Don Nishio, CPA
I am a native English speaker and have been writing business English for 40 years. Over that time, I have learned that it is important to write clearly and concisely in order to convey my message as efficiently as possible.
I am an accountant and I write often to clients and to the Canadian tax authority (“CRA”) regarding various accounting and tax matters. It is important that my clients understand what I am saying and more importantly, it is important the CRA quickly understands the message that I wish to convey on behalf of my clients. I have been told that my writing is very easy to understand and I feel that I am successful in expressing my ideas, concerns and comments to clients and CRA.
I am not an author and I do not write for pleasure or for personal gratification. I write to accomplish a specific task. Business English is very different from English literature or prose. Business English is not meant to entertain, is not eloquent and is not “flowery”.
Sometimes inexperienced or insecure writers use long, convoluted sentences to try to impress the reader. They wish to try to show that they studied English literature and are “good” writers. But such convoluted writing actually shows that the writer does not understand good Business English.
In order to minimize misunderstandings and confusion and avoid wasting time, I have the following philosophies:
- Sentences should be short and clear.
- Use as few words as possible to convey the important idea(s). Readers lose interest and focus if the article or memo or letter is too long.
- Use the simple “Subject / Verb / Object” format.
- Avoid “run-on” sentences. It is easier to understand if sentences are broken up into separate thoughts and ideas.
- Whenever possible, use point form. It is much easier for the eye to catch important issues in point form than in sentence form.
- Ideas should be stated once and not repeated. Every sentence is important. Repeating sentences diminishes the importance of all other sentences.
- If a sentence is not important, it should not be included.
- Clearly identify the parties by using the person’s name or company name, rather than “he”, “she”, or “they”. Examples of bad and good:
– Bad – He asked Hiro to give his book to Taro as soon as he finished reading it.
– Good – John asked Hiro to give John’s book to Taro as soon as Hiro finished reading it.
- Read and re-read your draft two or three times, trying to improve the wording each time.
- If the topic is sensitive or controversial, wait a day, and re-read before you send it.
- Always use “spellcheck” and “grammar check” in your word processing software.
- Whenever possible, have someone else read your draft before you send it.
As two examples of bad and good writing, please refer to the following:
It could be argued that this dining expense is not for business purposes, but the client is of the opinion that, while CRA may have an argument that the dinner was mainly for pleasure as it was at a golf club, he feels that important business matters were also discussed during the dinner, during which they discussed planning for a future business venture for wharf construction which may lead to work for the Company if they are successful in the future in obtaining contracts from the dinner guest and also the company has a lot of experience in this area. Since there is future potential business, the owner of the company feels that he should be able to get a tax deduction for the expense under investigation by CRA, and CRA should be more understanding of the work that owners of small companies have to do to get new business. It is not the Company’s fault that, unfortunately, the wharf project did not proceed because it was felt that it was economically unviable, and therefore, in the end, there was no opportunity for the Company to bid on the construction contract, even though they wanted to.
The dinner expense was an allowable business expense for the following reasons:
- The parties discussed a possible future project for wharf construction in Vancouver harbor.
- The company asked for the opportunity to bid on that project.
- Because of their experience, the Company felt that they had a good chance to win this project, if it proceeds.
- The reason that the Company did not get a contract is because the project did not proceed. This was not known at the time of the dinner meeting.