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Business letters

by alistair king
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Do lawyers letters have absolutely perfect English? Not quite, as our columnist points
out some practices which are redundant or even ungrammatical.
SOME readers have been interested enough in this Right For Business column to share with
me some documents which they have received, or were about to submit prior to reading one
of my articles.
What I plan to do in this article is to include some of these documents as examples of what I
have written about previously. For this, I have obtained the owners approval, though
identities will be disguised or expunged.
Here is a letter from a lawyer to a client:
Dear _______
Subj.: SALE AND PURCHASE AGREEMENT in respect of the Subjects at [ADDRESS]
The above matter refers. The teleconv between your Goodself and our Ms _______ also
Pertaining to the above and pursuant on the above-mentioned teleconv, please kindly be
advised that the SALE AND PURCHASE AGREEMENT regarding the premise at
[ADDRESS] is now ready for signing. You may sign the said document at our office and our
office hours are between 9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Your prompt attention is highly appreciated as this will expedite these matters.
Thank You
Yours faithfully
When writing the Subject heading, there is no need to write Subject or the awkward
abbreviation Subj.. Since the subject heading is at the top of the letter, underlined and
perhaps bolded, it is absolutely apparent what the subject is!
Similarly useless are Re and Ref. Some years ago, I was writing an academic paper for a
certain university. I was told that I had to place the word TAJUK in front of the title.
I argued that it was unnecessary as the reader would recognise immediately what my title
was, since it was italicised and underlined. However, I submitted to University policy!

I have mentioned previously how ungrammatical and useless a phrase like The above matter
refers is.
I have suggested that it is a mistranslation of the Malay passive-voice sentence Perkara di
atas adalah dirujuk. The Malay sentence serves completely no purpose; of course the matter
above is referred to, otherwise, why would it be written there?
The English version, with refers at the end should NEVER be written as it is
ungrammatical. Even the grammatically correct version The above matter is referred to.
should be avoided.
In my 2012 article on topic sentences (MOE, Your favourable response? July 31, 2012), I
wrote that the first sentence should introduce, identify or summarise the topic.
The following sentence does none of that.
Pertaining to the above and pursuant on the above-mentioned ... This is both verbose and
Please do not use teleconv or even
teleconversation, which being an illegitimate
hybrid of Greek and Latin, has very low etymological integrity.
As I have previously noted in this column goodself is absurdly archaic and unnecessarily
deferential. (MOE, Your esteemed goodself, Aug 7, 2012). Please do not kow tow!
In my article entitled Kindly be advised (MOE, Aug 14, 2012), I mentioned the
inappropriateness of using the Passive Voice in correspondence and the obsequiousness of a
phrase like please kindly be advised ...
One way to refer to a building is by using the plural form the premises. If you are in or very
near the building, you are on the premises. When the word was adopted into Malay, it lost
the s; this has caused confusion to Malaysian writers. This letter refers to the property as
the premise; this is wrong.
Note the inappropriate use of prepositions in our office hours are between 9.00 a.m. to 5.30
p.m. There are two possibilities for describing the office hours:
between 9.00am and 5.30pm
or from 9.00am to 5.30pm
The following mistake in the lawyers letter is extremely common among Malaysian writers:
Your prompt attention is highly appreciated as this will expedite these matters.
This last sentence is redundant as it the outcome of prompt attention is perfectly clear! Since
the writer is making a request, the sentence should read: Your prompt attention would
be highly appreciated

I have already recommended that letters should not end with Thank you (MOE, Jan 22,
2013). Note that this convention is practised only in Malaysia.
Finally, the archaic phrase FOR AND ON BEHALF OF _________ is both pompous and
redundant. If the company letterhead is on the paper, it is clear that the writer is
corresponding for and on behalf of his/her company.
Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He looks forward to receiving
feedback or

Likely, unlikely and impossible

by alistair king
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When the word 'if' comes into play, one has to be careful with their tenses.
Conditional statements, that is, those beginning with if, can be complex.
In a previous article, I recommended avoiding using if in the following situation: We
would appreciate if you could attend to this matter at your earliest possible convenience. a
less complex version is: We would appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.
Reader Ee Na has questioned the tense usage in: if only we had done/given/gone/taken ... as
this looks very much like the past perfect.
Note the difference between these statements:
If only I had the time, ...
If only I had had the time, ...
The first refers to a present situation, in which I dont have the time, while the second refers
to a past situation, in which I didnt have the time. Both express regret. These points can be
similarly expressed by:
I wish I had the time.
I wish I had had the time.
There are three conditional forms, which we need to observe, otherwise meaning can get lost.
When if comes at the beginning of the clause, it causes the following verb to go one step
back in the past, thus:

If you take/give/accept ... (future) + will ...

If you took/gave/accepted ... (present) + would ...
If you had taken/given/accepted ... (past) + would have ...
Future: If you accept our terms, you will be entitled to six months free Internet access.
Present: if you accepted our terms, you would be entitled to six months free Internet access.
(less likely)
Past: If you had accepted our terms, you would have been entitled to six months free Internet
access. (impossible, as its too late)
Now, what about negative forms?
Future: If the Contractor does not comply with the terms of the contract, his services will be
Present: If the contractor did not comply with terms of the contract, his services would be
Past: If the contractor had not complied with the terms in the contract, his services would
have been terminated.
The negative statements can be expressed using unless:
Unless the contractor complies ...
Unless the contractor complied ...
Unless the contractor had complied ...
Sometimes, a present situation is dependent on a past condition, as in:
If we had applied for the approval earlier, the project would now be complete.
If you had not taken my advice, you would be in trouble now.
If only you had taken care of your health in your youth, you would not have these enormous
medical bills!
Readers familiar with Fiddler On The Roof, will know the rather crass little song If I Were A
Rich Man.
Some readers have asked why we say If I were you ... The use of the word were, rather
than was, is a residual usage of the Subjunctive form, which, while present in most
European languages, leaves little trace in English. The Subjunctive is applied when a
projected event or state is in focus.

Another Subjunctive form with which some readers may be familiar is using be and other
verbs minus the s in 3rd person, as in:
Request of him that he be ready to leave at noon.
Ensure that this door be kept locked at all times.
I must insist that she come on time.
The auditors have asked that the general manager attend the meeting.
If I were you, I would ensure accurate usage of Conditional forms at all times!
n Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. Send feedback to /

We look forward to...

by alistair king
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FREQUENTLY, I am asked whether we can write I look forward to seeing you or I look
forward to hearing from you.
Almost invariably, the question is posed by someone whose boss, whose colleague or
(shudder) whose English teacher has declared that these sentences are ungrammatical and that
the correct versions are *I look forward to see you. and *I look forward to hear from you.
This is often accompanied by the explanation that we cant say to seeing / to hearing; we
must say to see / to hear. I suspect that many readers have heard something similar and are
wondering if these sentences are right or wrong:
I look forward to meeting you.
We look forward to serving you.
I look forward to receiving your reply.
We look forward to knowing your requirements.
Or should there be no ing?
In these examples, we do not connect the word to to the next word.

This is because to is connected to the previous words. Look forward to is a unit called a
phrasal verb.
This is created when words (normally prepositions) are added to a verb in order to produce a
different meaning. For example, consider this:
There is a mysterious crater in the middle of the High Street. The police are currently looking
into it.
The non-phrasal (and rather delightful) meaning of this is that several policemen are standing
around the large hole peering into it, while the phrasal meaning is that there is a police
investigation in process. Other phrasal verbs using look, which can also be understood nonphrasally, are: look down on (despise); look up to (respect); look out (exercise caution).
The phrasal verb look forward to is followed by a noun and very often that noun is a gerund.
The gerund is the ing form of the word as in:
Smoking is bad for you and so is overeating.
Taking exercise is good for you, though running can cause joint pain. Both talking and eating
are not allowed during the examination.
Please note that it is grammatically wrong to write, We look forward to hear from you, etc.
The following forms are absolutely correct:
We look forward to ...
a) meeting you.
b) receiving your reply.
c) having the opportunity to serve you.
d) knowing your requirements.
e) explaining further our expectations.
One comment about the ending We look forward to hearing from you.
While it is grammatically correct, it is of low communicative value. It doesnt take the
scenario on to the next step with any focus.
How, when and where will you hear from the other person?
In a previous article of Right For Business, we looked at endings to letters.
Always end by pointing the way ahead as clearly and as specifically as possible.

For example: We look forward to receiving your amended proposal with itemized quotation
by the end of this week.
Just one last thing: please dont write Thank you at the end of a letter!
Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He looks forward to receiving
feedback to: /

Dealing with complaints

by alistair king
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DOES your company ever receive complaints? I hope so! In this weeks Mind Our English
column on business writing, it would be good to remember that complaints are feedback
and every form of feedback is useful, if you choose to recognise its usefulness.
Do you believe that the customer is always right? If so, you will write a Letter of Apology,
which might go something like this:
Dear Customer
We are extremely sorry that you have been disappointed in our service. We were definitely in
the wrong and we sincerely apologise for all the inconvenience which you have had to suffer
because of the negligence of our staff ...
You might end by repeating the apology:
Once again, please accept our profound apologies.
Congratulations! You have just lost a customer!
In this extract, there are seven words which can only serve to erode your customers
confidence even further in your company.
If someone (customer) is right, then someone (you!) has to be wrong. So dont write any such
You may then ask, Should I tell the customer that hes wrong? Try it:
Dear Customer
We wish to point out that the damage in transit is no concern of ours whatsoever. You have
obviously not taken the trouble to read the contract which you signed last month; therefore
your complaint is completely unfounded.

Congratulations! You have definitely lost a customer, too.

In dealing with complaints, the issue of who is right and who is wrong should not come into
Have you ever had a disagreement with your spouse? Did each of you insist that he/she was
right and that the other was wrong? Did you maintain that insistence for a lengthy period? If
so, in all probability, you are now sadly separated!
Too many partners in a relationship feel that they need the other party to acknowledge that
they are in the right; the human desire for justification, vindication, even revenge, can be
strong and destructive.
Whatever the relationship, marital or business, self-abasement and self-vindication are both
destructive. What every relationship needs is ADJUSTMENT, so that whatever the conflict,
it may be overcome by a process which allows both / all parties to move on in the
So, when a complaint comes in, write a Letter of Adjustment. Using the 5 As:
> Acknowledge: This is not like acknowledging a cheque, so dont write: Your letter has
been received and the contents noted. As mentioned in a previous article in this column, this
is rude.
Write a topic sentence which summarises the customers difficulties. Only when you have
acknowledged the customers difficulties will you have credibility to do something about
these difficulties.
Dont use the word refer in a topic sentence. Write something like: Thank you for your letter
of (DATE) in which you highlight to us the delays you have experienced in ...
> Accept: Accept the blame if you need to, but dont write sorry and try to avoid apologies
also; use regret, as it serves to place some distance between you and the conflict. Remember,
the integrity of your company is in your hands.
> Account: Account for the problem. Give some explanation. Dont overdo this. I once
received a letter of adjustment from a bank, in which I was informed that the manager of the
department had been dismissed because of dishonesty.
Knowing that certainly did not increase my confidence in that bank! When you account for
the problem, be briefly informative as a courtesy to the customer.
> Act: Do something! Tell the customer what you have done or will do. You may not be able
to accede to a request like I demand a complete refund! At least say that you are investigating
the issue or that you have passed the request (not demand) to your management for their
> Assure: Do not write this common, though meaningless and insincere sentence: Assuring
you of our best service at all times. Its a lie! Nobody can ever assure this.

Similarly dont write: We assure you that this will never happen again. If it does happen
again, you are in double trouble!
Assure only what you are capable of delivering. Before assuring anything, ensure that you
have both the Capacity (physical and legal) and the Commitment (from all parties in the
organisation) to deliver.
Some of the points in this article, including the 5 As, have been taken from my book
Effective Business Letter-Writing, published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in Malaysia.
I hope that you will receive many complaints to adjust and that you will seize the
opportunities to bring your relationships with your customers onto higher levels.
* Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He would value feedback to: or

Writing the minutes

by alistair king
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Who will take the minutes? asks the chairman.
If you happen to be the youngest or most junior member of the meeting, and especially if you
happen to be female, you will be the one! Thats the way things seem to work. This is a
scenario that many people dread. It neednt be so terrible.
The person who takes the minutes is often called the recording secretary. This, however, is
not an accurate term. So, what does the secretary do at the meeting?
I was once at a meeting where the sales manager did not like a proposal that was put forward.
As his face turned from light magenta to deep crimson, he said, rather loudly, I think this
suggestion is a pile of rubbish, absolute rubbish!
This utterance was accompanied by two thumps on the table. If the gentleman who was
taking the minutes that day was recording, he would have written: The sales manager said: I
think this suggestion is a pile of rubbish, absolute rubbish!
It would have been easier, as is the case in some meetings, to set up a video camera in the
corner of the room and record the meeting!
So how should the meeting be reported?
Using reported speech, it goes like this: The sales manager said that he thought that the
suggestion was a pile of rubbish.

Notice the backshifting of the verbs to bring them in line with the introductory verb said. The
reported version, though true to what took place in the meeting, would be a shock to the
So, if the secretary does not record and does not report, what does the secretary do? What the
secretary does, I suggest, is interpret.
The secretary has to evaluate the utterances during the meeting and interpret them in a
manner which brings the right focus and priorities to the points presented.
In the above case, the secretary asked me after the meeting, How am I going to minute what
he said?
Incidentally, the sales manager didnt say rubbish; he said a shorter word which I would
never write and which The Star would never publish!
The advice that I gave the secretary, who was a young chap just out of university, was not to
write what he said, but to write what he did.
The secretary replied, He banged the table; thats what he did. I cant write that!
I explained that, whenever we speak there is something we do. I asked him what the sales
manager did: criticise, oppose or disagree. Being diplomatic, he chose disagree.
But, I asked, How would you interpret two bangs on the table?
He thought for a moment and proudly said, The sales manager strongly disagreed with the
The two bangs were interpreted as strongly. He was so happy with this that I didnt feel I
should tell him to use the Passive Voice!
Incidentally, someone must have liked the sales managers direct approach; he is now CEO
of a multinational, based in Hong Kong!
On Aug 21, in this Right For Business column regarding Active Voice vs Passive Voice, we
considered the difference between: The assistant manager opposed the proposal and The
proposal was opposed by the assistant manager.
What do we want to place into focus, the speaker or what he/she contributes? The agenda
item indicates issues to be considered rather than the people who attend the meeting.
Thus, please use the second, Passive Voice, version of each of the following pairs:
1) The senior accounts executive provided a summary of the previous months expenditure.
A summary of the previous months expenditure was provided by the senior accounts
executive. (Correct)

2) The production manager stressed the need for revised maintenance procedures. (x)
The need for revised maintenance procedures was stressed by the production manager.
Finally, if you really need to write about the table-banging, please do use the Passive version:
The table was banged twice. and, in this case, DONT say by whom!
Dr Alistair King is an applied linguist and corporate training consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He would value feedback to: or

Active vs passive
by alistair king
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We are often less important than what we say! But it all depends on whether we are writing a
letter or the minutes of a meeting.
THIS weeks Mind Our English column on business writing examines the use of Passive
Voice vs Active Voice.
> Your kind co-operation is highly valued.
> Your letter has been received and the contents noted.
> Please be informed of our change of address.
> Your prompt attention is requested.
All of these are commonly used in correspondence, but please dont use them; they are all in
the Passive Voice. Despite what your Grammar Check indicates, the Passive Voice IS a
useful device. However, in letters or e-mails, it should be avoided. Why?
First of all, note where the Passive Voice comes from. In an Active Voice sentence with a
transitive verb, there needs to be an object, eg: The factory (SUBJECT) manufactures
(VERB) semiconductors (OBJECT).
We now have to decide which is more significant to our document: the subject or the object.
If semiconductors is more related to the topic of the document, then the Passive Voice should
be used, thus: Semiconductors are manufactured (by the factory).
Instead of The mechanics serviced the vehicles, we would write: The vehicles were serviced
(by the mechanics).

Note in the following example, we need to decide whether we should be personal or

impersonal: I have completed the investigation. or The investigation has been completed.
The Active Voice emphasizes the personal aspect of the act, while the Passive Voice is
impersonal, focusing on the recipient of the action.
When should we be personal (using the Active Voice) and when should we be impersonal
(using the Passive Voice)?
In letters and e-mails, even formal ones, there is a strong personal element as writer and
reader are in some kind of relationship. In the case of answering a Letter of Complaint, it is
important to demonstrate the relationship by the use of I/we and you.
Thus do not write something impersonal, uncaring and rude like: Your letter dated 22nd
March has been received and the contents noted. Instead, be personal and be focused: Thank
you for your letter of 22nd March, in which you highlight to us the difficulties which you
have experienced ...
Do not write: Please be informed of our change of address. Write: We would like to inform
you of our change of address. or Please note our change of address.
Dont write: Your prompt attention is requested. Write: We would like to request your
prompt attention.
In contractual documents, it is usually important to identify the accountable party rather than
the issue; this is done by use of the Active Voice. Thus, we expect to see this: The Contractor
shall exercise all reasonable safely precautions; rather than this: All reasonable safely
precautions shall be exercised by the Contractor.
In which documents should the Passive Voice be used?
In the Meeting Minutes, note the different emphases: The Assistant Manager opposed the
proposal; compared to The proposal was opposed by the Assistant Manager. What is of
significance, the speaker or the issue under consideration?
Be guided here by the Agenda item, which is unlikely to be the Assistant Managers
reaction, but rather Proposal to .... In this way, the Passive Voice is preferable to the
Active in the minutes.
Note how, in the following examples, the Passive Voice (the second version) brings emphasis
to the issue. Note also, that the person who speaks should usually be mentioned in second
> The Human Resource Manager expressed concern over the increase in medical leave.
> Concern over the increase in medical leave was expressed by the Human Resource
> The Production Manager suggested VSS as a solution to the overstaffing problem.

> VSS was suggested by the production Manager, as a solution to the overstaffing problem.
> All members passed the minutes of the previous meeting.
> The minutes of the previous meeting were (unanimously) passed.
In meetings, we are often less important than what we say! In reports about action taken, the
Passive Voice, similarly, is preferred. Auditors are fond of using the following:
The auditors noted five instances of non-compliance.
> The auditors identified several discrepancies.
In audit reports, the role of the auditors is understood, therefore, to mention them at all
amounts to tautology. Furthermore, subsequent action will not be taken on the auditors, but
on the issues which they highlight. Thus, the Passive Voice is preferred:
Five instances of non-compliance were noted.
> Several discrepancies were identified.
Often, it is undiplomatic or embarrassing to use the Active Voice as in:
You have removed the files from my desk.
> The manager submitted inaccurate figures.
Please use the Passive Voice instead:
The file has been removed from my desk.
> Inaccurate figures were submitted.
And finally, please dont write: The CEO has broken the photocopier. Think of your career,
be diplomatic and write: The photocopier has been broken.
> Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He would value feedback to: or

Kindly be advised
by alistair king
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This weeks Mind Our English column on business writing considers the situation when you
need to write a circular notifying the other party/parties of something. Would you write this?
Kindly be advised that we are moving our sales department to new premises, as noted below:
Please be informed of our updated operating instructions, as follows:
Please dont! As we have noted before, the Passive Voice does not work well in
correspondence. To tell some one to be informed or to be advised (kindly or otherwise) is
strange because this places the reader in a situation in which he/she does nothing but await
the informing or advising. This is a convoluted way of telling the reader to note something!
Yet, I am constantly receiving e-mails requesting of me that I be informed or advised.
On office notice-boards, employees are likewise instructed to be informed or advised, as in:
Kindly be advised that there will be a fire drill at 11am on Wednesday. Why not reduce both
the verbosity and the indirectness by writing: There will be a fire drill at 11am on
Oh, but you might say we want to sound polite, hence the kindly. Is kindly really polite?
Isnt it one of those supercilious words like hereby, which are difficult to say without the
nose pointing high in the air? Are we really expressing kindness when we write kindly?
Definitely, courtesy is important, so use please and also be direct:
Please note that we are moving ...
Please note our updated ...
Please note that there will be a fire drill ...
To tell the reader to Please note ... is much more communicative than telling the reader to
Kindly be advised ...
Now, what about ... as noted below? It is extremely common. However, it is completely
unnecessary, as is ... as follows.
Remember that, when reading a page in the English language, the reader starts at the top of
the page and gradually moves down the page; the reader notes what is below without having
to be directed there.
I received a document recently containing this line: Our findings are hereunder tabulated as

This is grim! The archaic word hereunder and the phrase as follows mean the same.
Furthermore, both of them can be omitted and the reader will still know where to look.
I could quite clearly see that the findings were in tabular form, so the result was multiple
redundancy! The colon is a useful punctuation device as it tells the reader to look down (just
in case he/she is tempted to look elsewhere!) The writer could have saved a lot of ink by
writing Findings:!
The first two examples can be improved in this way:
Please note our new sales department address:
Please note our updated operating instructions:
Be clear! Be concise! Be communicative!
Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He would value feedback to: /

Your favourable response?

by alistair king
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THIS weeks Mind Our English series on business writing looks at closing sentences that can
make a proper impact.
If you are applying for a job or tendering for a contract, DONT write this: Looking forward
to your favourable response.
This final sentence in a letter of application has become so common in Malaysia, it seems to
be almost standard; but please dont use it!
It will (probably) not get you that job, nor secure you that contract.
If the Human Resource Department advertises ONE job and there are one hundred
applications for it, all requesting a favourable reply, a positive response or something
similar, will they then need to create ninety-nine new jobs in order to accede to all of these
Of course not!
On the contrary, such requests may well irritate the potential employer.

So, how should a closing sentence be formed? Ask first, What do I want from this?.
What is the next step in the scenario? In the case of the job application, the next step is the
interview and, in the case of a large tender, it is the tender clarification meeting.
So end your letter by pointing the way ahead! Here are some examples which specifically
suggest the next step, guiding the reader forward:
Once you have had the opportunity to consider my application, I look forward to an
interview, at which I can explain further my suitability for this post. I would value the
opportunity to attend an interview to discuss how my qualifications and experience meet the
requirements of this post.
- I am certain that my ten years of experience in this field will benefit your organisation and,
with this in mind, I am available to attend an interview at your convenience.
- After you have considered this proposal, we look forward to a meeting with you in order to
finalise any outstanding issues.
- We are sure that this proposal, in general, meets your requirements and we would value the
opportunity to meet you to clarify any specific details.
When composing the final sentence, always try to define the parameters of the expected next
Thus, a sentence like the following is of low value:
Looking forward to your response in due course.
The phrase in due course is vague and potentially risky. Just as the introductory topic
sentence leads the reader into the document, so does the closing sentence lead the reader out
of the document.
The questions Where?, When? and How? can all be answered in the closing sentence
as in:
Please send your confirmation, in writing, to reach the above address no later than the 25th
of this month.
Another common way to form a closing sentence is We look forward to receiving ; We
look forward to meeting
People often tell me that they have been informed by their bosses or teachers that they may
not write to receiving or to meeting. This is an area of grammar that we shall consider, in
this column, in due course!
Dr Alistair King is an Applied Linguist and Corporate Training Consultant with clients
throughout the region, the Middle East and Southern Africa. He would value feedback to: or

For your kind perusal

by alistair king
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We continue our series on business writing by examining more clunky and vague phrases.
What do you do when you wish to enclose /attach a document which the other party has
requested? Do your write a covering message like this:
Further to your valued recent request, enclosed herewith, please find a copy of our most
recent catalogue for your kind perusal and necessary action.
As per your request attached herewith please find a copy of the above-mentioned report for
you attention and retention.
What is the weirdest phrase in both of the above examples? Surely it has to be please find!
Extremely common, but weird! That enclosure/attachment is not lost! We only tell people to
find something that is lost! It is amazing that this phrase is so meaningless, yet so standard!
Earlier articles of this column have already mentioned certain features which militate against
effective communication; two of them are displayed here.
Redundancy: enclosed/attached herewith is unnecessary repetition. If the item is here with the
covering letter, then, of course, it is enclosed/attached. If the document is attached, then it has
got to be here with the e-mail! In this connection, dont use together with as it is also
redundant. The word herewith, like hereby, hereinafter, heretofore, etc, is extremely
Verbosity: How many words do you need? Whatever is a kind perusal? It sounds almost like
a sweet little furry animal! Whatever it means, it is way out of date.
Please dont use for your further action; for your attention; for your necessary action
(as if the reader is likely to do something UNnecessary with it!). All of these fail to tell the
reader what he/she has to do. If you are sure that the reader knows what to do with the
enclosure, then there is no need to write for your ...!
What about the word valued as in Dear Valued Customer? Dont use it! If you value your
customer, show it, dont write it! One way to show that you value the customer is to take the
trouble to use mail-merge so that his/her name appears in the salutation rather than the lowvalue Valued Customer.
A common and risky scenario is when the manager of a department receives an e-mail,
decides that his/her downliner should deal with this, so forwards it with the caption: Please do
the needful/Please take the necessary action/Please act accordingly.
When forwarding e-mails for other peoples action, always specify the intended action,
otherwise the downliner may act according to ... WHAT?

Then how should we refer to a document that we are enclosing or attaching? Consider these.
We are enclosing a copy of the catalogue which you requested. If you would like to appear
more joyful, try: We are pleased to enclose a copy of the catalogue which you requested.
We are enclosing a copy of the ______ Report, as you requested.
Notice that these are all written in the Active Voice. It is normally preferable to use the
Active Voice in correspondence and the Passive Voice in certain other types of documents.
If you dont want to appear friendly, you may want to consider: Enclosed is a copy of
the_____ Report, as requested. This is all in the Passive Voice and creates distance between
the Writer and the Reader, but should generally not be used.
Dr Alistair King has over 25 years experience in education and training for multinational
corporations and government departments in several European, African and Asian countries.
He can be contacted at

I appreciate you! (Really I do ...)

by alistair king
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HAVE you ever written Your kind assistance is highly appreciated? Were you requesting
help or acknowledging help already given? This sentence is thanking the reader for his/her
assistance, not requesting it.
If you are requesting assistance, then it is appropriate to use the conditional form would be,
otherwise the statement could appear presumptuous. Thus, the form would be Your
assistance would be highly appreciated. Drop the kind; there is no need to kow tow.
Courtesy does not equate with obsequiousness.
However, note that these two statements are in the Passive Voice. The Passive Voice is an
extremely important grammatical device, especially where identities are best not to be
mentioned or to be placed out of focus. In letters, the Active Voice is preferred because the
identities of both writer and reader are significant. Thus, a more appropriate rendering is the
Active Voice We would highly appreciate your assistance. At a later date, this column will
explain the grammatical and stylistic differences between the Active and Passive Voices.
Let us consider this beautiful word appreciate. There is a large number of definitions for
this word in different dictionaries. The one I like most is recognise the full worth of. So,
when I (sincerely) tell you that I appreciate you, that is a tremendous statement to make!
A common sentence is: We would appreciate if you could attend to this matter at your
earliest possible convenience; a more common Malaysian version is We would appreciate
it, if you could attend to this matter at your earliest possible convenience. It is best not to use

the cumbersome at your earliest possible convenience as it sounds tentative and does not
convey the urgency of the situation.
Speaking of being tentative, we use the conditional words would, could, should, might when
we do not want to sound direct. When seeking a raise in salary, you may well say to your
boss. I wonder if I could ask you whether you might consider ...? It could well happen that
you might not get to the point as quickly as you should! This is an example of
circumlocution, mentioned in this column on June 26.
Directness and politeness are not opposites. In order to improve the appreciate sentence,
remove one of the conditionals. The first (would) cannot be removed, but the second
(could) can be removed. First, the if has to go and this means that a second verb
construction can be avoided and replaced with a noun phrase. The result is: We would
appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. This is courteous and considerate, yet direct.
Other examples are: We would appreciate your immediate action; We would appreciate
your full settlement of this sum.
> Dr Alistair King has over 25 years experience in education and training for multinational
corporations and government departments in several European, African and Asian countries.

Malaysian mistakes
by right for businessby alistair king
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HAVE you ever said to yourself when about to write a letter to a client: I know what I want
to say, but I dont know how to start.? So, you write:
We refer to the above.
With reference to the above, ...
Referring to the above matter,
With regard to the above,
Or, when you want to sound very corporate :
Pertaining to the above-captioned matter, Or, when you want to use Malaysian Business
The above matter refers.
I suggest that all of these amount to little more than a waste of ink. The last one is

The first step in effective professional writing is to identify the topic. We do this in two ways:
(1) by composing a title containing several key-words, which will subsequently be reused
throughout the document in order to keep the reader focused on the main issue. (2) by
composing a topic sentence, which extends, expands or develops the title and serves as an
introduction to or summary of the document.
Business writers share with journalist the need to establish the topic.
Take this recent example:
Asian stocks tumble amid global rout
Asian shares tumbled on Monday, pushing the broader Tokyo market to a 28-year low, as
investors extended a rout of global stocks and worried about a nightmare scenario of eurozone breakup, US economic relapse and a sharp slowdown in China.
[The Star, June 4, 2012]
Notice how the key-words are used to show the reader what is to be expected in the
document, to define the scope of the document.
Depending on how complex the issuea are, the topic sentence can be a lengthy one. We can
apply this to our business documents.
Introduction of ISO Guidelines: Impact
This report describes the Introduction of ISO 9001 Guidelines in November 2011 and
assesses the impact of production capacity with regard to efficiency.
Notice the importance of the two verbs (describes and assesses) as they show the functions of
the document.
Dont write this:
Feedback on Service
We refer to your letter dated 22nd March 2012.
Keep the title, but use a Topic Sentence such as: Thank you for your letter of 22nd March
2012, in which you provide useful feedback on our after-sales service during the first three
months of this year.
When dealing with complaints, it is essential that you demonstrate to the client at the
beginning of the letter that you understand the clients issue; you should do this in the topic
Then you have the trust of the client that you will be able to remedy the situation.
Now, what about the common Malaysian first sentence The above matter refers.?

Please note that this is ungrammatical. The verb to refer, being transitive, requires an
object. But there is none.
I suspect that this is a mistranslation of the Malay Perkara di atas adalah dirujuk. Note that
dirujuk is the passive voice form and should be translated is referred to. However, to write
The above matter is referred to is definitely a waste of ink.
Effective Topic Sentences do not use the phrase the above matter or the above subject,
nor do they use the words refer, reference, regarding, pertaining to!
Dr Alistair King has over 25 years experience in education and training for multinational
corporations and government departments in several European, African and Asian countries.
He holds four university degrees, including a M.Sc. in Applied Linguistics and Ph.D. in
Human Resource Management.

Get to the point

by alistair king
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Mind Our English introduces Right for Business, a new weekly series to write it right for
business communications without sounding pompous, wordy or circuitous.
IN much Business Writing, there are three main enemies of Effective Communication:
Verbosity (wordiness); Tautology (unnecessary repetition) and Circumlocution (going around
the point rather than to the point).
Here are examples of these enemies:
> We hereby wish to draw your kind attention to the above-mentioned (Verbosity)
> We are attaching herewith (Tautology)
> We are not entirely unaware of (Circumlocution)
A few weeks ago, one of the participants at my training session Write Like a Professional
told me that his manager had sent him to me so that he could develop a corporate writing
style. I asked him what his manager had meant by that phrase.
Apparently, his manager considered the type of language in which he communicated with
clients too ordinary. I asked the participant whether his clients understood his
correspondence and whether he had a positive relationship with them. He answered both
sentences in the affirmative.
Then, I asked, what more does your boss want you to do?

In their book Discourse analysis (1983), Brown and Yule noted two fundamental aspects of
communication: Transactional and Interactional. The first denotes communication which is
clear and understandable, while the second refers to the atmosphere which is generated by the
communication, the furtherance of human relationships.
If I said to my guest Sit down!, the transactional aspect would be in place, but the
relationship would not be enhanced. On the other hand, if I said, Kindly assume a seated
position!, who knows what the response would be.
When informing a supplier that his tender is not accepted, do you use the work reject,
refuse, turn down or decline? Each has the same basic meaning, but the Interactional
aspect is different in each case. Similarly, do you complain or highlight, demand or
request. Often, we calibrate negative or aggressive language by choosing a word with the
same basic meaning, but which generates a different relationship.
If both aspects, Transactional and Interactional, are in place, then we have Effective
However, when Business Writing is burdened with the three sins of Verbosity, Tautology and
Circumlocution, headache-inducing communication is the more likely result.
Watch what happens when the unwholesome trinity come together:
While being not entirely unaware of the potential for serious negative repercussions, we are
decidedly of the opinion that the abandoning of the project would ultimately be more
detrimental to the future economic viability of the organisation than a continuation.
Perhaps this verbose, tautologous and circumlocutious sentence, with 15 words of three or
more syllables, would be considered corporate writing style, but I do believe this version is
much more effective:
While we know that there are risks involved, we feel that, for the future of the company, it
would be better to proceed with the project.
[Effective Business Letter Writing (2002) OUP King, A]
In the forthcoming weekly series, I intend to look critically at many examples of Business
Writing phrases and offer better alternatives for our readers.
> Dr Alistair King has over 25 years experience in education and training for multinational
corporations and government departments in several European, African and Asian countries.
He holds four university degrees, including a M.Sc. in Applied Linguistics and Ph.D. in
Human Resource Management.