this form:

Please send today’s management summary reports to HR by 3 p.m.

Thank you,
Kathy, HR Director

Why is this method better? Several reasons. First, it starts with the magic word: Please. Next, it explains specifically, clearly, and concisely what the desired action is, and also includes a deadline. Finally, it concludes by thanking the people from whom you’re requesting something (always a good idea!), and it is signed, so you know who it is you’re dealing with.

The Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) works remarkably well in business writing. Whether it’s a memo, an email, a report, or other business correspondence, think before you send: If I received what I’m about to send to someone else, would I act in the way that I want them to act for me? If not, better take the time to make some revisions.

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 3

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 3

Now we’re ready to wrap up what it takes to get your emails noticed. (See Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.)

  1. Have a clear call to action
    A lot of emails, even ones with good information, leave the reader saying, “Okay, so? What is it you want me to do?”
    Don’t let this happen to you. It’s not enough to just lay out a bunch of data. You’ve got to tell the person (or department) you’re writing exactly what you want done, with a brief account of the parameters involved. Something like this:

    Accounting Dept.:

    Got a favor to ask. We need some of the info from this month’s report. Specifically, here’s what we’re after:

    • Item 1
    • Item 2
    • Item 3
    Don’t worry about any of the other info in the report. Please send to us by 2 p.m. today or call us at 555-555-1050 if there are any problems.

    Marketing Dept.

  2. Be nice

    Why? What if I don’t? What are you gonna do about it? Huh? Huh?? Oh, for heaven’s sake—just be nice. Writing emails provides a great opportunity to exercise the Golden Rule. After all, would you want to read an email like this:

    Hey—we in HR need those files we asked for this morning. Send them NOW. What’s your problem? We know you don’t do anything down there anyway. Get on the stick!

    Oh, sure, HR—we’ll get right on that.

    Is it really so hard to put it this way:

    Records Dept.:

    Hi, it’s Peggy from HR. Could you please send us the new hire files we discussed this morning? Sorry for the rush, but we can’t process the new applicants without this information.


  3. Never send forwarded email without a valid business reason

    If you’re at work, do you really want to spend your time reading about the latest call to action for some activist organization? Or are you particularly interested in reading the latest jokes from some lame website?

    Stick to business. Keep it concise, intelligible, courteous, and let the email recipient know exactly what you want—with contact info for any necessary clarification. Your co-workers will appreciate it! And for a bit of extra help, contact

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 2

Getting Your Emails Noticed: Part 2

In Part 1, we covered three important points in getting your emails noticed:

  • Have a relevant, informative subject line
  • Use a proper salutation
  • Be CLEAR

Now, in Part 2, we’re going to look in more detail at the body of your message. And remember, can help you to have well-written emails every time.

  1. Be concise
    See how concise this point is? The statement “Be concise” is concise, but crystal clear. That’s how business emails should be, generally.
    It’s not necessary to show an example of what unnecessarily lengthy emails are like. Suffice it to say that gargantuan tomes are never going to be read in email format. If you can’t condense your point to one—or at the most, two—screens, you’re in big danger of losing your audience.
  2. Separate into logical paragraphs
    If you have a huge block of text, it’s hard to read. This is true whether you’re reading something on paper or on a computer screen. Strive to keep paragraphs short and divided at the right places. Notice how easy it is to read this page?
  3. Avoid slang
    Imagine a business email like this:

    Tim, what up dawg??? lol L8r i be afc so 4 2daze file s2r. thx, ted

    It just might be better to write it this way:


    Later I’m going to be away from my computer. Please send me today’s files so I can process them and get them back to you.


    Just a thought. And if you don’t have a clue what all the above gibberish (aka Internet slang) means, consider yourself lucky.
  4. Provide clear contact information
    If someone sends you an email and you can’t reach them to ask a question, it can be quite annoying. That’s why it’s a good idea to use an email signature with more than one means of contacting you. Something like this:

    Lois Thompson, Director of Marketing
    Phone: 555-555-1010
    Alt. Phone: 555-555-1011
    Marketing Dept.: 555-555-1030
    Fax: 555-555-1020

That’s all for Part 2. Ready for Part 3?

Ever have your emails ignored? If so, it’s probably not because you’re a particularly odious person. More likely, it’s because people are very busy. They read what they think is important and ignore what they think is not. If you want to have your writing noticed (for the right reasons), there are certain rules to abide by.

  1. Have a relevant, informative subject line
    • If you’re at work and a co-worker sends you an email with a subject line of “Re:” or “hey,” how likely are you to open it and read it? But what if you got an email with a subject line of “Manager requests feedback on today’s meeting”? Yeah, you’ll definitely open that one.
  2. Use a proper salutation
    • A proper business salutation is not “Hey, yo” or “WHASSSSSUPPPPP???” Rather, you should address someone by their name, followed by a comma or colon, as in the following examples:



      Mr. Smith,

      Finance Dept.:

      In business writing, “Dear” is not generally used if you’re writing to someone within your organization, but it is standard for correspondence with other companies. This is especially true if it’s the first time you’ve written them.
  3. Be CLEAR
    • Nothing is more frustrating than taking the time to read a business email, only to discover it would take an experienced Egyptologist to decipher the hidden meaning in the message:

      hi carol just need to check see if the jones file that sam sent us all is in par at jims specs or if it needs more info from u or me or that one other dept, if so call me thanks mike

      The correct response to such a mess is “Huh?” after which, the offending message will probably be deleted (or saved in a file titled “amusement”).
    • Consider this revision:


      Could you please check to see if the Jones file meets the specs that Jim outlined earlier? If not, let me know ASAP. We may need to provide him with more info.


This is just the beginning. Check out Part 2. And to make sure your emails are written correctly, contact an editing pro at