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Prepositions

Special care should be taken when using prepositions. There is a big difference between:

The price has been increased to £450.00,

The price has been increased by £450.00, and

The price has been increased from £450.00.

Words to avoid foreign words

Foreign words are superfluous where an English equivalent exists. They should only be used if they are commonly understood and impart a meaning which cannot be easily translated into English. For example ‘vice versa’ is acceptable, but ‘versus’ can usually be replaced with ‘against’ except when describing sports fixtures or legal cases.

Ambiguous words

You must use words that convey exactly what you want to say. Don’t leave the reader in any doubt. For example;

We are uncertain that this course of action will lead to any benefits for the company’.

This suggests to the reader that you are open to persuasion. If you do not wish to be persuaded then say so:

We do not believe that this course of action is suitable for our company and therefore do not intend to pursue it any further’.

This indicates that your decision is final; no comeback is required or desired.

Vogue words

Vogue words, or words that are currently in fashion, do not last and can confuse. Remember, you may not be writing to someone of the same generation, who may therefore not understand you. For example, the following may not mean anything to a reader unfamiliar with hip words:

We think that your design for the front elevation is really cool.’

This is a wicked product.’

REDUNDANT WORDS

A clearer and more economical style is obtained by eliminating combinations of words and phrases that are tautological, i.e. not doing specific jobs or duplicating a meaning. If you remove the italicized words in the following examples, everything is more direct and uncluttered:

We first began the discussion

Very unique

At 5pm in the afternoon

Hot in temperature

Here is another, rather extreme, example: We must insist that immediate payment of all outstanding sums is made forthwith.

INCORRECT USE OF WORDS

There are several words that are often used incorrectly, where the writer believes the word to mean something other than its actual meaning. For example, ‘effect’ and ‘affect’, or ‘practical’ and ‘practicable’. It is recommended that you read and learn these, or at least refer to them before using one of these words to ensure your meaning is clear.

ACCURACY

SPELLING

Careless mistakes in a letter can give readers a bad impression. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar should all be checked carefully. Many people have come to rely on the spellchecker in their computers to ensure that there are no spelling mistakes. But a word spelt incorrectly may form a completely different word, e.g. Please give it some though (the writer means thought); I saw it their (the writer means there). A spell checker would miss these mistakes. There is no substitute for carefully reading, or proofreading a letter that you have written,

Titles, names and addresses

Use the correct title in the address and salutation. Spell your correspondent’s name correctly (nothing creates a worse impression than a misspelled name), and write their address accurately.

If you do not know your correspondent, do not assume that they are one sex or the other, i.e. use Dear Sir /Madam rather than Dear Sir or Dear Madam. If you know a correspondent’s name but not their sex, use Mr /Ms, e.g. Dear Mr /Ms Barren.

REFERENCES

When replying to a letter, fax, or email, quote all references accurately so that it is immediately clear to your reader what you are writing about.

PRICES, MEASUREMENTS, ETC.

Special care should be taken when quoting prices or giving specifications such as measurements or weights. Quoting these incorrectly can cause serious misunderstandings.

ENCLOSURES AND ATTACHEMENTS

Always check that you have actually enclosed the documents you have mentioned in your letter, or attached them to your email. Check, too, that you have enclosed or attached the right documents. If, for example, the document you are enclosing is invoice PL/231, make sure you do not enclose invoice PL/213.

When ordering, make sure you quote the order number correctly, especially in international trade where mistakes can be very expensive in both time and money.

POINTS TO REMEMBER

  1. Include the right amount of information. If you are responding to an enquiry, make sure you have answered all the writer’s questions.

  2. Plan before you start writing. Make sure you say everything you want to say, and in a logical sequence.

  3. Use a simple but polite style of language.

  4. Make sure that everything you write is clear and easy to understand. Do not use colloquial language or abbreviations that your reader may not understand. Write numbers in words as well as figures.

  5. Accuracy is important. Pay special attention to details such as titles and names, and references and prices, and remember to check enclosures or attachments.

  6. Check what you have written when you have finished. Make sure everything is as it should be.

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