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Adapting Your Business Writing for Global English

Part of the Business Writing For Dummies Cheat Sheet (UK Edition)

Most readers who speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language do so in the same basic way. Here are some guidelines to use when creating your message to ensure it is understood by your international audience:

  • Use short, simple, basic sentences. Avoid multi-clause structures.

  • Keep paragraphs short so there is plenty of breathing space between them. Dense pages look difficult to read.

  • Avoid contractions. For example, write do not rather than don’t.

  • Keep to short basic words, but bear in mind that many short words in English have multiple meanings and may be used as nouns as well as verbs. Run, for example, can be either. Look has a number of meanings.

  • Omit idioms, slang and colloquialisms that overseas readers are unlikely to understand. These words and phrases are rampant in written and spoken English, so develop an awareness of those you tend to use and find substitute wording.

  • Avoid most metaphors, especially those based on sports that other countries don’t understand and don’t find interesting - for example, baseball and cricket.

  • Avoid passive tense and indirect phrasing as much as possible. ‘Our legal office prepared the contract’ is better than ‘The contract has been prepared by our legal office.’

  • Minimize ‘stately’ words such as those that end in ‘ion and ‘ment, which produce awkward wordy constructions. For example, ‘The accomplishment of the building’s construction is planned for June’ is better said as, ‘We plan to finish the building in June.’

  • Don’t abbreviate words, including abbreviations borrowed from texting. Readers may not understand or like them.

  • Don’t use buzzwords and intra-company or industry insider acronyms and language.

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