Language is the vehicle of thought. It is almost the sole and most reliable means of communicating thoughts and feelings.
There are others, of course. It is possible to communicate pleasure by a smile, an approval by a nod, a direction by a sketch and pain by a groan. The deaf have also evolved a complete sign language of their own. Even so, in its spoken and written forms, language remains by far the commonest means of communication.
With that being said, the term, Business English, is wide; according to the Oxford Business English Dictionary, it covers areas, such as accounting, (e-)commerce, economics, finance, HR, insurance, IT, law, manufacturing, marketing, production, property, the stock exchange, (international) trade and transport. Business English is associated with the skills people need to perform well at writing e-mails and reports, making presentations, conducting negotiations, using the telephone, attending and participating actively in meetings or telephone conferences, receiving visitors, et cetera. It is an aspect of a broader field called English for Specific Purposes (ESP).
In mastering Business English, it is essential to acquire relevant vocabulary which facilitates effective communication that determines the success or growth of a business, a venture or an organisation. By inference, people have to learn the terminologies of business and economics.
It is noteworthy that business units or companies are constantly in need of employees with strong communication skills. As such, business communication covers a wide range of verbal and written communication represented in two main categories: ‘vocabulary’ and ‘functional language’.
Vocabulary involves the mastery of the necessary terms used in the business field. You cannot convey a clear picture if you do not have clear words. As a first step, I will make a list of some important lexical items in Business English. The readership should endeavour to look up the ones they are not familiar with, to deepen their vocabulary.
Acquisition, goods, merchandise, restructure, agenda, growth, merger, risk, brand, incentive, niche, segment, commodity, industry, output, services, correction, inventory, projection, target.
NOUNS RELATING TO PEOPLE
Agent, competitor, franchisee, representative, associate, creditor, labour force, retailer, board member, director, manager, shareholder, board of directors, employee, partner, speculator, chairperson, employer.
NOUNS RELATING TO MONEY
Account, interest, outlay, salary, balance, investment, payroll, securities, borrowing, invoice, purchase, speculation, budget, margin, quotation, takeover, capital.
EFFECTIVE VERBS IN BUSINESS ENGLISH
It is essential to use verbs that precisely capture situations. For instance, would you, as a business partner, prefer to read sentence 1 or sentence 2?
1. People should have good communication skills.
2. People should communicate effectively.
Everyone will prefer the second option. It is, therefore, important to use precise and measurable verbs. Some of such verbs in business communication are: advertise, develop, invest, recruit, allocate, distribute, invoice, refund, authorise, diversify, maintain, report, calculate, employ, manage, respond, compete, establish, negotiate, run, control, estimate, produce, streamline, delegate, fund, promote, supply, deliver, improve, purchase, target.
This segment will concentrate on effective language use in business writing.
In business writing, it is equally essential to choose simple words. One of the main faults in present-day letter writing is the tendency to prefer what is complicated and roundabout to what is simple and direct. For context, instead of:
We shall be in a position to effect delivery.
Say: We shall be able to deliver.
Instead of: Have you decided on the installation of the machine?
Say: Have you decided to install the machine?
Furthermore, use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Using adjectives and adverbs helps one’s writing, but the excessive use of these word classes does not make for originality.
For instance, a thing that is ‘right’ is not more correct when it is portrayed as ‘dight’, and a delay is not ‘more prolonged’ merely because it is said to be ‘undue’. Do not use adjectives and adverbs unless they make vital contributions to the messages conveyed.
Again, note that adjectives which denote ‘kind’ are more relevant to business writing than adjectives that denote ‘degree’. Hence, it is more meaningful to talk about a ‘social problem’ than a ‘real problem’, an ‘unexpected danger’ than a ‘substantial danger’, and a ‘train disaster’ than a ‘major disaster’.
The degree adjectives are not necessarily inappropriate, but people often use them when it would be better to leave them out.
This also applies to adverbs. While it is meaningful to use adverbs, such as EXACTLY 3 p.m. and COMPLETELY puzzled, adverbs such as RELATIVELY few, COMPARATIVELY soon, SOMEWHAT rare, and UNDULY prolonged are not necessary.
What is more, avoid abstract nouns. TA business letter aims to convey an idea and, for that reason, one must avoid the use of abstract words which do not make for clarity:
Instead of: Rules have been made for the avoidance and settlement of disputes.
Say: Rules have been made to avoid and settle disputes.
Instead of: Achievement of the results looking for will not be possible without the cooperation of the staff.
Say: The expected results will not be achieved without the cooperation of the staff.
Instead of: Application of the new salary scales has caused disappointment.
Say: The new salary scales have caused disappointment.
The language of business writing is expectedly short, catchy and concise. It is, thus, crucial to avoid verbosity when using language for business purposes.
© 2021 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose
Department of English,
Lagos State University