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.
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
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!