Courtesy (3)

BUSINESS CORRESPONDENCE

One of the first things I say to my participants in our writing skills workshop it that their business correspondence is like a business card. In other words, what you write is a). a permanent record and b). reflects the company’s image.

Here in the Netherlands, the Dutch really make an effort to accommodate their non-Dutch speaking clients by corresponding in English (or other languages). I can assure you, this wouldn’t happen in the UK, Australia or any other English speaking country, with the exception of parts of the US which cater for a large Spanish speaking population.

However, the Dutch are prone to some pretty standard mistakes which I thought would be handy to share (a few – as there are many) so that you can avoid. The majority of these mistakes are either due to direct translation or applying Dutch rules to English.

1. SALUTATIONS, CLOSES AND PUNCTUATION
Many of the rules surrounding layout and punctuation have been simplified in UK English. Did you know that:

  • We no longer use a full stop (.) after titles such as Mr, Mrs etc.
  • Most women in business prefer to be addressed by the neutral title ‘Ms’
  • We no longer use commas after the salutation (Dear Jane) or closing line (Best regards)
  • We no longer use ordinal numbers (e.g. 1st, 2nd, 3rd) when writing the date, but instead just write (10 September 2014)

NB: these rules do not apply to US English – with the exception of ‘Ms’.

 2. ”YOU SHOULD NOT BEGIN A SENTENCE WITH ‘I’”
Although I believe this rule is ‘dying a death’ in the Netherlands, it still crops up in most of the writing skills courses I give. In English, there is absolutely no problem beginning a sentence with I or we. So avoid stilted sentences such as:

  • Herewith (OR hereby) I send you …
  • With this letter I will outline the main points of the proposal.

And instead write:

  • I am sending you ..
  • I would like to outline the main points of the proposal.

3. CONSISTENCY
Particularly Dutch legal writers are prone to a mix of styles i.e. formal and informal. Be aware that modern English avoids use of archaic words such as hereinafter, henceforth, notwithstanding etc. At the same time, if you are writing a formal email or letter, you should avoid words such as ‘like’ when giving examples (use ‘such as’ instead), ‘as well’ when adding information (use ‘also’ or ‘additionally’ instead) or ‘since’ when giving a reason (use ‘as’ or ‘because’ instead). The style of your email or letter should be consistent in terms of your choice of vocabulary (formal or informal?) and UK or US English. Remember, there are a number of differences between UK and US spelling such as:

  • US          analyze, center, flavor, program
  • UK          analyse, centre, flavour, programme

4. ABBREVIATIONS
A last point regarding achieving a consistent style is your use of abbreviations: it’s usually only the Latin based abbreviations that are acceptable in formal writing. The most common are:

  • e.g.                        for example
  • i.e.                         that is OR in other words
  • etc.                        etcetera

Abbreviations such as FYI, ASAP are really only appropriate in informal correspondence.

So, a few tips to help you on your way. Happy writing!

4 thoughts on “Courtesy (3)

  1. Just a short remark. The first sentence of the third paragraph reads: “However, the Dutch are prone to some pretty standard mistakes which I thought would be handy to share (a few – as there are many) so that you can avoid.”

    I would be tempted to add “them” or “these” after the word “avoid”, thus referring back to avoiding “standard mistakes”. Is that incorrect or unnecessary?

    1. Nicola Courtney: “Well, I purposely wrote this in a light-hearted, informal style e.g. some pretty standard etc. Informal writing style often omits words – but were this a formal document, yes, you would add an object pronoun”.

      Met andere woorden: normaalgesproken heb je gelijk, alleen was het geheel in een informele, luchtige stijl geschreven waar die soort dingen kunnen. Zo zie je maar weer… niet voor niets dat Nederlanders (of eigenlijk alle niet-moedertaalsprekers als ze in een andere-dan-hun-moedertaal moeten schrijven) moeite hebben met de juiste toon…

  2. Beste Suzanne,
    Grappig dat je schrijft: “I would love to read more about these kind of mistakes, as there are many”. Komen we vaker tegen in onze trainingen en is juist één van die dingen waar niemand uit schijnt te komen… Lees:

    These kind of questions or these kinds of questions?
    A correspondent asked me whether it is ok to say ‘these kind of questions’. The usual advice given regarding sentences such as these is that they are ungrammatical, and it would be better to say ‘this kind of question’, making everything singular, or ‘these kinds of questions’, making everything plural. However, the ‘these kind of’ structure is very common in speech, and there are as many examples of ‘these kind of’ as there are of ‘these kinds of’ in the British National Corpus. The OED tells us that the phrases ‘all kind of” and ‘no kind of’ were once treated more or less as adjectives, and since adjectives don’t inflect in English, the ‘kind’ in these expressions never varied, even when followed by a plural noun. Shakespeare, for instance, writes in King Lear “These kind of knaves I know”. And Jane Austen wrote in Sense and Sensibility “I know so little of these kind of forms …”. ‘Kind’ is related to the word ‘kin’, and since ‘kin’ has no plural, or, rather, it is already a sort of collective noun, so ‘kind’ was considered plural in meaning too. I’ve found one citation containing ‘kinds’ in the plural in Johnson’s Dictionary; it’s “Thus far we have endeavoured in part to open of what nature and force laws are, according to their kinds” from Richard Hooker, who was writing in the late 16th century, but it wasn’t used much before this, as far as I can ascertain.
    My advice is to stick to the ‘these kinds of questions’ structure, but don’t worry too much if you say ‘these kind of’ — you’re in good company!

    Maar voor degenen die “modern gebruik” als leidend principe volgen: Professor Google vertelt ons rap:
    1. this kind of thing: 136,000,000 hits
    2. these kinds of things: 24,900,000
    3. this kind of things: 10,900,000
    4. these kinds of thing: 1,960,000
    5. these kind of things: te weinig om te tellen…

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