Tuesday June 26, 2012
Get to the point
By ALISTAIR KING
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 Communication.
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.