Wherever we are and whatever we do, we need to communicate. Communicate well and it can make you, communicate poorly and it can break you. Even in the common language of English, one size is never going to fit all, so below are a few steps to follow when using business English in writing, for both home and global markets.
Be correct for purpose
- Know what you want to achieve each time you write
- Align this with your personal and organizational values – and reader expectations
- Check quality and remove mistakes before you send
Written messages can be judged when we’re not there to explain them! Business readers largely expect written communication to appear professional. If spelling, punctuation and grammar are wrong and if messages are muddled, this often leads to reader complaints.
Getting business messages across can be tricky enough without entering linguistic debates, interesting and worthwhile as they are. In my workplace emails I definitely avoid starting a sentence with “but” or “and” – knowing it will irritate some readers’ sensitivities.
- Use accessible English and express facts simply, wherever possible
- Edit well so that your key messages are both seen and easy to understand
- Use a good layout so your writing looks good
Be smart and make the right impact
- Use the right words, content and style to get “brand you” and organizational brand noticed for the right reasons
- Understand which variety of English to use – and when to “use a splash of local color” or “colour”! (either your own or your target audience’s, if different)
- If you want to use idiom or slang, think carefully first. What might work for a local market might be misunderstood globally. It might even cause offense. Should you run that risk?
Sometimes we feel we have mastered a language when we know how to use its idiom. It might, however, be a really unhelpful barrier to understanding for others for whom that language is their second or third one.
Focus on your readers
- Be valuable to your valued readers and use words that are relevant to them
- Be aware of differing personalities’ and cultural expectations
- Write from your readers’ perspectives as well as your own
When we talk about understanding cultures, we are often referring to a set of customs, traditions, values and conventions that are specific to a particular group. Naturally, where there are humans, there are differences in the way any one culture is practiced, expressed and reflected. It’s the same with business organizations.
So, for example, you might seriously embarrass someone from China or Japan by putting them in a position where you ask them to answer yes or no on behalf of their organization. The concept of empowerment is not global. It sits well with many cultures but not all.
The common usage of English doesn’t mean automatic understanding or tolerance of individual foibles! In fact, whether you speak English as a first, second or even third language, the new global and digital economy means “getting it right” for your readers, has never been more important for you – “brand you,” we could say – and your organizational brand. Native English speakers can no longer think the language “belongs to them.” Alongside ESL speakers, they actually face challenges too when using global business English. In the digital age, nobody “owns” English outright. It belongs to us all!
Fiona Talbot runs TQI Word Power Skills, a Business Writing Skills consulting company. She delivers training/remote coaching at all levels in all sizes of business. She is the co-author of Improve Your Global Business English as well as the Better Business English series, both published by Kogan Page.