When speaking or writing we are trying to put our thoughts into words. Without words we cannot think, and as we enlarge our vocabulary we improve our ability to express our thoughts. We speak and write so that we can tell others what we think, but if we use words incorrectly, or use words our readers do not understand, we shall be misunderstood. So we must take an interest in words, choose those we expect our readers to know, and try to use them correctly.
English is used as an international language for communication in business and commerce. Indeed, in multinational companies it is difficult to draw the line between external communication (by letter or e-mail) and internal communication (by memorandum or e-mail). In business correspondence the writer and the receiver may both be using English as a first language, or English may make communication possible when for one or both it is a second language. Whether your readers use English as a first or second language they are most likely to understand plain words in carefully constructed sentences. In business, therefore, try to express your thoughts as clearly and simply as you can (see Figure 5.1), and if you have a choice in the spelling of a word, or in the use of hyphens or capital letters, try to be consistent throughout any document.
There is no special business English (see Tables 3.3 and 3.4), but communication in business should normally be in standard current English. That is to say, unless you are writing to a close friend (see Sam Weller’s letter on page 35), avoid colloquial language and slang.
Standard English is the language used by educated English-speaking people.
Colloquial English is the language used in conversation and in writing to a close friend, including such contractions as don’t (for do not), it’s (for it is or it has), won’t (for will not), and who’s (for who is or who has).