FAQs on the Rules of Business Writing By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

FAQs on the Rules
of Business Writing
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston
If you are quarreling about such
questions (if only with yourself), take a
break. Here are the answers to a variety
of troublesome frequently asked
questions (FAQs).
However, / In addition, we still hope to sign
a contract.
Nevertheless, / Furthermore, we still hope to
sign a contract.
Question 3. Isn’t it unacceptable to start a
sentence with the word because?
Answer: It is fine to start a sentence with because.
Because we appreciate our relationship with
you, I want to personally explain a change in
our delivery policy.
Writing teachers often forbid students from starting
sentences with because in order to teach them to
avoid sentence fragments like the one below.
Question 1. Is it acceptable to end a
sentence with a preposition?
Answer: Yes, ending a sentence with a preposition
is correct, but ending a sentence without one sounds
more formal. Choose the tone that is suitable for
your situation.
In offices across the globe, writers spend
time and energy disputing business writing
standards. One person says, “You can’t
start a sentence with but or and!” Another
responds, “But why not? And who says?”
Examples ending with a preposition:
That is something we had not thought of.
Where is this catalog from?
Type the name you want to search for.
Examples with a more formal tone:
That is something we had not considered.
Which company produces this catalog?
Type the name for which you want to search.
Question 2. Is it acceptable to start a
sentence with and or but?
Answer: It is perfectly acceptable to begin a
sentence with and or but. However, other words
sound more formal. If formality is your goal,
choose formal language.
But / And we still hope to sign a contract.
© 2009 Syntax Training. All rights reserved.
I was not able to complete the assignment.
Because the anthropologist did not return my
phone call.
Question 4. Should one space or two come
after a colon and after end punctuation
such as a period?
Answer: Just one space comes after a colon and
after end punctuation. However, in rare situations
where one space seems too small (for example, with
italic type), it is wise to insert an additional space.
Question 5. Is it clumsy to begin a sentence
with “There is” or “There are”?
Answer: There are many fine reasons to begin a
sentence with these words, and this sentence is an
example. Although people who majored in
journalism have been taught to cut right to the true
subject and verb, at times “there is” and “there are”
fit perfectly. Each of these sentences has its place:
There is an interview scheduled at 3 p.m.
An interview will take place at 3 p.m.
An interview has been scheduled at 3 p.m.
www.syntaxtraining.com | 1
I am writing to express my deep sympathy . . . .
I am writing to inform you of a change in . . . .
Here is a place to drop the expression:
I am writing to Thank you for your generous
Question 7. Is it wrong to use I and we in
the same message? It seems inconsistent.
Answer: While it may be confusing to use I and we
in the same sentence, it is fine to include both
pronouns in one message, even in the same
paragraph. Examples:
Dear Mr. Cho:
Dear Hiring Manager:
Question 11. Do I have to use “Dear” in
Answer: If you are sending email in place of a
formal business letter to someone outside your
organization, use the same greeting you would use
in a business letter, that is, “Dear.”
For messages within your company (and for
friendly messages to the outside world), address the
reader politely in the first sentence, like this:
Lee, here are the reports.
I was very pleased to get your message. We
are delighted you have accepted our offer.
Or use one of these ways, with the message
following beneath:
We are looking forward to working with you
on the project. I will phone you next week to
plan our first meeting.
Question 10. Do I have to begin a business
letter with “Dear”?
Answer: Yes. If you use a person’s name or title in
a greeting, you must use “Dear” before it. As a
letter opener, “Dear” is not an expression of
affection; it’s a business custom.
Question 6. Is it bad form to begin a
message “I am writing to”? Isn’t it obvious?
Answer: It isn’t bad form. Although sometimes “I
am writing to” is unnecessary baggage, at other
times it allows us to ease into the subject:
When you are speaking for yourself, use I. When
you speak for the team or the company, use we.
Question 8. Is it true that one should never
start a sentence with I?
Answer: Not true! It is perfectly acceptable to start
a sentence with I. However, as with all good
writing, it is inelegant to start sentence after
sentence with the same word.
In much scientific writing, personal pronouns (I,
we, they, you, etc.) are avoided. Check the style
guide used by your editor or readers.
Question 9. Is it okay to have a paragraph
with just one sentence?
Answer: Yes, despite the common three-sentence
requirements of composition teachers, one-sentence
paragraphs are effective in business writing. In fact,
they are the best choice for action items and other
content that must stand out.
Lee, Lee: Hi, Lee, Hello, Lee, Dear Lee,
Question 12. Are contractions acceptable?
Answer: Yes, it’s acceptable to use contractions
such as it’s, didn’t, and don’t. However, they are
considered slightly informal, so avoid them in
formal documents. And as with any language
choice, avoid choosing them constantly.
Question 13. What if my supervisor
disagrees with these answers?
Answer: The goal in business writing is to
communicate with your reader. Your supervisor is
one of your readers. If he or she dislikes the word
but as a sentence opener, avoid using it. But why
not bring out an excellent reference manual, and try
to do some supervisor development?
When questions arise, consult a current, respected
style manual. For recommendations with brief
descriptions, visit the Syntax Training website at
Do not copy, reprint, or distribute this material without written permission.
www.syntaxtraining.com | 2