Tuesday July 10, 2012
By ALLISTAIR KING
A very common scenario in Business communication is the movement between Spoken Language and Written Language.
We do it all the time. We write the minutes for meetings and we send e-mails confirming telephone calls. Apparently, we don’t trust the spoken word! While Spoken Language is impermanent, Written Language is permanent and can be trusted. How often have you said “May I have that in writing?”
Another difference is that since Spoken Language is not permanent, it is still open to immediate feedback or negotiation. Thus, a lack of clarity can be cleared up on the spot – during the meeting, telephone call or presentation.
Since Written Language is permanent, it should also not be negotiable. Yet some writers invite negotiation as in:
We trust that the above is in order, and, should you have any queries, please ...
Please do not write this. While it is good to be available for the client’s enquiries, do not invite enquiries based on the potential lack of clarity of your letter’s contents! Ensure that the contents are clear, so that there need be no recourse to the writer.
What about the beginning of the e-mail confirming the recent telephone conversation?
1. “The teleconversation of this morning refers.”
2. “Pertaining to the teleconversation with your good self, we hereby wish to confirm ...”
3. “As discussed on the telephone this morning.”
4. “It is hereby noted and confirmed that ...”
5. “With reference to your telecom this morning, ...”
Please do NOT use any of these, or anything like them! The term “teleconversation” has low integrity; the tele comes from Greek and the rest from Latin – though Greek and Latin particles were thrust together in “television” and “telecommunications”.
Please also do not use the abbreviation “telecom”. When referring to some prior activity, avoid using “refer”, reference” and the ungrammatical construction in 1.
Bring focus into the first sentence. What happened during the conversation? Was there an agreement, a clarification, a suggestion, an enquiry? If so, use this format:
As you/we/I agreed/clarified/suggested/enquired on the telephone this morning, ...
This works well as a topic sentence, covering the whole scenario. The first clause, up to the comma describes the previous communication, while the remainder of the sentence covers the follow-up action. For example:
As you requested on the telephone this morning, I am now attaching a copy of the XYZ Report.
There may have been a meeting with the other party, eg:
As we agreed at our meeting yesterday, you will arrange for the purchase and installation of ...
Note that the keyword in these examples is a verb. Verbs are dynamic and thus serve to jolt the memory of the other party. However, avoid using the verb “discuss” as in 3. The verb “discuss” is a process word; it does not establish a result. Similarly, avoid using “discuss” in the minutes, as in “The Committee discussed the issue.”
It is much better to indicate the product rather than the process, therefore:
“The meeting agreed/decided/resolved/recommended ...”
> 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.