We all have unconscious habits. I learned about one of mine when I was visiting an elderly relative and she asked me, both of us standing in the kitchen, “Don’t you ever close a drawer all the way?” I was confused–until I looked around the room and saw several drawers open about two inches. They were all drawers I had “closed.”
That was last year. I still leave drawers open a bit sometimes, but now I notice them open, and then I close them all the way.
Do you have any unconscious habits in your business writing? Last week in a business writing seminar for people in the shipping industry, I noticed an unconscious habit among attendees: “Please advise.”
They used “Please advise” in their opening sentences, their closing sentences, and sometimes in the middle, like this:
Please advise of shipping status.
Please advise what happened with the delivery.
If you have any questions or concerns, please advise.
This use of “please advise” is a habit. It’s like my leaving the kitchen drawers open–not a terrible, serious problem. But it does get in the way of a clear, efficient message.
One of the problems with “Please advise” is that advise is a transitive verb, that is, it must have an object. Someone must be advised. For example, I can write, “The doctor advised me about taking supplements” or “I advised him to eliminate the angry tone in his writing.”
Some usage experts accept advise in place of inform or tell. Others use advise only in situations that involve advice (as in the doctor’s advice on supplements and my advice on eliminating the angry tone). I prefer that limited use.
Here are revisions of the “Please advise” examples above:
What is the shipping status? [or]
Please inform us of the shipping status.
Please tell me [us] what happened with the delivery. [or] Please let me know what happened with the delivery.
If you have any questions or concerns, please let me [us] know.
If using “Please advise” is a standard practice in your industry, then improve upon it. For example, “Please advise of shipping status” may seem perfect in your office, but it reads like an old telegram, in which each word cost money. These days, with no additional cost you can add us or me and have a clear, complete sentence: “Please advise us of the shipping status.”
It’s time to break those old, unconscious habits. Since my elderly relative “advised” me of my habit, I see those open drawers, and I close them. Look for your “Please advise” or other habitual expressions, and get rid of them.