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My Best Tip for ESL Writers

I often get email from managers around the world. They ask for ideas on how to become more proficient in business writing in English, a foreign language to them.

I am honored that they ask my advice, and I am pleased to share my best suggestion for writers of English as a second, third, or fourth language:

My best tip: Include only one idea per sentence.

Of the international messages I receive, nearly all contain sentences that go on and on. Such streaming sentences offer pitfalls for everyone, especially readers, who become lost or mesmerized. Here is a disguised example:

I am working as an executive in Jordan, the communication with our customers are in English, therefore I have to send e-mail, letters, etc., you know, but the problem is I want to learn more how to write, I feel that I am very bad in writing, so I need your help in this, how can I develop myself, I learn from your site but I need more if possible, thanks in advance for your help, I look forward to hearing from you.

With one idea in each clear, concise sentence, the message might read like this:

I work as an executive in Jordan. The communication with our customers–e-mail, letters, etc.–is in English. The problem is that I am very bad in writing. I want to learn how to write better, and I need your help in this. Although I learn from your site, I need more if possible. How can I develop myself?

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your help.

I did include more than one idea in two sentences so the message would not sound choppy. But they were closely related ideas.

If you are a native-English writer, here is a tip for you: Include only one idea per sentence. Yes, good business writing in English is the same all over the world!

For six practical suggestions on sentence structure, subscribe to my free newsletter, Better Writing at Work. The main article in the current issue (until the middle of August) is "Six Steps to Powerful Sentences."

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

One comment on “My Best Tip for ESL Writers”

  • Help! I was asked by a potential employer to send a sample of my writing. I made a draft and then made the final letter to be sent. I accidentally sent the draft with errors not the final letter to the employer a few days ago. I have not contacted them regarding the error because I didn’t want them to think I am careless. I really want to contact them and let them know I am not an idiot and I do know how to write a letter but now I fear it is too late. Does anyone have anyone quick advice on how to proceed?

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