Communication: Fundamentals for the Workplace

Communication: Fundamentals for the Workplace

Jordan Smith and NSCC

Tom Bartsiokas, Robin Potter, and Tricia Hylton


Nova Scotia



About the Book


Communication: Fundamentals for the Workplace is a remixed, adapted version of the Seneca College edition of Communication @ Work licenced under a CC BY licence. Adapted for Seneca College by Tom Bartsiokas, Robin Potter, and Tricia Hylton from A College-to-Career Guide to Success (2019) Partially Adapted from Business Communication for Success (2015).


Welcome to your new communications textbook! Now, you may be feeling like communication classes should be behind you since you graduated from high school, but don’t worry. This is different. When you take a Communication course in college, it’s all about preparing you for the real, everyday tasks of writing and speaking in your chosen profession rather than reading literature and writing essays. Ask any professional in your field, and they’ll set you straight on the enormous importance of practical communication in the work they do. In fact, they’ll assure you that you won’t get far without workplace communication skills enabling you to apply the technical skills you’re learning in your other courses. Trust those professionals—they know what they’re talking about. You may not fully appreciate it yet, but you really need this guide to help develop those vital communication skills now and in the years ahead as you grow professionally.

A Note on Style

Whereas most commercial textbooks on communications maintain a high level of formality, this open textbook relaxes that a little to include contractions, colourful expressions, liberal use of “they” (rather than “he or she”) as a singular pronoun, and other characteristics of semi-formal or casual business writing. The idea is to model the style of a common email between work colleagues, which imitates a conversational business style of writing while still being grammatically correct. Notice in the previous sentence and section, for instance, that “email” and “internet” appear instead of the more formal, old-fashioned “e-mail” and “Internet” often used in other textbooks. For this, we take our cue from style guides in leading tech publications and international news organizations that trend towards lower casing and de-branding the terms.

Martin, K. C. (2016, April 5). Should you capitalize the word Internet? Retrieved from


Chapter 1: Professional Communications


If there’s a shorthand reason for why you need communication skills to complement your technical skills, it’s that you don’t get paid without them. You need communication and “soft” skills to get work and keep working so that people continue to want to employ you to apply your core technical skills. A diverse skill set that includes communication is really the key to survival in the modern workforce, and hiring trends bear this out.

In its Employability Skills 2000+, the Conference Board of Canada lists “the skills you need to enter, stay in, and progress” in the 21st century workplace. The first category listed is communication skills, specifically how to:

In other words, the quality of your communication skills in dealing with the various audiences that surround you in your workplace are the best predictors of professional success.

1.1 Communicating in the Digital Age

Learning Objectives

target icon  After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • distinguish between personal and professional uses of communication technologies in ways that ensure career success and personal health


Honestly, how many texts or instant messages do you send in a day? How many emails? Do you prefer communicating by text, instant message app (e.g., SnapChat), or generally online instead of face-to-face in person with businesses? If you’re an average millennial sending out and receiving more than the 2013 average of 128 texts per day (Burke, 2016), that’s a lot of reading and responding quickly in writing—so much more than people your age were doing 20 years ago. Even if just for social reasons, you are probably writing more than most people in your demographic have at any point in human history. This is mostly an advantage because it gives you a baseline comfort with the writing process, even if the quality of that writing probably isn’t quite where it should be if you were doing it for professional reasons.

Where being overly comfortable with texting becomes a disadvantage, however, is when it is used as a way of avoiding the in-person, face-to-face communication that is vital to the routine functioning of any organization. As uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, especially for teens in their “awkward years,” developing conversational skills throughout that decade is hugely important by the time they enter a workforce mostly populated by older generations that grew up without smartphones, developed those advanced conversational skills the hard way by making mistakes and learning from them, and expect well-developed conversational skills of younger generations entering the workforce. Though plenty of business is done online these days, there really is no good substitute for face-to-face interaction.

According to Twilio’s 2016 consumer report on messaging, however, the most preferred channel for customer service among 18-24 year olds (said 31% of respondents) is by text or instant messaging, followed closely by email (p. 8). Face-to-face interaction, however, is preferred by only 6% of respondents.

Chart showing preferred communication media by age group

Messaging Email Telephone Face to Face Other Web Live Chat Mail
18-24 years  31%  29%  23%  6%  4%  4%  2%
25-34 years  32%  32%  21%  4%  5%  5%  2%
35-44 years  31%  30%  26%  4%  4%  4%  1%
45 – 54 years  24%  31%  32%  5%  2%  5%  2%
55+ years  24%  33%  30%  8%  1%  2%  1%

Figure 1.1.1: Preferred customer service channel by age group (Twilio, 2016)

Customer service aside, face-to-face interactions are still vitally important to the functioning of any organization. In a study on the effectiveness of in-person requests for donations versus requests by email, for instance, the in-person approach was found to be 34 times more successful (Bohns, 2017). We instinctively value human over machine interaction in many (but not all) situations we find ourselves. Though some jobs like nurse or therapist simply cannot function without in-person interaction and would be the last to be automated (if ever), most others will involve a mix of written and face-to-face communication.

Our responsibility in handling that mix requires that we become competent in the use of a variety of devices that bring us a competitive advantage in our work (see Table 1 below). By working in the cloud with our smartphones and laptop, desktop, or tablet devices, for instance, we can collaborate with individuals or teams anywhere and anytime, as well as secure our work in ways we couldn’t when files were tied to specific devices. Through the years, new technology trends will offer up new advantages with new devices that we will have to master to stay competitive.

Those advantages are double-edged swords, however, so it is important that we manage the risks associated with them. With so much mobile technology enabling us to communicate and work on the go, from home, or anywhere in the world with a wi-fi connection, we are expected to be always available to work, to always be “on”—even after hours, on weekends, and on vacation—lest we lose a client to someone else who is available at those times.  Add to that the psychological and physiological impacts of adults averaging 8.8 hours of screen time per day (Dunckley, 2014; Twenge, 2017; Nielsen, 2016, p. 4), and it’s no wonder that problematic technology use, including screen addiction, is a growing concern among both health and technology experts (Phillips, 2015). Beyond being an effective communicator and professional in general, just being an effective person—in the sense of being physically and mentally healthy—requires knowing when not to use technology.

But in the workplace, especially if it’s a traditional office environment, we must be savvy in knowing which technology to use rather than always reaching for our smartphones. The modern office offers up a variety of tools that increase productivity and raise the bar on the quality and appearance of the work we do. You must be competent in the use of the latest in presentation technology, voice and video conferencing, company intranets, multifunctional printers, and so on. Even using the latest industry-wide software and social media apps ensures that your communication looks and functions on-point rather than in an antiquated way that makes you look like you stopped trying six years ago.

All such technology will change rapidly in our lifetimes, some will disappear completely, and new devices and software will emerge and either dominate or also disappear. So long as others are using the dominant technology for an advantage in your type of business, then it’s on you to use them also to avoid falling behind and getting stuck on obsolete technology that fewer and fewer people use. Depending on how successful you’re driven to be, you would be wise to even get ahead of the curve by adopting emerging technology early.  Review the following video for an overview of how technology and other trends are shaping the workplace of the future.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Key Takeaway

key iconUse an array of dominant communications technology to maintain a competitive advantage, and know when to put it all away in favour of in-person communication.


pen and paper icon1. Keep a daily journal recording the length of time you spend using various screen devices such as your smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, TV, etc. Also record the amount of time you use these for school-related activities, social networking activities, entertainment (which you can further break down into passive viewing, such as watching Netflix and YouTube videos, and interactive use such as gaming). What conclusions can you draw from quantifying your screen time? Are your habits consistent each day or throughout the week? Explain what benefit you derive from these activities and how they might help and hinder your professional development.

2. Record how many texts or instant messages you send and receive per day over the course of a week. Count how many you sent because you had good reason to do so by text (as opposed to a phone call), such as to reply in the same channel you received a message or to send a message quietly so as to avoid disturbing others around you (e.g., in-class or late at night). Identify how many messages you could have exchanged merely by calling the person up and having a quick back-and-forth or waiting to talk to them in person. What conclusions can you draw from quantifying your messaging habits?

3. Research what future technology might revolutionize the work you’re training to do. Bearing in mind the job description on the Government of Canada’s Job Bank “Explore Careers by Essential Skills” page, what tasks identified there can be automated? What will still be done by you because it involves the human element that can’t be automated?


Bohns, V. K. (2017, April 11). A face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Dunckley, V. L. (2014, February 27). Gray matters: Too much screen time damages the brain. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Morgan, J. (2016). The 5 trends shaping the future of work [Video file]. Retrieved from

Nielsen. (2016). The Nielsen Total Audience Report. Retrieved from

Phillips, B. (2015). Problematic technology use: The impact of capital enhancing activity. Association for Information Systems Electronic Library. Retrieved from

Twenge, J. M. (2017, September). Have smartphones destroyed a generation? The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Twilio. (2016). Understand how consumers use messaging: Global mobile messaging consumer report 2016. Retrieved from

1.2 The Communication Process

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

        • illustrate the 5 step communication process
        • explain the end goal of communication
        • explain barriers to clear communication


Pre-Learning Quiz

Dr. Guffey’s Listening Quiz

How good are you at listening? This interactive quiz enables you to quickly compare your own listening behaviours with behaviours normally thought to be associated with exceptionally good listening skills


Good communication skills are essential to effective business communications.  At its core, the aim of communication is to transmit information from one person to another so that the sender and receiver understand the message in the same way. The responsibility for clear communication usually falls on the sender. But the receiver is also responsible to confirm a clear understanding of the message. Communication is a dynamic and cyclical process.

Breaking down the communication cycle into its parts is helpful to understand the responsibilities of both the sender and receiver of communication, as well as to identify communication barriers.

The 5 Step Communication Process

Two silhouetted heads talking with identical brain patterns and labelling showing how a message is encoded by one, sent to and decoded and interpreted by the other, who then encodes a feedback message that is decoded and interpreted by the first speaker.
Figure 2.1: The Osgood-Schramm model of communication. Sources: Kisspng, 2018; Web Editor 4, 2017

Step 1: Idea Formation  –  The communication process begins when the sender has an idea to be communicated.  The idea will be influenced by complex factors surrounding the sender.  The sender must begin by clarifying the idea and purpose.  What exactly does the sender want to achieve?  How is the message likely to be perceived?  Knowing this information provides a higher chance of successful communication

Step 2: Message Encoding –  The idea must be encoded into words, symbols, and gestures that will convey meaning.  Because no two people interpret information in the exact same way, the sender must be careful to choose words, symbols and gestures that are commonly understood to reduce the chances of misunderstanding.  Therefore, a sender must be aware of the receiver’s communication skills, attitudes, skills, experiences, and culture to ensure clear communication.

Step 3: Message Transmission: Choosing the medium to transmit the message is the next step in the communication process.  Messages can be transmitted in a verbal, written, or visual manner (see Table 1).  For clear communication to occur, the medium and message must match

Table 1.2.1: Message Transmission Mediums

Verbal Written Visual
In-person speech Email Drawings, paintings
Phone conversation Text, instant message Photos, graphic designs
Voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) Report, article, essay Body language (e.g., eye contact, hand gestures)
Radio Letter Graphs
Podcast Memo Font types
Voicemail message Blog Semaphore
Intercom Tweet Architecture

Step 4: Decoding – When the message reaches the receiver, the message must be decoded into its intended meaning.  Therefore, the receiver must translate the words, symbols, and gestures as the sender intended. Because no two people interpret information in the exact same way, incorrectly decoding a message can lead to misunderstanding.  Successful decoding is more likely when the receiver creates a receptive environment and ignores distractions.  Alert receivers strive to understand both verbal and nonverbal cues, avoid prejudging the message, and expect to learn from the communication.

Step 5: Feedback – A vital part of the communication process is feedback.  Feedback occurs the sender and receiver check to ensure the message was understood as intended.  Feedback is a shared responsibility between the sender and the receiver and can be verbal or non-verbal.  For example, the sender can elicit feedback by asking, “Do you have any questions?” The sender can also improve the feedback process by only providing as much information as the receiver can handle.  Receivers can encourage clear communication by providing clear, timely, descriptive, and non-judgmental feedback.  For example, the receiver can shake his/her head up and down to confirm “yes” I have a question.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

As you can see, this whole process is easier done than said because you encode incredible masses of data to transmit to others all day long in multiple channels, often at once, and are likewise bombarded with a constant multi-channel stream of information in each of the five senses that you decode without being even consciously aware of this complex process. You just do it. Even when you merely talk to someone in person, you’re communicating not just the words you’re voicing, but also through your tone of voice, volume, speed, facial expressions, eye contact, posture, hand movements, style of dress, etc. All such channels convey information besides the words themselves, which, if they were extracted into a transcript of words on a page or screen, communicate relatively little.

In professional situations, especially in important ones such as job interviews or meetings with clients where your success depends entirely on how well you communicate across the verb

and the nonverbal channels, it’s extremely important that you be in complete control of the communication process in order to present yourself as a detail-oriented pro—one that can be trusted to get the job done perfectly.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Key Takeaway

key icon

      • As a cyclical exchange of messages, the goal of communication is to ensure that you’ve moved an idea in your head into someone else’s head so that they understand your idea as you understood it.
      • The communication process has five steps: idea formation, encoding, channel selection, decoding and feedback.
      • Anything that interferes with clear communication is called noise.
      • Noise can interfere with each step of the communication process.

Exercises 2.1

pen and paper icon    1. Table 1 above compiles only a partial list of channels for verbal, written, and visual channels. Extend that list as far as you can push it.


Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

FlatGrin. (2016). Model of communication [Video file]. Retrieved from

Kisspng. (2018, March 17). Clip art – Two people talking. Retrieved from

Schramm, W. L. (1954). The Process and Effects of Mass Communication. Champaign, IL: U of Illinois P.

Young Entrepreneurs Forum. (2016). 10 barriers to effective communication [Video file]. Retrieved from

Web Editor 4. (2017, Januray 12). A pattern of brain activity may link stress to heart attacks. Daily Messenger. Retrieved from

1.3 Troubleshooting Miscommunication

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

      • troubleshoot communication errors by breaking down the communication process into its component parts


Now with a basic overview of the communication process, troubleshooting miscommunication barriers becomes a matter of locating wherein the communication process lies the problem: with the sender and the message they put together, the receiver and their feedback message, or the channel in the context of the environment between them. Identifying the culprit can help avoid costly business errors. According to Susan Washburn, communication problems can lead to:

Let’s examine some of these real scenarios. Take, for instance, the misplaced comma that cost Rogers Communications $1 million in a contract dispute over New Brunswick telephone poles or the absence of an Oxford comma that cost Oakhurst Dairy $5 million in a Maine labour dispute. In both cases, everyone involved would have preferred to continue with business as usual rather. To avoid costly miscommunication in any business or organization, senders and receivers must be diligent in fulfilling their communication responsibilities and be wary of potential misunderstandings throughout the communication cycle.

Communication Barriers

The communication process may seem simple, but it is not.  There are many barriers and distractions that can inhibit clear communication between sender and receiver. How many times have you thought you communicated an idea clearly only to later understand that you were completely misunderstood? Anything that interferes with clear communication is called Noise. Clear communication can be improved by learning to recognize the noises, or barriers to clear communication, that disrupts the various steps in the communication process.

Noise in the Communication Process

Figure 1.3.1: Every step in the communication process can be disrupted by Noise. (Source:

Some of the most significant noises are discussed in more detail after this short video presentation of 10 Barriers to Effective Communication.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Significant Communication Barriers

Bypassing: Different words have different meanings to different people.  Bypassing happens when two people attached different meanings to the same word.  For communication to be successful, the sender and receiver must attach the same meaning to the words, gestures, and symbols used to compose a message.  Therefore, using concrete words and commonly understood symbols and gestures will decrease the chances of miscommunication.

Frame of Reference: Everyone experiences the world through a unique perspective based on individual experiences, backgrounds, culture, personality and many other factors.  Thus, no two people experience the world exactly the same.  To ensure communication is clear, the sender must be aware of his/her own frame of reference and the receiver’s frame of reference to achieve clear communication.  For example, the frame of reference between baby-boomers and millennials is quite different.  Therefore, inter-generational communication in the workplace can lead to miscommunication if the sender and receiver do not account for the different frames of reference.

Language Skills:  No matter how great the message, it will not be understood or fully appreciated if the appropriate oral and written skills are not used to express the message.  Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and fluency errors all interfere with clear communication.   In addition, using jargon, slang, and unfamiliar words will also decrease clear communication.

Distractions:  Emotional interference, physical distractions, and digital interruptions will also decrease clear communication.  Shaping an objective message is difficult when one is feeling joy, fear, resentment, hostility, sadness, or some other strong emotion.  Physical distractions, such as faulty acoustics; sloppy appearance and careless formatting; as well as multi-tasking, information overload, conflicting demands can all interfere with clear communication.  Focusing on what is important and shutting out interruptions increase the chances of effective communication.

Categories of Miscommunication

Sender-related Miscommunication

The responsibility of the sender of a message is to make it as easy as possible to understand the intended meaning. If work must be done to get your point across, it is on you as the sender to do all you can to make that happen. (The receiver also has their responsibilities that we’ll examine below but listening and reading are not necessarily as labour-intensive as composing a message in either speech or writing.) This is why grammar, punctuation, and even document design in written materials, as well as excellent conversational and presentation skills, are so important: sender errors in these aspects of communication lead to readers’ and audiences’ confusion and frustration, which get in the way of their understanding the meaning you intended. If senders of messages fail to anticipate their audience’s needs and miss the target of writing or saying the right thing in the right way to get their messages across, they bear the responsibility for miscommunication and need to pay close attention to the lessons throughout this textbook to help them get back on target.

If the sender has any doubt that their message is being understood, it’s also on them to check in to make sure. If you are giving a presentation, for instance, you can employ several techniques to help ensure that your audience stays with you:

Channel-related Miscommunication

Errors can also be blamed on the medium of the message such as the technology and the environment—some of which can slide back to choices the sender makes, but others are out of anyone’s control. If you need to work out the terms of a sale with a supplier a few towns over before you draw up the invoice and time is of the essence, sending an email and expecting a quick response would be foolish when you (a) have no idea if anyone’s there to write back right away, and (b) would potentially need to go back and forth over the terms; this exchange could potentially take days, but you only have an hour. The smart move is instead to phone the supplier so that you can have a quick conversation. If you need to, you could also text them to say that you’re calling to hammer out the details before writing it up. Of course, you wouldn’t call using a cellphone from inside a parking garage because blame for problems with the reception (or interference) would slide back on you for not positioning yourself appropriately given the available environments. If phone lines and the internet are down due to equipment malfunction (despite paying your bills and buying trustworthy equipment), however rare that might be, the problem is obviously out of your hands and in the environment. Otherwise, it’s entirely up to you to use the right channels the correct way in the environments best suited to clear communication to get the job done.

Receiver-related Miscommunication

The responsibility of the receiver of a message is to be able to actively read or hear not only the message itself but also to understand the nuances of that message in context. Say you were a relatively recent hire at a company and were in line for a promotion for the excellent work you’ve been doing lately, it’s 11:45 a.m., you just crossed paths with your manager in the hallway, and she’s the one who said: “I’m hungry.”  That statement is the primary message, which simply describes how the speaker feels. But if she says it in a manner that, with nonverbals (or secondary messages) such as eyebrows raised signaling interest in your response and a flick of the head towards the exit, suggests an invitation to join her for lunch, you would be foolish not to put all of these contextual cues together and see this as a professional opportunity worth pursuing. If you responded with “Enjoy your lunch!” your manager would probably question your social intelligence and whether you would be able to capitalize on opportunities with clients when cues lined up for business opportunities that would benefit your company. But if you replied, “I’m starving, too. May I join you for lunch? I know a great place around the corner,” you would be correctly interpreting auxiliary messages such as your manager’s intention to assess your professionalism outside of the traditional office environment.

Figure 1.3.2: The three main categories of miscommunication: sender, channels, and receiver.

Say you arrive at the lunch spot with your manager and sit down to eat, but it’s too noisy to hear each other well; you would be equally foolish to use this environmental problem as an excuse not to talk and instead just browse your social media accounts on your phone (perhaps your usual lunchtime routine when eating solo) in front of her. You could accommodate her need to hear you by raising your voice, but the image of you shouting at your manager also sends all the wrong messages. Rather, if you cite the competing noise as a reason to move to a quieter spot where you can converse with her in a way that displays the polish of your manners and ultimately positions you nicely for the promotion, she would understand that you have the social intelligence to control the environmental conditions in ways that prioritize effective communication.

Of course, so much more can go wrong with the receiver. In general, the receiver may lack the knowledge to understand your message; if this is because you failed to accommodate their situation—say you used formal language and big, fancy words but they don’t understand because they are EAL (English as an additional language)—then the responsibility shifts back to you because you can do something about it. You could instead use more plain, easy-to-understand language. If your audience is a co-worker who should know what you’re talking about when you use the jargon of your profession, but they don’t because they’re in the wrong position, the problem is with the receiver (and perhaps the hiring process).

Another receiver problem may have to do with attitude. If a student, for instance, believes that they don’t really need to take a class in Communications because they’ve been speaking English for 19 years, think their high school English classes were a complete joke, and figure they’ll do just fine working out how to communicate in the workplace on their own, then the problem with this receiver is that overconfidence prevents them from keeping the open mind necessary to learn and take direction. Carried into the workplace, such arrogance would prevent them from actively listening to customers and managers, and they would most likely fail until they develop necessary active listening skills (see below). Employers like employees who can solve problems on their own, but not those who are unable to take direction.

Overcoming Barriers

Understanding the nature of communication can help you overcome the many barriers that can interfere with clear communication.  Recognizing that the communication process is noise-sensitive will help you anticipate the potential noises that can cause miscommunication.  Figure 3.2 provides strategies to help you overcome four different categories of noise.

Figure 1.3.3: Strategies to overcome communication barriers. (Business Communications, 2018)

The picture emerging here, then, is one where many factors must work in concert to achieve communication of intended meaning. The responsibility of reaching the goal of understanding in the communication process requires the full cooperation of both the sender and receiver of a message to make the right choices and avoid all the perils—personal and situational—that lead to costly miscommunication.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Key Takeaway

key iconBeing an effective professional involves knowing how to avoid miscommunication by upholding one’s responsibilities in the communication process towards the goal of ensuring proper understanding.


pen and paper iconDescribe a major miscommunication that you were involved in lately and its consequences. Was the problem with the sender, channel, environment, receiver, or a combination of these?
Explain what you did about it and what you would do (or advise someone else to do) to avoid the problem in the future.

Washburn, S. (2008, February). The miscommunication gap. ESI Horizons, 9(2). Retrieved from
Austen, I. (2006, October 25). The comma that costs 1 million dollars (Canadian). The New York Times. Retrieved from
Associated Press. (2017, March 21). Lack of comma, sense, ignites debate after $10m US court ruling. CBC News | Business. Retrieved from


1.4 Non-verbal Communication

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter reviewing this information, you will be able to

      • understand and explain the principles of nonverbal communication
      • understand general types of nonverbal communication
      • understand the principles of active listening


Figure 1.4.1: Nonverbal communication makes up 93% of our communication. (Steemit, 2017)

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it that makes a difference. We sometimes call this “body language,” or “nonverbal communication,” and it is a key aspect of effective business communication. Nonverbal communication is the process of conveying a message without the use of words. It can include gestures and facial expressions, tone of voice, timing, posture and where you stand as you communicate. It can help or hinder the clear understanding of your message, but it doesn’t reveal (and can even mask) what you are really thinking. Nonverbal communication is far from simple, and learning how to understand non-verbal skills will increase your effectiveness as a business communicator.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Types of Non-verbal Communication

How do you know when your boss or instructors are pleased with your progress (or not)? You might know from the smiles on their faces, from the time and attention they give you, or perhaps in other nonverbal ways, like a raise, a bonus, or a good grade. Whether the interaction takes place face-to-face, or at a distance, you can still experience and interpret nonverbal responses.  Eight types of non-verbal communication are discussed below.

1. Body language

Body language is the way people situate their body naturally depending on the situation, the environment and how they are feeling.  Different forms of body language include gestures, eye contact, posture and facial expressions. For example, think of all the times your parents have told you to stand up straight.  The way you sit or stand communicates your comfort level, professionalism and general disposition towards a person or conversation.  The image below explains the nonverbal cues communicated by each posture displayed.


Figure 1.4.2: Image illustrates the non-verbal messages these two different postures communicate. (Verywell, 2017)

Numerous gestures are possible, and each gesture conveys something different.  The range of possibilities is one of the reasons non-verbal communication is so complex. Review Figure 1.4.3 for a number of common gestures and their meaning. 

Figure 1.4.3: Five types of gestures explained. (Communicating for Results, 2018)

2. Space or Proxemics

The amount of space that exists between yourself and others communicates your comfort level, the importance of the conversation, your desire to support or connect with others, and the relative degree of power you hold. Space can be categorized into intimate, personal, social, and public.   Review the image below for an overview of these categories.


Figure 1.4.4: The delineation of four territorial zones. Each zone an indication of the comfort level during a conversation or interaction. (Safety4sea, 2020)

3. Paralanguage:

Paralanguage includes the non-language elements of speech, such as your talking speed, pitch, intonation, volume and more. The saying “the meaning is in the person not in the words” applies here.  Becoming an effective speaker involves understanding how to maximize and manage the specific qualities of your voice to clearly articulate your words and ideas.

4. Time or Chronemics

For business professionals, time is a valuable resource. Over the years, time has become a commodity.  The saying “time is money” is very true for many professions, businesses, and cultures.  How long it takes to complete an action, how punctual a person is, how long someone will listen or wait for a reply communicates their relative importance.

5. Physical Characteristics

You didn’t choose your genes, your eye color, the natural color of your hair, or your height, but people spend millions every year trying to change their physical characteristics. You can get colored contacts; dye your hair; and if you are shorter than you’d like to be, buy shoes to raise your stature a couple of inches. Although some may find it superficial, the way we look affects the way we feel and how others perceive us.  Research shows that we tend to think more positively of people deemed attractive.  The work environment is no different.  Take care that you are communicating the message you desire by cultivating your professional attire and look.

6. Touch

Touch is the most powerful form of nonverbal communication.  Research shows that intimate contact is critical to the understanding of our own humanity. Over the last few years, the understanding of what is considered appropriate touching in the work environment is changing.  Thus, although touch is of paramount importance, if inappropriate, it also carries the potential for the most problems.

7. Artifacts

Do you cover your tattoos when you are at work? Do you know someone who does?  Expectations vary a great deal, and body art or tattoos may still be controversial in the workplace. Artifacts are forms of decorative ornamentation that are chosen to represent self-concept. They can include rings and tattoos, but may also include clothes, cars, watches, briefcases, purses, and even eyeglasses. Artifacts may project gender, role or position, class or status, personality, and group membership or affiliation. Paying attention to a customer’s artifacts may allow you to more accurately adapt your message to meet their needs.

8. Environment

Environment involves the physical and psychological aspects of the communication context. More than the tables and chairs in an office, the environment is an important part of the dynamic communication process. The perception of one’s environment influences one’s reaction to it. For example, Google is famous for its work environment, with spaces created for physical activity and even in-house food service around the clock. The expense is no doubt considerable, but Google’s actions speak volumes. In Google’s view, the results produced in the environment, designed to facilitate creativity, interaction, and collaboration, are worth the effort.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Developing Your Non-verbal Communication Skills

Nonverbal communication is an important aspect of business communication, from the context of interpersonal interaction to a public presentation. It is a dynamic, complex, and challenging aspect of communication. You are never done learning and adapting to your environment and context, and improving your understanding of nonverbal communication comes with the territory.

In order to be a successful business communicator, you will need to continually learn about nonverbal communication and its impact on your interactions. Below are three ways to develop your nonverbal communication skills.

Watch Reactions

Market research is fundamental to success in business and industry. So, too, you will need to do a bit of field research to observe how, when, and why people communicate the way they do. If you want to be able to communicate effectively with customers, you will need to anticipate not only their needs, but also how they communicate. They are far more likely to communicate with someone whom they perceive as being like them, than with a perceived stranger. From dress to mannerisms and speech patterns, you can learn from your audience how to be a more effective business communicator.

Enroll an Observer

Most communication in business and industry involves groups and teams, even if the interpersonal context is a common element. Enroll a coworker or colleague in your effort to learn more about your audience, or even yourself. They can observe you and note areas you may not have noticed that could benefit from revision. Perhaps the gestures you make while speaking tend to distract rather than enhance your communication. You can also record a video of yourself speaking with someone and play it to get a sense of how your nonverbal communication complements or detracts from the message.

Focus on a Specific Type of Nonverbal Communication

What is the norm for eye contact where you work? Does this change or differ based on gender, age, ethnicity, cultural background, context, environment? Observation will help you learn more about how people communicate; looking for trends across a specific type of nonverbal communication can be an effective strategy. Focus on one behaviour you exhibit, like pacing, hand gestures, or eye contact. Use nonverbal communication to enhance your message, watch reactions and consider enrolling an observer to help you become aware of your nonverbal habits and how your others receive nonverbal messages.

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Active Listening

Figure 43.5: A breakdown of time typically sent on each communication skill in an average workday. (Communication: Principles for a Lifetime, 2005)

You may have experienced the odd sensation of driving somewhere and, having arrived, have realized you don’t remember driving. Your mind may have been filled with other issues, and you drove on autopilot. It’s dangerous when you drive on auto-pilot; similarly communicating on auto-pilot is also dangerous. Choosing to listen attentively takes effort. People communicate with words, expressions, and even in silence, and your attention to them will make you a better communicator. From discussions on improving customer service to retaining customers in challenging economic times, the importance of active listening comes up frequently as a success strategy.

There are five steps in the listening process: selecting, attending, understanding, remembering, and responding.

Figure 1.4.6: The steps in the listening process.[footnote](Adapted from Communication: Principles for a Lifetime, 2005)[/footnote]

Here are some tips to facilitate active listening:

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Our previous tips will serve you well in daily interactions, but suppose you have an especially difficult subject to discuss. In difficult situations, make an extra effort to create an environment that will facilitate positive communication.

Here are some tips that may be helpful:

  • Set aside a special time. To have a difficult conversation, set aside time when you will not be disturbed.
  • Don’t interrupt. Keep silent while you let the other person speak.
  • Be nonjudgmental. Receive the message without judgment or criticism. Set aside your opinions, attitudes, and beliefs.
  • Be accepting. Be open to the message being communicated, realizing that acceptance does not necessarily mean you agree with what is being said.
  • Take turns. Wait until it is your turn to respond, and then measure your response in proportion to the message that was delivered to you. Reciprocal turn-taking allows each person have his say.
  • Acknowledge. Let the other person know that you have listened to the message attentively.
  • Understand. Be certain that you understand what the other person is saying. If you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Restate the message in your own words.
  • Keep your cool. Speak your truth without blame. A calm tone will help prevent the conflict from escalating. Use “I” statements (e.g., “I felt concerned when I learned that my department is going to have a layoff”) rather than “you” statements (e.g., “you want to get rid of some of our best people”).

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Recognize that mutual respect and understanding are built one conversation at a time. Trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose. Be patient and keep the channels of communication open, as a solution may develop slowly over the course of many small interactions. Recognize that it is more valuable to maintain the relationship over the long term than to “win” in an individual transaction.


pen and paper icon

  1. Choose a television personality you admire. What do you like about this person? Watch several minutes of this person with the sound turned off, and make notes of the nonverbal expressions you observe. Turn the sound back on and make notes of their tone of voice, timing, and other audible expressions.
  2. Create a survey that addresses the issue of which people trust more, nonverbal or verbal messages. Ask an equal number of men and women and compare your results with those of your classmates.


Beebe, S. A., Beebe, S. J., Ivy, D. K. & Watson, S. (2005). Communication: Principles for a lifetime (Canadian rd.).  Pearson Canada.

eCampus Ontario. (2018). Communications for business professional. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Indeed. (2020). The complete guide to nonverbal communication in the workplace. Career guide. Retrieved from

Lyon, A. (2020). Active listening skills [Video]. Youtube.

Purple Life Skills. (2020). 5 ways to improve your nonverbal skills [Video]. Youtube.

Safety4sea. (2020). Why body language is important in the workplace. Retrieved from

Steemit. (2017). The importance of body language. Retrieved from

Take One Productions. (2014). Training, mindtools, body Language [Video]. Youtube.

Tedx Talks. (2017). Reading minds through body language [Video]. Youtube.

University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. (2010). Business communications for success. Retrieved from

Verywell Mind. (2017). Understanding body language and facial expressions. Behavioral psychology. Retrieved from



Chapter 2: The Writing Process 1 — Prewriting


Like communication in general, good writing comes from following a process. Between an author hatching an idea and the audience reading and understanding that idea, the writing process enables the author to craft messages in a time-efficient manner that ultimately meets the needs of the audience. Without following a four-stage process — (1) preparing, (2) information gathering, (3) drafting and (4) editing) — an author can waste plenty of their own time writing what doesn’t need to be written and wasting the reader’s time by confusing them with a message that doesn’t meet their needs. The next four chapters deal with each of these four writing stages, dividing them into several steps that, when followed as a matter of habit, can save you time by helping you write no more or less than you need to in achieving your professional communication goals.


1 Preparing, 2 Researching, 3 Drafting, 4 Editing              1 Preparing, 1.1 Purpose, 1.2 Audience, 1.3 Channel

Figure 2.1: The four-stage writing process and Stage 1 breakdown

2.1 Knowing Your Purpose for Writing

Learning Objectives

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  After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • distinguish between general and specific purposes for writing
      • understand the Writing Process


Figure 2.1.1: An explanation of each goal in the business writing process (Communicating for Results, 2017)

Rarely does anyone write for professional reasons just for fun. There must always be a good reason for writing an email, filling out a work order, or composing a large market research report.  Knowing your reason for writing is essential to staying on track in the writing process.  Business communications has three main reasons: to inform, to persuade, and to communicate goodwill.

Whatever the purpose of your document, business writing is not intuitive.  Thus, the next four chapters will present a systematic plan for preparing business messages in the digital age: pre-writing,  drafting, and revising, called the 3-x-3 Writing Process.   The process starts with knowing the purpose of the message, which will guide you towards writing an effective message in a document appropriate for the audience and occasion.

The Writing Process


The writing process follows a three-phase process: pre-writing, drafting and revising (see Figure 2.1.2).  The time you will spend in each phase will depend on the complexity of the problem, the purpose and the audience.  Business writing differs from other forms of writing.  Instead of long paragraphs that fully develop arguments, business writing is focused, clear and concise.  In the workplace, writing should be purposeful, economical, and reader-oriented.  Writing this way is a skill that takes time and practice to develop.  Carefully working through the Writing Process is the key to perfecting this skill.

Figure 2.1.2: The steps in the Writing Process (Business Communications, 2019).

Pre-writing: Phase I of the writing process involves analyzing the audience.  Messages must provide receivers with the information they need or want to be informed or persuaded.  Anticipating audience reaction is also part of this phase: will the audience have a positive, negative, or neutral response to the message.  A writer must understand these factors and adapt the message to communicate clearly with the intended audience.

Drafting:  Phase II of the writing process involves, researching, organizing, and then drafting the message.  What information is most important to the receiver is at the heart of each part of this phase.  This phase in the writing process is critical to preparing a final document that meets audience needs.

Revising:  Phase III involves editing, proofreading and evaluating the message to ensure the message accomplishes the goal of communication.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Key Takeaways

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        • Business communication has three purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to promote goodwill.  Knowing the purpose for writing at the outset helps keep you on track with topic selection.
        • The three phases of the Writing Process: pre-writing, drafting, and revising, is a systematic way to make the writing process quicker and easier.

Exercises 4.1

pen and paper iconSelect a letter you’ve recently received in the mail (or one your roommate, friend, or family member has received) from a company or organization, ideally a promotional or campaign letter rather than one too specific to your own or the recipient’s situation, and describe both its general and specific purposes. If its general-purpose included informing (recall that a document can have more than one general purpose), identify the subtopics (5 W’s + H).


Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016) Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

2.2 Analyzing your Audience

Learning Objectives

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After studying this unit, you will be able to

  • analyze primary and secondary audiences using common profiling techniques
  • adjust writing style according to audience size, position relative to you, knowledge of your topic, and demographic


The first commandment in any business is to “Know thy audience.” Any act of communication success depends entirely on how well the sender tailors the message to meet the needs and expectations of the audience. A writer should always adjust the message, content and style to what is known or can guess about the audience. A writer should communicate to a customer differently than to a co-worker, and different again when communicating to a manager or to the CEO. In each case, the content, tone, word choices (diction), grammar, and overall style (formal or informal) will change according to the audience.

Understanding how to compose the most appropriate message for an audience takes skill and consideration. However, audience profile allows for effective business messages that achieve their communication goals.  When profiling an audience, ask the following questions:

Figure 2.2.1: How to use an audience profile to write a business message (Business Communication Essentials, 2016).

The following subsections delve further into these considerations to help you answer the above questions in specific situations.

Profiling the Audience

Figure 2.2.2: A writer may communicate to one person or a group of people (BCcampus, n.d.)

Writing for Audiences of Various Sizes

Writing to one person, a group of people, or the general public requires a different writing style.   your writing style to accommodate a larger audience. When emailing one person, for instance, you can address them by name in the opening salutation and continue to use the second person singular you throughout. However, when writing for a larger group, a more general and accessible language is required. When writing for the consumer public, in a blog on a company website, language must be as plain and accessible as possible. In Canada, the public includes readers who will appreciate that you use simple words rather than big, fancy equivalents because English maybe the second or third language. Indeed, the Government of Canada has published a handy guide for how to write accessibly in plain language.

Writing Skill – Using Simple and Familiar Language:  To effectively communicate with your audience, use plain language and familiar words.  By using everyday familiar words, the audience will understand the message easily and quickly.  Use jargon only when the audience will understand these specialized terms. When, complex words and difficult concepts must be included, illustrate them with examples and provide a glossary when it is necessary to use several such words/concepts.  Use concrete rather than abstract words and give explicit information (e.g., “car crash” rather than “unfortunate accident”).  Finally, choose one term to describe something important and stick to it; using various terms to describe the same thing can confuse the reader

Figure 2.2.3: List of familiar vs unfamiliar. Business writers are encouraged to use accessible language in business documents. (Business Communications, 2019)
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To reinforce these lessons on plain language, you can examine US Government resources on the topic such as the “Principles of Plain Language” PowerPoint on their Tools page and do a selection of plain language exercises.

Writing Skill  – Bias Language: When writing to large audiences, language must be unbiased in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, ability, or orientation.  Communicators want to be inclusive to members of all groups. When communicating to or about a large group of people, using singular pronouns like he, his, or she and her would exclude half of the audience.  Thus, using gender-neutral plural pronouns such as they, their, and them is preferable.  In addition, when identifying people by their role, use non-gender-exclusive equivalents. See Queen’s University’s (2014) Inclusive Language Guidelines page for more on avoiding bias in your writing.

Table 2.2.1 Using Unbiased Language
Biased Language
Executives and their wives Executives and their spouses
Salesman, businessman Sales representative, business person
An Indian accountant was hired An accountant was hired.
Jame Lee, a Chinese Canadian, applied. James Lee applied.
Confined to a wheelchair. Uses a wheelchair
Joanne Clark, 55, was transferred to a new job. Joanne Clark was transferred to a new job.

Writing Skill  – English idioms: The larger the group, the more careful you must be with using unique English idioms as well. Idioms are quirky or funny expressions we use to make a point. If you wanted to reassure a customer who recently immigrated from North Africa, for instance, before explaining an automotive maintenance procedure unique to Canadian winter weather and said, “Hey, don’t worry, it’ll be a piece of cake,” they may be wondering what eating cake has to do with switching to winter tires. Likewise, if you said instead that it’ll be “a walk in the park,” they would be confused about why they need to walk through a park to get their radials switched. Calling it a “cakewalk” wouldn’t help much, either.

These expressions would be perfectly understood by anyone who has been conversing in English for years because they would have heard it many times before and used it themselves. In the case of using them around EAL (English as an additional language) speakers, however, you would be better off using the one word that these idioms translate as: easy. Again, the whole goal of communication is to be understood, so if you use idioms with people who haven’t yet learned them, you will fail to reach that goal. See for a wide selection of English idioms and their meanings.

Test your knowledge of English idioms by playing this matching game.

Primary and Secondary Audiences

Your primary audience is the person or group the message is created for; the intended receiver of the message.  The primary audience is the decision-maker who will act or not act as a result of the message.  Anyone else who may read or listen to the message in the secondary audience.  The secondary audience falls into two categories. First, those who will influence the primary audience to make a decision; second, those who will be affected by the decision of the primary audience.  Consider the situation below to determine the primary and secondary audiences.

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Always consider secondary audiences for any message.  Writers have little-to-no control over who sees a message.  An email can be forwarded, and text or voicemail messages can be shown or played.  Before sending that email or text, or leaving that voicemail in professional situations, always consider how it would be received by both the primary and secondary audiences.

 Audience and Position

Just as you might wear your best clothes for an important occasion like a job interview or wedding, you must respectfully elevate the formality of your language depending on the perceived importance of the person you are communicating with.

Employers and clients can be judgmental.  An employee’s writing represents the company to clients and other stakeholders (Wiens, 2012).  Formality in writing requires correct grammar and punctuation, whereas more casual writing takes liberties such as using sentence fragments and contractions. The degree of formality in language will depend on your internal and external audiences.  Business communications have three levels of formality depending on who will receive the message: informal, semi-formal, and formal.  Whatever the level of formality, always remember language must befit the context of the workplace.

Informal Language: The lowest level of formality occurs inside a company when communicating across (between co-workers) or downward (to rank-and-file employees).  Here, informal communication can be used in memos, emails, and text messages.  When we put pen to paper, informal communication means, use of first-person pronouns, contractions, active language, and conversational language is accepted.

Semi-Formal Language:  The next level of formality is used when communicating externally or when communicating internally upwards (to a manager and other executives).  Letters, proposals and reports are some documents that required semi-formal language.   Semi-formal language involves reducing the use of first-person pronouns, contractions, and conversational language.

Formal Language: The highest level of formality is used when communicating to national or international audiences.  A high level of formality means eliminating first-person pronouns, contractions, and idioms.  Formal language also involves using third-person pronouns and more passive than active writing.  Finally, using words that when defined in a dictionary or translated through an app conveys the same meaning as the communique.

Figure 2.2.4: A summary of the characteristics of each level of formality in business communications. (Communicating for Results, 2017; Business Communications, 2019)

Formality in writing also involves carefully selecting words. Word choice is called “diction”.  The words used when writing a co-worker should be different from the words used when writing your manager or a customer.  Table 2.2.2 provides word choices that reflect informal, semi-formal and formal language.  Understanding the audience will ensure your choice of words is always right for the situation.

Table 2.2.2 Word Choices Along the Formality Spectrum

Informal / Slang Semi-formal / Common Formal / Fancy
kick off begin / start commence
cut off end terminate
put off delay postpone
awesome / dope good positive
crappy / shoddy bad negative
flaunt show demonstrate
find out discover ascertain
go up rise increase
fess up / come clean admit confess
 mull over  consider  contemplate
 bad-mouth / put down  insult / belittle  denigrate
 plus  also  moreover
 jones for  need  require
 put up with  endure/suffer  tolerate
 leave out / skip  omit  exclude
 give the go-ahead / green light  permit  authorize
 loaded / well-heeled  wealthy/rich  affluent / monied
 deal with  handle  manage
 pronto / a.s.a.p.  now  immediately
 muddy  confuse  obfuscate

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Audience Knowledge

Understanding how much information the audience knows is important so that the correct amount of information is provided: not too much and not too little.  A safe assumption about a  professional audience is that they are busy and do not have time to read unnecessary information. Too much information wastes the reader’s time, insults their knowledge, and wastes the writer’s time. On the other end of that spectrum, writing too little assumes the audience knows more than they do.  A lack of necessary information in a message can lead to errors due to confusion, a waste of time as readers request clarification or misunderstanding based on lack of information.   Remember, the goal of communication is for the receiver to understand information as intended by the sender.  Understanding how much information the receiver requires will help achieve this goal.

Appropriately gauging your audience’s level of knowledge extends to the language you use. Every profession has its jargon, which is the specialized vocabulary, shorthand code words, and slang used among colleagues with the same discipline and specific education. Jargon saves time by making elaborate descriptions unnecessary and is useful among people who speak the same language.

Audience Demographic

The previous subsection explained the necessity of gauging your audience’s level of knowledge in a given subject area, and that extends to their more general level of education as well as other demographic factors such as age, gender, religion, income, location, and so on. Demographic information is quantifiable, countable and measurable.

Depending on your profession, you may have to deal with people of all ages and levels of education from elementary school children to the elderly. Understanding the audience’s demographic data provides insight and allows a message to be adapted to meet the wants and needs of a specific audience.      

Try not to stereotype or make assumptions based on demographic information. People are complicated.  Thus, being respectful towards an audience is key to effective communication.

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Writing Skill  – Highlighting Reader Benefits: Whenever you need to convince an audience to use a service, buy a product, or follow a policy, it’s effective to first explain what benefits the audience will receive from the action.  Performing audience analysis can help define reader benefits for informative and persuasive messages by uncovering factors that will motivate readers to do or not to do an action.  Writing reader-oriented messages means that you write from the perspective of the reader and consider how the reader will decode the message?  Keep WIIFM in mind when writing messages.  Messages that do not answer the WIIFM question are often ineffective in communicating a message.  Figure 2.2.5 provides examples of sender focus and reader focus sentences.  In your opinion, which type of sentence is more effective at motivating a reader to complete an action?

Figure 2.2.5: Messages that spotlight receiver benefits by using the “you” view (Business Communication, 2019).

Writing Skill  – “You” View: The “you” view writing technique is used to convert messages from the sender’s perspective to the receiver’s perspective.  Writing in the “you” view literally means using the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘your’ to address the reader.  These pronouns have a much greater impact when the message is positive or even neutral. Writing this way is counter-intuitive.  It is more natural to write from our perspective and to use first-person pronouns to encode messages. However,  sender-oriented messages that use first-person personal and possessive pronouns (I, me, my, we, us, and our) don’t register as well with readers because that tends to come off as being self-involved.  Watch the video, You Attitude in Business Writing, for a further explanation of the importance of writing using the “you” view.

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The trick to achieving an audience-oriented message is to catch yourself whenever you begin using first-person pronouns like “I” and “my”, and immediately flip the sentence around to say “you” and “your” instead (see figure 2.2.5).  Messages more considerate, sympathetic, and even empathetic when your write from the reader’s perspective.  In short, the “you” view helps to communicate goodwill.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Key Takeaways

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      • Knowing your audience by their size, position relative to you, knowledge of your topic, and demographic helps you craft your message content and style to meet their needs.
      • Adapting your message to the audience increases your chance of effective communication.
      • Highlighting reader benefits and using the “you” view are crucial motivators.


pen and paper icon1. List at least three demographic traits that apply to you. How does belonging to these demographic groups influence your perceptions and priorities? Share your thoughts with your classmates.
2. Recall a time when you started a new job and learned the jargon of the workplace—words that the general public wouldn’t know the meaning of, or at least the meanings you attached to them. Write a glossary listing as many such jargon words as you can along with their definitions How you would explain them to the public? Share a few with the class. (If you’ve never been employed, use a volunteer, sports, or other group activity you’ve engaged in.)
3. Review the last email you wrote. Is it written formally or informally? If informal, revise it so that it is more formal as if you were to send it to a manager or client; if formal, revise it so that it is more informal as if you were to send it to a trusted co-worker. (If you want your most recent email to remain private, search back for the one you wouldn’t mind sharing). Include the original email in your submission.


BCcampus. (n.d.).  Context, audience, purpose. Business writing for everyone.  Retrieved from

Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016) Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.

Communication Canada. (2003, May). Successful communication tool kit: Literary and you. Government of Canada Publications. Retrieved from

The Conference Board of Canada. (2013). Adult literacy rate—low-level skills. How Canada Performs. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Gregg Learning. (2018).  You attitude in business writing [Video file]. Retrieved from

Lublin, D. (2012, November 8). Do employers have a right to spy on workers? The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Meyer, C. (2017). Communicating for results (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from

PLAIN. (n.d.). Principles of plain language: Exercise packet. The Plain Language Action and Information Network. Retrieved from

PLAIN. (2011, March 27). Tools from PLAIN. The Plain Language Action and Information Network. Retrieved from

Queen’s University. (2014, April 9). Inclusive language guidelines. Style Guide. Retrieved from

(PLAIN, 2011)
(PLAIN, n.d.).

2.3 Selecting Appropriate Channels

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to distinguish between communication channels to determine which is most appropriate for particular situations.


The medium or channel is the vehicle of transmission for a message.  Generally, several communication channels could communicate a message, but choosing the most appropriate channel will depend on the audience, the message, and the purpose of communication.  When communicating a message, choosing from traditional communication channels: memos, letters, face-to-face (F2F) meetings, and telephone calls; as well as digital media: emails, text messages, videoconferencing, blogs, and websites are all options.  The business writer must have a clear understanding of the audience to ensure the channel of communication will effectively communicate the message.  

Figure 2.3.1: Choosing the best communication channel takes an in-depth understanding of the audience, the purpose and the message. (Business Communications, 2019).

Between traditional and rapid electronic media, we have more choice for communication channels than ever in human history. Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages that make it appropriate or inappropriate for specific situations. Knowing those pros and cons, summarized in Table 2.3.1 below for a dozen of the most common verbal and written channels available, is necessary for being an effective communicator in the modern workplace. Choosing channels wisely can mean the difference between a message that is received and understood as intended (the goal of communication), and one that is lost in the noise or misunderstood in costly ways.

Selecting the Right Medium

Media can be categorized into four main types: oral, written, visual, and electronic.

Types of Business Communication

Table 2.3.1  Types of Business Communication. The advantages and disadvantages of the four categories of business communications.

There are other considerations when choosing the exact channel to send a message.  When is a written memo preferable to an electronic one?  When is a text message more appropriate than a telephone conversation?  Understanding what situation, message, and receiver require which specific channel is the topic of our next section.

Message formality: The choice of channel is a non-verbal cue that affects style and tone.  For example, a memo or letter is for formal in tone and format than is a text or IM message.

Media Limitation:  Some channels are more appropriate for certain messages.  For example, a report will convey a more complex message than a text message or discussing sensitive information is more appropriate in a face-to-face meeting rather than over a text message.

Urgency: Be mindful of people’s time.  Messages that do not require immediate feedback can be communicated via email or voicemail rather than a f2f meeting or telephone conversation.

Cost: Some mediums are more costly than others.  Cost is a non-verbal cue of importance.  For example, communicating the importance of a change in company policy is more likely to be effective if shared in a f2f meeting than through a memo.

Choosing the wrong channel can result in a message that is less effective or even misunderstood.

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The Spectrum of Common Workplace Communication Channels

Choosing the correct communication channel on the spectrum of options using the criteria above involves a decision-making process based on the purposes of the communication, as discussed earlier in this chapter. Factors to consider include convenience for both the sender and receiver, timeliness, and cost in terms of both time and money. Table 2.3.2 and the video that follows provides information on what medium is best used in what situation.

Table 2.3.2 Channel Selection Criteria

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Example: When to Select the Email Channel

When choosing to send an email, for instance, you:

  1. Begin with the thought you need to communicate
  2. Decide that it must be in writing for future reference rather than spoken
  3. Consider that it would be more convenient if it arrived cheaply the instant you finished writing it and hit Send
  4. Want to give the recipient the opportunity to respond quickly or at least within the 24-hour norm
  5. Decide that it would be better to send your message by email rather than by other electronic channels such as text, instant message (because you have more to say than would fit in either of those formats), or fax because you know the recipient prefers email over fax, as do most people and all but a few professional fields.

All of these decisions may occur to you in the span of a second or so because they are largely habitual. Figure 6.2 charts out the decision-making process for selecting the most appropriate channel among the 10 given in Table 6.2 above.

Flow chart outlining how to choose the best channel of communication for your needs

Figure 2.3.2: Channel Selection Process Flow Chart

We will examine the uses, misuses, conventions, and implications of these channels in the chapters ahead. For now, however, let’s appreciate that choosing the right channel at the outset of the writing process saves time—the time that you would otherwise spend correcting communication errors and doing damage control for having chosen the wrong one for the situation at hand. If you find yourself forced to meet someone in person to deal with the damage wrought by toxic email exchange before moving forward, just think how you would be into the next steps if you had skipped the email war and met in person to deal with the situation like adults in the first place.

Key Takeaway

key iconChoose the most appropriate communication channel for the occasion by taking into account the full spectrum of traditional and electronic means, as well as your own and your audience’s needs.


pen and paper iconIdentify the most appropriate channel for communicating what’s necessary in the given situation and explain your reasoning.
1. You come up with a new procedure that makes a routine task in your role in the organization quicker and easier; praise for your innovation goes all the way up to the CEO, who now wants you to meet with the other employees in your role in the seven other branch offices across the country to share the procedure.
2. A customer emails you for a price quote on a custom job they would like you to do for them. (Your company has a formal process for writing up quotes on an electronic form that gives a price breakdown on a PDF.)
3. You are working with two office mates on a market report. Both have been bad lately about submitting their work on time, and you’re starting to worry about meeting the next major milestone a few days from now. Neither has been absent because you can see them in their offices as you walk by in the hallway.
4. You are about to close a deal but need quick authorization from your manager across town about a certain discount you would like to apply. You need it in writing just in case your manager forgets about the authorization or anyone else questions it back at the office.
5. Your division recently received word from management that changes to local bylaws mean that a common procurement procedure will have to be slightly altered when dealing with suppliers. Your team meets to go over the changes and the new procedure, but you need to set it down in writing so that everyone in attendance can refer to it, as well as any new hires.
6. You have a limited amount of time to discuss a potential funding opportunity with a colleague in another city because the proposal deadline is later in the week, and it’s almost closing time in your colleague’s office. You’ll have to hammer out some details about who will write the various parts of the proposal before you get to work on it tonight.
7. You were under contract with a local entrepreneur to perform major landscaping services. Near the end of the job, you discovered that he dissolved his company and is moving on, but you haven’t yet been paid for services rendered. You want to formally inform him of the charges and remind him of his contractual obligations; in doing so, you want to lay down a paper trail in case you need to take him to court for breach of contract.


Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016) Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc..

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Royal Society for Public Health. (2017, May 19). Instagram ranked worst for young people’s mental health. Retrieved from


(Business Communication Essentials, 2016).


Chapter 3: The Writing Process 2 — Researching


Once you’ve identified your purpose for writing, profiled your audience, and selected the appropriate channel, next you must gather the information that your audience needs. From the shortest informative email to the sprawling analytical report, most professional messages involve relaying information that was looked up—that is, they involve research. Employers value employees who are resourceful, whose research skills go well beyond Google-searching on the internet and focusing on the top few results, like anyone can do. Whether such in-demand employees get the needed information from a print book in a library, a manual from a database on a company intranet, an article from a subscription database on the internet, or simply by asking a reputable authority such as a veteran co-worker, they prove their value by knowing where to find valuable information, how to use it appropriately, and how to document it if necessary.

1 Preparing, 2 Researching, 3 Drafting, 4 Editing                  2 Researching, 2.1 Selecting a Methodology, 2.2 Collecting Sources, 2.3 Using Sources, 2.4 Crediting Sources

Figure P3.1: The four-stage writing process and Stage 2 breakdown


3.1 Choosing a Research Methodology

Learning Objectives

Target icon


After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • determine the appropriate research methodology that meets the needs of the audience
      • distinguish between formal and informal research


The first step in research is to know what the situation calls for in terms of the formality or rigour of research required. Although formal research carefully documents sources with citations and references, most messages relay informal research such as when you quickly look up some information you have access to and email it to the person who requested it. Either way, you apply skills in retrieving and delivering the needed information to meet your audience’s needs, often by paraphrasing or summarizing, which are extremely valuable skills coveted by employers. Knowing what research type or “methodology” the situation calls for—formal or informal research, or primary or secondary research—in the first place will keep you on track in this still-preliminary stage of the writing process.

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Research Methodology

Informal Research

You conduct informal research when you look up information and deliver share that information in an email or letter without the need to formally cite the source is informal research. It is by far the most common type of research in business.  Every professional conducts informal research several times a day in routine communication with various audiences. Say your manager emails asking you to recommend a new printer to replace the one that’s not working. You’re no expert on printers, but you know who to ask. You go to Erika, the admin. assistant in your previous department and she says to definitely go with the Ricoh printer. You trust what she says, so you end your research there and pass along this recommendation to your manager.  This type of research will is information.

Formal Research

On the other hand, formal research takes a more systematic approach to collect information. Formal research requires the source of information compiled during the research phase is documented using a conventional citation and reference system designed to make it easy for the audience to verify information credibility.

Formal research is more scientific.  Let’s return to the Ricoh example.  Using formal research to find out which printer is best now involves determining printer criteria including capabilities, cost, warranty, service plan, and availability. Next, you may read the product webpages, specification manuals, customer reviews, and reviews on several printers to get a clear idea of the pros and cons. Finally, you test the printers yourself, score them according to your assessment criteria, rank the best to worst, and report the results.

Formal research requires more time, labour, practice, skill, and resources. But why go to so much trouble? Why not just look briefly at all the options and follow your gut? Well, your gut isn’t much help when you’re in a difficult situation. If you’re going to spend a few thousand dollars on the best printer, you’re going to want to do it right. You don’t want to waste money on one that has several problems that you could have known about beforehand had you done your homework. In this case, formal research (“homework”) protects you against preventable losses.

Primary Research

Like formal vs. informal research, primary vs. secondary has much to do with the level of rigor. Basically, primary research generates new knowledge and secondary research applies it. In the above case, the authors of the Consumer Reports article conducted primary research because they came up with the assessment criteria, arranged for access to all the printers, tested and scored each according to how well they performed against each criterion, analyzed the data, determined the ranking of best to worst printer on the market, and reported it in a published article. If you can’t conduct primary research yourself because you don’t have easy access to all the printers worth considering, you are thankful someone else has and would even pay money for that information.

Figure 3.1.1: A brief overview of the characteristics of primary and secondary research (The Balance, 2019)

Other forms of primary research include surveys of randomly sampled people to gauge general attitudes on certain subjects and lab experiments that follow the scientific method. Primary research is labour-intensive, typically expensive.

Secondary Research

What most people do—especially students—when they conduct research for an academic or professional tasks is secondary research.  Secondary research involves finding and using information that already exists.  To use the printer example above, accessing the Consumer Reports article and using its recommendation to make a case for office printer selection is secondary research.

The easiest, most common, and most expedient research, the kind that the vast majority of informative workplace communication involves is informal secondary research. However, when you do a school research assignment or if your manager requires you to cite the source, then formal secondary research is required. In business, formal secondary research is best for ensuring that company resources are used appropriately and can be supported by all stakeholders. In other words, formal secondary research is a necessary part of a business’s due diligence. In the following section, we will break down the labour-intensive process of building a document around source material collected through formal secondary research.

Key Takeaway

key iconDetermine the most appropriate research methodology—informal or formal, primary or secondary—for your audience and purpose depending on the level of rigour required.


1. Use your college library account to access Consumer Reports and find a report on a product type of interest to you. Assuming that your audience’s needs are for informal secondary research only, write a mock (pretend) email making a recommendation based on the report’s endorsement.
2. Now, for the sake of comparing sources, search for recommendation information on the same product type just by Googling it. What are the top search results? Going down the results list, did you find any unbiased sources that you could use in your recommendation email? What makes these sources biased or unbiased?


Bahir, F. (2015). Intro to research methods [Video File]. Retrieved from

Figure 3.1.1. Infographic. Adapted from “Two types of market research,” by M. Buttignol, 2019, The Balance. Retrieved from Copyright 2019 by The Balance.

3.2 Locating Credible Sources

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

      • locate, select and organize relevant and accurate information drawn from a variety of sources


Once you’ve selected the appropriate research methodology, your next task is to search for sources that can be taken seriously by your audiences and, in so doing, narrow down your topic. Research is largely a process of sorting out the wheat from the chaff, then processing that wheat into a wholesome product people will buy and digest. Appropriately using credible sources reflects well on your credibility, whereas using suspicious sources—perhaps because they were the top results of a Google – undermines your authority.

Figure 3.2.1: A writer’s credibility and authority is dependent on the ability to separate facts from fiction (USA Today, 2020).

A research document full of dubious sources makes you look uneducated, lazy, flakey, or gullible at best, or at worst, conniving and deceptive. We’re in an age that some have dubbed the “post-truth era” where “fake news” churned out by clickbait-driven edutainment outlets can be a major determining factor in the course of history (White, 2017). Building the critical-thinking skills to distinguish truth from lies, good ideas from bad, facts from propaganda, objective viewpoints from spin, and credible sources from dubious ones are not only an academic or civic duty but also key to our collective survival. Learning how to navigate these perilous waters is one of the most important skills we can learn in school.

College or public libraries and their online databases are excellent places to find quality sources, and you should familiarize yourself with their features such as subject guides and advanced search filters. Even libraries are populated by sources outside the realm of respectability, however, because they cater to diverse stakeholders and interests by being comprehensive, including entertainment materials in their collections. They also have holdings that are horribly out of date and only of historical interest. Whether in the library or on the open internet, the only real way to ensure that a source is worth using is to develop critical thinking skills in knowing what to look for in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

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Assessing the Credibility of Print Sources

Print Versus Digital: What Does the Latest Research Tell Us?
Figure 3.2.2: Understanding the difference between print and digital media is important to develop good research skills (Reese, 2018).

Developing a good sense of what sources are trustworthy takes time, often through seeing patterns of approval in how diligent professionals rely on certain sources for credible information. If you continue to see respected professionals cite articles in Scientific American and The Economist, for instance, you can be reasonably assured of those sources’ credibility. If you see few or no professionals cite Popular Mechanics or Infowars and you also see non-professionals cite fantastic, sensational, or shocking stories from them in social media, you have good reason to suspect their reliability. The same goes for sources regarding certain issues; if 97% of relevant scientists confirm that global climate change results from human activity1, for instance, sources representing or championing the 3% opposition will be seen as lacking credibility. Patterns of source approval take time to track, but you can count on many more immediate ways of assessing credibility in the meantime.

The following indicators are worth considering when assessing print sources:

Figure 3.2.3: Six guidelines to help you select the best research sources.

Assessing the Credibility of Online Sources

Online sources pose special challenges to students and professionals conducting research, since most will expediently conduct research entirely online where some of the above indicators of credibility must be rethought a little. Sometimes the author isn’t revealed on a webpage, perhaps because it’s a company or organization’s website, in which case your scrutiny shifts to the organization, its potential biases, and its agenda. A research project on electronic surveillance, for instance, might turn up the websites of companies selling monitoring systems, in which case you must be wary of any facts or statistics (especially uncited ones, but even cited sources) they use because they will likely be cherry-picked to help sell products and services. And instead of checking the publisher as you would for a print source, you could consider the domain name; websites with .edu or .gov URL endings usually have higher standards of credibility for the information they publish than sites ending with .com or .org, which are typically the province of commercial enterprises (as in the monitoring systems example above) and special interest groups with unique agendas.

Although successful in being a comprehensive repository of knowledge,, for instance, is not generally considered credible and should therefore not appear as a source in a research document unless it’s for a topic so new or niche that no other credible sources for it exist. By the organization’s own admission, “Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found [on their site].” The Web 2.0, user-generated nature of Wikipedia means that its articles are susceptible to vandalism or content changes inconsistent with expert opinion, and they aren’t improved by any formal peer-review process.2 Wikipedia sacrifices credibility for comprehensiveness. For these reasons, a Wikipedia article in a research report is a little laughable; few will take you seriously if they see it there because you will look lazy for stopping at the first available source.

A Wikipedia article can be a good place to start a research task, however. If you’re approaching a topic for the first time, use Wikipedia for a general introduction and a sense of the topic’s scope and key subtopics. (Wikimedia Commons is also a reliable source of images provided you credit them properly.) But if you’re going to cite any sources, don’t stop there; use the credible ones that the Wikipedia article cites by scrolling down to the References section, checking them out, and assessing them for their credibility using the criteria outlined above in Assessing the Credibility of Print Sources.

Additional Resources

A final indicator of credibility for online sources, similar to the writing-quality check discussed above, is the overall design quality of the website. The attractiveness of a site may be subjective, but a user-friendly and modern design suggests that money was spent relatively recently on improving its quality. If the site looks like it was designed 10-15 years ago and hasn’t been updated, you can suspect that it’s lost its currency. Some websites look dated despite their content still being relevant, however, because that content doesn’t change drastically over time.

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Key Takeaway

key iconInvestigating and narrowing down a research topic involves using databases to locate reputable sources using criteria to assess for credibility such as the quality of the source author, writing, references, and publisher.


1. Choose a research topic based on an aspect of your professional field that piqued your attention in your other courses in the program. Assemble credible sources using a rubric that ranks each relevant source based on the assessment criteria explained in Assessing the Credibility of Print Sources above (e.g., the criterion for the first line of the rubric may be Author Credibility, which you can score out of 10, with 10 being a bona fide expert in their field and 0 being a dilettante with no experience; the second may be Currency, with 10 points going to a source published last year and 0 for something a century or more out of date, etc.). With each score for each source, give a brief explanation for why you scored it as you did.

2. Consider a recent controversy in the news that all news outlets have covered. Assemble articles from a variety of outlets throughout Canada, the United States, and even internationally, including those with major audience share like the CBC, CNN, FoxNews, and the Guardian, as well as some on the fringe. First compare the articles to identify the information that’s common to them all, then contrast them to identify the information and analysis that distinguishes them from one another. What conclusions can you draw about how bias factors into the reportage of world events?


1Cook, J., et al. (2016, April 13). Consensus on consensus: A synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters 11, 1-7. Retrieved from

Cornell University Library. (2017, September 7). Distinguishing scholarly from non-scholarly periodicals: A checklist of criteria. Retrieved from

IFLA. (2017). How to spot fake news [infographic]. CC BY 4.0.

Laurentien Library. (2014).  Introduction to academic research [Video file]. Retrieved from

Reese, Lori. (2018). Print vs. Print vs. online. Retrieved from

USA Today. (2020). USA’s Today fact check guidelines. Retrieved from

White, A. (2017, January 10). Fake news: Facebook and matters of fact in the post-truth era. Ethics in the News: EJN Report on Challenges for Journalism in the Post-truth Era. Retrieved from

2Wikipedia. (2015, December 17). General disclaimer. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2017, October 21). List of English-language book publishing companies. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2017, November 18). List of university presses. Retrieved from

3.3 Using Source Text: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

Learning Objectives

Target icon


After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • quote source text directly with accuracy and correct punctuation
      • paraphrase, summarize and reformat information collected from written materials


Once you have a collection of credible sources as part of a formal secondary research project such as a report, your next step is to build that report using those sources as evidence. When you incorporate outside research into your writing, you must cite that information to ensure the reader knows what information is based on research sources.  As with other areas of business writing, incorporate information from print or digital research into usable evidence takes skill and practice.

Figure 3.3.1: Research can be incorporated into your writing in one or all of these strategies.

You essentially have four ways of using research material:

In each case, acknowledging your source with a citation at the point of use and following-up with bibliographical reference at the end of your document is essential to avoid a charge of plagiarism.  The following video provides a few tips on the why, where, and when of good citation practice.

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Let’s now look at each of these research strategies in turn.

Research Strategies

Quoting Sources

Quoting is the easiest way to use sources in a research document, but it also requires care in using it properly so that you don’t accidentally plagiarize, misquote, or overquote. At its simplest, quoting takes word-for-word information from an original source, puts quotation marks (“ ”) around that information, and embeds it into your writing.   The following points represent conventions and best practices when quoting:

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Paraphrasing Sources

Paraphrasing or “indirect quotation” is putting research information in your own words.  Paraphrasing is the preferred way of using a source when the original wording isn’t important. This way, you can incorporate the ideas and tailor the wording so it is consistent with your writing style and your audience’s needs. Also, paraphrasing a source into your own words proves your advanced understanding of the research information.

Only paraphrase short passages and ensure the paraphrase faithfully represent the source text by containing the same meaning as in the original source in about the same length. Remember, a paraphrase is as much a fact as a direct quotation.  Therefore, your paraphrase must accurately reflect the information in the original text.  As a matter of good writing, you should try to streamline your paraphrase so that it tallies fewer words than the original passage while still preserving the original meaning.  In addition, a paraphrase must always be introduced.  Since a paraphrase does not have visual cues to separate it from your writing, the reader must know when the paraphrase begins, for example with the phrase, “according to the author” and where the paraphrase ends, for example with a citation of the source.

For example: According to the author, paraphrasing can be challenging (author, year).

Properly paraphrasing without distorting, slanting, adding to, or deleting ideas from the source passage takes skill. The stylistic versatility required to paraphrase can be especially challenging to students whose general writing skills are still developing.  A common mistake that students make when paraphrasing is to go only partway towards paraphrasing by substituting major words (nouns, verbs, and adjectives) here and there while leaving the source passage’s basic sentence structure intact. This inevitably leaves strings of words from the original untouched in the “paraphrased” version, which is considered plagiarism.  Consider, for instance, the following botched attempt at a paraphrase of the Lester (1976) passage that substitutes words selectively (lazily):

Students often overuse quotations when taking notes, and thus overuse them in research reports. About 10% of your final paper should be a direct quotation. You should thus attempt to reduce the exact copying of source materials while note-taking (pp. 46-47).

Let’s look at the same attempt, but colour the unchanged words red to see how unsuccessful the paraphraser was in rephrasing the original in their own words (given in black):

Students often overuse quotations when taking notes, and thus overuse them in research reports. About 10% of your final paper should be direct quotation. You should thus attempt to reduce the exact copying of source materials while note taking (pp. 46-47).

As you can see, several strings of words from the original are left untouched because the writer didn’t change the sentence structure of the original. The Originality Report from plagiarism-catching software such as Turnitin would indicate that the passage is 64% plagiarized because it retains 25 of the original words (out of 39 in this “paraphrase”) but without quotation marks around them. Correcting this by simply adding quotation marks around passages like “when taking notes, and” would be unacceptable because those words aren’t important enough on their own to warrant direct quotation. The fix would just be to paraphrase more thoroughly by altering the words and the sentence structure, as shown in the paraphrase a few paragraphs above. But how do you go about doing this?

Paraphrase easily by breaking down the task into these seven steps:

  1. Read and re-read the source-text passage so that you thoroughly understand each point it makes. If it’s a long passage, you might want to break it up into digestible chunks. If you’re unsure of the meaning of any of the words, look them up in a dictionary; you can even just type the word into the Google search bar, hit Enter, and a definition will appear, along with results of other online dictionary pages that define the same word.
  2. Look away and get your mind off the target passage.
  3. Without looking back at the source text, repeat its main points as you understood them—not from memorizing the exact words, but as you would explain the same ideas in different words out loud to a friend.
  4. Still, without looking back at the source text, jot down that spoken wording and tailor the language so that it’s stylistically appropriate for your audience; edit and proofread your written version to make it grammatically correct in a way that perhaps your spoken-word version wasn’t.
  5. Now compare your written paraphrase version to the original to ensure that:
  1. If any two words from the original remain, go further in changing those expressions by using a thesaurus in combination with a dictionary. When you enter a word into a thesaurus, it gives you a list of synonyms, which are different words that mean the same thing as the word you enter into it.
  1. Cite your source. Just because you didn’t put quotation marks around the words doesn’t mean that you don’t have to cite your source.

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More on Paraphrasing

NSCC Writing Centre Guide: Quoting, Paraphrasing, & Summarizing

Purdue OWL Paraphrasing learning module (Cimasko, 2013) and Exercise.

Summarizing Sources

Figure 3.3.2: How to write a summary in three simple steps.

Summarizing is one of the most important skills in communications because professionals of every kind must explain to non-expert customers, managers, and even co-workers complex concepts in a way non-experts can understand. Adapting the message to such audiences requires brevity and the ability to translate jargon-heavy technical details into plain, accessible language.

Summarizing is thus paraphrasing only the highlights of the original source. Like paraphrasing, a summary re-casts the original information in your own words and must be introduced; unlike a paraphrase, a summary is significantly shorter than the original text.  A summary can reduce a whole novel, article, or film to a single-sentence. 

The procedure for summarizing is much like that of paraphrasing except that it involves the extra step of pulling out highlights from the source. Altogether, this can be done in six steps, one of which includes the seven steps of paraphrasing, making this a twelve-step procedure:

  1. Determine how big your summary should be (according to your audience’s needs) so that you have a sense of how much material you should collect from the source.
  2. Read and re-read the source text so that you thoroughly understand it.
  3. Pull out the main points, which usually come first at any level of direct-approach organization (i.e., the prologue or introduction at the beginning of a book, the abstract at the beginning of an article, or the topic sentence at the beginning of a paragraph); review collecting sources above on reading for main points and below on organizational patterns.
    • Disregard detail such as supporting evidence and examples.
    • If you have an electronic copy of the source, copy and paste the main points into your notes; for a print source that you can mark up, use a highlighter then transcribe those main points into your electronic notes.
    • How many points you collect depends on how big your summary should be (according to audience needs).
  4. Paraphrase those main points following the seven-step procedure for paraphrasing outlined in paraphrasing sources above.
  5. Edit your draft to make it coherent, clear, and especially concise.
  6. Ensure that your summary meets the needs of your audience and that your source is cited. Again, not having quotation marks around words doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for documenting your source(s).

Once you have a stable of summarized, paraphrased, and quoted passages from research sources, building your document around them requires good organizational skills. We’ll focus more on this next step of the drafting process in the following chapter, but basically, it involves arranging your integrated research material in a coherent fashion, with main points upfront and supporting points below proceeding in a logical sequence towards a convincing conclusion. Throughout this chapter, however, we’ve frequently encountered the requirement to document sources by citing and referencing, as in the last steps of both summarizing and paraphrasing indicated above. After reinforcing our quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing skills, we can turn our focus on how to document sources.

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Key Takeaway

key iconIncluding research in your work typically involves properly quoting, paraphrasing, and/or summarizing source text, as well as citing it.


Find an example of professional writing in your field of study, perhaps from a textbook, trade journal, or industry website that you collected as part of the previous section’s informal annotated bibliography exercise.

  1. If you’ve already pulled out the main points as part of the previous exercise, practice including them as properly punctuated quotations in your document with smooth signal phrases introducing them.
  2. Paraphrase those same main-point sentences following the seven-step procedure outlined in paraphrasing sources above. In other words, if Exercise 1 above was a direct quotation, now try indirect quotation for each passage.
  3. Following the six-step procedure outlined in summarizing sources above, summarize the entire source article, webpage, or whatever document you chose by reducing it to a single coherent paragraph of no more than 10 lines on your page.


Cimasko, T. (2013, March 22). Paraphrasing. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Conrey, S. M., Pepper, M., & Brizee, A. (2013, April 3). Quotation mark exercise and answers. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Conrey, S. M., Pepper, M., & Brizee, A. (2017, July 25). How to use quotation marks. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Fairfieldulib. (2015). How to paraphrase [Video file]. Retrieved from

Hacker, Diana. (2006). The Bedford handbook (7th ed.). New York: St. Martin’s. Retrieved from

Lester, J. D. (1976). Writing research papers: A complete guide (2nd ed.). Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman.

PPCC Writing Center elearning Series. (2016). Part 2 Quoting [Video file]. Retrieved from

Hacker, Diana. (2006). The Bedford handbook (7th ed.) P.603. New York: St. Martin’s. Retrieved from

3.4 Documenting Sources in APA

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • integrate and document information using commonly accepted citation guidelines


To prove formally that we’ve done research, we use a two-part system for documenting sources. The first part is a citation that gives a few brief pieces of information about the source right where that source is used in our document and points to the second part, the bibliographic reference at the end of the document. This second part gives further details about the source so that readers can easily retrieve it themselves. Though documenting research requires a little more effort than not, it looks so much better than including research in a document without showing where you got it, which is called plagiarism. Before focusing further on how to document sources, it’s worthwhile considering why we do it and what exactly is wrong with plagiarism.

Academic Integrity vs. Plagiarism

Academic integrity basically means that you do your work yourself and formally credit your sources when you use research, whereas plagiarism is cheating. Students often plagiarize by stealing the work of others from the internet (e.g., copying and pasting text, or dragging and dropping images) and placing it into an assignment without quoting or citing; putting their name on that assignment means that they’ve dishonestly presented someone else’s work as their own. Lesser violations involve not quoting or citing properly. But why would anyone try to deceive their instructor like this when instructors award points for doing research? If you’re going to do your homework, you might as well do it right by finding credible sources, documenting them, and getting credit for doing so rather than sneaking research in and ending up getting penalized for it. But what makes plagiarism so wrong?

Plagiarism is theft, and bad habits of stealing others’ work in school likely begin as liberal attitudes towards intellectual property in our personal lives, but often develop into more serious crimes of copyright or patent violations in professional situations with equally serious financial penalties or destruction of reputations and earning power. The bad habits perhaps start from routines of downloading movies and music illegally because, well, everybody’s doing it and few get caught, or so the thinking goes; the rewards seem to outweigh the risks. But when download bandits become professionals and are tasked with, say, posting on their company website some information about a new service the company is offering, their research and writing procedure might go something like this:

  1. They want their description of the service to look professional, so they Google-search to see what other companies offering the same service say about it on their websites. So far so good.
  2. Those other descriptions look good, and the employee can’t think of a better way to put it, so they copy and paste the other company’s description into their own website. Here’s where things go wrong.
  3. They also see that the other company has posted an attractive photo beside their description, so the employee downloads that and puts it on their website also.
Jill Abramson
Figure 3.4.1: Image of Jill Abramson, former editor of the New York Times, who has been accused of plagiarism in her latest book (, 2019).

The problem is that both the text and photo were protected by copyright. Copyright protection exists automatically and does not require the presence of a copyright statement. In our example an “All Rights Reserved” copyright notice was present at the bottom the company’s webpage and should have been interpreted as warning against copying. Once the employee posts the stolen text and photo, the copyright owner (or their legal agents) finds it through a simple Google search, Google Alerts notification, reverse image search, or digital watermarking notification. The company’s agents send them a “cease & desist” order, but they ignore it and then find that they’re getting sued for damages. Likewise, if you’re in hi-tech R&D (research and development), help develop technology that uses already-patented technology without paying royalties to the patent owner, and take it to market, the patent owner is being robbed of the ability to bring in revenue on their intellectual property themselves and can sue you for lost earnings. Patent, copyright, and trademark violations are a major legal and financial concern in the professional world), and acts of plagiarism have indeed ruined perpetrators’ careers when they’re caught, which is easier than ever.

Students who think they’re too clever to get caught plagiarizing may not realize that plagiarism in anything they submit electronically is easily exposed by sophisticated plagiarism-detection software and other techniques. Most instructors use third-party software (like Turnitin and SafeAssign) that produces originality reports showing the percentage of assignment content copied from sources found either on the public internet or in a global database of student-submitted assignments. That way, assignments borrowed or bought from someone who’s submitted the same or similar will also be flagged.

Other techniques allow instructors to track down uncited media just as professional photographers or stock photography vendors like Getty Images use digital watermarks or reverse image searches to find unpermitted uses of their copyrighted material.

Plagiarism is also easy to identify in hardcopy assignments. Dramatic, isolated improvements in a student’s quality of work either between assignments or within an assignment will trigger an instructor’s suspicions. If a student’s writing on an assignment is mostly terrible with multiple writing errors in each sentence, but then is suddenly perfect and professional-looking in one sentence only without quotation marks or a citation, the instructor just runs a Google search on that sentence to find where exactly it was copied from.

A cheater’s last resort to try to make plagiarism untraceable is to pay someone to do a customized assignment for them, but this still arouses suspicions for the same reasons as above. The student who goes from submitting poor work to perfect work becomes a “person of interest” to their instructor in all that they do after that. The hack also becomes expensive not only for that assignment but also for all the instances when the cheater will have to pay someone to do the work that they should have just learned to do themselves. For all these reasons, it’s better just to learn what you’re supposed to by doing assignments yourself and showing academic integrity by crediting sources properly when doing research.

But do you need to cite absolutely everything you research? Not necessarily. Good judgment is required to know what information can be left uncited without penalty. If you look up facts that are common knowledge (perhaps just not common to you yet, since you had to look them up), such as that the first Prime Minister of Canada Sir John A. MacDonald represented the riding of Victoria for his second term as PM even without setting foot there, you wouldn’t need to cite them because any credible source you consulted would say the same. Such citations end up looking like attempts to pad an assignment with research.

Screenshot of NSCC’s Academic Integrity Module

Learn more by taking NSCC’s Academic Integrity Tutorial.

Certainly, anything quoted directly from a source (because the wording is important) must be cited, as well as anyone’s original ideas, opinions, or theories that you paraphrase or summarize (i.e., indirectly quote) from a book, article, or webpage with an identifiable author, argument, and/or primary research producing new facts. You must also cite any media such as photos, videos, drawings/paintings, graphics, graphs, etc. If you are ever unsure about whether something should be cited, you can always ask your librarian or, better yet, your instructor since they’ll ultimately assess your work for academic integrity. Even the mere act of asking assures them that you care about academic integrity.

For more on plagiarism, you can also visit:

Citing and Referencing Sources in APA Style

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As mentioned above, a documentation system comes in two parts, the first of which briefly notes a few details about the source (author, year, and location) in parentheses immediately after you use the source, and this citation points the reader to more reference details (title and publication information) in a full bibliographical entry at the end of your document. Let’s now focus on these in-text citations (“in-text” because the citation is placed at the point of use in your sentence rather than footnoted or referenced at the end) in the different documentation styles—APA, MLA, and IEEE—used by different disciplines across the college.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) documentation style is preferred by the social sciences and general disciplines such as business because it strips the essential elements of a citation down to a few pieces of information that briefly identify the source and cue the reader to further details in the References list at the back. The basic structure of the parenthetical in-text citation is as follows:

Its placement tells the reader that everything between the signal phrase and citation is either a direct or indirect quotation of the source, and everything after (until the next signal phrase) is your own writing and ideas. As you can see above, the three pieces of information in the citation are author, year, and location.

Figure 3.4.2: All in-text citations must have a corresponding entry on the reference list at the end of the document.

1. Author(s) last name(s)

  1. Year of Publication
  1. Location of the direct or indirect quotation 

Table 3.4.1 shows how these guidelines play out in sample citations with variables such as the placement of the author and year in either the signal phrase or parenthetical in-text citation, number of authors, and source types. Notice that for punctuation:

Table 3.4.1: Example APA-style In-text Citations with Variations in Number of Authors and Source Types

Ex. Signal Phrase In-text Citation Example Sentences Citing Sources
1. Single author + year Paragraph location on a webpage According to CEO Kyle Wiens (2012), “Good grammar makes good business sense” (¶ 7).
2. Generalization Single author + year + location Smart CEOs know that “Good grammar makes good business sense” (Wiens, 2012, ¶ 7).
3. Two authors + year Page number in a paginated book Smart CEOs know that “Good grammar makes good business sense” (Wiens, 2012, ¶ 7).
As Strunk and White (2000) put it, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words . . . for the same reason that a . . . machine [should have] no unnecessary parts” (p. 32).
4. Book title Two authors + year + page number As the popular Elements of Style authors put it, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words” (Strunk & White, 2000, p. 32).
5. Three authors + year for first and subsequent instances Paragraph location on a webpage Conrey, Pepper, and Brizee (2017) advise, “successful use of quotation marks is a practical defense against accidental plagiarism” (¶ 1). . . . Conrey et al. also warn, “indirect quotations still require proper citations, and you will be committing plagiarism if you fail to do so” (¶ 6).
6. Website Three authors + year + location for first and subsequent instances The Purdue OWL advises that “successful use of quotation marks is a practical defense against accidental plagiarism” (Conrey, Pepper, & Brizee, 2017, ¶ 1). . . . The OWL also warns, “indirect quotations still require proper citations, and you will be committing plagiarism if you fail to do so” (Conrey et al., 2017, ¶ 6).
7. More than five authors + year Page number in an article Cook et al. (2016) prove that “Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are causing recent global warming” (p. 1).
8. Generalization More than four authors + year + page number How can politicians still deny that “Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are causing recent global warming” (John Cook et al., 2016, p. 1)?
9. Corporate author + year Page number in a report The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC, 2012) recommends that health care spending on mental wellness increase from 7% to 9% by 2022 (p. 13). . . . The MHCC (2012) estimates that “the total costs of mental health problems and illnesses to the Canadian economy are at least $50 billion per year” (p. 125).
10. Paraphrase instead Corporate author + year + page number Spending on mental wellness should increase from 7% to 9% by 2022 (The Mental Health Commission of Canada [MHCC], p. 13). . . . Current estimates are that “the total costs of mental health problems and illnesses to the Canadian economy are at least $50 billion per year” (MHCC, 2012, p. 125).

For more on APA-style citations see:

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The References list

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In combination, citations and references offer a reader-friendly means of enabling readers to find and retrieve research sources themselves, as each citation points them to the full bibliographical details in the References list at the end of the document. If the documentation system were reduced to just one part where citations were filled with the bibliographical details, the reader would be constantly impeded by 2-3 lines of bibliographical details following each use of a source. By tucking the bibliographical entries away at the back, authors also enable readers to go to the References list to examine at a glance the extent to which a document is informed by credible sources as part of a due-diligence credibility check in the research process.

Each bibliographical entry making up the References list includes information about a source in a certain order. Consider the following bibliographical entry for a book in APA style, for instance:

Example:  Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (2000). Elements of style (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

We see here a standard sequence including the authors, year of publication, title (italicized because it’s a long work), and publication information. You can follow this closely for the punctuation and style of any book. Online sources follow much the same style, except that the publisher location and name are replaced by the web address preceded by “Retrieved from,” as in:

Example: Wiens, K. (2012, July 20). I won’t hire people who use poor grammar. Here’s why. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Note also that the title has been split into both a webpage title (the non-italicized title of the article) in sentence style and the title of the website (italicized because it’s the larger work from which the smaller one came). The easiest way to remember the rule for whether to italicize the title is to ask yourself: is the source I’m referencing the part or the whole? The whole (a book, a website, a newspaper title) is always in italics, whereas the part (a book chapter, a webpage, a newspaper article title) is not; see the third point below on Titles for more on this). A magazine article reference follows a similar sequence of information pieces, albeit replacing the publication or web information with the volume number, issue number, and page range of the article within the magazine, as in:

Example: Dames, K. M. (2007, June). Understanding plagiarism and how it differs from copyright infringement. Computers in Libraries, 27(6), 25-27.


Figure 3.4.3: Template reference list demonstrating some of the key characteristics.

With these three basic source types in mind, let’s examine some of the guidelines for forming bibliographical entries with a view to variations for each part such as number and types of authors and titles:

Though reference generator applications are available online (simply Google-search for them) and as features within word processing applications like Microsoft Word to construct citations and references for you, putting them together on your own may save time if you’re adept at APA. The following guidelines help you organize and format your References page(s) according to APA convention when doing it manually:

Tabbing a References list by making the left-margin tab visible, clicking on the bottom triangle, and dragging it a half-centimeter to the right

Figure 3.4.4: Tabbing a References list by making the left-margin tab visible, clicking on the bottom triangle, and dragging it a half-centimeter to the right

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Citing Images and Other Media

How do you cite an image or a video embedded in a presentation, for instance? A common mistake among students is to just grab whatever photos or illustrations they find in a Google image search, toss them into a presentation PowerPoint or other document, and be done with it. However, that would be classic plagiarism and might also be a copyright infringement. To avoid copyright infringement and plagiarism, the student should first determine if they’re permitted to use the image then cite it properly.

Whether you’ve been granted permission or own the image yourself,  you must still credit the source of the image just like when you quote directly or indirectly. Just because a photo or graphic is on the internet doesn’t mean that it’s for the taking; every image is automatically given copyright protection and belongs to owner as soon as they produce it (e.g., you own the copyright to all the photos you take on your smartphone).

Whether or not you can download and use images from the internet depends on both its copyright status and your purpose for using it. Using images from image repositories that only contain copyright free images is the safest way to source images. For content found on websites, the safest is to ask your librarian if your use of an image can be used under an copyright exception like fair dealing.

More Information about Images

Standard practice in citing images in APA style is to refer to them in your text and then properly label them with figure numbers, captions, and copyright details. Referring to them in your text, referencing the figure numbers in parentheses, and placing the image as close as possible to that reference ensures that the image is relevant to your topic rather than a frivolous attempt to pad your research document with non-text space-filler. The image must be:

Even if you retrieve the image from public domain archives such as the Wikimedia Commons (see Figure 3.4.5), you must indicate that status along with the other information outlined above and illustrated below.

. Algonquin couple of the Kitcisipiriniwak

Figure 3.4.5: Algonquin couple of the Kitcisipiriniwak (“Ottawa River Men”) encountered by the French on an islet on the Ottawa River. From “Algonquines,” watercolour by an unknown 18th-century artist, Public domain (2008) courtesy of the City of Montreal Records Management & Archives, Montreal, Canada.

If your document is a PowerPoint or other type of presentation, a more concise citation might be more appropriate. The citation below an image on a PowerPoint slide could thus look more like:

. Algonquin couple of the Kitcisipiriniwak

Source: “Algonquines” (2008)

In either case, the References at the end would have a proper APA-style bibliographical entry in the following format:

Example: Creator’s last name, first initial. (Role of creator). (Year of creation). Title of image or description of image. [Type of work]. Retrieved from URL/database

If the identity of the creator is not available and year of creation unknown, as in the above case, the title moves into the creator/owner’s position and the date given is when the image was posted online:

Example: Algonquines. (2008, August 19). [Digital Image]. Retrieved from

For citing and referencing an online video such as from YouTube, you would just follow the latest guidelines from the official authority on each style such as Citing these is a little tricky because YouTube users often post content they don’t own the copyright to. If that’s the case, you would indicate the actual author or owner in the author position as you would for anything else, but follow it with the user’s screen name in brackets. If the author and the screen name are the same, you would just go with the screen name in the author position. For a video on how to do this exactly, for instance, you would cite the screen given under the video in YouTube as the author, followed by just the year (not the full date) indicated below the screen name following “Published on” (James B. Duke, 2017). In the References section, “[Video file]” follows the video’s italicized, sentence-style title, and the bibliographical reference otherwise looks like any other online source:

Example: James B. Duke. (2017, January 13). How to cite Youtube videos in APA format [Video file]. Retrieved from

Whenever in doubt about what style to follow, especially as technology changes, always consult the relevant authority on whatever source medium you need to cite and reference. If you doubt the James B. Duke Memorial Library employee’s video above, for instance, you can verify the information at and see that it indeed is accurate advice (McAdoo, 2011).  For more, see the Simon Fraser University Library website’s guide Finding and using online images (Thompson, 2017) for a collection of excellent databases and other websites to locate images, detailed instructions for how to cite images in APA and MLA style, and information on handling copyrighted material.

Key Takeaways

key icon

      •   Cite and reference each source you use in a research document following the documentation style conventions adopted by your field of study.
      • Always cite external research: text, images, and video, print or digital



Write a short paragraph that summarizes the unit using proper APA style and a complete reference.



Algonquin College. (2016, March 23). AA20: Plagiarism. Policies. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association (APA). (2018). The Basics of APA style: Tutorial. Learning APA Style. Retrieved from

APA. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bailey, J. (2012, August 21). 5 famous plagiarists: Where are they now? PlagiarismToday. Retrieved from (2019).  Jill Abramson: Ex-New York Times editor accused of plagiarism. News. Retrieved from

Conrey, S. M., Pepper, M., & Brizee, A. (2017, July 25). How to use quotation marks. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Cook, J., et al. (2016, April 13). Consensus on consensus: A synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters 11, 1-7. Retrieved from

Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42, amended June 19, 2017). Retrieved from the Justice Laws Website:

Elder, C., Pflugfelder, E., & Angeli, E. (2010, December 2). Avoiding plagiarism. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Helbig, K. (2014, April 20). 11 numbers that show how prolific illegal downloading is right now. Public Radio International. Retrieved from

James B. Duke. (2017, January 13). How to cite Youtube videos in APA format [Video file]. Retrieved from

McAdoo, T. (2011, October 27). How to create a reference for a YouTube video. APA Style. Retrieved from

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives: The mental health strategy for Canada. Calgary: MHCC. Retrieved from

Paiz, J. M., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., Brizee, A., & Keck, R. (2017, September 11). In-text citation: The basics. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Paiz, J. M., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., Brizee, A., & Keck, R. (2017, October 2). Reference list: Basic rules. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

PPCC Writing Center eLearning Series. (2016).  APA style Part 3: Citations [Video File].  Retrieved from

PPCC Writing Center eLearning Series. (2016). APA References [Video file]. Retrieved from

Rose, O. (2013, August 16). 5 easy to use tools to effectively find and remove stolen content. Kissmetrics. Retrieved from

SecureYourTrademark. (2015, July 13). 71 notorious patent, trademark, and copyright infringement cases.

Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (2000). Elements of style (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Retrieved from

Thompson, J. (2017, September 26). Finding and using online images: Citing. Library. Retrieved from

Wiens, K. (2012, July 20). I won’t hire people who use poor grammar. Here’s why. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from


Chapter 4: The Writing Process 3 — Drafting


Now that you’ve planned out your document and gathered information that meets your audience’s needs, you’re just about ready to start drafting the document’s message. At this point, it’s worthwhile reminding yourself that the words you start entering in your word processor will look different from those your reader will eventually read. By the end of the drafting stage examined in this chapter, your document will be partway there, but how much revising you do depends on how effectively you’ve organized your message.

1 Preparing, 2 Researching, 3 Drafting, 4 Editing           3. Drafting, 3.1 Organizing, 3.2 Outlining, 3.3 Stylizing Sentences and Paragraphs, 3.4 Document Design

Figure P4.1: The four-stage writing process and Stage 3 Breakdown


4.1 Choosing an Organizational Pattern

Learning Objectives

Target icon

After studying this unit, you will be able to recognize and apply standard patterns of message organization.


The shape of your message depends on the purpose. As discussed previously, business communications can have three purposes: to inform, to persuade, or promote goodwill. Without a clear plan to achieve the intended purpose, readers can get lost and confused. That is why business writing has standard patterns of organization to structure thoughts and messages to make them understandable to the receiver.

Most business messages follow a three-part structure that accommodates the three-part division of our attention spans and memory:

Attention-grabbing opening: The opening hooks the reader in to keep reading by capturing their attention. In longer messages, the opening includes an introduction that establishes the framework in which the reader can understand everything that follows.

Detail-packed body: The message body supports the opening with further detail supporting the main point. Depending on the type of message and organizational structure that suits it best, the body may involve:

This information is crucial to the audience’s understanding of and commitment to the message.  Our memory typically blurs these details, however, so having them written down for future reference is important. The message body is a collection of important subpoints in support of the main point, as well as transitional elements that keep the message coherent and plot a course towards its completion.

Wrap-up and closing: The closing completes the coverage of the topic and may also point to what’s next, such as cues to what action should follow the message (e.g., what the reader is supposed to do in response to a letter, such as a reply by a certain date).  Depending on the size, type, and organizational structure of the message, the closing may also offer a concluding summary of the major subpoints made in the body to ensure that the purpose of the message has been achieved. In a persuasive message, for instance, this summary helps prove the opening thesis by confirming that the body of evidence and argument supported it convincingly.

The effective writer loads the message with important points both at the opening and closing of a document because the reader will focus on and remember what they read first and last.

Organizing Patterns

Business communications use two main message patterns: Direct Messages,  Indirect Messages,  while bearing in mind to follow the general three-part structure discussed above. Learning these patterns is valuable to reduce confusing and disorganized messages.   Anyone can become a clearer and more coherent thinker by learning to organize messages consistently according to well-established patterns.

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Direct Messages

The direct approach frontloads the main point, which means getting right to the point in the first or second sentence of the opening paragraph. The direct approach is used when you expect the audience to be pleased, mildly interested, or have a neutral response to the message.  Positive, day-to-day, and routine messages use the direct organizing pattern.  The explanation and details follow in the body paragraph.  Getting to the main idea saves the reader time by immediately clarifying the purpose of communication and thus reduces receive frustration.

Since most business messages have a positive or neutral effect, business writers should become very familiar with this organizing pattern.  Frontloading a message accommodates the reader’s capacity for remembering what they see first, as well as respects their time in achieving the goal of communication, which is understanding the writer’s point.

Indirect Messages

While the direct approach leads with the main point, the indirect approach strategically moves the main idea deeper in the message. The indirect approach is used for delivering bad, unwanted, or sensitive news.  When you expect the reader will be resistant, displeased, upset, shocked, or even hostile towards the message, the direct approach would come off as overly blunt, tactless, and even cruel.

: Choosing an organizational approach in the writing process infographic
Figure 4.1.1: The two main business writing organizing patterns and when they should be used. (Business Communications, 2019)

The goal of indirect messages is to use the opening paragraph and some of the body area to ease the reader towards an unwanted or upsetting message.  Thus, the indirect approach will first provide an explanation or justification, before delivering the main idea.  This organizing pattern allows the reader to become interested enough to read the whole message. This organizational pattern is ideal for two main types of messages: those delivering bad news or addressing a sensitive subject, and those requiring persuasion such as marketing messages pitching a product, service, or even an idea.

Persuasive Messages:

All persuasive message follows the so-called AIDA approach:

  1. Attention-grabbing opener
  2. Interest-generating follow-up
  3. Desire-building details
  4. Action cue

Nearly every commercials follow this general structure, which is designed to keep you interested while enticing you towards a certain action such as buying a product or service. Marketing relies on this structure because it effectively accommodates our attention spans’ need to be hooked in with a strong first impression and told what to do at the end so that we remember those details best, while working on our desires—even subconsciously—in the body paragraphs.

Negative Messages

Likewise, a bad-news message starts by presenting the bad news after an explanation or justification of the bad news is presented.  The typical organization of a bad-news message is:

  1. Buffer offering some good news, positives, goodwill, or any other reason to keep reading
  2. Reasons for the bad news about to come
  3. Bad news buried and quickly deflected towards further positives or alternatives
  4. Action cue

Delaying the bad news softens the blow by surrounding it with positive or agreeable information that keeps the audience reading so that they miss neither the bad news nor the rest of the information they need to understand it. If a doctor opened by saying “You’ve got cancer and probably have six months to live,” the patient would probably be reeling so much in hopelessness from the death-sentence blow that they wouldn’t be in the proper frame of mind to hear important follow-up information about life-extending treatment options. If an explanation of those options preceded the bad news, however, the patient would probably walk away with a more hopeful feeling of being able to beat the cancer and survive. Framing is everything when delivering bad news.

Consider these two concise statements of the same information taking both the direct and indirect approach:

Table 4.1.1.: Comparison of Direct and Indirect Messages  
Direct Message Indirect Message
Global Media is cutting costs in its print division by shutting down several local newspapers. Global Media is seeking to improve its profitability across its various divisions. To this end, it is streamlining its local newspaper holdings by strengthening those in robust markets while redirecting resources away from those that have suffered in the economic downturn and trend towards fully online content.

Here we can see at first glance that the indirect message is longer because it takes more care to frame and justify the bad news, starting with an opening that attempts to win over the reader’s agreement by appealing to their sense of reason. In the direct approach, the bad news is delivered concisely in blunt words such as “cutting” and “shutting,” which get the point across economically but suggest cruel aggression with violent imagery. The indirect approach, however, makes the bad news sound quite good—at least to shareholders—with positive words like “improve,” “streamlining,” and “strengthening.” The good news that frames the bad news makes the action sound more like an angelic act of mercy than an aggressive attack. The combination of careful word choices and the order in which the message unfolds determines how well it is received, understood, and remembered as we shall see when we consider further examples of persuasive and bad-news messages later in the textbook.

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Organizing Principles

Several message patterns are available to suit your purposes for writing both direct and indirect-approach messages, so choosing one before writing is essential for staying on track. Their formulaic structures make the job of writing as easy and routine as filling out a form.  By using such organizing principles as chronology (a linear narrative from past to present to future), comparison-contrast, or problem-solution, you arrange your content in a logical order that makes it easy for the reader to follow your message.These organizing principles are identified, explained, and exemplified in the table below. Checking out a variety of websites to see how they use these principles effectively will provide a helpful guide for how to write them. These basic structures can provide readers with a recognizable form that will enable them to find the information they need.

Organizing Principle Structure & Use Example
1. Chronology & 5W+H Linear narrative from beginning to end, including past, present, and possibly future, as well as the who, what, where, when, and how of the story Wolfe Landscaping & Snowblowing began when founder Robert Wolfe realized in 1993 that there was a huge demand for reliable summer lawncare and winter snow removal when it seemed that the few other available services were letting their customers down. Wolfe began operations with three snow-blowing vehicles in the Bridlewood community of Kanata and expanded to include the rest of Kanata and Stittsville throughout the 1990s.
Chronology & 5W+H For historical accounts, incident reports, and biographies WLS continued its eastward expansion throughout the 2000s and now covers the entire capital region as far east as Orleans, plus Barrhaven in the south, with 64 snow-blowing vehicles out on the road at any one time. WLS recently added real-time GPS tracking to its app service and plans to continue expanding its service area to the rural west, south, and east of Ottawa throughout the 2020s.
2. Comparison & Contrast Point-by-point account of the similarities between two or more things, followed by a similarly structured account of their differences Wolfe Snowblowing goes above and beyond what its competitors offer. While all snow blowing services will send a loader-mount snowblower (LMSB) to your house to clear your driveway after a big snowfall, Wolfe’s LMSBs closely follow the city plow to clear your driveway and the snowbank made by the city plow in front of it, as well as the curbside area in front of your house so you still have street parking.
Comparison & Contrast For descriptive analysis of two or more related things If you go with the “Don’t Lift a Finger This Winter” deluxe package, Wolfe will additionally clear and salt your walkway, stairs, and doorstep. With base service pricing 10% cheaper than other companies, going with Wolfe for your snow-removal needs is a no-brainer.
3. Pros & Cons Account of advantages followed by disadvantages. For an analysis of something’s value as a basis for a recommendation to either adopt it or not Why would you want a snow-removal service? Advantages include:Worry-free driveway clearing following the city plowRound-the-clock service clearing your driveway before you leave for work and before you returnTime saved from shoveling your driveway yourself:
*Avoiding the injuries incurred from shoveling yourself.
The disadvantages of other snow-removal services include:
*10% more expensive than our base price
*Potential damage to your driveway or adjoining lawn (WLS will fix any damage free of charge)
*As you can see, the advantages of WLS outweigh the disadvantages for any busy household.
4. Problem & Solution Description of a problem scenario followed by a solution that directly solves that problem.  For marketing products or services and scientific reporting of breakthroughs Are you fed up with getting all geared up in -40 degree weather at 6 a.m. to shovel your driveway before leaving for work? Fed up with finishing shoveling the driveway in a hurry, late for work in the morning, and then the city plow comes by and snow-banks you in just as you’re about to leave? Fed up with coming home after a long, hard day at work only to find that the city plow snow-banked you out?
Well, worry no more! Wolfe Landscaping & Snowblowing has got you covered with its 24-hour snow removal service that follows the city plow to ensure that you always have driveway access throughout the winter months.
5. Cause & Effect Detailed description of the connection between two or more events, actions, or things to show how they relate.  For an analysis of the causal connection between things As soon as snow appears in the weather forecast, Wolfe Landscaping & Snowblowing reserves its crew of dedicated snow blowers for 24-hour snow removal. When accumulation reaches 5 cm in your area, our fleet deploys to remove snow from the driveways of all registered customers before the city plows get there. Once the city plow clears your street, a WLS snowblower returns shortly after to clear the snowbank formed by the city plow at the end of your driveway.
6. Process & Procedure Numbered list describing steps in a chronological sequence of actions towards a goal.  For an analysis of how something works, or instructions for performing a certain task Ordering our snow removal service is as easy as 1 2 3:
Call 1-800-555-SNOW or email us at info@wolfelandscaping&snow
Let us know your address and driveway size (can it fit only one parked car, two end-to-end or side-by-side, four, etc.?)
Pay by credit card over the phone or via our secure website, and we will come by to plant driveway markers within the week. That way, our snow blowers will be able to respect your driveway boundaries throughout the winter clearing season.
7. General to Specific Starts with the bigger picture as context before narrowing the focus to something very specific.  For an in-depth analysis or explanation of a topic Wolfe Landscaping & Snowblowing provides a reliable snow-removal service throughout the winter. We got you covered for any snowfall of 5 cm or more between November 1st and April 15th. Once accumulation reaches 5 cm at any time day or night, weekday or weekend, holiday or not, we send out our fleet of snow blowers to cover neighbourhood routes, going house-by-house to service registered customers. At each house, a loader-mount snowblower scrapes your driveway and redistributes the snow evenly across your front yard in less than five minutes.
8. Definition & Example Starts with a definition and provides specific examples for illustration.  For explaining concepts to people coming to the topic for the first time A loader-mount snowblower (LMSB) is a heavy-equipment vehicle that removes snow from a surface by pulling it into a front-mounted impeller with an auger and propelling it out of a top-mounted discharge chute. Our fleet consists of green John Deere SB21 Series and red M-B HD-SNB LMSBs.
9. Point Pattern A bullet-point listing of various connected but unprioritized points supporting the main point preceding them.
For breaking down an explanation in a reader-friendly point-by-point presentation such as an FAQ page
Wolfe Landscaping & Snowblowing’s “Don’t Lift a Finger This Winter” deluxe package ensures that you will always find your walkway and driveway clear when you exit your home after a snowfall this winter! It includes:
Clearing and salting your driveway with every 3 cm or more of snow accumulation
Clearing the snowbank at the end of your driveway within minutes of it being formed by the city plow.
Shoveling and salting your walkway all the way to your front door after a 3 cm+ snowfall or freezing rain
Shoveling by request any other walkways on your property.
10. Testimonial First-person account of an experience.
For offering a perspective that the reader can relate to as if they were to experience it themselves
According to Linda Sinclair in the Katimavik neighbourhood, “Wolfe did a great job clearing our snow this past winter. We didn’t see them much because they were always there and gone in a flash, but the laneway was always scraped clear by the time we left for work in the morning if it snowed in the night. We never had a problem when we got home either, unlike when we used Sherman Snowblowing the year before and we always had to stop, park on the street, and shovel the snowbank made by the city plow whenever it snowed while we were at work. Wolfe was the better service by far.”

Though shorter documents may contain only one such organizing principle, longer ones typically involve a mix of different organizational patterns used as necessary to support the document’s overall purpose.

key icon

Key Takeaways

Before beginning to draft a document, let your purpose for writing and anticipated audience reaction determine whether to take a direct or indirect approach and choose an appropriate organizing principle to help structure your message.


1. Consider some good news you’ve received recently (or would like to receive if you haven’t). Assuming the role of the one who delivered it (or who you would like to deliver it), write a three-part direct-approach message explaining it to yourself in as much detail as necessary.
2. Consider some bad news you’ve received recently (or fear receiving if you haven’t). Write a four-part indirect-approach message explaining it to yourself as if you were the one delivering it.
3. Draft a three-paragraph email to your boss (actual or imagined) where you recommend purchasing a new piece of equipment or tool. Use the following organizational structure:

i. Frontload your message by stating your purpose for writing directly in the first sentence or two.
ii. Describe the problem that the tool is meant to address in the follow-up paragraph.
iii. Provide a detailed solution describing the equipment/tool and its action in the third paragraph.

4. Picture yourself a few years from now as a professional in your chosen field. You’ve been employed and are getting to know how things work in this industry when an opportunity to branch out on your own presents itself. To minimize start-up costs, you do as much of the work as you can manage yourself, including the marketing and promotion. To this end, you figure out how to put together a website and write the content yourself. For this exercise, write a piece for each of the ten organizing principles explained and exemplified in Table 11.2 above and about the same length as each, but tailored to suit the products and/or services you will be offering in your chosen profession.


Baddeley, A. (2000). Short-term and working memory. In E. Tulving & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Memory (pp. 77-92). New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from

Houng, D. (2019). Direct and indirect approaches [Video file]. Retrieved from

4.2 Outlining Your Message

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • apply outlining techniques to drafting documents


Once the organizing principle has been determined, create an outline for the message.  An outline will help plot the bare-bones structure of the message so it can be fleshed out into full sentences and paragraphs. Outlining helps writers get past one of the most terrifying moments in the writing process: writer’s block. Even after completing all the other steps of the writing process explored above, freezing up while staring down a blank screen is an anxiety-driven mental bottleneck that often comes from either lacking anything to say or thinking that the first draft has to be perfect.  Drafting is supposed to produce a sketchy, disappointing mess only because the goal at this stage is to get ideas down fast so that you can fix them up later in the editing stage.


Figure 4.2.1: A template of an alphanumeric outline.

Outlining is a structured brainstorming activity that helps keep you on track by assigning major, overarching ideas and relatively minor, supporting points to their proper places in the framework of your chosen organizing principle. At its most basic form for a three-part message, an outline looks like the following:

You can add further points in the body and, as shown in the middle of Figure 12.1, subdivide them even further with lowercase roman numerals, regular numbers, lowercase letters, etc. depending on the size of the document and the support needed. View the video Outlines, by UNC Writing Center for an overview of the outlining process.

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Table 4.2.1 presents an outline of an email message for someone who wants to subscribe to a snow-removal service.  The draft of the email message is also presented to demonstrate how to move from the outline to the completed product.

Table 4.2.1: Brief Message Outline as a Basis for an Email Draft

Message Outline
  1. Interested
  2. Our details
    1.  address
    2. driveway
  3. Questions:
    1. prepaid cost vs. one-time?
    2. discounts?
Email Message Draft
Greetings! I am interested in your snow-removal service this winter.

We’re at 5034 Tofino Crescent, and our driveway can fit four cars, so how much would that come to for the prepaid service?

Alternatively, if we decide to do the snow removal ourselves for most of the winter but are in a jam at some point, is it possible to call you for one-time snow removal? How much would that be? Also, do you offer any discounts for first-time customers?

Warm regards,

Christine Cook

Once an outline is in place, the details of each point can be fleshed out into full sentences and other conventional message components as well.

The specific architecture of the outline depends on the organizing principle chosen as appropriate to convey the writing purpose.  Table 12.2 below demonstrates three principles.

Table 4.2.2: Outline Possibilities Based on Organizing Principles

Organizing Principle Outline
1. Chronology & 5W+H
  1. Past
    1. Founding: who, when, what, and why
    2. Origin and expansion: where, when, and how
  2. Present
    1. Coverage: where
    2. Technology: what
  3. Future: where and when
2. Comparison & Contrast
  1. Main idea: Wolfe is better than the competition
  2. Background context/details: Comparison-Contrast
    1. Comparison: what all companies do—clear your driveway
    2. Contrast: how Wolfe does it better
      1. Follows the city plow
      2. Does your street parking
      3. Offers walkway shoveling and salting
      4. 10% cheaper for base service
  3. Conclusion: Wolfe wins, no contest!
3. Pros & Cons
  1. FAQ: Why get snow removal?
  2. Pros & Cons
    1. Advantages
      1. professional driveway clearing
      2. 24/7 service
      3. saves time
      4. avoids injury
    2. Disadvantages
      1. expense
      2. potential property damage
  3. Concluding recommendation: get the service

As we shall see later in the textbook, outlining is key to organizing other projects such as presentations and reports.  Outlining keeps you on track and prevents wasted efforts.

Figure 4.2.2: Four steps to creating effective outlines.


Key Takeaways

key iconBegin your draft by outlining the major and minor points in a framework based on the organizing principle appropriate for your purpose so that you can flesh it out into full draft sentences after.


1. Find a sample article or document and break it down into a hierarchically structured outline with brief points for each level of organization. Follow the numbering divisions in the outline template given at the beginning of this section. Does this help you understand the structure of the message that you otherwise didn’t consider but nonetheless relied on to understand it?
2. Outline your next substantial email (i.e., more than a hundred words in length) using hierarchical notes following the structure given at the beginning of this section. Does doing so offer any advantages to approaching the writing process without a plan?

4.3 Standard Business Style

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • edit your writing using elements of business writing style
      • apply the 6 C’s of business writing
      • ensure your writing has the correct tone


Among the most important skills in communication is to adapt your writing style according to the audience to meet their needs as well as your own. Different audiences: a co-worker, the manager, the customer, required different communication styles.   In each case, these audiences have certain expectations about the style of communication, and writers must meet those expectations to be respected and maintain good relations. This section reviews writing style choices and focuses especially on the six major characteristics of good writing common to both formal and casual writing.

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Work Emails | Baroness von Sketch Show (2017). CBC Comedy on YouTube.

The Formality Spectrum

The last unit looked at the general choice between a formal and informal style of writing based on audience profile considerations.  There, we saw how certain situations call for formal writing and others for a more relaxed style and saw that these styles involve word choices along a spectrum of synonyms from “slangy” to casual to fancy. Here we will review those considerations in the context of the writing process.

Formal Style in Writing

Because a formal style of writing shows respect for the reader, use standard business English especially if your goal is to create goodwill with your audience, such as anyone outside your organization, higher than you within your organization, and those on or around your level with whom you have never communicated with before. These audiences include managers, customers, clients, B2B suppliers and vendors, regulators, and other interested stakeholders such as government agencies. A cover letter, for instance, will be read by a potential manager probably unfamiliar to you, so it is a very real test of your ability to write formally—a test that is crucial to your career success. Many common professional document types also require formality such as other letters, memos, reports, proposals, agreements, and contracts. In such cases, you are expected to follow grammatical rules more strictly and make slightly elevated word choices, but not so elevated that you force your reader to look up rarely used words (they will not; they will just make up their mind about you being pretentious and a slight pain to deal with).

Writing in such a style requires effort because your grammar must be tighter and the vocabulary advanced. Sometimes a more elevated word choice—one with more syllables than perhaps the word that comes to mind—will elude you, requiring you to use a thesaurus (such as that built into MS Word in the Proofing section under the Review menu tab, or the Synonyms option in the drop-down menu that appears when you highlight and right-click a word). At the drafting stage you should, in the interests of speed-writing to get your ideas down nearly as fast as they come, go with the word that comes to mind and leave the synonym-finding efforts for the editing stage. Strictly maintaining a formal style in all situations would also be your downfall, however, because flexibility is also expected depending on the situation.

Conversational Style in Writing

Your ability to gear-down to a more casual/conversational style is necessary for any situation when communicating with familiar people generally on your level and when a personable, conversational tone is appreciated, such as when writing to someone with basic reading skills (e.g., an EAL learner). In a routine email to a colleague, for instance, you would use the informal vocabulary exemplified in the semi-formal/common column in Table 4.3.1 including conversational expressions such as “a lot” instead of the more formal “plenty.” You would also use contractions such as it’s for it is or it has, would’ve for would have, and you’re for you are. While not a sign of disrespect, the more relaxed approach says to the reader “Hey, we’re all friends here, so let’s not try so hard to impress each other.” When an upper-level manager wants to be liked rather than feared, they’ll permit a more conversational style of communication in their employees’ interactions with them, assuming that doing so achieves collegiality rather than disrespect.

Incidentally, this textbook mostly sticks to a more conversational style because it’s easy to follow for a readership that includes international EAL learners. Instead of using the slightly fancy, three-syllable word “comprehend” in the middle of the previous sentence, for instance, “follow” gets the point across with a familiar, two-syllable word. Likewise, “casual” is used to describe this type of writing because it’s a six-letter, three-syllable word that’s more accessible to a general audience than the ten-letter, four-syllable synonym “colloquial.” These word choices make for small savings in character- and word-counts in each individual case, but, tallied up over the course of the whole book, make a big difference in size, tone, and general readability, while remaining appropriate in many business contexts. Drafting in such a style is easy because it generally follows the diction and rhythms that come naturally in common conversation.


Figure 4.3.1: Knowing when and how to communicate in a conversational style is important to communicate effectively with specific audiences. (Business Communications, 2019)

Slang Style in Writing

As the furthest extreme on the formality spectrum, slang and other informal means of communication such as emojis are generally unacceptable in business contexts. Since slang is common in teen texting and social media, it appears immature, frivolous, out of place, confusing, and possibly even offensive in serious adult professional situations. Say someone emailed a car cleaning company with questions about their detailing service and received a reply that looks like it was texted out by a 14-year-old such as:

Fo sho i set u up real good, well get yr car cleen smoove top 2 bottom – inside + out – be real lit when were done widdit, cost a buck fiddy for da hole d-lux package, so u down widdit erwat

The inquiring customer would have serious concerns about the quality and educational level of the personnel staffing the company, and thus about the quality of work they’d do.  The customer will probably look for another company with a more business-appropriate style that suggests greater attention to detail and awareness of professional communication standards. A more appropriate  response is likely to assure the customer that their car is in good hands:

Absolutely, we can do that for you. Our White Glove service thoroughly vacuums and wet-vacs all upholstery, plus scrubs all hard surfaces with pro-grade cleaners, then does a thorough wash and wax outside. Your autobody will be like a mirror when you pick it up. Please let us know if you are interested in our $150 White Glove service.

In terms of the writing process, professionals should generally avoid slang style in almost all business situations. If slang is your style, it’s in your best interests to bring your writing habits up to the casual/conversational level with constant practice. Perhaps slang-heavy style would be appropriate when texting a trusted colleague or marketing to teens, but generally, slang should be avoided because it tends to deviate from the typical characteristics of good business writing.


Figure 4.3.2: A comparison of unprofessional writing littered with slang expressions and business-appropriate language. (Business Communications, 2019)

Emojis in Professional Writing

Though emojis’ typical appearance in social media and texting places them at the informal end of the formality spectrum, their advantages in certain situations require special consideration along with some clarity about their current place in professional communication. Besides being easy to access on mobile device keyboards and favoured in social media communication, especially among millennials, emojis are useful for helping clarify the emotional state of the message sender in a way that plain text can’t. They offer a visual cue in lieu of in-person nonverbals. A simple “thumbs up” emoji even works well as an “Okay, got it” reply in lieu of any words at all, so they can help save time for the busy professional. Interestingly, 2,500 years after Egyptian hieroglyphics fell out of use, pictographs are making a comeback! Emojis also go partway toward providing something of a universal language that allows people who speak different languages to communicate in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

However, the lack of precision in emojis can also cause confusion as they may be interpreted differently if the social and cultural context of the receiver differs enough from that of the sender, not to mention differences in their emotional states. This means that emojis aren’t as universal as some claim they are, especially when used by correspondents who speak different languages. Even between those who speak the same language, a smiley-face emoji added to a lightly insulting text message might be intended as a light-hearted jab at the receiver by the sender but might be read as a deeply cutting passive-aggressive dig by the receiver. The same text message said in person, however, comes with a multitude of nonverbal cues (facial expressions, eye movements, body movements, timing, voice intonation, volume, speed, etc.) that help the listener determine the exact intentions of the speaker—meanings that can’t possibly be covered by a little 2D cartoon character.

Be careful with emojis also in any situation involving buying or selling, since commercial messages can end up in court if meanings, intentions, and actions part ways. In one case, emojis were used in a text message signalling intent to rent an apartment by someone who reneged and was judged to be nonetheless on the hook for the $3,000 commitment. As with any new means of communication, some caution and good judgment, as well as attention to notable uses and abuses that show up in the news or company policy directives, can help you avoid making potentially disastrous mistakes.

Though emojis may be meaningfully and understandably added to text/instant messages or even emails between familiar colleagues who have developed a light-hearted rapport featuring their use, there are several situations where they should be avoided at all cost because of their juvenile or frivolous social media reputation. It’s a good idea to avoid using emojis in business contexts when communicating with:

However, in any of the above cases, it would probably be safe to mirror the use of emojis after your correspondent gives you the greenlight by using them first. Yes, emojis lighten the mood and help with bonding among workplace colleagues. If used excessively as part of a larger breakdown of decorum, as mocked in the accompanying Baroness von Sketch Show video short, they suggest a troubling lack of professionalism. Managers especially should refrain from emoji use to set an example of impeccable decorum in communications to the employees they supervise.

The 6 Cs of Style

Whether you’re writing in a formal or casual/conversational style, all good writing is characterized by the “6 Cs” of communication:

Six-C writing is good for business because it fulfills the author’s purpose and meets the needs of the audience by making communication understandable and impactful. Such audience-oriented writing is clearly understood by busy readers; it doesn’t confuse them with ambiguities or require them to come back with questions for clarification. It gets the point across in as few words as possible so that it doesn’t waste readers’ time with wordcount-extending filler.

Good writing flows logically by being organized according to recognizable patterns with its sub-points connected by well-marked transitions. Six-C writing avoids confusing readers with grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors, as well as avoids embarrassing its author and the company they represent, because it is flawlessly correct. It leaves the reader with a good feeling because it is polite, positive, and focuses on the reader’s needs. Six-C writing is persuasive because, with all the above going for it, it exudes confidence. The following sections explain these characteristics in greater detail with an emphasis on how to achieve Six-C writing at the drafting stage.  Let’s begin with a video presentation before focusing on each of the Six-Cs.

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1. Clarity

Clarity in writing means that the words on the page are like a perfectly transparent window to the author’s meaning. Business or technical writing has no time for anything that requires the reader to interpret the author’s meaning or ask for clarification. To the busy reader scanning quickly, bad writing opens the door for wrong guesses that, if acted upon, result in mistakes that must be corrected later; the later the miscommunication is discovered and the further the mistakes spread, the greater the damage control required. Vague writing draws out the communication exchange unnecessarily with back-and-forth requests for clarification and details that should have been clear the first time. Either way, a lack of clarity in writing costs businesses by hindering personal and organizational productivity. Every operation stands to gain if its personnel’s writing is clear in the first place.

Confusion and misunderstanding based on unclear expressions and language can be avoided if hard facts, precise values, and specific pronouns, and concrete descriptions are used.  Figure 13.3 demonstrates the use of these strategies to achieve clarity in writing.

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2. Conciseness

The principle that business writing is economical means to communicate ideas in as few words as possible without compromising clarity. Bad writing makes simple things sound complicated. This is a rookie mistake among some students new to college or employees new to the workforce. Writing long and complex sentences is likely to frustrate audiences.

Readers expect to receive information that gets directly to the point directly. Employees, customers, and other stakeholders want to receive concise messages.  Concise writing presents a better understanding of information to readers.  Figure 13.4 illustrates the benefits of this principle for consumers.

Figure 4.3.3 The benefits of concise writing include greater public awareness. (Business Communications, 2019).

When In the writing process, time spent upfront eliminating wordy phrases will benefit the reader and create a feeling of goodwill towards the sender. Figure 4.3.4 presents several strategies to achieve concise writing.

Figure 4.3.4: A demonstration of five concise writing strategies. (Business Communications, 2019; Business Communication Essentials, 2016).

Writing wordy messages in the drafting stage is acceptable, but such messages must be edited later.  When editing, a writer must understand how much information readers need.  Ensuring the message is concise yet complete is the objective of a good writer.

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3. Coherence and Completeness

Coherence means that your writing flows logically and makes sense because it says everything it needs to say to meet your audience’s needs. Organizational patterns, outlining structures and paragraph organization all help to achieve a sense of coherence. The pronouns and transitions you use especially help to connect the distinct points that make up your bare-bones outline structure as you flesh them out into meaningful sentences and paragraphs.

4. Correctness

Correct spelling, grammar, mechanics, etc. should not be a concern at the drafting stage of the writing process, though they certainly must be at the end of the editing stage. Speed-writing to get ideas down requires being comfortable with the writing errors that inevitably pockmark your draft sentences. The perfectionists among us will find ignoring those errors difficult, but resisting the temptation to bog yourself down by on-the-go proof-editing will pay off at the revision stage when some of those awfully written sentences get chopped in the end anyway. Much of the careful editing during the drafting stage will have been a waste of time.

5. Courteous language

No matter what type of document or the expected audience reaction, courteous writing communicates respect for the reader and is fundamental to reader-friendly messages. Whether you’re simply sharing information, making a sales pitch, explaining a procedure, or doing damage control, using polite language helps ensure your reader will be receptive to the information. Saying please never gets old when asking someone to do something for you, nor does saying thanks when they’ve done so—but there’s more to it than that.

Much of courtesy in writing involves taking care to use words that encourage cooperation and avoid negative, critical, pushy, and demanding words and phrases. If you’re processing a contract and the client forgot to sign and date it, for instance, the first thought that occurs to you when emailing to inform them of the error may go something like the following:

You forgot to sign and date our contract, so you’ve got to do that and send it to me a.s.a.p. because I can’t process it till I receive it signed.

Now, if you were the client reading this slightly angry-sounding, accusatory order, you would likely feel a little embarrassed and maybe even a little upset by the edgy, pushy tone coming through in negative words like forgot, do that, a.s.a.p., and can’t. That feeling wouldn’t sit well with you, and you will begin to build an aversion to that person and the organization they represent. Now imagine you read instead a message that says, with reference to the very same situation, the following:

For your contract to be processed and services initiated, please sign, date, and return it as soon as possible.

You would probably feel much better about coming through with the signed contract in short order. You may think that this is a small, almost insignificant shift in meaning, but the difference in psychological impact can be quite substantial, even if it operates subconsciously. Courteous writing is constructive communication that provides instructions on how to move forward. Figure 13.6 presents a few strategies to ensure your writing is courteous.

Figure 4.3.5: A presentation of two strategies to achieve courteous writing. (Business Communications, 2019)

6. Convincing and Confident

Confident writing is highly convincing to readers. Writing that uses decisive language and avoids wishy-washy language like: almost, approximately, basically, might, probably, somewhat, seems and many others, will encourage your audience to accept your decision and opinions rather than question them.  Being overconfident can also have consequences.  Overconfidence can affect the writer’s credibility and turn readers off.  To ensure your writing strikes the appropriate balance apply the following strategies.

Figure 4.3.6: An overview of the strategies to achieve confident writing. (Business Commuications, 2019; Business Communication Essentials, 2016)

While some of the strategies in Figure 4.3.6 seem subtle, the overall effect is clear, authoritative, and direct writing.  These qualities increase the confidence the receiver has in your message.

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Key Takeaways

key iconDrafting involves writing consistently in a formal, casual/conversational, or informal style characterized by the “Six Cs”: clarity, conciseness, coherence, correctness, courtesy, and conviction.


1. Assemble a Six-Cs scoring rubric for assessing professional writing using the descriptions throughout this unit. In the highest-achievement column, list in point-form the attributes of each characteristic. In the columns describing lesser and lesser levels of achievement, identify how those expectations can fall apart. For help with the rubric form, you may wish to use Rubistar’s writing rubric template.
2. Find examples of past emails or other documents you’ve written that make you cringe, perhaps even high school essays or reports. Identify instances where they are unclear, unnecessarily long-winded, incoherent (lacking both a clear organizational pattern and transitions that drive the argument along), rife with writing errors, rude, and/or unconvincing. Assess and score those specimens using your Six-Cs rubric from Exercise 1 above. Begin to think of how you would improve them.
3. Find a professionally written document, perhaps from a case study in another class. Assess it using the same Six-Cs scoring rubric.
4. Speed-write a written assignment that you’ve been recently assigned in one of the other courses in your program. If you’re not fast at typing (or even if you are and want to try something new), you may start by recording your message into your smartphone’s or computer’s voice recorder app or program and then transcribe it. Ensure that your style hits five of the six style Cs (clarity, conciseness, coherence, courtesy, and conviction) as you write and most definitely do not correct as you go.


Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016) Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc..

Caramela, S. (2018, February 5). Put a smiley on it: Should you use emojis in business communication? Retrieved from

CBC Comedy. (2017, July 17). Work emails | Baroness von Sketch Show [Video file]. Retrieved from

Goodman, S. (2016, November 23). And the most enchanting emoji on Instagram is… Curalate. Retrieved from

Gray, D. (2011, November 27). Carrot-and-stick management. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from (n.d.). Sometimes I use big words I don’t fully understand in an effort to make my self sound more photosynthesis. Retrieved from

MindToolsVideos. (2018).  The 7 Cs of Communication [Video file]. Retrieved from

Pringle, R. (2017, May 26). Using the wrong emoji can cost you—literally. CBC News. Retrieved from

Pringle, R. (2018, March 18). Emojis are everywhere and they’re changing how we communicate. CBC News. Retrieved from

4.4 Effective Document Design

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • apply the principles of reader-friendly document design to various written formats


The responsibility of a writer to produce reader-friendly documents extends to layout, design, and organizational elements surrounding the words themselves. If an email or report were simply a wall of undifferentiated text running for several screens or pages, any reader would be daunted by the prospect of having to scale that wall. Fortunately, writers can use document templates that make those design choices for them with established styles so that writing a document becomes a matter of just filling in the blanks; if you work for a company that uses templates for certain documents, of course you will use them also for consistency and your own convenience. Even without templates, however, you can use several techniques to help guide your readers’ eyes across the page or screen to easily find what they’re looking for. Rather than being optional nice-to-haves, such techniques are crucially important to how well your document is received.

Before beginning our in-depth discussion on individual elements of good document design, let’s view the video below, Designing Documents, for an overview of design principles aimed at creating effective business documents.

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Design Element

The following design elements will be addressed below: Titles, Headings and Subheadings, Font, Line Spacing, Lists, Visual Aids, Interactive Elements, Balancing Text and Whitespace, Making Accessible, AODA-compliant Documents.


Almost every business document that exists as a standalone unit must have a title that accurately represents its contents. It’s the first thing a reader looks for to understand what the document is all about and should thus be easily found centred at the top of the first page of any small document and prominently placed on the cover of larger reports. Even emails and memos have titles in the form of subject lines. In whatever document you find it, the following characteristics make titles essential to your reader’s understanding of the whole:

For examples of titles that are near at hand, see the References sections at the end of most chapter sections throughout this textbook. The following collects a small selection of them:

For more example titles, go to and search for articles on any business or technology topic, scroll down to the References section at the bottom, and see an abundance of legitimate titles.

Headings and Subheadings

After the main title of a document, using headings and subheadings as titles for sections and subsections helps guide the reader around a document’s breakdown of topics. Especially in reports, headings and subheadings that stand out in bold typeface flush (or close) to the left margin and follow a consistent numbering system, exactly as you see in this textbook, help a busy reader quickly locate any specific content they seek. Even a routine email that covers a topic in so much detail that it could be internally divided—without being so big that its content should just go into a document attachment—would benefit from bolded headings.

If your drafting process follows the guide in this chapter, then you would have already drafted your headings and subheadings (and possibly numbering if necessitated by the size of the document) in your outline. The drafting process of fleshing out that outline may suggest tweaks to those heading and subheading titles. As titles, headings must be properly phrased and capitalized like main titles.

When using a word processor such as Microsoft Word, you can achieve additional functionality by using “true headings.” From the Home menu tool ribbon, heading styles are available as options in the Styles section. If you prefer to design your own styles of headings, you can click on the downward triangle at the bottom right of the style examples field and select “Create a Style.” Doing this allows you to see your entire document at a glance on the left and quickly jump to any section you wish by clicking on the Navigation Pane checkbox in the Show section of the View menu tool ribbon (or Alt + w, k), then clicking on the heading for the section you want. This is especially useful in larger documents like reports. Additionally, using such headings makes your document accessible to audiences with assistive technologies such as screen readers (see text below on AODA compliance).


Font selection is an important consideration because it determines how the audience will receive a document. Font involves decisions concerning the style of type, size, and even colour. Consider the following:

1. Font Type: A list of font styles including: Arial, Garamond, Times New Roman, Verdana and Comic SansWriters considering typeface must choose between two major style categories depending on how they would like to accommodate their readers. Serif fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond have little perpendicular crossline “feet” or “hands” at the ends of letter strokes, as well as variable thickness in the strokes themselves, depending on their horizontal/vertical or curving position, which altogether helps readers distinguish between similar letters or combinations of letters, such as m and rn, which almost look like the same letter in a non-serif font. Serif fonts are ideal for printed documents, especially those with smallish font sizes such as newspapers. Without serifs, sans-serif fonts like Arial (the one used in this textbook) or Verdana achieve a more clean and modern look, especially on computer screens where serif fonts appear to whither away at the thin part of the stroke and are thus harder to read. In the appropriate format, all the fonts mentioned above make a document look respectable. Comic Sans, on the other hand, is appropriate for documents aimed at children, but undermines the credibility of any professional document, such as when the unfortunate choice to use it when reporting CERN particle physics discoveries became more newsworthy than the discoveries themselves (CBC, 2012).

2. Font Size: Size is another important consideration because readers depend on the text being an ideal size for readability and are frustrated by font sizes that are too big or small. In a standard written document, for instance, a 12-point Arial or Times New Roman is the recommended size by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Increasing the size much past 12-point makes your document appear to be targeting an audience of children. Of course, font size is sometimes increased for titles and any time readers are required to read at a distance, such as posters on a notice board or presentation slides.

Occasions for going smaller with your font size include footnotes in a report or source credits under images in a document or PowerPoint presentation. Decreasing font size to 8-point merely to get all your text to fit onto one page, however, would undermine the document’s purpose and will frustrate the reader. Whatever the situation, strike a balance between meeting the needs of the reader to see the text and design considerations.

3. Font Colour: A choice of colour may also enter into document design considerations, in which case, again, the needs of the reader must be accommodated. Used appropriately, a touch of colour can draw the eye to important text. Colouring your name red at the top of your résumé is effective if few or no other elements in the document are so coloured because your name is essentially the title of your document. Likewise, colouring the title of other documents is effective if there are no expectations of doing otherwise (some company-style guidelines forbid colour).

Any use of colour for text must be high-contrast enough to be readable. The gold standard for high-contrast readability is black text on a white background. Grey-on-white, on the other hand, sacrifices readability for stylishness depending on how light the shade of grey is. A light-yellow text on a white background is nearly impossible to read. In all cases, the readability of the text should be considered not just for those with perfect vision, but especially for those who find themselves anywhere on the spectrum of visual impairment (see text on accessibility below). For this reason, colour should always be used to enhance a document that is already perfectly organized without it; never use colour-coding alone as an organizing principle in a document read by anyone other than you because you can never be sure if some readers will be colour blind or have other visual impairments that render that colour coding useless as a cause for confusion.

4. Boldface, Italics, and Underlining: Boldface, italics, and underlining serve various purposes in focusing audience attention on certain words. Boldface type is especially helpful in directing the audience’s eyes towards titles, headings, and keywords as you can see at the beginning of this paragraph and throughout this textbook. Highlighting in this way is especially helpful to anyone who is visually impaired in any degree. Of course, overusing boldface undermines its impact, so it should be used sparingly and strategically. Likewise, italics and underlining have very specific purposes that we will look at under the banner of mechanics.

Line Spacing

Single-spaced lines are common to most business documents because they accommodate the reader’s need to dart quickly to the next line to continue reading a sentence. The gap between 1.0-spaced lines is just enough to clearly separate one line from another so the hanging elements at the bottom of letters like j and g don’t interfere with the tops of uppercase letters on the line below. Some documents such as academic manuscripts are double-spaced to give readers, who are usually the instructors or teaching assistants grading them, enough space to write comments and editorial marks between the lines. Because doubling the line spacing also doubles the number of pages in a print version, avoid double-spacing documents for audiences who don’t explicitly require it.

Frustratingly, some word processors such as Microsoft Word open blank pages with line spacing values other than single (1.0) spacing as their default setting, such as 1.08 or 1.15. In such cases, a couple of adjustments are necessary if you want to single-space a document you’re writing from scratch. Make these adjustments as soon as you open a blank page or by highlighting all (ctrl. + a) if you’ve already started. In MS Word’s Home menu:

  1. Click on the Line and Paragraph Spacing icon that has four lines representing text with two blue arrows on its left side, one pointing up and one down, in the Paragraph section of the Home menu ribbon (or just type the Alt + h, k keys).Screen shot of Microsoft Office Toolbar showing where line spacing can be foundScreen shot of dialog box in Microsoft Word showing the dropdown menu where line spacing can be changed
  2. Figure 4.4.1: Where to click to get line-spacing options in the MS Word tool ribbon (above) and Paragraph control panel (right)
  3. Select 1.0 from the dropdown menu or Line Spacing Options from the same to open the Paragraph control panel, and select Single from the Line Spacing dropdown menu in the Spacing section.
  4. Perform the same two steps as above to get the Line and Paragraph Spacing dropdown menu, and select Remove Space After Paragraph or, from the Paragraph control panel, click on the “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” checkbox and the Okay button at the bottom to apply the style.

The third action above prevents MS Word from adding a full line of space every time you hit Enter at the end of a line. When typing address lines for a letter without the “Don’t add space” checkbox ticked, for instance, the default line spacing will continue to look like double spacing even if you set the line spacing to single.

Justification should ideally be left as the default left-aligned or “Left-justified / ragged right.” This means that all lines are flush to the left margin and the lines end wherever the last full word fits before the right margin sends (or “wraps”) the next word down to the next line, making each line vary in length so the right margin looks “ragged,” as you can see throughout this textbook. This is usually preferable to “justifying” both the left and right edges of the text so that they align perfectly along both the left and right margins, as in the paragraph below. While this may look clean like newspapers often do with their columns, it does so by adding space between the words within each line, and since every line varies in length without justification, every line with it will vary in the amount of space added between words. Some lines that would be short without justification look awkward with it because the space between some words is greater than the span of small words.

To fix the “hockey teeth” gaps resulting from justification such as what you see in parts of this paragraph, turn on hyphenation in MS Word via the Layout tool ribbon: select Automatic in the Hyphenation dropdown menu in the Page Setup section. This automatically adds hyphens between syllables of long words whose size and position at the end of a line would otherwise send them entirely to the beginning of the next line, decreasing the number of words in the line above and increasing the gap between each. If working in a company document template with justification, keep the justification throughout to be stylistically consistent with other documents produced in that template and ensure that the hyphenation is turned on. Otherwise, left-aligned text is perfectly fine and may even help readers find their place if they lose it momentarily compared with the uniform brick-wall effect of justified text seen here.

Screenshot of Microsoft Word tool bar showing justification icons

Figure 4.4.2: Where to click to select text justification or left-aligned (“ragged right”) text in the MS Word Home menu tool ribbon


Another technique that helps the reader skim and easily find sought-after content is using numbered or bulleted lists for a series of discreet but related items. Whether you use numbered or bulleted lists depends on your organizing principle:

 Use Bulleted Lists for:
  • Items on a list that have no specific order.  What information is presented first or second is not important.
  • Points on a presentation slide (e.g., PowerPoint) for easier readability


Use Numbered Lists for :
  • Step-by-step procedure or when order is important such as a set of instructions
  • Description of a chronological sequence — a series of events unfolding in time
  • Rankings that arrange items in priority order

You’ve seen numbered and bulleted lists used throughout this textbook (e.g., the two bulleted lists immediately above and a numbered one in the section prior to this). Whichever list type you use, ensure each has the following:

Lists are formatted in two ways: horizontally (as part of a sentence) or vertically (with the use of bullets or numbers).  Use the following exercise to practice writing parallel sentences and creating lists.

Visual Aids

The cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words holds true because images are excellent aids to understanding when placed near the messages they illustrate. Just as the visual elements in this textbook support and reinforce the content, so do photos, graphics, charts, and graphs provide readers something that can be understood and remembered at a glance—as long as those visuals are used appropriately. Of course, the main criterion for usability is if the image helps the reader understand the text better. If the image is complementary, it can only help. If it is unnecessary, confusing, or contradicts the text, however, the image isn’t worth the time and effort it takes to add it to your document. When considering using an image, ask yourself:

The ideal size depends on the resolution, detail of the content, relative importance, and the use to which the document will be put. The following guidelines help ensure that the images you use will meet aesthetic, design, technical, and legal expectations:

With modern word processors, placing an image is as easy as dragging and dropping the image file from a folder into a document (or copying and pasting). Sometimes you will need to be a little craftier with capturing images, however. For instance, if you need to capture a still image of a YouTube video to use as an image, you can pause the video at the moment you would like to capture and use your computer’s screen-capturing program to get the image.

Once your image is in your document, use the layout options to place it where appropriate. Clicking on it may produce a layout icon near the top right that you can click on to open the dropdown menu (alternatively, you can right-click on the image and select the Wrap Text option from the dropdown menu). The default setting left-justifies the image and displaces the text around where you put it, but other layout options allow you to place it elsewhere on the page so that your text wraps around it (“Square,” “Tight,” or “Through”) or so that text doesn’t move around it at all (“Behind” or “In front of text”), which gives you the freedom to move the image anywhere.

Interactive Elements

Another aid to understanding that can benefit readers of an online or electronic document is a weblink that provides them with the option of accessing other online media. Hyperlinking is easy in modern word processors and online applications such as websites and email simply by highlighting text or clicking on an image and activating the hyperlinking feature. Press the control and k keys simultaneously (Ctrl + k), paste the web address into the URL field (copy it by clicking on the web address bar or keying Alt + d, then Ctrl + c), and hit the Okay button. Users prefer links that open new tabs in their browser rather than take them away entirely, so seek out that option when hyperlinking. By doing this for an image of a YouTube video screenshot, for instance, you enable readers of a document (including a PowerPoint presentation) to link directly to that video in YouTube rather than embed a large video file in your document. You can additionally link to other areas within a document, as the document version of this textbook does with links to various sections like the one in the previous sentence.

Balancing Text and Whitespace

Another consideration that helps a reader find their way around a page is the balance of text and whitespace, which is simply a gap unoccupied by text or graphic elements. The enemy of

Figure 4.4.3 Use white space strategically to increase document readability. (TheGCBlogg, 2018).

readability is a wall of text that squeezes out any whitespace, whereas a well-designed document uses whitespace to usher the reader’s eyes towards units of text. Margins should be 3cm or 1″ (2.54cm), which are the default margin sizes in most word processors (e.g., Microsoft Word’s) blank 8.5″x11″ document. Margins also focus attention on the text itself, which makes any crowding of the margins an offense to good design. An attempt to cram more information into a one-page résumé by edging further and further into the margins, for instance, follows the law of diminishing returns: the hiring manager might take your sacrifice of the document’s readability as a sign of selfishness—that you place your own needs above that of your audience, which suggests you would do the same to the customers and management if it suited you.

Making Accessible, AODA-compliant Documents

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) sets out guidelines for how workplaces can help people with disabilities, including accommodations that extend to document design. Many of the recommendations covered in this unit, such as font size and colour, are justified as accommodations to people with even mild visual impairment. Someone with colour blindness, for instance, maybe confused if you use coloured text alone as an organizing principle, which is why you should use colour only to enhance text readability while using other means of organization such as boldface type. Not only must you accommodate such individuals, but also those whose severity of impairment requires that they use assistive technologies such as screen readers that convert text to an automated voice. The more straightforward your text is presented, as well as formatted with “true headings” that a screen reader can identify as headings, the easier a person with a disability can hear and understand your message when it’s read out by a screen reader.

Once you are done drafting your document, you can begin to check for any accessibility issues and act on them right away. In MS Word, just go to File and, in the Info tab, select the “Check for Issues” button in the Inspect Document section. It will identify accessibility problems in your document as well as suggest fixes (watch the video below for a demonstration). For instance, if you have a photo without alt text, it will prompt you to write a caption by right-clicking on the image, selecting “Edit Alt Text…” from the dropdown menu, and writing a one- or two-sentence description of the image so that users with screen readers will be able to hear a description of the image they can’t see very well or at all. See the Creating Accessible Documents resources for more on how to make your documents AODA compliant.


Thumbnail for the embedded element "Using the Accessibility Checker"

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Figure 4.4.4 A summary of the top 10 design principles to create impressive business documents. (Business Communication, 2019).

Key Takeaways

key iconMake your document easy to follow at a glance and accessible by using a variety of document design features such as titles, headings/subheadings, lists, visual aids, interactive elements, line spacing, and appropriate font types, sizes, and colours (see summary below).


1. Collect a variety of professional documents, such as reports, memos, and letters. If you have perfect vision, impair your vision perhaps by dimming the lights at night or using a friend’s or family member’s prescription glasses. What do you notice about the readability of those documents when you’ve limited your eyesight? What organizational elements do you especially appreciate when trying to make sense of the document when you’ve otherwise hindered your ability to read?

2. Take any multi-page assignment you’ve done in MS Word that also includes non-text elements like photos. Run an accessibility check on it using the procedure described in this unit and fix the issues identified.

3. Produce a dummy document that follows guidelines in each of the subsections outlined above. The content doesn’t much matter so much as the inclusion of features. Ensure that it has:

  1. A proper title
  2. Some headings and subheadings
  3. A well-chosen font
  4. Single-spacing (1.0 with the “Don’t add space” checkbox checked)
  5. A numbered and a bulleted list, with a properly labeled image
  6. A hyperlink
  7. Nicely balanced
  8. An accessibility check that you act upon by following the recommended fixes for AODA compliance, whitespace, and text.


Academic Algonquin. (2013, July 29). Using the accessibility checker [Video file]. Retrieved from

Algonquin College. (2013). Creating accessible documents. Accessibility Resources. Retrieved from

Apple Support. (2017, November 20). How to take a screenshot on your Mac. Retrieved from

Butterick, M. (2013). Bad fonts. Practical Typography. Retrieved from

CBC. (2012, July 4). Higgs boson researchers mocked for using Comic Sans font. CBC News. Retrieved

Darling, (2014a). Prepositions. Guide to Grammar and Writing. Retrieved from

Darling, (2014b). Conjunctions. Guide to Grammar and Writing. Retrieved from

Darling, (2014c). Articles and other determiners. Guide to Grammar and Writing. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Microsoft Office Support. (2016, September 7). Create or edit a hyperlink. Retrieved from

Microsoft Support. (2017, April 26). Use Snipping Tool to capture screenshots. Retrieved from


4.5 Sentences and Paragraphs

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • understand different sentence types
      • develop direct and indirect paragraphs
      • construct active and passive sentences


Showing your writing abilities involves understanding how to structure sentences and paragraphs.   structure.  Clear, error-free and context-specific sentences create well-developed paragraphs and improve the likelihood of clear with an audience.  Understanding different types of sentences and paragraph structures will make you an effective communicator in business.

Types of Sentences

Determining how to arrange your words to communicate a clear and coherent idea takes skill. The key to developing this skill is to understand how to construct the four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.  Each type of sentence has its own distinctive quality and purpose.  Table 15.1 explains each type of sentence and their structure.

Figure 4.5.1 These four types of sentences are the building block of business writing (Business Communication, 2019).

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Your writing is an expression of you and involves how you choose and use your words to develop ideas and build paragraphs.  These factors will communicate a certain tone to your writing or a reader’s perception of the message: friendly, helpful, angry, demanding, or combative.  At all times, you want to ensure you communicate goodwill and a helpful tone to your reader.  Choosing to write in the active or passive voice and using courteous and polite language will help you communicate the right tone in your writing.

Writing Skill 4.5.1 – Active and Passive Language: When a sentence is structured so the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action, you are using the active voice.   The active voice produces short, direct, easy-to-read sentences that communicate good/neutral information by emphasizing the doer of the action (the “you” view).  For these reasons, most of your business writing will be done using the active voice.


Figure 4.5.2 The subject and verb of a sentence are always side by side in an active sentence.

On the other hand, when the subject in a sentence is receiving the action, you are using the passive voice.  The passive voice produces indirect, formal, vague, and longer sentences.  In business communications, the passive voice is used in very specific situations:

Although, the active voice is used most often in business, sometimes the passive voice is a better strategy to communicate your message.  When an error has been made or negative news must be delivered, using the active voice will make your writing sound accusatory or unsympathetic. Review Figure 4.5.3 for examples of when using the passive voice creates a better tone in your writing.


Figure 4.5.3 The passive creates a better tone in specific situations (Business Communication, 2019).

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Writing Skill – Positive Language:  Generally, readers are more receptive to positive or neutral news than negative news.  Using positive language will make your message reader-friendly.  In addition, positive language conveys more information, is instructive, is forward looking, and communicates goodwill.  The trick to positive writing is avoiding negative words with negative connotations.  Table 15.1 provides a list of some negative words and their connotations when included in your writing.

Table 4.5.1 Avoiding Negative Phrases

When writing, be careful that your language does not communicate unintended negative messages (Business Communication, 2019).

To ensure your writing is positive:

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Effective writers pay attention to the construction of sentences.  Careful and thoughtful use of words and phrases can be challenging.  Thus, continually working on this area of business writing will improve your ability to create well-crafted messages for your audience.

The Paragraph

Paragraphs are the building block of all business documents.  Paragraphs will vary in length and form, but all paragraphs have three essential components: unity, organization, and coherence. It doesn’t matter if you were taught the PEEL, TEEL,or hamburger method of paragraph development, knowing how to arrange the elements of a paragraph will help you clearly communicate your message to the receiver.


The first sentence in a paragraph is the topic sentence which introduces the subject or general idea that will be developed in the paragraph.  Supporting sentences that support, expand, and clarify the topic such as examples, illustrations, and facts and statistics gives the paragraph its unity.


What information comes first, the topic sentence or the supporting sentence will depend on if the paragraph the direct or indirect approach.

Direct Paragraphs: Direct paragraphs start with the main idea (topic sentence) followed by the supporting sentences (explanation).  As was discussed earlier, most business writing follows the direct plan.  Routine information, good news, or non-sensitive messages use the direct approach as readers want to immediately understand the main reason for the communication.  


Figure 4.5.4 Direct organization means paragraphs begin with the topic sentence (Business Communications, 2019)

Indirect Paragraphs: Indirect paragraphs use the opposite organizing pattern.  These paragraphs begin with the supporting sentence to provide an explanation, clarification, or justification before providing the Main idea (topic sentence).  The indirect pattern is used to deliver bad news, sensitive information, or to persuade the reader.  This organizing pattern allows the writer to explain or justify the main point of the message presented in the topic sentence so the reader is more likely to accept the message.


Figure 4.5.5 Indirect organization involves presenting the supporting sentences before the topic sentence (Business Communication, 2019).

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Coherence refers to the way ideas in a paragraph are connected and linked together.  The ideas in well-written paragraphs are logically connected and lead the reader smoothly throughout the paragraph.  When paragraphs are coherent, a group of sentences in a sequence will “make sense” and readers will understand how the sentences work together to communicate the complete message.   When paragraphs are incoherent, sentences lack flow and not logically fit together.  To ensure your paragraphs are coherent, use one or a combination of the following techniques.

Dovetailing: When the topic that ends one sentence, begins the next.  Dovetailing helps to connect sentences by repeating keywords.  A reader will recognize the connection by the repeated keywords.

Pronouns:  Combine pronouns with a noun to which each refers.  Using pronouns in this way helps to build continuity between sentences while cutting down on repetition.  When using pronouns without the helping noun, ensure that pronoun reference is clear.

Transitional Devices:  Transitional words and expressions act as two-way indicators of what has been said and what is going to be said.  Furthermore, therefore, consequently, and however are all examples of transitional words.  Because there are so many transitional words and expressions, understanding what each means and which word or expression is correct for a specific sentence takes practice.  Using the wrong word or expression can change the meaning of a sentence and cause miscommunication.    Transitional devices can be used to

Table 4.5.2 shows how to use dovetailing, pronouns, and transitional devices to achieve coherence.

Table 4.5.2 Building Coherence: A demonstration of the three techniques used to create coherence in a paragraph
Technique Example
Dovetailing The company offers an outstanding flexible payment plan. The plan permits deferred payments for up to two years.
Pronouns All new park employees receive a two week orientation. They learn that every staffer has a vital role in preparing for the show.
Transitional Devices The computer enables employees to write documents quickly; consequently, all modern workplace have computers.

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No that we’ve gone through the parts, qualities, and characteristics of an effective business paragraph, view the video below for a demonstration of how to put these components together.

Click on the image above to view the video Writing a Paragraph (Corsera, 2020).

Key Takeaways

key icon

      • Understanding the four types of sentences is important to developing well-crafted paragraphs.
      • use active, passive, and positive language to create a reader-friendly tone in your writing
      • Paragraphs have three important components: unity, organization, and coherence.


Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016) Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc..

Coursera. (2020). Writing a paragraph [Video file]. University of Colorado Boulder.  Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

(Communicating for Results, 2017)


Chapter 5: The Writing Process 4 — Editing

The final stage of the writing process is managing your readers’ impressions by editing your draft from beginning to end. This involves first returning to your headspace at the start of the writing process and assessing where your document is in relation to the purpose you set out to achieve for it. When you get a sense of how far your document is from achieving that primary purpose, you realize what needs to be done to close that gap—what you need to add, rewrite, delete, and improve. Your next move is a two-step editing process of substantial revisions and proof-editing. The order of these is crucial to avoid wasting time. You wouldn’t proofread for minor grammatical errors before substantial revisions because you may end up just altogether deleting paragraphs that you meticulously proofread with a fine-tooth comb.

1 Preparing, 2 Researching, 3 Drafting, 4 Editing            4 Editing, 4.1 Evaluating, 4.2 Reorganizing, adding and trimming, 4.3 Proofreading for Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling and Mechanics

Figure P5.1: The four-stage writing process and Stage 4 Breakdown

5.1 Substantial Revisions

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • apply writing skills for proofreading different kinds of messages
      • evaluate a message to determine its effectiveness


Before you begin your editing process with a bird’s-eye view of the whole document, it might be a good idea to step away from it altogether. Distancing yourself from the work you just drafted helps you approach it again with fresh eyes. This requires effective time management so that you have a solid draft ready well ahead of a deadline. Leaving enough time to shift attention to other work projects or your personal life, however, helps you forget a little what you were doing with the document in question. After some time, return to the document pretending it was written by someone else, and you are its target audience, the one you profiled in Phase I of the writing process. Ask yourself: will that target reader understand what you’ve written in the order you’ve presented it? To complete their understanding of your topic, what do they need to see that isn’t in your draft yet? What parts are redundant, confusing or unnecessary.

Distancing yourself from your writing creates the critical distance necessary to be more ruthless in the revision phase. Creating that critical distance helps you to:

  1. Re-arrange the order that you originally plotted out at the outlining step if need be
  2. Recognize gaps that must be filled with yet more draft material
  3. Chop out parts that don’t contribute to the purpose you set out to achieve
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Evaluating Your The Drafting Process

Evaluating Your Draft

Before returning to the topic of trimming, however, let’s consider what you’re looking for when you evaluate your draft.  When considering how your draft meets the purpose, use a few different lenses to assess your work. Each lens corresponds to a step in the drafting process, as shown in the table below.

Table 5.1.1: Evaluation Lenses and Corresponding Steps in the Drafting Process
Evaluate for Corresponding Step in the Drafting Process
1. Content Laying down content in the researching stage
2. Organization Organizing that material
3. Style Stylizing it into effective sentences and paragraphs
4. Readability Adding document design features

After taking a break, reading your work through these lenses, allows you to apply a critical approach to the revision process.

Content: When evaluating for content, consider what your audience needs to understand. Ask

Figure 5.1.1: Careful revision of work documents confer credibility on the writer and your organization (Business Communications, 2019)

yourself if your coverage is thorough, or if you’ve left gaps that would confuse your target audience. Do any concepts need further explanation? Less? With constraints on the length and scope of your document in mind, consider if you got carried away with digressions that would send your reader down off-topic dead ends. Have you given your audience more than what they need so that your document would overwhelm them? More specifically, have you fact-checked all of your information to ensure that it is true and, if based on sources that must be documented, accurately cited and referenced?

Organization:  When evaluating for organization, consider the flow of content to determine if the document leads the reader through to the intended understanding of the topic. Is it clear that you’re taking the direct approach by getting right to the point when you need to do so, or is it obvious that you’re taking the indirect approach as necessary? Would it be clear to your reader what organizing principle you’ve followed? When you outlined your draft in Step 3.2 of the writing process, you did so from a preliminary understanding of your topic. As you drafted your message, do you see that something you first thought made sense near the end of your draft makes more sense at the beginning?

Style: When evaluating for style, again consider your audience’s needs, expectations, and abilities. Did you draft in an informal style but now realize that a slightly more formal style is more appropriate or vice versa? If you produced a 6 Cs style rubric for Exercise #1 at the end of unit 13, apply it now to your draft to determine if it meets audience expectations in terms of its clarity, conciseness, coherence, correctness, courtesy, and confidence. Now would also be a great time to assess whether your style is consistent or whether you started off formal but then lapsed into informality, or vice versa.

Readability: When evaluating for readability, consider your audience’s needs in terms of the many features that frame and divide the text so that your reader doesn’t get lost, confused, overwhelmed, repulsed, or bored. Check for whether you can do the following:

The conclusions you draw from these evaluations will help inform and motivate you towards the substantial revisions explained below.

Reorganizing Your Draft

When you first move into a new apartment or house, you have a general idea of where all your furniture should go based on where it was in your previous place. After a few days, however, you may realize that the old arrangement doesn’t make as much sense in the new layout. A new arrangement would be much more practical. The same is true of your document’s organization once you’ve completed a working draft. You may realize that your original outline plan doesn’t flow as well as you thought it would now that you’ve learned more about the topic in the process of writing on it.

Moving pieces around is as easy as highlighting, copying (Ctrl c), cutting (Ctrl x), and pasting (Ctrl v) into new positions. When moving a whole paragraph or more, however, ensure coherence by rewriting the transitional element in the concluding sentence of the paragraph above the relocated paragraph so that it properly bridges to the newly located topic sentence below it. Likewise, the relocated paragraph’s (or paragraphs’) concluding sentence must transition properly to the new topic sentence below it. Additionally, any elements within the relocated text that assume knowledge of what came just before, such as abbreviations (e.g., CBC) that the reader hasn’t seen fully spelled out yet must be fully spelled out here and can be abbreviated later in the text.

Adding to Your Draft

In furnishing your new apartment or house, especially if it’s larger than what you had before, you’ll find that merely transplanting your old furniture isn’t enough. The new space now has gaps that need to be filled—a chair here, a couch there, perhaps a rug to tie the whole room together. Likewise, you’ll find when writing a document that gaps need to be filled with more detail. Knowing your organizing principles well is helpful here. If you’re explaining a procedure in a chronological sequence of steps, for instance, you may find that one of the steps you describe involves a whole other sequence of steps that you’re sure your audience won’t know. In this case, embedding the additional sequence using a sub-list numbered with roman numerals (if you used Arabic numerals in the main list) completes the explanation. Of course, keep in mind any stated maximum word- or page-counts in case your document exceeds the acceptable range. If it does, then you must be ruthless about chopping anything unnecessary out of your draft.

Trimming Your Draft

Gardener trimming hedgesTrimming your draft means making the document as concise as possible.  Using the fewest words possible to communicate your message will help the reader understand the intended meaning.  Professional audiences prefer writing that is as condensed as a text. Indeed, because typing with thumbs is inefficient compared with 10 fingers on a keyboard and no one wants to read more than they must on a little screen, texting helps teach conciseness. Although professional writing requires a higher quality of writing than friends require of texts, the audience expectations are the same. The more succinct your writing is without compromising clarity, the more your reader will appreciate your writing. Given the choice between an article of 500 words and one of 250 that says the same thing, any reader would prefer the 250-word version. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the purpose of your message or document as you conceived it back in Step 1.1 of the writing process must go.

The first trick to paring down your writing is to really want to make every word count and to see excess words as indulgence. So, pretend that words are expensive. If you had to pay a cent of your own money for every character you wrote in a document that you had to print 1,000 copies of, you would surely adopt a frugal writing style. You would then see that adding unnecessary words is doubly wasteful. Time spent writing or reading tiresome information is time you and your reader could spend making money doing other things. Terse, to-the-point writing is both easier to write and easier to read. Follow the practical advice in the subsections below to trim your writing effectively.

Writing Skill 1: Mass-delete Whatever Doesn’t Belong:  The first practical step towards trimming your document is a large-scale purge of whatever doesn’t contribute to the purpose you set out to achieve. The order is important because you don’t want to do any fine-tooth-comb proof-editing on anything that you’re just going to delete anyway. This is probably the most difficult action to follow through on because it means deleting large segments of writing that may have taken some time and effort to compose. However, to ensure readers stay on track and are not overwhelmed by the amount of information, sentences, paragraphs, and even whole sections of a document must sometimes be deleted.  So, highlight, delete and don’t look back.

Writing skill 2 – Delete Long Lead-ins: The next-biggest savings come from deleting lead-ins that you wrote to gear up towards your main point. In ordinary speech, we use lead-ins as something like throat-clearing exercises. In writing, however, these are useless at best because they state the obvious. At worst, lead-ins immediately upset the reader by signalling that the rest of the message will contain some time-wasting text. If you see the following crossed-out expressions or anything like them in your writing, just delete them:

In the first example, the recipient sees the name of the sender before even opening their email. It’s therefore redundant for the sender to introduce themselves by name and say that they wrote this email. Likewise, in the third example, the reader can see that this is the conclusion if it’s the last paragraph, especially if it comes below the heading “Conclusion.” In each case, the sentence really begins after these lead-in expressions, and the reader misses nothing in their absence. Delete them.

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Writing Skills 3 – Pare Down Unnecessarily Wordy Phrases: We habitually sprinkle long phrases into everyday speech because they sound fancy. These phrases look ridiculously cumbersome when seen next to their more concise equivalent words and phrases, as you can see in Table 16.2 below. Unless you have good reason to do otherwise, always replace the wordy phrases with their concise equivalent.

Table 5.1.2: Replace Unnecessarily Wordy Phrases with 1-2 Word Equivalents

Replace These Wordy Phrases with These Concise Equivalents
at this present moment in time now
in any way, shape, or form in any way
pursuant to your request as requested
thanking you in advance thank you
in addition to the above also
in spite of the fact that even though / although
in view of the fact that because / since
are of the opinion that believe that / think that
afford an opportunity allow
despite the fact that though
during the time that while
due to the fact that because / since
at a later date/time later
until such time as until
in the near future soon
fully cognizant of aware of
in the event that if
for the period of for
attached hereto attached
each and every all
in as much as because / since
more or less about
feel free to please

Again, the reader misses nothing if you use the words and phrases in the second column above instead of those in the first. Also, concise writing is more accessible to readers who are learning English as an additional language.

Writing Skill 4 – Delete Redundant Words: Like the wordy expressions in Table 15.2 above, our speech is also riddled with redundant words tacked on unnecessarily in stock expressions. These prefabricated phrases strung mindlessly together aren’t so bad when spoken because talk is cheap. In writing, however, which should be considered expensive, they make the author look like an irresponsible heavy spender. Be on the lookout for the expressions below so that you are in command of your language. Simply delete the crossed-out words in red if they appear in combination with those in blue:

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Writing Skill 5 – Delete Filler Expressions and Words: If you audio-record your conversations and make a transcript of just the words themselves, you’ll find an abundance of filler words and expressions that you could do without and your sentences would still mean the same thing. A few common ones that appear at the beginning of sentences are “There is,” “There are,” and “It is,” which must be followed by a relative clause starting with the relative pronoun that or who. Consider the following, for example:

1.There are many who want to take your place. Many want to take your place.
2. There is nothing you can do about it. You can do nothing about it.
3. It is the software that keeps making the error. The software keeps erring.

In the first and third cases, you can simply delete “There are” and “It is,” as well as the relative pronouns “who” and “that” respectively, leaving the sentence perfectly fine without them. In the second case, deleting “There is” requires slightly reorganizing the word order, but otherwise requires no additional words to say the very same thing. In each case, you save two or three words that simply don’t need to be there.

Other common filler words include the articles a, an, and the, especially in combination with the preposition of.

technology of the future future technology

Obviously, you can’t do this in all cases (e.g., changing “first of the month” to “month first” makes no sense). When proofreading, however, just be on the lookout for instances where you can.

The definite article preceding plural nouns is also an easy target. Try deleting the article to see if the sentence still makes sense without it.

The shareholders unanimously supported the initiative. Shareholders unanimously supported the initiative.

Though the above excess words seem insignificant on their own, they bulk up the total word count unnecessarily when used in combination throughout a large document.

Writing Skill 6: Delete Needless Adverbs Streamline your writing by purging the filler adverbs that are peppered into your conversational speech. In writing, these add little meaning. Recall that adverbs are words that explain verbs (like adjectives do nouns) and typically, but not always, end in -ly. Some of the most common intensifying adverbs include the following:

Perhaps the worst offender in recent years has been literally, which people overuse and often misuse when they mean “figuratively” or even “extremely,” especially when exaggerating. Saying, “I’ve literally told you a million times not to exaggerate” misuses literally or if you say, “I’m literally crazy for your speaking style,” you just mean “I’m thrilled by your speaking style.” Using “literally” in this case is just unnecessary.

If you find yourself slipping in any of the above adverbs in your writing, question whether they need to be there. Consider the following sentence:

Basically, you can’t really do much to fully eliminate bad ideas because they’re quite common. You can’t do much to eliminate bad ideas because they’re so common.

Writing skill 7 – Use Short, Plain Words: If you pretend that every character in each word you write costs money from your own pocket, you would do what readers prefer: use shorter words. The beauty of plain words is that they are more understandable and draw less attention than big, fancy words while still getting the point across. This is especially true when your audience is the general public. Choosing shorter words is easy because they are often the first words that come to mind, so writing in plain language saves you time.

Table 5.1.3 below lists several polysyllabic words that writers often use when a shorter, more plain and familiar word will do just as well. There’s a time and place for fancy words, such as when formality is required, but in routine writing situations, always opt for the simple, one- or two-syllable word.

Table 5.1.3: Favour Plain, Simple Words over Polysyllabic Words

Big, Fancy Words Short, Plain Options
advantageous helpful
ameliorate improve
cognizant aware
commence begin, start
consolidate combine
deleterious harmful
demonstrate show
disseminate issue, send
endeavour try
erroneous wrong
expeditious fast
facilitate ease, help
implement carry out
inception start
leverage use
optimize perfect
proficiencies skills
proximity near
regarding about
subsequent later
utilize use

The longer words in the above table tend to come from the Greek and Latin side of the English language’s parentage; whereas, the shorter words come from the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) side. When toddlers begin speaking English, they use Anglo-Saxon-derived words because they’re easier to master, and therefore recognize them as plain, simple words throughout their adult lives.

Definitely don’t use long words when they’re grammatically incorrect. For instance, using reflexive pronouns such as “myself” just because it sounds fancy instead looks foolish when the subject pronoun “I” or object pronoun “me” are correct.

Aaron and myself will do the heavy lifting on this project. Aaron and I will do the heavy lifting on this project.
I’m grateful that you contacted myself for this opportunity. I’m grateful that you contacted me for this opportunity.

The same goes for misusing the other reflexive pronouns “yourself” instead of “you,” “himself” or “herself” instead of “him” or “her,” etc.

Sometimes, you see short words rarely used in conversation being used in writing to appear fancy, but just look pretentious, such as “said” preceding a noun.

Call me if you are confused by anything said in the contract. Call me if you are confused by anything in the contract.

Usually, the context helps determine that the noun following “said” is the one mentioned earlier, making “said” an unnecessary, pompous add-on. Delete it or use the demonstrative pronouns “this” or “that” if necessary to avoid confusion.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a simple style is the same as being simplistic. Good writing can communicate complex ideas in simple words just like bad writing can communicate simple ideas with overly complex words. The job of the writer in professional situations is to make smart things sound simple. Be wary of writing that makes simple things sound complex. You probably don’t want what it’s selling.

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Writing Skill 8 – Simplify Verbs: Yet another way that people overcomplicate their writing involves expressing the action in as many words as possible, such as by using the passive voice, continuous tenses, and nominalizations. We’ve already seen how the passive voice rearranges the standard subject-verb-object word. Consider the following sentences, for instance:

The candidate cannot be supported by our membership. Our members cannot support the candidate.

Here, the active-voice construction on the right uses two fewer words to say the same thing.  There are legitimate uses of the passive voice, however, overusing the passive voice sounds unnatural and appears as an attempt to extend the word count or sound fancier and objective. Because the passive voice is either more wordy or vague than the active voice, however, readers prefer the latter most of the time and so should you.

Yet another strategy for extending the word count with verbs is to turn the main action they describe into nouns, a process called nominalization. This involves taking a verb and adding a suffix such as -ant, -ent, -ion, -tion, -sion, -ence, -ance, or -ing, as well as adding forms of other verbs, such as to make or to give. Nominalization may also require determiners such as articles (the, a, or an) before the action nouns. Consider the following comparisons of nominalized-verb sentences with simplified verb forms:

The committee had a discussion about the new budget constraints. The committee discussed the new budget constraints.
We will make a recommendation to proceed with the investment option. We will recommend proceeding with the investment option.
They handed down a judgment that the offer wasn’t worth their time. They judged that the offer wasn’t worth their time.
The regulator will grant approval of the new process within the week. The regulator will approve the new process within the week.
He always gives me advice on what to say to the media. He always advises me on what to say to the media.
She’s giving your application a pass because of all the errors in it. She’s passing on your application because of all the errors in it.

You can tell that the above sentences have a greater impact than those that turn the action into a noun and thus require more words to say the same thing. Indeed, each of the verb-complicating, wordcount-extending strategies throughout this subsection is bad enough on its own. In combination, however, writing riddled with nominalization, continuous verb forms, and passive-voice verb constructions muddies writing with an insufferable multitude of unnecessary words.

The final trick to making your writing more concise is the Editor feature in your word processor. In Microsoft Word, for instance, you can set up the Spelling & Grammar checker to scan for all the problems above by following the procedure below:

The committee had a discussion about the new budget constraints. The committee discussed the new budget constraints.
We will make a recommendation to proceed with the investment option. We will recommend proceeding with the investment option.
They handed down a judgment that the offer wasn’t worth their time. They judged that the offer wasn’t worth their time.
The regulator will grant approval of the new process within the week. The regulator will approve the new process within the week.
He always gives me advice on what to say to the media. He always advises me on what to say to the media.
She’s giving your application a pass because of all the errors in it. She’s passing on your application because of all the errors in it.

You can tell that the above sentences where the simple verb drives the action are punchier and have a greater impact than those that turn the action into a noun and thus require more words to say the same thing. Indeed, each of the verb-complicating, wordcount-extending strategies throughout this subsection is bad enough on its own. In combination, however, writing riddled with nominalization, continuous verb forms, and passive-voice verb constructions muddies writing with an insufferable multitude of unnecessary words.

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The final trick to making your writing more concise is the Editor feature in your word processor. In Microsoft Word, for instance, you can set up the Spelling & Grammar checker to scan for all the problems above by following the procedure below:

  1. Go to File (alt. + f) and, in the File menu, click on Options (at the bottom; alt. + t) to open the Word Options control panel.
  2. Click on Proofing in the Word Options control panel.
  3. Check all the boxes in the “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word” section of the Word Options control panel.
  4. Click on the Settings… button beside “Writing Style” under the check boxes to open the Grammar Settings control panel.
  5. Click on all the check boxes in the Grammar Settings control panel, as well as the Okay button of both this panel and the Word Options panel to activate.
    Screenshot showing how to change Spelling and Grammar settings in Microsoft Word
    Figure 5.1.2: Setting up your MS Word Grammar, Style, and Spellchecker
  6. Go to the Review menu tab in the tool ribbon at the top of the Word screen and select Spelling & Grammar (alt. + r, s) to activate the Editor that will, besides checking for spelling and grammar errors, also check for all of the stylistic errors you checked boxes for in the Grammar Settings control panel.
  7. Go back and proofread the text to ensure accuracy.

When you finish running your grammar, style, and spellchecker through your document, a dialog box will appear showing readability statistics. Pay close attention to stats such as the average number of words per sentence and letters per word. If the former exceeds thirty and the latter ten, your writing might pose significant challenges to some readers, especially ESL. Do them a solid favour by breaking up your sentences and simplifying your word choices.

Rather than complicate a message by adding useless verbiage, make your writing like a paperclip. A paperclip is beautiful in its elegance. It’s so simple in its construction and yet does its job of holding paper together perfectly without any extra parts or mechanisms like staples need to fasten pages together and unfasten them. A paperclip does it with just a couple inches of thin, machine-bent wire. We should all aspire to make our language as elegant as a paperclip so that we can live life free of time-wasting writing.

Key Takeaways

key iconBegin editing any document by evaluating it for the quality of its content, organization, style, and readability, then add to it, reorganize, and trim it as necessary to meet the needs of the target audience.


1. Take any writing assignment you’ve previously submitted for another course, ideally one that you did some time ago so that it almost seems like it was written by another person. Evaluate and comment on its content, organization, style, and readability. Explain how you can improve it from each of these perspectives.

2. Add to that assignment anything that would help the target audience understand it better.

3. Trim that assignment using the eight strategies explained in this unit.


Brockway, L. H. (2015, November 3). 24 complex words—and their simpler alternatives. Ragan’s PR Daily. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Porter, R. (2015, July 30). Box hedge topiary shears gardener 869073. Retrieved from

The Hustle. (2017, December 3). The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Retrieved from

Source: Brockway (2015)

5.2 Proofreading for Mechanics

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • edit and proofread documents to eliminate errors


The very last target for proofreading as you finalize your draft for submission is mechanics. In English writing, mechanics relates to typographic styles such as the choice between UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, italics or boldface type and plain style, as well as using figures (e.g., 1, 2, 3) or written out numbers (e.g., one, two, three). Professionals follow stylistic conventions for mechanics much like they do punctuation rules. If you don’t know these conventions, making them up as you go along may produce unprofessional-looking documents. Remember that consistency throughout your document is the rule. Consider the following as your guide for how to get your writing mechanics right.


Figure 5.2.1: Know how to use and when to you the appropriate type of font increases the effectiveness of business documents (Vincente, 2019).


One of the worst mistakes you can make in a high-priority document like a cover letter is a glaring capitalization error such as not capitalizing the first letter in a sentence or writing “im” or “ive” instead of “I am” or “I have.” These errors are fine when texting your friends. To a hiring manager, however, the red flags they raise concerning the literacy, work ethic, and even maturity of the applicant might land that application in the shredder. At the other typographic extreme, those who use all-caps for anything other than abbreviations, as in “SEND ME THAT REPORT RIGHT NOW,” look emotionally unstable. In normal writing, we use conventional combinations of capitals and lowercase letters meaningfully to guide our readers through our sentences. Let’s take a closer look at when to capitalize and when not to capitalize letters.

What to Capitalize

You can’t go wrong if you capitalize in the following situations:

Table 5.2.1: Proper Nouns

Proper Noun Type Examples
People and professional roles or familial relations preceding the name Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Roberta Bondar, Professor Patrick Grant, Mayor Humdinger, Ludwig van Beethoven, Aunt Pam, God, Buddha
Adjectives derived from names Shakespearean sonnet, Freudian slip
Major buildings and infrastructure CN Tower, the Queensway, the Hoover Dam
Specific geographical locations and regions Ottawa, British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies, Lake Ontario,  the West Coast, Eastern Canada, the Maritimes, South Asia, the Netherlands
Celestial bodies Venus, Earth, Mars, the Sun, the Kuiper Belt, the Milky Way, the Virgo Supercluster
Books, films, etc. (see Table 5.2.1 below) Beautiful Losers, Star Wars, The Onion, Overwatch, the Ottawa Citizen
Days of the week, months, holidays Monday, November, Labour Day, Groundhog Day, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Fall 2019 semester
Historical events and periods the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Cold War, the Renaissance, the Old Kingdom, Anthropocene, the Big Bang
Ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and languages Anishinaabe, Australian, English, Russian, Malaysian, Catholic, Islam, Sunni Muslim, Swedish, Swahili
Institutions, political and cultural groups Algonquin College, University of Toronto, the Supreme Court, New Democrats, Montreal Canadiens, Oscar Peterson Trio
Academic courses, programs, departments, and some degrees Statistics 101, Communications I, Game Development Advanced Diploma Program, School of Business, PhD, MBA
Numbered or lettered items Flight AC2403, Gate 11, Invoice No. 3492B, Serial No. D8834-2946-1212, Rural Road 34, Figure 8, Volume 2, Part 4, Model 3
Brand names, corporations, and stores Microsoft Word, Samsung Galaxy, Tesla, Apple, Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Mountain Equipment Co-op

What Not to Capitalize

Don’t capitalize the following:


Figure 5.2.2: Proofreading your documents is important to ensure the information presented is accurate. Accuracy not only affects the message but also your credibility (Business Communications, 2019).

Pay close attention to the beginning of sentences, each point in a list, titles, and proper nouns. Determine whether you should capitalize or leave letters lowercase depending on the conventions given above.


let’s go South to visit the President and stay with vice president Frito.

The fix:    Let’s go south to visit the president and stay with Vice President Frito.

The fix:    Let’s go south to visit President Comacho and stay with Frito, his vice president.

In the drafting process, you might delete the original capitalized opening to a sentence while trying out another style of sentence and forget to capitalize the new beginning. The proofreading stage is when you can catch glaring errors such as this. Also, the convention for geography is to capitalize directions only if they’re part of place names but not when they’re mere compass directions. Finally, capitalize professional titles only when they precede a name.

Incorrect:    In addition, im proficient in the use of Microsoft office, such as Powerpoint.

The fix:    In addition, I am proficient in the use of Microsoft Office, such as PowerPoint.

Texting habits might die hard. A crucial step in professionalizing yourself, however, is to correct informal spellings such as im so that they are the more correct I’m or more formal I am, especially in job application documents. Also, be especially careful with capitalization around proprietary names such as software, which may include internal capitalization as we see in PowerPoint or YouTube.

Incorrect:    I had to read the textbook Communication At Work for my Algonquin college communications course in the accounting program.

The fix:    I had to read the textbook Communication at Work for my Algonquin College Communications course in the Accounting program.

The titling convention is to capitalize major words but not short prepositions such as at. Since academic courses, institutions, and programs are proper nouns like the names of people, capitalize them all.

Abbreviations: Fully spell out abbreviations the first time you mention them and put the abbreviation in parentheses. For example, if you were to say, “The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is reporting an above-average number of flu deaths this year,” subsequent mentions of the Agency can appear as simply “PHAC.” Institutions that are so common as names (proper nouns) in their abbreviated form (e.g., CBC, which stands for the “Canadian Broadcasting Corporation”) can be given as abbreviations unless introduced to an audience that wouldn’t know them. As you can see here, avoid adding periods after each uppercase letter in an abbreviation.

Italicizing, Underlining, and Bolding

The standard typeface options of italics, bold, and underline allow writers to draw attention to their text in varying degrees. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage comes from overuse, which diminishes their impact. Taking advantage of their ability to draw the reader’s eye and communicate information beyond the words they express requires following certain conventional uses for each. We’ll start with the most meaningful in terms of the information it can convey.


As the typeface option that slants the top of each letter to the right, italic typeface performs several possible functions related to emphasizing words. Italics can also resolve ambiguities that would cause confusion without it. Use italics for the following purposes:

Table 5.2.2: Italicized Titles

Type of Work Examples
Book, legislation Elements of Style, A Brief History of Time, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great Gatsby, The Copyright Act
Magazine Maclean’s, The Walrus, Chatelaine, MoneySense, Canadian Business, The Hockey News, Today’s Parent, Flare
Newspaper The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Time Colonist
Website (APA) YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram, The Onion
Film Casablanca, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
TV show Dragons’ Den, Hockey Night in Canada, Orphan Black
Play, long poem The Rez Sisters, Romeo & Juliet, Waiting for Godot, Paradise Lost
Album, opera Drake’s Views, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, Mozart’s The Magic Flute
Works of art Mona Lisa, The School of Athens, The Starry Night, Voice of Fire
Video game Tetris, Grand Theft Auto V, Super Mario Bros., Minecraft
Ships, airplanes the Titanic, Bismarck, Hindenburg, Enola Gay
Legal cases Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, Baker v. Canada

When words are already italicized, such as a sentence under discussion or a book title within a book title, then de-italicize the title back into plain style (e.g., Vision in Shakespeare’s King Lear). Exceptions to the rule of italicizing books are holy texts such as the Bible and Koran, though specific editions should be italicized (e.g., The New American Standard Bible).


Considered an old-fashioned alternative to italicizing because it identified titles written on typewriters before modern word processors made italicization feasible. Today, underlining is mainly used to emphasize words within italicized titles or as an alternative to boldface type.


More than any other typeface, bold is best at emphasizing words because it draws the reader’s eyes more effectively than italics or underlining, especially for document titles and section headings. In casual emails, you can also use it to highlight a main action point that’s surrounded by plain-style text to ensure that the reader doesn’t miss it. Avoid bolding, underlining, italicizing, and using all-caps in combination merely to lend added emphasis to words. Use whichever one is most appropriate in context.

For more on italics, underlining, and bolding, see the following resources:


The following video, review some tips from above but also provides further insight into how to use typography to create effective business documents.

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When do you spell out a number (e.g., ten) and when do you use a figure (e.g., 10)? What are the conventions for academic and professional situations? It depends on your purposes, but in routine formal situations and in APA style, spell out numbers from one to ten and use figures for 11 and up. In informal and technical writing, however, using only figures ensures accuracy, consistency, and brevity.

Table 16.3: Formal Numbering Conventions

Convention Examples (Note: Bold would not be used in the text. It is used here for illustrations purposes only)
Words only one person, ten reasons
Figures 11 people, 40 cars, 127 hours, 330 lbs. $39.99, 6.12 litres, 68,000 voters, 186,282.397 miles per second.
Large round a hundred people, a thousand times, six billion dollars, $6 billion, $6,300,000, $6.3 million, $2.345 trillion, You have a hundred trillion microbes in your body.
Fractions over two thirds of respondents, 4 millionths of a second, a one-fifth share of the profit, 3/32 allen key, 1 and 21/64 inches
Percentages and decimals 8 percent increase (informal docs), 8% increase (in business forms and technical docs), 9.57 seconds, .045cm, 0.12g
Beginning of sentences Twenty-six percent of respondents agreed while 71% disagreed.
Days, years July 1, 1867; from the 1st of July to the 4th; AD 1492; from 2000 to 2018; in the 2010-2011 season; the nineties, 1990s, ’90s
Times 8am, noon, 1:15pm, 5-6pm, 10:30-11am, 11:30am-1pm (or …PM)
Addresses One First Street, 2 Second Street, 16 Tenth Avenue, 251 11th Avenue W, 623 East 125th Street
Telephone 613-555-4450 ext. 9832, 250.555.7204, (416) 555-1185
Identification Room 6, Channel 4, Hwy. 416, Elizabeth II, Henry V
Weights and measures Andre weighed over 200 lbs. by age 12 and over 500 lbs. by 40.

The room is 10’ by 12’ in a 2,400 sq. ft. house., 8 metres (informal docs), 24km (in informal and technical docs)

Ages Little Nicky was 3 years and 7 months when his family moved.

By the time she was thirty-six, Miranda had accomplished plenty.

Miranda, 36, has accomplished plenty.

Pages page 24 / (p. 24), pages 67-68 / (pp. 67-68), (pp. 114-118), chapter 11 / (ch. 11), chapters 11-12 (chs. 11-12)
Commercial and legal The stated amount of $1,200 will be paid no less than two (2) weeks after the completion of the contract work.
Related (all under 10) We bought six shirts, eight pairs of pants, and four jackets.
Related (any 10+) We bought 9 apples, 18 bananas, and 6 pineapples.
Consecutive They ordered twelve 90-lb. weights. We observed twenty-five 500-megaton explosions. I manufactured 14,032 6709T parts for Dynamo, Inc. (When two numbers appear consecutively, generally write out the number for the first and use a figure for the second, but use a figure for the first if it would take more than one or two words to write it out.)

What to Look for When Proofreading

Determine whether you should replace your spelled-out numbers with figures or vice versa according to the conventions given above.

Incorrect:    Only 2 people showed up.

The fix:    Only two people showed up.

In formal writing, spell out one- or two-word numbers rather than using figures lazily. However, feel free to use figures, no matter how small the number, in informal writing where concision matters most.

Incorrect:    She was charged nine-hundred-and-thirty-six dollars and ninety-eight cents for the repair.

The fix:    She was charged $936.98 for the repair.

Incorrect:    The chances of life existing on other planets are quite high if there are, by extrapolation, roughly 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 star systems with earth-like planets in the universe (Frost, 2017).

The fix:    The chances of life existing on other planets are quite high if there are, by extrapolation, roughly 19 billion trillion star systems with earth-like planets in the universe (Frost, 2017).

Incorrect:    23,000 units were sold in the first quarter.

Incorrect:    Twenty-three thousand units were sold in the first quarter.

The fix:    In the first quarter, 23,000 units were sold.

Though you should use a figure to represent a number above ten and spell out a number appearing at the beginning of a sentence, re-word the sentence if that number is more than two words.

Incorrect:    We’ve moved the meeting to 05/04/18.

The fix:    We’ve moved the meeting from Tuesday, April 2, to Friday, April 5, 2018.

Though the above correction sacrifices brevity, the gains in clarity can potentially prevent expensive miscommunication. The correction prevents the message recipients from misinterpreting the new meeting date as being May 4th and helps them pinpoint which date in their calendars to click and drag the original meeting from. Providing the days of the week also helps the recipients determine at a glance whether the new date conflicts with regularly scheduled weekly appointments.

Incorrect:    Let’s meet at number ninety, 6th Avenue, at fourteen o’clock.

The fix:    Let’s meet at 90 Sixth Avenue at 2 p.m.

Though “ninety” would be correct in some contexts (MLA style) because it is a one-word number, APA address conventions require you to use figures for address numbers and to spell out numerical street/avenue numbers from first to tenth, then to use figures from 11th onward. Also, the English convention for representing time of day is to use the twelve-hour clock, whereas the French convention is to use the twenty-four-hour clock.

Incorrect:    Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?

The fix:    Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four?

Unless the age follows a person’s name as an appositive (e.g., Paul, 64, is losing his hair) or is part of a series that identifies several ages (e.g. a program for those of 4 to 6 years of age, with some 7-year-olds) or combines one person’s age in years and months, spell out ages up to one hundred.

Incorrect:    The one expedition catalogued thirty-four new types of spiders, 662 new types of beetles, and 178 new types of ants.

The fix:    The one expedition catalogued 34 new types of spiders, 662 new types of beetles, and 178 new types of ants.

Though normally you would spell out two-word numbers, maintaining consistency with the related numbers in the series, which are figures here because they are over ten, takes precedence.

Incorrect:    The program has 2 streams, one for the 4-year-olds and another for the 5-year-olds.

The fix:    The program has two streams, one for the 4-year-olds and another for the 5-year-olds.

This looks at first as if all three of these are related numbers in a series and therefore must all be figures. The related-numbers convention applies to only the last two numbers (ages), however, whereas the first number is not an age, hence not part of the series. Since the first number can be spelled out as one word, two, it is not given as a figure.

Incorrect:    If your gym orders more than 20 100-lb. weights, you’ll get every additional unit for half price.

The fix:    If your gym orders more than twenty 100-lb. weights, you’ll get every additional unit for half price.

To avoid “20 100-lb.” being misread as “20100-lb.,” bend the rule about using figures for numbers above ten to spell out the first of the consecutive numbers and use a figure for the second since it’s a weight. (If the first number were more than two words spelled out and the weight only one, however, “150 thirty-pound weights” would be preferable.)

For more on numbers, see the following resources:

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Key Takeaway

key iconAt the end of the editing stage, proofread for mechanical errors involving capitalization, typographic style (e.g., italics), and numbers.



1. Go through the above sections and follow the links to self-check exercises at the end of each section to confirm your mastery of the punctuation rules.

2. Take any writing assignment you’ve previously submitted for another course, ideally one that you did some time ago, perhaps even in high school. Scan for the mechanical errors covered in this section now that you know what to look for. How often do such errors appear? Correct them following the suggestions given above.


Becker, D. (2014, June 26). Comparing MLA and APA: Numbers. APA Style. Retrieved from

Berry, C. (2018, February 7). Writing numbers. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Berry, C., & Brizee, A. (2013, July 12). A little help with capitals. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from

Butterick, M. (2013, July 24). Bold or italic. Butterick’s Practical Typography. Retrieved from

Darling, C. (2014a). Capitalization. Guide to Grammar & Writing. Retrieved from

Darling, C. (2014b). Abbreviations. Guide to Grammar & Writing. Retrieved from

Frost, R. (2017, November 15). The number of Earth-like planets in the universe is staggering – here’s the math. Forbes. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Morgan, M. (2015, May 23). How to use italics. WikiHow. Retrieved from

Straus, J. (2015, June 5). Capitalization rules. The Grammar Book. Retrieved from

The Futur. (2016). Typography tutorials – 10 rules to help you rule type [Video file].  Retrieved from

Twain, M. (1889). The innocents abroad, or The new pilgrims’ progress. Vol. II. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz. Retrieved from

Vincente, V. (2019). The 5 most important typography terms explained. Retrieved from

Your Dictionary. (2009, September 3). When to italicize. Retrieved from


Chapter 6: Presentations


Many surveys have shown that public speaking is at the top of the list of fears for most people — sometimes, higher on the list than death. No one is afraid of writing their speech or conducting the research: people generally only fear the delivery aspect of the speech, which, compared to the amount of time you will put into writing the speech (days, hopefully), will be the shortest part of the speech giving process (5-8 minutes, generally, for classroom speeches). The irony, of course, is that delivery, being the thing people fear the most, is simultaneously the aspect of public speaking that will require the least amount of time.

6.1 Presentations – An Overview

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

        • demonstrate how to plan a presentation
        • understand how to construct the different parts of any presentation
        • identify the use of different organizing principles for a presentation
        • identify the different methods of speech delivery
        • utilize specific techniques to enhance speech delivery


At some point in your future careers, you will be called upon to give a presentation to your boss, colleagues, perhaps even customers.  Although this may seem scary, it is also an opportunity to prove your knowledge and communication skills.  Public speaking skills are important in a professional environment.  In fact, public speaking skills are “the No. 1 predictor of success and upward mobility” (Business Communications, 2019, p. 431).  College and university is the perfect time to develop and perfect this skill.  Knowing how to plan and execute a well-developed presentation in a face-to-face or virtual environment is a skill that will make your future employers take notice.

To get started, let’s review the video below to gain an understanding of what is required to develop world-class and effective presentations.

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Planning Your Presentation

Planning a presentation is much like planning other business documents.  There is importance to undertaking and applying a systematic process of planning, researching, drafting, and revising before delivering the final product.  Completing this process can take a considerable amount of time.  Figure 32.1 provides the planning process

Figure 6.1.1: A three-step process that will prepare you to deliver a flawless presentation.

Planning in any presentation is helpful both to you and to your audience. Your audience will appreciate receiving the information presented in an organized way, and being well organized will make the presentation much less stressful for you.

Successful presenters know their material, are prepared, do not read a script or PowerPoint presentation, do not memorize every single word in order (though some parts may be memorized), and do not make it up as you go along. Your presentation is scripted in the sense that it is completely planned from start to finish, yet every word is not explicitly planned, allowing for some spontaneity and adaptation to the audience’s needs in the moment.

Your organization plan will serve you and your audience as a guide, and help you present a more effective speech. Just as there is no substitute for practice and preparation, there is no substitute for planning.

Knowing the Purpose

Speeches have traditionally been seen to have one of three broad purposes: to inform, to persuade, and — well, to be honest, different words are used for the third kind of speech purpose: to inspire, to amuse, to please, or to entertain. These broad goals are commonly known as a speech’s general purpose, since, in general, you are trying to inform, persuade, or entertain your audience without regard to specifically what the topic will be. Perhaps you could think of them as appealing to the understanding of the audience (informative), the will or action (persuasive), and the emotion or pleasure.

Before getting into the specifics of how to create a purpose statement for a presentation, the following video provides an overview of the process.

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Now that you know your general purpose (to inform, to persuade, or to entertain), you can start to move in the direction of the specific purpose. A specific purpose statement builds on your general purpose (to inform) and makes it more specific (as the name suggests). So if your first speech is an informative speech, your general purpose will be to inform your audience about a very specific realm of knowledge.

In writing your specific purpose statement, you will take three contributing elements (shown in figure 32.2) that will come together to help you determine your specific purpose:

diagram demonstrating three beginning categories, you, your audience, your context leading to a specific purpose statement followed by a central idea statement.Figure 6.1.2. You, your audience, and your context (Tucker & Barton, 2016)

Keeping these three inputs in mind, you can begin to write a specific purpose statement, which will be the foundation for everything you say in the speech and a guide for what you do not say. This formula will help you in putting together your specific purpose statement:

To _______________ [Specific Communication Word (inform, explain, demonstrate, describe, define, persuade, convince, prove, argue)] my [Target Audience (my classmates, the members of the Social Work Club, my coworkers] __________________. [The Content (how to bake brownies, that Macs are better than PCs].

Example: The purpose of my presentation is to demonstrate to my coworkers the value of informed intercultural communication.

Formulating a Central Idea Statement

While you will not actually say your specific purpose statement during your speech, you will need to clearly state what your focus and main points are going to be. The statement that reveals your main points is commonly known as the central idea statement (or just the central idea). Just as you would create a thesis statement for an essay or research paper, the central idea statement helps focus your presentation by defining your topic, purpose, direction, angle, and/or point of view. Here are two examples:

Specific Purpose – To explain to my classmates the effects of losing a pet on the elderly.

Central Idea – When elderly people lose their animal companions, they can experience serious psychological, emotional, and physical effects.

Specific Purpose – To demonstrate to my audience the correct method for cleaning a computer keyboard.

Central Idea – Your computer keyboard needs regular cleaning to function well, and you can achieve that in four easy steps.

Knowing the audience

Given the diverse nature of audiences, the complexity of the communication process, and the countless options and choices to make when preparing your presentation, you may feel overwhelmed. One effective way to address this is to focus on ways to reach, interact, or stimulate your audience. All audiences fall into four categories: friendly, neutral, uninterested, or hostile (see Figure 32.3).  No matter the audience, your job is to deliver a presentation that will address the needs of your audience.  Ask yourself these questions to determine how well your presentation will meet the needs of your audience:

Figure 6.1.3: Different audiences will require an adjustment to presentation style and organizing pattern.

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Developing and Organizing Content

Presentation Outline

You’re now ready to prepare an outline for your presentation. To be successful in your presentation, you’ll need two outlines: a preparation outline, and a speaking outline.

Preparation outlines are comprehensive outlines that include all of the information in your presentation. Your presentation outline will consist of the content of what the audience will see and hear. Eventually, you will move away from this outline as you develop your materials and practice your presentation.

Your speaking outline will contain notes to guide you; notes that are usually not shared with your audience. It will summarize the full preparation outline down to more usable notes. You should create a set of abbreviated notes for the actual delivery.

Your organizational model will help determine how you will structure (see below) your preparation outline. You can use your presentation outline as a starting point to developing your speaking outline. It’s a good idea to make speaking notes to align with your main points and visuals in each section. Figure 6.1.4 provides the basic parts of a presentation outline.

Figure 6.1.4: An overview of the steps involved in putting together a presentation outline (, 2017).

Developing the Content

The general organization for presentations includes:

  1. Attention Statement: an engaging or interesting statement that will cause your audience to sit up and take notice.
  2. Introduction: setting out your general idea statement (LINK) and giving the audience an idea of what to expect.
  3. Body: This section contains your research, main points, and other relevant information. It will follow your organizational pattern.
  4. Conclusion: reiterating your idea statement, and/or includes a call-to-action — what you want the audience to do or think about following your presentation.
  5. Residual Message: this is an optional section, but a powerful one. It is the final message you want the audience to remember.

In putting together a presentation, presenters will often use examples and scenarios to help illustrate their message. The main difference between examples and scenarios is that while both help “show” the audience what you mean, an example is the “thing” itself, while a scenario would include more detail about the sequence or development of events. Scenarios also tend to be longer and more nuanced.

Storytelling can be an effective way to convey your message to your audience. Stories are a fundamental part of the human experience, and, if well-told, can resonate with listeners. Some of the most inspiring speakers use storytelling effectively in their presentations. You can find out more about how to incorporate storytelling techniques into presentations from the video below.

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The next 10 minutes might save your life”

In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends

Did these quotes heighten your interest in what the speaker is about to say?.  During the first two to three minutes of a presentation, gaining the attention of listeners is crucial.  Using words and phrases (like the ones above) and effective visual aids will make an immediate impact on listeners and capture their attention.  Presentations that are able to immediately capture the audience’s attention are also more likely to keep the audience’s attention throughout.  Take a minute to view these effective presentations attention getters from experienced and established speakers at TedTalks.

Effective attention-getting strategies that you can incorporate into a presentation include:

In addition, to stimulate the listener’s interest, the introduction must also establish the speaker’s credibility, and preview the main points of the presentation.

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To establish credibility with an audience, provide information on the qualification that empower you to speak about the topic: your job, experience, education, knowledge, etc.  Credibility is established by connecting your qualifications to the presentation’s subject matter.  If you are not a well-known authority on the matter, establishing your credibility will go along way to influence the audience’s decision to listen to your presentation and to take it seriously.

The Introduction must also preview the main points the presentation will discuss.  The preview will provide a broad overview of the presentation’s main points and indicate the order each point will be discussed.  Using a visual aid to present the points and their order is often an effective strategy.

The Body

Most of your presentation will be spent filling in the details of the main points first announced in the Introduction of your presentation.  Effective presenters do not overwhelm their audience with too much information.  Instead, effective presenters streamline their presentations by including only one or two important details for each main point.  To accomplish this task, a presenter must be very informed on the topic and very aware of the audience in order to determine what information will be most impactful to a particular audience.  No matter the audience, too much information can confuse listeners and conceal the central message of the presentation.  So keep presentations simple and logical.  Applying one of several organizing systems to a presentation will assist in streamlining information. For example: Chronology, Comparison/Contrast, Importance, or Best/Worst Cases.

An important part of any presentation is knowing how to connect your main points in a relevant manner, so that your presentation appears fluid?  Using transitional words and phrases provide is one method to help the audience follow the speaker’s ideas, connect the main points to each other, and see the relationships you’ve created in the information you are presenting. Transitions are used by the speaker to guide the audience in the progression from one significant idea, concept or point to the next issue. They can also show the relationship between the main point and the support the speaker uses to illustrate, provide examples for, or reference outside sources. Depending on your purpose, transitions can serve different roles as you help create the glue that will connect your points together in a way the audience can easily follow.

Table 1: Examples of Presentation Transitions

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The concluding section of a presentation acts very much like a concluding paragraph for an essay: it summarizes the information presented.  However, for presentations, the concluding section also provides additional benefits for presentations.  An effective conclusion will

The conclusion should be memorable.  Ask yourself the question: what do you want my audience to remember most?  The answer to that question is the subject of your conclusion.  Don’t just say the same things you said during the presentation.  Breath fresh air into the information or come at the information from another angle.  End on a strong and positive note.  Think through and plan your last remarks to ensure the audience walks away with a positive impression of you and your company.

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Types of Business Presentations

As we’ve discussed, a presentation will have one of three general purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain.  However, each of these purposes may be required to deliver many different types of information.  In business, you will be involved in different projects, assignments, departments, etc., and be required to provide updates, reports, and overviews of the various activities.  A presentation about an ongoing project to your supervisor will not be the same type of presentation provided to the sales team; the type of presentation students give for a class assignment, is not the same type of weekly presentation your instructor provides.  There are many types of business presentations.  Understanding each type will help to ensure you target your message to the right audience in the right way.

Briefings: A condensed account of business situation.  Briefings bring the members of a department or project together so information can be shared and discussed.

Reports: Routine reports on ongoing projects, issues, problems, or proposals are expected.  There are many types of routine reports, including progress, convention, incident, trip, etc.  During your career, you may be required to present one or more of these types of reports to your superiors, colleagues, or rank-and-file employees, inside and outside your organization.  This type of presentation ranges from very simple presentations with minimal audio-visual and multimedia integration to presentations that include elaborate audio-visual and multimedia integration.

Podcasts: A podcast is an online, prerecorded audio clip delivered online.  Podcasts are used by companies to present up-to-date information on current products and services.  In addition, podcasts are being used to introduce and train employees.

Virtual Presentations: Business teams are often composed of individuals who are not in the same geographic location or perhaps have to work collaboratively outside of normal office hours.  This type of collaborative effort is greatly facilitated by the availability of information technology.  In your career, you may be required to work with a remote team to develop and present a project or different types of reports by making a virtual presentation. The steps to developing effective virtual presentations are the same as any other type of presentation.

Webinars: A webinar is a web-based presentation that is transmitted digitally, with or without video.  Companies use webinars in a similar manner to podcasts.  Company products and services as well as employee training and introductions are presentations common to webinars.

Figure 6.1.5: A summary of the different types of business presentations (Business Communication, 2019).

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Additional information on developing presentations can be found at The Learning Portal.

 Key Takeaway

key icon

      • All presentation must have a general purpose, specific purpose and central idea statements is 
      • Correctly profiling an audience will ensure your presentation delivers the right message in the most effective manner
      • All presentations include an attention getter, introduction, body, and conclusion.
      • Correctly matching the message to the correct type of presentation will increase the effectiveness of the message


pen and paper icon

      1. Interview one or two individuals in your professional field.  How is oral communication important in this profession.  Does the need for oral skills change as one advances?  What suggestion can these people make to newcomers to the field for developing proficient oral communication skills?


Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016). Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.

COMMpadre Media. (n.d.). Speech purpose & central idea [Video file].  Retrieved from

Communication Coach Alex Lyon. (2017). How to end a presentation [Video file].  Retrieved from

eCampusOntario. (2020). Chapter 5: Presentation organization. Communication for business professionals. Retrieved from

Duarte, Inc. (n.d.). Five simple rules for creating world changing presentations [Video file].  Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Reed, G. (2017). Your go-to presentation outline. Retrieved from

Rule the Room. (2013).  How to do a presentation: 5 steps to a killer opener [Video file].  Retrieved from

Standford Graduate School of Business. (2013). Nancy Duarte: How to tell a story [Video file].  Retrieved from

6.2 Informative and Persuasive Presentations

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

        • describe the functions of the speech to inform
        • provide examples of four main types of speeches to inform
        • understand how to structure and develop a speech to inform
        • identify and demonstrate how to use six principles of persuasion
        • describe similarities and differences between persuasion and motivation
        • identify and demonstrate the effective use of five functions of speaking to persuade



Regardless of the type of presentation, you must prepare carefully.  Are you trying to sell life insurance to a group of new clients, or presenting a proposal to secure financing to expand your business operation?  Are you presenting the monthly update on the different sales divisions in your company, or providing customers with information on how to upgrade their latest computer purchase.  Your future career will require you to present both to inform or to persuade.  Knowing the difference between these two types of presentations and knowing how to construct each type of presentation will be beneficial to your future careers.

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Presenting to Inform

At some point in your business career, you will be called upon to teach someone something. It may be a customer, coworker, or supervisor, and in each case, you are performing an informative speech. It is distinct from a sales speech, or persuasive speech, in that your goal is to communicate the information so that your listener understands. The informative speech is one performance you’ll give many times across your career, whether your audience is one person, a small group, or a large auditorium full of listeners. Once you master the art of the informative speech, you may mix and match it with other styles and techniques.


Informative presentations focus on helping the audience to understand a topic, issue, or technique more clearly. There are distinct functions inherent in a speech to inform, and you may choose to use one or more of these functions in your speech. Let’s take a look at the functions and see how they relate to the central objective of facilitating audience understanding.

Share: The basic definition of communication highlights the process of understanding and sharing meaning. An informative speech follows this definition when a speaker shares content and information with an audience. As part of a speech, you wouldn’t typically be asking the audience to respond or solve a problem. Instead, you’d be offering to share with the audience some of the information you have gathered related to a topic.

Increasing Understanding: How well does your audience grasp the information? This should be a guiding question to you on two levels. The first involves what they already know—or don’t know—about your topic, and what key terms or ideas might be necessary for someone completely unfamiliar with your topic to grasp the ideas you are presenting. The second involves your presentation and the illustration of ideas. The audience will respond to your attention statement and hopefully maintain interest, but how will you take your speech beyond superficial coverage of content and effectively communicate key relationships that increase understanding? These questions should serve as a challenge for your informative speech, and by looking at your speech from an audience-oriented perspective, you will increase your ability to increase the audience’s understanding.

Change Perceptions: How you perceive something has everything to do with a range of factors that are unique to you. We all want to make sense of our world, share our experiences, and learn that many people face the same challenges we do. For instance, many people perceive the process of speaking in public as a significant challenge, and in this text, we have broken down the process into several manageable steps. In so doing, we have to some degree changed your perception of public speaking.

When you present your speech to inform, you may want to change the audience member’s perceptions of your topic. You may present an informative speech on air pollution and want to change common perceptions such as the idea that most of North America’s air pollution comes from private cars. You won’t be asking people to go out and vote, or change their choice of automobiles, but you will help your audience change their perceptions of your topic.

Gain Skills: Just as you want to increase the audience’s understanding, you may want to help the audience members gain skills. If you are presenting a speech on how to make a meal from fresh ingredients, your audience may thank you for not only the knowledge of the key ingredients and their preparation but also the product available at the conclusion. If your audience members have never made their own meal, they may gain a new skill from your speech.

Exposition versus Interpretation: When you share information informally, you often provide your own perspective and attitude for your own reasons. The speech to inform the audience on a topic, idea, or area of content is not intended to be a display of attitude and opinion.

The speech to inform is like the classroom setting in that the goal is to inform, not to persuade, entertain, display attitude, or create comedy. If you have analyzed your audience, you’ll be better prepared to develop appropriate ways to gain their attention and inform them on your topic. You want to communicate thoughts, ideas, and relationships and allow each listener specifically, and the audience generally, to draw their own conclusions. The speech to inform is all about sharing information to meet the audience’s needs, not your own.

Exposition: Exposition means a public exhibition or display, often expressing a complex topic in a way that makes the relationships and content clear. The goal is to communicate the topic and content to your audience in ways that illustrate, explain, and reinforce the overall content to make your topic more accessible to the audience. The audience wants to learn about your topic and may have some knowledge of it as you do. It is your responsibility to consider ways to display the information effectively.

Figure 6.2.1: Five tips to ensure an objective and unbiased presentation.

Interpretation and Bias: Interpretation involves adapting the information to communicate a message, perspective, or agenda. Your insights and attitudes will guide your selection of material, what you focus on, and what you delete (choosing what not to present to the audience). Your interpretation will involve personal bias.

Bias is an unreasoned or not-well-thought-out judgment. Bias involves beliefs or ideas held on the basis of conviction rather than current evidence. Beliefs are often called “habits of the mind” because we come to rely on them to make decisions. Which is the better, cheapest, most expensive, or the middle-priced product? People often choose the middle-priced product and use the belief “if it costs more it must be better” (and the opposite: “if it is cheap it must not be very good”). The middle-priced item, regardless of the actual price, is often perceived as “good enough.” All these perceptions are based on beliefs, and they may not apply to the given decision or even be based on any evidence or rational thinking.

We take mental shortcuts all day long, but in our speech to inform, we have to be careful not to reinforce bias.

Point of View: Clearly no one can be completely objective and remove themselves from their own perceptual process. People express themselves and naturally relate what is happening now to what has happened to them in the past. You are your own artist, but you also control your creations.

Objectivity involves expressions and perceptions of facts that are free from distortion by your prejudices, bias, feelings or interpretations. For example, is the post office box blue? An objective response would be yes or no, but a subjective response might sound like “Well, it’s not really blue as much as it is navy, even a bit of purple.” Subjectivity involves expressions or perceptions that are modified, altered, or impacted by your personal bias, experiences, and background. In an informative speech, your audience will expect you to present the information in a relatively objective form. The speech should meet the audience’s needs as they learn about the content, not your feelings, attitudes, or commentary on the content.

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Types of Informative Presentations

Speaking to inform may fall into one of several categories. The presentation to inform may be an explanation, a report, a description, or a demonstration.  Each type of informative speech is described below.

Explanation: Have you ever listened to a lecture or speech where you just didn’t get it? It wasn’t that you weren’t interested, at least not at first. Perhaps the presenter used language you didn’t understand or gave a confusing example. Soon you probably lost interest and sat there, attending the speech in body but certainly not in mind. An effective speech to inform will take a complex topic or issue and explain it to the audience in ways that increase audience understanding.

No one likes to feel left out. As the speaker, it’s your responsibility to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Also, know that to teach someone something new—perhaps a skill that they did not possess or a perspective that allows them to see new connections—is a real gift, both to you and the audience members. You will feel rewarded because you made a difference and they will perceive the gain in their own understanding.

Report: As a business communicator, you may be called upon to give an informative report where you communicate status, trends, or relationships that pertain to a specific topic. The informative report is a speech where you organize your information around key events, discoveries, or technical data and provide context and illustration for your audience. They may naturally wonder, “Why are sales up (or down)?” or “What is the product leader in your lineup?” and you need to anticipate their perspective and present the key information that relates to your topic.

Description: Have you ever listened to a friend tell you about their recent trip somewhere and found the details fascinating, making you want to travel there or visit a similar place? Describing information requires an emphasis on language that is vivid, captures attention, and excites the imagination. Your audience will be drawn to your effective use of color, descriptive language, and visual aids. An informative speech that focuses on the description will be visual in many ways. Use your imagination to place yourself in their perspective: how would you like to have someone describe the topic to you?

Demonstration: You want to teach the audience how to program the applications on a new smartphone. A demonstrative speech focuses on clearly showing a process and telling the audience important details about each step so that they can imitate, repeat, or do the action themselves. Consider the visual aids or supplies you will need.

By considering each step and focusing on how to simplify it, you can understand how the audience might grasp the new information and how you can best help them. Also, consider the desired outcome; for example, will your listeners be able to actually do the task themselves? Regardless of the sequence or pattern you will illustrate or demonstrate, consider how people from your anticipated audience will respond, and budget additional time for repetition and clarification.

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Creating an Informative Presentation

An informational presentation is a common request in business and industry. It’s the verbal and visual equivalent of a written report. Informative presentations serve to present specific information for specific audiences for specific goals or functions. Table 6.2.1 below describes five main parts of a presentation to inform.

Table 6.2.1. Presentation Components and Their Functions. Lists the five main parts or components of any presentation[footnote] (McLean, S., 2003).[/footnote]

Table 6.2.1. Presentation Components and Their Functions



Attention Statement

Raise interest and motivate the listener


Communicate a point and common ground


Address key points


Summarize key points

Residual Message

Communicate central theme, moral of story, or main point

Sample Speech Guidelines:  Imagine that you have been assigned to give an informative presentation lasting five to seven minutes. Follow the guidelines in Table 6.2.2 below and apply them to your presentation.

Table 6.2.2 Sample speech guidelines. Seven key items.


Choose a product or service that interests you (if you have the option of choice) and report findings in your speech. Even if you are assigned a topic, find an aspect or angle that is of interest to research.


Your general purpose, of course, is to inform. But you need to formulate a more specific purpose statement that expresses a point you have to make about your topic—what you hope to accomplish in your speech.


Think about what your audience might already know about your topic and what they may not know, and perhaps any attitudes toward or concerns about it. Consider how this may affect the way that you will present your information.

Supporting Materials

Using the information gathered in your search for information, determine what is most worthwhile, interesting, and important to include in your speech. Time limits will require that you be selective about what you use. Use visual aids!



Write a central idea statement that expresses the message, or point, that you hope to get across to your listeners in the speech.Determine the two to three main points that will be needed to support your central idea.

Finally, prepare a complete sentence outline of the body of the speech.                


Develop an opening that will

  1. get the attention and interest of your listeners,
  2. express your central idea or message,
  3. lead into the body of your speech.


The conclusion should review and/or summarize the important ideas in your speech and bring it to a smooth close.


The speech should be delivered extemporaneously (not reading but speaking), using speaking notes and not reading from the manuscript. Work on maximum eye contact with your listeners. Use any visual aids or handouts that may be helpful.

Informative presentations illustrate, explain, describe, and instruct the audience on topics and processes.  Now let’s watch an example of an informative speech.

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The Persuasive Presentation

No doubt there has been a time when you wanted to achieve a goal or convince someone about a need and you thought about how you were going to present your request. Consider how often people want something from you? When you watch television, advertisements reach out for your attention, whether you watch them or not. When you use the internet, pop-up advertisements often appear. Most people are surrounded, even inundated by persuasive messages. Mass and social media in the 21st century have had a significant effect on persuasive communication that you will certainly recognize.

Persuasion is an act or process of presenting arguments to move, motivate, or change the mind of your audience. Persuasion can be implicit or explicit and can have both positive and negative effects.  Motivation is different from persuasion in that it involves the force, stimulus, or influence to bring about change. Persuasion is the process, and motivation is the compelling stimulus that encourages your audience to change their beliefs or behaviour, to adopt your position, or to consider your arguments.  Let’s view the video below for an overview of the principles of a persuasive presentation.

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Principles of Persuasion

What is the best way to succeed in persuading your listeners? There is no one “correct” answer, but many experts have studied persuasion and observed what works and what doesn’t. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini (2006) offers us six principles of persuasion that are powerful and effective:  Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Commitment and consistency, Consensus, and Liking.  These six principles are covered in more detail in Unit 27.

Figure 6.2.2: Integrating some or all of these principles into your presentation will make it truly persuasive.

Developing a Persuasive Presentation

Persuasive presentations have the following features, they:


When you focus on stimulation as the goal of your speech, you want to reinforce existing beliefs, intensify them, and bring them to the forefront. By presenting facts, you will reinforce existing beliefs, intensify them, and bring the issue to the surface. You might consider the foundation of common ground and commonly held beliefs, and then introduce information that a mainstream audience may not be aware of that supports that common ground as a strategy to stimulate.


In a persuasive speech, the goal is to change the attitudes, beliefs, values, or judgments of your audience. Audience members are likely to hold their own beliefs and are likely to have their own personal bias. Your goal is to get them to agree with your position, so you will need to plan a range of points and examples to get audience members to consider your topic. Here is a five-step checklist to motivate your audience into some form of action:

1. Get their attention
2. Identify the need
3. Satisfy the need
4. Present a vision or solution
5. Take action

This simple organizational pattern can help you focus on the basic elements of a persuasive message that will motivate your audience to take action…

Include a Call to Action

When you call an audience to action with a speech, you are indicating that your purpose is not to stimulate interest, reinforce and accentuate beliefs, or convince them of a viewpoint. Instead, you want your listeners to do something, to change their behaviour in some way. The persuasive speech that focuses on action often generates curiosity, clarifies a problem, and as we have seen, proposes a range of solutions. The key difference here is there is a clear link to action associated with the solutions.

Solutions lead us to consider the goals of action. These goals address the question, “What do I want the audience to do as a result of being engaged by my speech?” The goals of action include adoption, discontinuance, deterrence, and continuance.

Adoption means the speaker wants to persuade the audience to take on a new way of thinking, or adopt a new idea. Examples could include buying a new product, or deciding to donate blood. The key is that the audience member adopts, or takes on, a new view, action, or habit.

Discontinuance involves the speaker persuading the audience to stop doing something that they have been doing. Rather than take on a new habit or action, the speaker is asking the audience member to stop an existing behaviour or idea.

Deterrence is a call to action that focuses on persuading the audience not to start something if they haven’t already started. The goal of action would be to deter, or encourage the audience members to refrain from starting or initiating the behavior.

Finally, with Continuance, the speaker aims to persuade the audience to continue doing what they have been doing, such as keep buying a product, or staying in school to get an education.

A speaker may choose to address more than one of these goals of action, depending on the audience analysis. If the audience is largely agreeable and supportive, you may find continuance to be one goal, while adoption is secondary.

Goals in call to action speeches serve to guide you in the development of solution steps. Solution steps involve suggestions or ways the audience can take action after your speech. Audience members appreciate a clear discussion of the problem in a persuasive speech, but they also appreciate solutions.

Increase Consideration

In a speech designed to increase consideration, you want to entice your audience to consider alternate viewpoints on the topic you have chosen. Audience members may hold views that are hostile in relation to yours, or perhaps they are neutral and simply curious about your topic.  You won’t be asking for action in this presentation, simply to consider an alternative perspective.

Develop Tolerance of Alternate Perspectives

Finally, you may want to help your audience develop tolerance for alternate perspectives and viewpoints.  Your goal is to help your audience develop tolerance, but not necessarily acceptance, of alternate perspectives. By starting from common ground, and introducing a related idea, you are persuading your audience to consider an alternate perspective.

A persuasive speech may stimulate thought, convince, call to action, increase consideration, or develop tolerance of alternate perspectives.  Watch the following video of a persuasive speech with annotation to see the concepts above in action.

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An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Persuasive Strategies

When you make an argument in a persuasive speech, you will want to present your position logically by supporting each point with appropriate sources. You will want to give your audience every reason to perceive you as an ethical and trustworthy speaker. Your audience will expect you to treat them with respect, and to present your argument in a way that does not make them defensive. Contribute to your credibility by building sound arguments and using strategic arguments with skill and planning.

Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) rhetorical strategy focuses on three main elements, shown in Table 6.2.3 as a claim, data, and warrant.

Table 6.2.3 Rhetorical strategy.





Your statement of belief or truth

It is important to spay or neuter your pet.


Your supporting reasons for the claim

Millions of unwanted pets are euthanized annually.


You create the connection between the claim and the supporting reasons

Pets that are spayed or neutered do not reproduce, preventing the production of unwanted animals.

This three-part rhetorical strategy is useful in that it makes the claim explicit, clearly illustrating the relationship between the claim and the data, and allows the listener to follow the speaker’s reasoning. You may have a good idea or point, but your audience will be curious and want to know how you arrived at that claim or viewpoint. The warrant often addresses the inherent and often unspoken question, “Why is this data so important to your topic?” and helps you illustrate relationships between information for your audience. This model can help you clearly articulate it for your audience.

Appealing to Emotions

Emotions are psychological and physical reactions, such as fear or anger, to stimuli that we experience as a feeling. Our feelings or emotions directly impact our own point of view and readiness to communicate, but also influence how, why, and when we say things. Emotions influence not only how you say what you say, but also how you hear and what you hear. At times, emotions can be challenging to control. Emotions will move your audience, and possibly even move you, to change or act in certain ways.

Figure 6.2.3: Positive or negative, knowing how to use emotions will make your presentations more persuasive (, 2020)

Be wary of overusing emotional appeals, or misusing emotional manipulation in presentations and communication. You may encounter emotional resistance from your audience.  Emotional resistance involves getting tired, often to the point of rejection, of hearing messages that attempt to elicit an emotional response. Emotional appeals can wear out the audience’s capacity to receive the message.

The use of an emotional appeal may also impair your ability to write persuasively or effectively. Never use a personal story, or even a story of someone you do not know if the inclusion of that story causes you to lose control. While it’s important to discuss relevant and sometimes emotionally difficult topics, you need to assess your own relationship to the message. Your documents should not be an exercise in therapy and you will sacrifice ethos and credibility, even your effectiveness, if you become angry or distraught because you are really not ready to discuss an issue you’ve selected.

Now that you’ve considered emotions and their role in a speech in general and a speech to persuade specifically, it’s important to recognize the principles about emotions in communication that serve you well when speaking in public.   The video below reviews how to effectively integrate emotion, logic and credibility into your presentation.

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An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

DeVito (2003) offers five key principles to acknowledge the role emotions play in communication and offer guidelines for there expression.

Emotions Are Universal: Emotions are a part of every conversation or interaction that you have. Whether or not you consciously experience them while communicating with yourself or others, they influence how you communicate. By recognizing that emotions are a component in all communication interactions, you can place emphasis on understanding both the content of the message and the emotions that influence how, why, and when the content is communicated.

Expression of emotions is important, but requires the three Ts: tact, timing, and trust. If you find you are upset and at risk of being less than diplomatic, or the timing is not right, or you are unsure about the level of trust, then consider whether you can effectively communicate your emotions. By considering these three Ts, you can help yourself express your emotions more effectively.

Emotions Are Communicated Verbally and Nonverbally: You communicate emotions not only through your choice of words but also through the manner in which you say those words. The words themselves communicate part of your message, but the nonverbal cues, including inflection, timing, space, and paralanguage can modify or contradict your spoken message. Be aware that emotions are expressed in both ways and pay attention to how verbal and nonverbal messages reinforce and complement each other.

Emotional Expression Can Be Good and Bad: Expressing emotions can be a healthy activity for a relationship and build trust. It can also break down trust if expression is not combined with judgment. We’re all different, and we all experience emotions, but how we express our emotions to ourselves and others can have a significant impact on our relationships. Expressing frustrations may help the audience realize your point of view and see things as they have never seen them before. However, expressing frustrations combined with blaming can generate defensiveness and decrease effective listening. When you’re expressing yourself, consider the audience’s point of view, be specific about your concerns, and emphasize that your relationship with your listeners is important to you.

Emotions Are Often Contagious: It is important to recognize that we influence each other with our emotions, positively and negatively. Your emotions as the speaker can be contagious, so use your enthusiasm to raise the level of interest in your topic. Conversely, you may be subject to “catching” emotions from your audience.

In summary, everyone experiences emotions, and as a persuasive speaker, you can choose how to express emotion and appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Presenting Ethically

What comes to mind when you think of speaking to persuade? Perhaps the idea of persuasion may bring to mind propaganda and issues of manipulation, deception, intentional bias, bribery, and even coercion. Each element relates to persuasion, but in distinct ways. We can recognize that each of these elements in some ways has a negative connotation associated with it. Why do you think that deceiving your audience, bribing a judge, or coercing people to do something against their wishes is wrong? These tactics violate our sense of fairness, freedom, and ethics.

Figure 6.2.4 offers eleven points from the book Ethics in Human Communication (Johannesen, 1996).   These points should be kept in mind as you prepare and present your persuasive message.

Figure 6.2.4: Eleven points on how to ensure your presentation remains ethical.

In your speech to persuade, consider honesty and integrity as you assemble your arguments. Your audience will appreciate your thoughtful consideration of more than one view, your understanding of the complexity, and you will build your ethos, or credibility, as you present your document. Be careful not to stretch the facts, or assemble them only to prove yourself, and instead prove the argument on its own merits. Deception, coercion, intentional bias, manipulation and bribery should have no place in your speech to persuade.

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Key Takeaway

key icon

      • Understand the function of your informative presentation in order to communicate the right message to the right audience.
      • Organize your information presentation using the five main parts of an informative presentation
      • Use the six principles of persuasion to develop your persuasive presentation
      • Use the Rhetorical Strategy to construct will developed arguments
      • Integrate emotional appeal to effectively engage your audience


pen and paper icon

    1. An elevator speech is to oral communication what a Twitter message (limited to 140 characters) is to written communication. An elevator speech is a presentation that persuades the listener in less than thirty seconds, or around a hundred words.

Creating an Elevator Speech

An elevator speech does not have to be a formal event, though it can be. An elevator speech is not a full sales pitch and should not get bloated with too much information. The idea is not to rattle off as much information as possible in a short time, nor to present a memorized thirty-second advertising message, but rather to give a relaxed and genuine “nutshell” summary of one main idea. The emphasis is on brevity, but a good elevator speech will address several key questions:

What is the topic, product or service?
2. Who are you?
3. Who is the target market? (if applicable)
4. What is the revenue model? (if applicable)
5. What or who is the competition and what are your advantages?

The following are the five key parts of your message:

      • Attention Statement – Hook + information about you
      • Introduction – What you offer
      • Body – Benefits; what’s in it for the listener
      • Conclusion – Example that sums it up
      • Residual Message – Call for action

Task:  Write an elevator speech for your next networking event to introduce yourself to prospective employers.


Comm Studies. (2019). Informative speech example [Video file]. Retrieved from

eCampusOntario. (2020). Chapter 7: Presentation to inform. Communication for business professionals. Retrieved from

eCampusOntario. (2020). Chapter 8: Presentation to persuade. Communication for business professionals. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from (2020). “Calm” emotions & “positive” feelings: Two keys to stay healthy during self-Isolation. Resources for parents. Retrieved from

Lyon, A. (2017). Ethos Pathos Logos [Video file]. Retrieved from

Lyon, A. (2017). How to Organize a Persuasive Speech or Presentation [Video file]. Retrieved from

Lyon, A. (2019). Informative vs persuasive [Video file]. Retrieved from


6.3 Delivering A Presentation

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

        • identify the different methods of speech delivery
        • identify key elements in preparing to deliver a speech
        • understand the benefits of delivery-related behaviours
        • utilize specific techniques to enhance speech delivery


Many surveys have shown that public speaking is at the top of the list of fears for most people — sometimes, more high on the list than death. No one is afraid of writing their speech or conducting the research: people generally only fear the delivery aspect of the speech, which, compared to the amount of time you will put into writing the speech (days, hopefully), will be the shortest part of the speech giving process (5-8 minutes, generally, for classroom speeches). The irony, of course, is that delivery, being the thing people fear the most, is simultaneously the aspect of public speaking that will require the least amount of time.

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Delivery is what you are probably most concerned about when it comes to giving presentations. This unit is designed to help you give the best delivery possible and eliminate some of the nervousness you might be feeling. To do that, you should first dismiss the myth that public speaking is just reading and talking at the same time. Speaking in public has more formality than talking. During a speech, you should present yourself professionally. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must wear a suit or “dress up”, but it does mean making yourself presentable by being well-groomed and wearing clean, appropriate clothes. It also means being prepared to use language correctly and appropriately for the audience and the topic, to make eye contact with your audience, and to look like you know your topic very well.

While speaking has more formality than talking, it has less formality than reading. Speaking allows for flexibility, meaningful pauses, eye contact, small changes in word order, and vocal emphasis. Reading is a more or less exact replication of words on paper without the use of any nonverbal interpretation. Speaking, as you will realize if you think about excellent speakers you have seen and heard, provides a more animated message.

Methods of Presentation Delivery

There are four methods of delivery that can help you balance between too much and too little formality when giving a presentation.  The video below reviews all four methods.

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Impromptu Speaking

Impromptu speaking is the presentation of a short message without advance preparation. You have probably done impromptu speaking many times in informal, conversational settings. Self-introductions in group settings are examples of impromptu speaking: “Hi, my name is Steve, and I’m an account manager.” Another example of impromptu presenting occurs when you answer a question such as, “What did you think of the report?” Your response has not been pre-planned, and you are constructing your arguments and points as you speak. Even worse, you might find yourself going into a meeting and your boss says, “I want you to talk about the last stage of the project. . . “ and you had no warning.

The advantage of this kind of speaking is that it’s spontaneous and responsive in an animated group context. The disadvantage is that the speaker is given little or no time to contemplate the central theme of his or her message. As a result, the message may be disorganized and difficult for listeners to follow.

Here is a step-by-step guide that may be useful if you are called upon to give an impromptu presentation in public:

  1. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and plan the main point you want to make.
  2. Thank the person for inviting you to speak. Avoid making comments about being unprepared, called upon at the last moment, on the spot, or feeling uneasy.
  3. Deliver your message, making your main point as briefly as you can while still covering it adequately and at a pace your listeners can follow.
  4. If you can use a structure, using numbers if possible: “Two main reasons . . .” or “Three parts of our plan. . .” or “Two side effects of this drug. . .” Timeline structures are also effective, such as “past, present, and future or East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast”.
  5. Thank the person again for the opportunity to speak.
  6. Stop talking (it is easy to “ramble on” when you don’t have something prepared). If in front of an audience, don’t keep talking as you move back to your seat.

Impromptu presentations: the presentation of a short message without advance preparation. Impromptu presentations are generally most successful when they are brief and focus on a single point

Manuscript Presentations

Manuscript presentations are the word-for-word iteration of a written message. In a manuscript presentation, the speaker maintains their attention on the printed page except when using visual aids. The advantage of reading from a manuscript is the exact repetition of original words. In some circumstances, this can be extremely important. For example, reading a statement about your organization’s legal responsibilities to customers may require that the original words be exact.

A manuscript presentation may be appropriate at a more formal affair (like a report to shareholders), when your presentation must be said exactly as written in order to convey the proper emotion or decorum the situation deserves.

However, there are costs involved in manuscript presentations. First, it’s typically an uninteresting way to present. Unless the presenter has rehearsed the reading as a complete performance animated with vocal expression and gestures, the presentation tends to be dull. Keeping one’s eyes glued to the script prevents eye contact with the audience. For this kind of “straight” manuscript presentation to hold audience attention, the audience must be already interested in the message and presenter before the delivery begins.

It is worth noting that professional speakers, actors, news reporters, and politicians often read from an autocue device, commonly called a teleprompter, especially when appearing on television, where eye contact with the camera is crucial. With practice, a presenter can achieve a conversational tone and give the impression of speaking extemporaneously and maintaining eye contact while using an autocue device. However, success in this medium depends on two factors: (1) the presenter is already an accomplished public speaker who has learned to use a conversational tone while delivering a prepared script, and (2) the presentation is written in a style that sounds conversational and in spoken rather than written, edited English.

Extemporaneous Presentations

Extemporaneous presentations are carefully planned and rehearsed presentations, delivered in a conversational manner using brief notes. By using notes rather than a full manuscript, the extemporaneous presenter can establish and maintain eye contact with the audience and assess how well they are understanding the presentation as it progresses. Without all the words on the page to read, you have little choice but to look up and make eye contact with your audience.

Presenting extemporaneously has some advantages. It promotes the likelihood that you, the speaker, will be perceived as knowledgeable and credible since you know the speech well enough that you don’t need to read it. In addition, your audience is likely to pay better attention to the message because it is engaging both verbally and nonverbally. It also allows flexibility; you are working from the strong foundation of an outline, but if you need to delete, add, or rephrase something at the last minute or to adapt to your audience, you can do so.

The disadvantage of extemporaneous presentations is that in some cases it does not allow for the verbal and the nonverbal preparation that are almost always required for a good speech.

Adequate preparation cannot be achieved the day before you’re scheduled to present, so be aware that if you want to present a credibly delivered speech, you will need to practice many times. Because extemporaneous presenting is the style used in the great majority of business presentation situations, most of the information in the subsequent sections of this chapter is targeted toward this kind of speaking.

Memorized Speaking

Memorized speaking is the recitation of a written message that the speaker has committed to memory. Actors, of course, recite from memory whenever they perform from a script in a stage play, television program, or movie scene. When it comes to speeches, memorization can be useful when the message needs to be exact and the speaker doesn’t want to be confined by notes.

The advantage to memorization is that it enables the speaker to maintain eye contact with the audience throughout the speech. Being free of notes means that you can move freely around the stage and use your hands to make gestures. If your speech uses visual aids, this freedom is even more of an advantage. However, there are some real and potential costs.

First, unless you also plan and memorize every vocal cue (the subtle but meaningful variations in speech delivery, which can include the use of pitch, tone, volume, and pace), gesture, and facial expression, your presentation will be flat and uninteresting, and even the most fascinating topic will suffer. Second, if you lose your place and start trying to ad lib, the contrast in your style of delivery will alert your audience that something is wrong. More frighteningly, if you go completely blank during the presentation, it will be extremely difficult to find your place and keep going. Obviously, memorizing a typical seven-minute presentation takes a great deal of time and effort, and if you aren’t used to memorizing, it is very difficult to pull off. Realistically, you probably will not have the time necessary to give a completely memorized speech. However, if you practice adequately, your approach will still feel like you are being extemporaneous.

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Your audiences, circumstances, and physical contexts for presenting will vary, but will arise regularly in any business environment. Being prepared to deal with different presenting situations will help reduce the anxiety you may have about giving a speech, so let’s look at some common factors you need to keep in mind as you prepare for a typical business presentation.

Using Lecterns: Lecterns add formality to the presentation situation, but it can be tempting to hide behind it. Use it to hold your notes only. This will enhance your eye contact as well as free up your hands for gesturing, and give the appearance of confidence.

Large spaces: auditoriums or other large spaces can be intimidating. Preparation and practice will prevent poor performance; a rehearsal, if available, can also ease nerves. Slowing your speech to allow for echo, and adjust visual aids so they can be seen by those in the back of the hall.

Small spaces: these are usually easier to manage for presenters, but use note cards and visual aids carefully, as your audience will be able to see everything. Ideally, arrive early to set up your presentation material to prevent fumbling and delays.

Outdoors: Noise (cars, wind), insects, weather, sunshine and other environmental factors may be hard to control. Do your best to project your voice without yelling, and choose locations that are quiet and sheltered, if possible.

Using a Microphone: you can avoid difficulties with microphones by doing a rehearsal or test ahead of time. Ensure you enunciate clearly and give a few inches between your face and the microphone.

Small Audience Size: A small audience will allow for greater contact, but may invite interruptions. Deal with any questions politely and say you’ll try to answer that question at the end of the presentation. Or, set the agenda at the beginning so that the audience knows there will be a question and answer period at the end.

There is no foolproof recipe for good delivery. You are a unique person, and you embody different experiences and interests from others. This means you have an approach, or a style, that is effective for you. It also means that your concern about what others think of you can cause anxiety, even during the most carefully researched and interesting presentation. But there are some techniques you can use to minimize that anxious feeling and put yourself in the best possible position to succeed on presentation day. You need to prepare for your presentation in as realistic a simulation as possible. What follows are some general tips you should keep in mind, but they all essentially derive from one very straight-forward premise: Practice your presentation beforehand, at home or elsewhere, the way you will give it in person.

Practice Your Presentation Out Loud

Practice allows you to learn what to say, when, and how to say it, but it also lets you know where potential problems lie. Since you will be speaking with a normal volume for your presentation, you need to practice that way, even at home. This helps you learn the presentation, but it will help identify any places where you tend to mispronounce words. Also, sentences on paper do not always translate well to the spoken medium. Practicing out loud allows you to actually hear where you have trouble and fix it before getting up in front of the audience.

Practice Your Presentation Standing Up

Since you will be standing for your presentation (in all likelihood), you need to practice that way. As we mention in more detail below, the default position for delivering a presentation is with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Practicing this way will help develop muscle memory and will make it feel more natural when you are doing it for real.

Practice Your Presentation with an Audience

The best way to prepare for the feeling of having someone watch you while giving a presentation is to have someone watch you while you practice. Ask your colleagues, friends, family, or significant other to listen to you while running through what you will say. Not only will you get practice in front of an audience, but they may be able to tell you about any parts that were unclear or problems you might encounter when delivering it on the day. During practice, it may help to pick out some strategically placed objects around the room to occasionally glance at just to get into the habit of looking around more often and making eye contact with multiple people in your audience.

Practice Your Presentation for Time

You’ll likely have a time limit for the presentation. As a rule of thumb, plan to have a 60-second “buffer” at the end of your presentation, in case something goes wrong. For example, if your presentation is set for 10 minutes, plan for nine minutes. Should you rush through or end early, make sure you can add more detail to the end of your presentation if needed. With all of this in mind, practicing at least three times at home will ensure your presentation is properly timed.

Practice Your Presentation by Filming Yourself

There is nothing that gets you to change what you’re doing or correct a problem quicker than seeing yourself doing something you don’t like on video. By watching yourself, you will notice all the small things you do that might prove to be distracting during the actual presentation.

It is important enough that it deserves reiterating: Practice your speech beforehand, at home or elsewhere, the way you will give it on the scheduled day.

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Non-Verbal Elements of Delivering a Presentation

The interplay between the verbal and nonverbal components of your speech can either bring the message vividly to life or confuse or bore the audience. Therefore, it is best that you neither over-dramatize your speech delivery behaviors nor downplay them. This is a balance achieved through rehearsal, trial and error, and experience. One way to think of this is in terms of the Goldilocks paradigm: you don’t want to overdo the delivery because you might distract your audience by looking hyper or overly animated. Conversely, someone whose delivery is too understated (meaning they don’t move their hands or feet at all) looks unnatural and uncomfortable, which can also distract. Just like Goldilocks, you want a delivery that is “just right”. This middle ground between too much and too little is a much more natural approach to public speaking delivery, which will be covered in more detail in the following sections where we discuss aspects of your delivery and what you need to think about while actually giving your speech.

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Hands: Use your hands as naturally as you would in normal conversation. Try to pay attention to what you do with your hands in regular conversations and incorporate that into your delivery. If you’re not comfortable with that, rest them on the lectern or fold them in front of your body.

Figure 6.3.1: 10 Tips for delivering effective presentations (, 2020).

Feet: stand shoulder-width apart, keeping your knees slightly bent. If you are comfortable, try walking around a bit if space allows and it appears natural in practice. Avoid shifting from foot-to-foot, or bouncing nervously.

Objects: bring only what you need to give your presentation. Anything else will be a distraction. Turn off any personal devices (cell phones, tablets) so there are no interruptions.

Clothing: dress professionally, based on the culture of your organization. Avoid jewelry that could make noise, uncomfortable shoes or any item that hangs from you. Tie back long hair so you are not tempted to touch or move it.

Eye Contact: Eye contact is an extremely important element of your delivery. The general rule of thumb is to aim for 80 percent of your total speech time to be spent making eye contact with your audience (Lucas, 2015, p. 250).

Volume: The volume you use should fit the size of the audience and the room.

Rate: How quickly or slowly you say the words of your speech is the rate. You especially will want to maintain a good, deliberate rate at the beginning of your speech because your audience will be getting used to your voice.

Vocalized Pauses: Everyone uses vocalized pauses to some degree, but not everyone’s are problematic. This obviously becomes an issue when the vocalized pauses become distracting due to their overuse. Identify your own common vocalized pauses and try to catch yourself to begin the process of reducing your dependence on them.

The items listed above represent the major delivery issues you will want to be aware of when giving a speech, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.

There is, however, one final piece of delivery advice. No matter how hard you practice and how diligent you are in preparing for your presentation, you are most likely going to mess up some aspect at some point. That’s normal. Everyone does it. The key is to not make a big deal about it or let the audience know you messed up. Odds are that they will never even realize your mistake if you don’t tell them there was a mistake.

Key Takeaway

key icon

      Many employees may not like public speaking, but it is a normal part of the business environment.

    • Good preparation helps to relieve the feelings of anxiety experienced by many presenters.
    • There are different types of delivery techniques to best deliver different types of messages.
    • Your delivery should look as natural as possible.


pen and paper icon

      1. Take a business idea you have, a familiar business topic you care about, or a promotion or raise you want to request in a time of tight budgets and a tough job market.
      2. Create a spontaneous two to five-minute speech making a good case for your core message.
      3. First deliver the speech in front of a mirror.  What did you notice about your presentation and delivery style?
      4. Next, present your speech to a classmate and ask for constructive feedback on your delivery style.


Bovee, C.L., Thill, J. V., & Scribner J. A. (2016). Business communication essentials (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.

Cityline. (2017).  7 tips to overcome your fear of public speaking [Video file].  Retrieved from

eCampusOntario. (2020). Chapter 6: Presentation to inform. Communication for business professionals. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Infogrades. (2020).  Cheat sheet for becoming a public speaking expert.  Retrieved from

Lyon, A. (2017).  Types of delivery for speeches and public speaking [Video file].  Retrieved from

Stanford Graduate School of Business. (2017). Use body language to rock your next presentation [Video file]. Retrieved from

6.4 Visual Aids

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

target icon

After studying this unit, you will be able to

      • identify when and how visual aids will enhance a presentation
      • identify the different types of visual aids
      • identify effective and ineffective use of visual aids
      • apply basic design principles to slide design
      • identify best practices to incorporating visual aids in a presentation


Visual aids can be a very powerful tool to enhance the impact of your presentations. Words and images presented in different formats can appeal directly to your audience’s imagination, adding power to your spoken words.

Learning how to create effective visuals that resonate with your audience is important for a quality presentation. Understanding basic principles of how visual information is processed alone and in combination with audio information can make or break your visuals’ effectiveness and impact. Incorporating visuals into your speech that complement your words rather than stand in place of them or distract from them, will set you apart from other presenters, increase your credibility, and make a bigger and more memorable impact on your audience.  A brief overview of the importance of visual aids is presented below.  Part II of the Module noted in the video is provided later on this page.

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Types of Visual Aids

When selecting a visual aid, it is important to choose one appropriate to the information being presented. Information generally falls into one of two categories:

Keep in mind the size of your audience, the type of room in which you will be presenting, and how best to support your presentation when selecting a visual aid. Think about using a variety of visual aids in your presentation:  PowerPoint, projectors, white/blackboard, flipcharts, handouts, or video sequences. Be creative and deliberate in your choice of visual aid to achieve the most impact. Let’s view the following video before looking specifically at different types of visual aids.

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PowerPoint (or equivalent)

Microsoft PowerPoint is probably now the most commonly used form of visual aid. PowerPoint is a computer program that allows you to create and show slides to support a presentation. You can combine text, graphics and multimedia content to create professional presentations. As a presentation tool PowerPoint can be used to:

PowerPoint has become enormously popular and you are likely to have seen it used by your lecturers and fellow students. Learning to present with PowerPoint will increase your employability. Used well, PowerPoint can improve the clarity of your presentations and help you to illustrate your message and engage your audience. However, it can have the opposite effect. Table 35.1 presents the general principles.

Table 6.4.1 General PowerPoint Principles
Do Don’t
use a big enough font (minimum 20pt) make it so small you can’t read it
keep the background simple use a fussy background image
use animations when appropriate but don’t over-do the animation – it gets distracting
make things visual use endless slides of bulleted lists that all look the same
direct your audience’s attention to slides containing key information just read out the text on the slides
give your audience time to read the information on your slides

Overhead projector slides/transparencies

Overhead projector slides/transparencies are displayed on the overhead projector (OHP) – a very useful tool found in most lecture and seminar rooms. The OHP projects and enlarges your slides onto a screen or wall without requiring the lights to be dimmed. You can produce your slides in three ways:

Make sure that the text on your slides is large enough to be read from the back of the room. A useful rule of thumb is to use 18 point text if you are producing slides with text on a computer. This should also help reduce the amount of information on each slide. Avoid giving your audience too much text or overly complicated diagrams to read as this limits their ability to listen. Try to avoid lists of abstract words as these can be misleading or uninformative.

White or blackboard

White or blackboards can be very useful to help explain the sequence of ideas or routines, particularly in the sciences. Use them to clarify your title or to record your key points as you introduce your presentation (this will give you a fixed list to help you recap as you go along). Rather than expecting the audience to follow your spoken description of an experiment or process, write each stage on the board, including any complex terminology or precise references to help your audience take accurate notes. However, once you have written something on the board you will either have to leave it there or rub it off – both can be distracting to your audience. Check to make sure your audience has taken down a reference before rubbing it off – there is nothing more frustrating than not being given enough time! Avoid leaving out-of-date material from an earlier point of your presentation on the board as this might confuse your audience. If you do need to write ‘live’, check that your audience can read your writing.

Paper handouts

Handouts are incredibly useful. Use a handout if your information is too detailed to fit on a slide or if you want your audience to have a full record of your findings. Consider the merits of passing around your handouts at the beginning, middle, and end of a presentation. Given too early and they may prove a distraction. Given too late and your audience may have taken too many unnecessary notes. Given out in the middle and your audience will inevitably read rather than listen. One powerful way of avoiding these pitfalls is to give out incomplete handouts at key stages during your presentation. You can then highlight the missing details vocally, encouraging your audience to fill in the gaps.

Flip chart

A flip chart is a large pad of paper on a stand. It is a very useful and flexible way of recording information during your presentation – you can even use pre-prepared sheets for key points. Record information as you go along, keeping one main idea to each sheet. Flip back through the pad to help you recap your main points. Use the turning of a page to show progression from point to point. Remember to make your writing clear and readable and your diagrams as simple as possible.


Video gives you a chance to show stimulating visual information. Use video to bring movement, pictures and sound into your presentation. Always make sure that the clip is directly relevant to your content. Tell your audience what to look for. Avoid showing any more films than you need.

Artifacts or props

Sometimes it can be very useful to use artifacts or props when making a presentation. If you bring an artifact with you, make sure that the object can be seen and be prepared to pass it around a small group or move to different areas of a large room to help your audience view it in detail. Remember that this will take time and that when an audience is immersed in looking at an object, they will find it hard to listen to your talk. Conceal large props until you need them; they might distract your audience’s attention.


Figure 6.4.1: Using different types of visual aids will increase the impact and effectiveness of your presentation (Business Communication, 2019).

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When to Use Visual Aids

Words and images can be used throughout your presentation from the introduction to the conclusion. However, remember to restrict their use to key moments in your presentation; an overuse of visual aids can be hard to follow.

Think about using visual aids at the following times:


Main points


Designing Visual Aids

There are many different rules for designing visual aids, some of which will apply directly to different kinds of equipment. In general, sticking to the following guidelines will produce high-quality visual images.

  1. Help the audience quickly understand the visual.
Figure 6.4.2

Figure 6.4.2: Using the guidelines will help you produce effective visuals for your presentations

2. Use the 3 T’s

When using visual aids in your presentation, follow the three T’s: touch turn, and talk.

3. Be aware of your position.

Stand to the left of the screen or display to avoid blocking anyone’s view.  Avoid stepping in front of the visuals unless you are adding something to a flip chart; it’s very difficult to write well from the side. When gesturing towards the visuals, keep your hands open and do not point.  Avoid staring at the visual aids as well; you need to maintain a connection to the audience through eye contact. At all times, remember that you are still the presenter!  So, don’t hide behind your visuals.   You are not there to read a PowerPoint to the audience; add value to each point as you cover it.

4. Know how to use the visual aid.

There is nothing worse than a presenter struggling with their visual aids. Be familiar enough with your tools to ensure that you won’t be thrown if something goes wrong. Confident use of visual aids will help marry them to your spoken presentation helping them become part of an impressive performance.

If properly prepared and implemented, visual aids can be an invaluable tool for getting your point across clearly and professionally.  Follow these guidelines for maximum impact and improved audience retention!

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Use visual aids to display complex information clearly and introduce variety into your delivery technique. Make sure that you are familiar with the equipment required to create and display visual aids, and deploy visual aids creatively in your presentations mixing techniques and media to create an impact.  Figure 35.3 provides a visual summary of how to incorporate visual aids into your presentation.


Figure 6.4.3: Nine steps to ensure visual aids are used to achieve the most effective business presentation (Business Communication, 2019).

Key Takeaway

key icon

      • Be sure that any visual aid you use adds to what you are saying. Slides should be brief, easy to understand and complement your message.
      • When designing slides make sure they are clear and visible to the entire audience.
      • Practice your presentation with your visual aids and remember to speak to your audience, not to your visual aid or the screen
      • Use a variety of visual aids in your presentation to engage your audience

Exercises 2.1

pen and paper icon

      1. Using the 6×6 Rule, write a series of bullets suitable for use on a PowerPoint slide that summarizes the following information.

We have four specific corporate goals in the year ahead.  The first is to introduce new product lines, including cardio equipment.  Our second goal is to see our company become a worldwide leader.  However, if we are to achieve this goal, our company must expand geographically.  Plans are now underway to establish operations in South America and Europe.  Finally, we would like to continue 20 percent and higher sales growth.


COMMpadres Media. (2016). Presentation aids [Video file]. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

UMW QEP. (2015). The purpose of visual aid and effective design tips [Visual file]. Retrieved from

UMW QEP. (2015).  The importance of effective visual aids [Video file]. Retrieved from

University of Leicester. (n.d.). Using visual aid. Presentation skills. Retrieved from

(Business Communication, 2019).


6.5 Graphic Illustrations and The Infographic

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

        • differentiate between various types of graphic illustrations
        • understand the importance of visual aids
        • understand how to create an infographic illustration


An element of business documents is the inclusion of graphic illustrations.  Graphic illustrations show your interpretation of numerical information and visually present that information and the connections found through your interpretation.  Graphics can help keep your reader engaged and provide information in a new way that is easier to understand.  There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, despite writing clearly and concisely, your audience will appreciate the presence of supporting graphics–whether that be tables, illustrations, maps, photos, charts, or some other type of graphic illustration. Graphic illustrations

Good graphic illustrations serve many purposes.  Well-designed graphics will help to communicate your message more effectively than words alone; therefore, graphics can help reduce miscommunication.  Graphic illustrations in long and complex documents, like a report or proposal, ensures your message will be more readily understood by a wide and diverse audience.  This unit explores the different types of illustrations, their basic format requirements, and a special look at infographics is presented.

Types of Graphic Illustrations

There are numerous kinds of visual aids, including tables, pie charts, bar charts, line graphs, flow charts, line graphs, organizational charts, illustrations, and infographics.  Each type of visual aid best depicts a specific type of information.  Knowing which visual aid best presents your raw data is important in creating effective visuals that communicate clear and accurate information.  Let’s begin our discussion by viewing the video below for an overview of when to use different types of graphic illustrations.

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Note: Detailed and precise information is presented in rows and columns which makes comparisons easy to make (, n.d.)

Tables are particularly good for showing exact figures and large amounts of information in rows and columns.  Tables provide a large amount of data in a very compact but detailed manner and are helpful at attracting readers to specific data and at making comparisons between them.  A few hints to create effective tables:

Pie Charts

A pie chart is a circular representation of a data set divided into sections that add up to 100 percent.  Values of a pie chart start at 12 o’clock with the largest percentage appearing first and gradually smaller percentages included as you work your way around the clock.  Pie charts are best used when comparing parts of a whole.  To create effective pie charts:

Figure 6.5.1: A typical pie chart and its requirements (Communicating for Results, 2016; Business Communication, 2019).

Bar Charts

A bar chart should be used to show comparisons between items, comparisons over time, and the relationship between items.  A bar chart displays information in columns (called bars) in a horizontal or vertical manner.  Bars should be displayed according to chronological or logical order and can be segmented, divided, or stacked.  Data must be accurately plotted and each bar should be the same width.  To correctly format your bar chart:


Figure 6.5.2: Three bar chart formats displaying the very same information.

Line Charts

Figure 6.5.3: A multiple line chart displaying the comparison of three separate variables over time (Business Communication, 2019).

Line charts show how items are related.  Line charts can show trends, fluctuations, or progressions over time.  A simple line chart will only show one set of data, and multiple line charts show two or more sets of data. To create a line chart


A flow chart lays out a procedure, process, or sequence of movements using shapes joined by arrows to demonstrate how the procedure, process or sequence works.  Each shape represents a stage in the process and the arrows indicate what comes next.  Flowcharts help to make complex processes and procedures simple to understand.  Flow charts typically use shapes in the following way:


Pictures and illustrations show what something looks like.  Pictures add authenticity and provide a visual record and are often used when the reader needs to know details that cannot be provided in any other manner.  For example, if a reader needs to know what an item of clothing on a website looks like or what the new head office for the company looks like, a picture is best at communicating this information.  In the digital world, using high resolution images and animating images adds another layer of reader engagement to a document.

Infographics and Data Visualization

Infographics create images out of data in a quick, clear, and engaging way.  An infographic tells a story using a combination of graphic illustrations.  Any sort of data can be displayed using an infographic, but it is most effectively used to display complex data with many components as a way to simplify that information and make it understandable to a wide audience.  A typical infographic

Figure 6.5.4: An infographic presenting the skills, education and work experience in a creative and story like manner (Business Communication, 2019).


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Table 6.5.2 Types of Graphic Illustrations and their UsesFormatting A Graphic Illustration

When you use an illustration in a report, there are several requirements to keep in mind.

Titles:  All illustrations should have a title. Similar to a subject line for a memo or letter, the title of a graphic illustration communicates the main idea of the image and is composed of descriptive nouns and phrases, not full sentences.    When creating your title, you may choose to create descriptive or talking titles. Include your title above the illustration.

Labels: All illustrations also must be labelled.  Tables are labelled above the image, but all other illustrations are labelled below the image.  Take a look at how the tables and other figures on this page are labelled.  In addition, for bar and line charts, you must also label the x and y axis to ensure the reader knows what value is being measured on each axis.

Caption: A caption is a short descriptive passage that describes the image and its relevance.  The caption should add important information for the reader and not simply repeat the title or state obvious information.   The caption can also describe the data presented or include an interpretation of the data presented.

Legends: A legend are words written on or next to an image that explains information or symbols included as part of the image.

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Other Formatting Requirements

In addition to the format requirements noted above, when integrating a graphic illustration into your work, consider the following:


Many graphic illustrations that you may use in your writing may come from a secondary source of information.  Like all information that comes from secondary sources, the illustration must be cited.  For a full overview of APA documentation requirements, please visit Unit 9 of this textbook. The following video will also be of assistance in understanding how to use APA 6th Edition to cite images in your documents.

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The Infographic

An “Infographic” is a combination of the words “information” and “graphic.” In essence, an infographic is a form of visual communication meant to capture attention and enhance comprehension. The infographic is a specific type of visual communication that includes graphics showing data, copy, or both. The infographic uses these elements to communicate a story that attracts readers and promotes understanding.

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Infographic Types and Styles

While there are many different presentations of infographics, there are three general categories that infographics can fall into: data visualization, information design, editorial infographicsEach serves a purpose and is an effective medium of communication when constructed correctly.

Figure 6.5.5: Designers can choose one of the three types of infographics that best tells their story.

Infographics provide flexibility of design…you can do almost anything.  However, infographics are often one of three styles.

Static Infographics:  These are the most common type of infographics and are easiest to create.  These types of infographics involve images, symbols, graphics, etc., but they do not move or provide interactivity.

Animated Infographics: As the name suggests, the animated infographic animates information, which means this type of infographic contains moving elements.  Animated infographics are effective at attracting reader attention and at being included on social media, company websites, and in online tutorials.  Learn more about animated infographics by visiting this page.

Interactive Infographics: The name of this infographic also foreshadows its distinguishing element: interactivity.  Interactivity is best utilized for infographics that present large amounts or complex information.  In order to present smaller and more understandable chunks of information, the reader is required to interact with the graphic as the story unfolds.  Learn more about interactive infographics by visiting this page.

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Creating an Infographic

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Figure 6.5.6: The first step in the infographic design process is to create an outline (, 2018).

In addition to the steps explained in the above video, when creating an infographic, keep in mind the principles of visual design discussed in Unit 14 of this textbook and these steps

Their function of all graphic illustrations is to save the reader time, enhance comprehension, and allow rapid comparison and interpretation of relationships or trends. Remember this as you prepare figures, tables, and infographics and present them accordingly.

Consult one of the following sites for additional information on graphic illustrations.

University of North Carolina a Chapel Hill

Statistic Canada




Key Takeaway

key icon

      • Graphic illustrations help to simplify and clarify information
      • Different types of graphics are best to communicate specific data
      • Infographics combine images and graphics to illustrate data and information into a visual story
      • Readers appreciate well-thought-out and designed graphics of all types.


365DataScience. (2018). Which is the best chart: Selecting among 14 types of charts Part I [Video file]. Retrieved from

Bovee, C., Thill, J., & Scribner, J. (2016). Business communication essentials  (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada Inc. Retrieved from (n.d.). Part 2: Data tables and graphs. Reports.  Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Meyer, C. (2017). Communicating for results (4th ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from

Octopus Digital. (2015). What is an infographic [Video file].  Retrieved from

PolyU ELC. (2017). How to reference an image from the Internet [Video file].  Retrieved from

Tomboc, K. (2018). Infographic design basics: 3 steps to outlining your infographic. Retrieved from

Visme. (2019). 14 infographic do’s and don’ts to design beautiful and effective infographics [Video file]. Retrieve from


Chapter 7: Electronic Written Communication

We begin our applied-writing unit with electronic channels because they are by far the most popular both for personal and business use. Most students have grown up with these channels, which gives them the advantage of familiarity. With that comfort, however, may also come years of bad habits deeply rooted in the development of those skills for personal distraction and social ends. This chapter will attempt to provide those students a way to professionalize those communication skills. Email deserves a close look because it is the most widespread and established of the electronic forms. Since so much of our lives are wrapped up in electronic interaction, reviewing the netiquette principles established at the outset of the electronic communications revolution can actually help us move forward as we look at the newest and fastest communication channels, texting and instant messaging.

7.1 Emailing

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter studying this unit, you will be able to

      • identify characteristics of effective professional emails
      • understand how to compose effective professional emails


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The video introduced you to electronic mail, widely known as “e-mail” or just “email,”.  As the video noted, by volume, emails are the most popular written communication channel in the history of human civilization. With emails being so cheap and easy to send on desktop and laptop computers, as well as on mobile phones and tablets, a staggering 280 billion emails are sent globally per day (Radicati, 2017)—that’s over a hundred trillion per year. Most are for business purposes because email is such a flexible channel ideal for anything from short, routine information shares, requests, and responses, to important formal messages delivering the content that letters and memos used to handle. Its ability to send a message to one person or as many people as you have addresses for, integrate with calendars for scheduling meetings and events, send document attachments, and send automatic replies makes it the most versatile communication channel in the workplace.

Integrating the 3 x 3 Writing Process

This mindboggling quantity of 3.2 million emails sent per second doesn’t necessarily mean that quality is a non-issue for email, however. Because it has, to some extent, replaced mailed letters for formal correspondence, emails related to important occasions such as applying for and maintaining employment must be impeccably well written. Your email represents you in your physical absence, as well as the company you work for if that’s the case, so it must be both good, well-written and appropriate.

Begin by ensuring that you really need an email to represent you because emailing merely to avoid speaking in person or calling by phone can do more harm than good. If an email is necessary, however, then it must be effective. As people who make decisions about your livelihood, the employers and clients you email can be highly judgmental about the quality of your writing. To them, it’s an indication of your professionalism, attention to detail, education, and even intelligence. The writing quality in a single important email can be the difference between getting hired and getting fired or remaining unemployed.  Using the 3 x 3 Writing Process (see Figure 18.1) gives you a road map to writing effective emails.


Figure 18.1 The produce effective emails that communicate your message, apply the 3 x 3 writing process of pre-writing, drafting and revising (Business Communications, 2019).

Structure and Content

Before delving into the details of how to construct emails, let’s review the advantages, disadvantages, and occasions for their use.

Table 18.1 Excerpt: Email Pros, Cons, and Proper Use

Email Address

The first thing you see when an email arrives in your inbox is who it’s from. The address determines immediately how you feel about that email—whether excited, uninterested, curious, angry, hopeful, scared or just obliged to read it. Your email address will create similar impressions on those you email depending on your relationship with them. It’s therefore important that you send from the right email address.

If you work for a company, obviously you must use your company email address for company business. Customers expect it. Bear in mind that in a legal and right-to-privacy sense, you don’t own these emails. If they exist on a company server, company administrators can read any email they are investigating a breach of company policy or criminal activity (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 2010). This means that you must be careful not to write anything in an email that could compromise your employability.

If you’re writing on your own behalf for any business or job-application purposes, it’s vital that you have a respectable-looking email address. Using a college or university email is a good bet because it proves that you indeed are attending or attended a post-secondary institution when you’ve made that claim in your application.  If your name is Justin Trudeau, for instance, your ideal email address would simply be justin.trudeau@ with one of the major email providers like Gmail or Outlook/Hotmail.

What’s fundamentally important, however, is that you retire your teenage joke email address. If you have one of these, now that you’re an adult, it will only do irreparable harm to your employability prospects if you’re using it for job applications. Any potential employer or other professional who gets an email from is going to delete it without even opening it.

Also, just as your demeanour and language style changes in social, family, and professional contexts, you should likewise hold multiple email accounts—one for work, one for school, and one for personal matters. Each of the 3.8 billion email users in the world has an average of 1.7 email accounts (Radicati, 2017). It’s likely that you will have more than three throughout your life and retire accounts as you move on from school and various workplaces. If you can manage it, you can set up forwarding so that you can run multiple accounts out of one, except where company or institutional policy requires that you work entirely within a designated email provider or client.

Timestamp & Punctuality

The timestamp that comes with each email means that punctuality matters and raises the question of what the expectations are for acceptable lag time between you receiving an email and returning an expected response. Of course, you can reply as soon as possible as you would when texting and have a back-and-forth recorded in a thread. What if you need more time, however?

Though common wisdom used to be that the business standard is to reply within 24 hours, the availability of email on the smartphones that almost everyone carries in their pockets has reduced that expectation to a few hours. Recent research shows that half of email responses in business environments in fact comes within two hours (Vanderkam, 2016). Some businesses have internal policies that demand even quicker responses because business moves fast. If you can get someone’s business sooner than the competition because you reply sooner, then of course you’re going to make every effort to reply right away. Of course, the actual work you do can get in the way of email, but you must prioritize incoming work in order to stay in business.

What if you can’t reply within the expected number of hours? The courteous course of action is to reply as soon as possible with a brief message saying that you’ll be turning your attention to this matter as soon as you can. You don’t have to go into detail about what’s delaying you unless it’s relevant to the topic at hand, but courtesy requires that you at least give a timeline for a fuller response and stick to it.

Subject Line

The next most important piece of information you see when scanning your inbox is the email’s subject line. The busy professional who receives dozens of emails each day prioritizes their workload and response efforts based largely on the content of the subject lines appearing in their inbox. Because the subject line acts as a title for the email, the subject line should accurately summarize its topic in 3-7 words.

The wordcount range here is important because your subject line shouldn’t be so vague that its one or two words will be misleading, nor so long and detailed that its eight-plus words will be cut off by your inbox layout. Though it must be specific to the email topic, details about specific times and places, for instance, should really be in the message itself rather than in the subject line (see Table 18.2 below). Also, avoid using words in your subject line that might make your email look like spam. A subject line such as Hello or That thing we talked about might appear to be a hook to get you to open an email that contains a malware virus. This may prompt the recipient to delete it to be on the safe side, or their email provider may automatically send it to the junkmail box, which people rarely check. It will be as good as gone, in any case.

Table 18.2: Subject Line Length

Too Short Just Right Too Long and Detailed
Problem Problem with your product order Problem with your order for an LG washer and dryer submitted on April 29 at 11:31 p.m.
Meeting Rescheduling Nov. 6 meeting Rescheduling our 3 p.m. November 6 meeting for 11am November 8
Parking Permits Summer parking permit pickup When to pick up your summer parking permits from security

Stylistically, notice that appropriately sized subject lines typically abbreviate where they can and avoid articles (the, a, an), capitalization beyond the first word (except for proper nouns), and excessive adjectives.

Whatever you do, don’t leave your subject line blank. Even if you’re just firing off a quick email to send an attachment to yourself, the subject line text will be essential to your ability to retrieve that file later. Say you find yourself desperately needing that file months or even years later because the laptop it was saved on was stolen or damaged beyond repair, which you couldn’t have predicted at the time you sent it. A search in your email provider for words matching those you used in the subject line will quickly narrow down the email in question. Without words in the subject line or message, however, you’ll have no choice but to guess at when you sent the email and waste time going through page after page of sent-folder messages looking for it. A few seconds spent writing a good subject line can potentially save hours of frustrating searches.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Opening Salutation & Recipient Selection

When a reader opens your email, its opening salutation indicates not only who the message is for but also its level of formality. As you can see in Table 18.3 below, opening with Dear [Full Name] or Greetings, [Full Name]: strikes an appropriately respectful tone when writing to someone for the first time in a professional context. When greeting someone you’ve emailed before, Hello, [First name]: maintains a semiformal tone. When you’re more casually addressing a familiar colleague, a simple Hi [First name], is just fine.

Table 18.3: Opening Salutation Examples

First-time Formality Ongoing Semiformal Informal
Dear Ms. Melody Nelson:
Dear Ms. Nelson:
Greetings, Ms. Melody Nelson:
Greetings, Ms. Nelson:
Hello, Melody:
Hello again, Melody:
Thanks, Melody. (in response to something given)
Hi Mel,
Hey Mel,

Notice that the punctuation includes a comma after the greeting word and a colon after their name for formal and semiformal occasions. Informal greetings, however, relax these rules by omitting the comma after the greeting word and replacing the colon with a comma. Don’t play it both ways with two commas; Hi, Jeremy, appears too crowded with them.

Depending on the nature of the message, you can use alternative greeting possibilities. If you’re thanking someone for information they’ve sent you, you can do so right away in the greeting; e.g., Many thanks for the contact list, Maggie. When your email exchange turns into a back-and-forth thread involving several emails, it’s customary to drop the salutation altogether and treat each message as if it were a text message even in formal situations.

Formality also dictates whether you use the recipient’s first name or full name in your salutation. If you’re writing to someone you know well or responding to an email where the sender signed off at the bottom using their first name, they’ve given you the green light to address them by their first name in your response. If you’re addressing someone formally for the first time, however, strike an appropriately respectful tone by using their full name. If you’re addressing a group, a simple Hello, all: or Hello, team: will do.

Be careful when selecting recipients. First, spell their name correctly because email addresses often have non-standard combinations of name fragments and numbers; any typos will result in the server bouncing your email back to you as being unsent. Wait before entering their name in the recipient or “To” field in case you accidentally hit the Send button before you’re finished drafting your email. If you prematurely send an email, immediately send a quick follow-up apologizing for the confusion and the completed message. Another preventative measure is to compose a message offline, such as in an MS Word or simple Notepad document devoid of formatting, then copy and paste it into the email field when you’re ready to send.

If you have a primary recipient in mind but want others to see it, you can include them in the CC (carbon/complimentary copy) line. (If confidentiality requires that recipients shouldn’t see one another’s addresses, BCC [blind carbon copy] them instead). Be selective with whom you CC. Yes, it’s good to keep your manager in the loop, but you may want to do this only at the beginning and the end of a project’s email “paper” trail. They will appreciate that things are underway and wrapping up but may get annoyed if their inbox is flooded with every little mundane back-and-forth throughout the process. If in doubt, speak with your manager about their preferences for being CC’d.

Never “reply all” so that everyone included in the “To” line and CC’d sees your reply unless your response includes information that everyone absolutely must see.  Bear in mind that, concerning email security, no matter who you select as the primary or secondary (CC’d) recipients of your email, always assume that it may be forwarded on to other people, including those you might not want to see it. Emails are not private. You have no control over whether the recipients will forward an email on to others , and if your email contains any legally sensitive content, it can even be retrieved from the server storing it with a warrant from law enforcement. A good rule of thumb is to never send an email that you would be embarrassed by if it were read by your boss, your family, or a jury. No technical barriers prevent it from falling into their hands.

Message Opening

Most emails will be direct-approach messages where you get right to the point in the opening sentence immediately below the opening salutation. As we saw in unit 11 on message organization, the direct-approach pattern does the reader a favour by not burying the main point under a pile of contextual background. If you send a busy professional on a treasure hunt for your main point, a request for information for example, don’t blame them if they don’t find it and don’t provide the information you asked for. They might have given up before they got there or missed it when skimming, as busy people tend to do. By stating in the opening exactly what you want the recipient to do, however, you increase your chances of achieving that goal.

Table 18.4 Direct- vs. Indirect-approach Email Openings

Sample Direct Opening Sample Indirect Opening
We have reviewed your application and are pleased to offer you the position of retail sales manager at the East 32nd and 4th Street location of Swansong Clothing. Thank you very much for your application to the retail sales manager position at the East 32nd and 4th Street location of Swansong Clothing. Though we received a large volume of high-quality applications for this position, we were impressed by your experience and qualifications.

Indirect-approach emails should be rare and only sent in extenuating circumstances. Using email to deliver bad news or address a sensitive topic can be seen as a cowardly way of avoiding difficult situations that should be dealt with in person or, if the people involved are too far distant, at least by phone. Other circumstances that might force you to use the indirect approach for emails include the following:

In such cases, the indirect approach means that the opening should use buffer strategies to ease the recipient into the bad news or set the proper context for discussing the sensitive topic.

Otherwise, your email must pass the first-screen test, which is that everything the recipient needs to see is visible in the opening without forcing them to scroll further down for it. Before pressing the Send button, put yourself in your reader’s shoes and consider whether your message passes the first-screen test. If not, and if you have no good reason to take the indirect approach, then re-organize your email message by moving (copying, cutting, and pasting, or ctrl. + C, ctrl. + X, ctrl. + v) its main point up to make it the opening of your message.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

Message Body

Emails long enough to divide into paragraphs follow the three-part message organization where the message body supports the opening main point with explanatory details such as background information justifying an information request. With brevity being so important in emails, keeping the message body concise, with no more information than the recipient needs to do their job, is extremely important to the message’s success. The message body, therefore, doesn’t need proper three-part paragraphs. In fact, one-sentence paragraphs (single spaced with a line of space between each) and bullet-point lists are fine. If your message grows in length beyond the first screen, document design features such as bold headings help direct readers to the information they need. If your message gets any larger, moving it into an attached document is better than writing several screens of large paragraphs. Unlike novels, people don’t enjoy reading emails per se.

Also keep email messages brief by sticking to one topic per email. If you have a second topic you must cover with the same recipient(s), sending a separate email about it can potentially save you time if you need to retrieve that topic content later. If the subject line doesn’t describe the topic you’re looking for because it was a second or third topic you added after the one summarized in the subject line, finding that hidden message content will probably involve opening several emails. A subject line must perfectly summarize all of an email’s contents to be useful for archiving and retrieval, so sticking to one topic per email will ensure both brevity and archive retrieval efficiency.

Message Closing

An email closing usually includes action information such as direction on what to do with the information in the message above and deadlines for action and response. If your email message requests that its nine recipients each fill out a linked survey to determine a good meeting time, for instance, you would end by saying, Please fill out the Doodle survey by 4 p.m. Friday, May 18. If the message doesn’t call for action details, some closing thought (e.g., I’m happy to help. Please drop me a line if you have any questions) ends it without giving the impression of being rudely abrupt. Goodwill statements, such as Thanks again for your feedback on our customer service, are necessary especially in emails involving gratitude.

Closing Salutation

A courteous closing to an email involves a combination of a pleasant sign-off word or phrase and your first name. As with the opening salutation, closing salutation possibilities depend on the nature of the message and where you want to position it on the formality spectrum, as shown in Table 18.5 below.

Table 18.5: Closing Salutation Examples

Formal Semiformal Informal
Best wishes,
Kind regards,
Much appreciated,
Warm regards,
Get better soon,
Good luck,
Take care,
Many thanks,
All good things,
Be well,
Bye for now,

Your first email to someone in a professional context should end with a more formal closing salutation. Later emails to the same person can use the appropriate semiformal closing salutation for the occasion. If you’re on friendly, familiar terms with the person but still want to include email formalities, an informal closing salutation can bring a smile to their face. Notice in Table 17.5 that you capitalize only the first word in the closing salutation and add a comma at the end.

Including your first name after the closing salutation ends in a friendly way as if to say, “Let’s be on a first-name basis” if you weren’t already, greenlighting your recipient to address you by your first name in their reply. In your physical absence, your name at the end is also a way of saying, like politicians chiming in at the end of campaign ads, “I’m [name] and I approve this message.” It’s a stamp of authorship. Omitting it gives the impression of being abrupt and too busy or important to stop for even a second of formal niceties.


Not to be confused with an electronic version of your handwritten signature, the e-signature that automatically appears at the very bottom of your email is like the business card you would hand to someone when networking. Every professional should have one. Like a business card, the e-signature includes all relevant contact information. At the very least, the e-signature should include the details given in Table 18.6 below.

Table 18.6: E-signature Part

E-signature Parts Examples
Full Name, Professional Role
Company Name
Company address
Phone Number(s)
Company website, Email address
Jessica Day, Graphic Designer
UXB Designs
492 Atwater Street
Toronto, ON  M4M 2H4
416-555-2297 (c) |
Full Name, Credentials
Professional Role
Company Name
Company Address
Phone Number(s)
Company website, email address
Winston Schmidt, MBA
Senior Marketing Consultant
Tectonic Global Solutions Inc.
7819 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC  V5K 1A4
604.555.2388 (w) | 604.555.9375 (c) |

Depending on the individual’s situation, variations on the e-signature include putting your educational credentials after your name (e.g., MBA) on the same line and professional role on the second line, especially if it’s a long one, and the company address on one line or two. Also, those working for a company usually include the company logo to the left of their e-signature. Some instead (or additionally) add their profile picture, especially if they work independently, though this isn’t always advisable because it may open you to biased reactions. Other professionals add links to their social media profiles such as LinkedIn and the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages. For some ideas on what your e-signature could look like, simply image-search “email e-signature” in your internet browser’s search engine.

If you haven’t already, set up your e-signature in your email provider’s settings or options page. In Gmail, for instance, click on the settings cog icon at the top right, select Settings from the dropdown menu, scroll down the General tab, and type your e-signature in the Signature field. Make absolutely sure that all of the details are correct and words spelled correctly. You don’t want someone to point out that you’ve spelled your professional role incorrectly after months of it appearing in hundreds of emails.


Email’s ability to help you send and receive documents makes it an indispensable tool for any business. Bear in mind a few best practices when attaching documents:

Before Sending Your Email

Before hitting the send button, follow through on the entire writing process, especially the Editing stage with its evaluation, revision, and proofreading sub-stages. Put yourself in your reader’s position and assess whether you’ve achieved the purpose you set out to achieve in the first place. Evaluate also if you’ve struck the appropriate tone and formality. If you’re aware that your tone is too angry, for instance, save the message in the drafts folder and take time to cool down by focusing on other business for a while. When you come back to your email draft the next day, you will usually find that you don’t feel as strongly about what you wrote the day before. Review the advice about netiquette in section 6.2, then replace the angry words with more carefully chosen expressions to craft a more mature response before hitting the send button. You’ll feel much better about this in the end.

After revising generally, always proofread an email. In any professional situation, but especially in important ones related to gaining and keeping employment, any typo or error related to spelling, grammar, or punctuation can cost you dearly. A poorly written email is insulting because it effectively says to the recipient: “You weren’t important enough for me to take the time to ensure that this email was properly written.” Worse, poor writing can cause miscommunication if it places the burden of interpretation on the reader to figure out what the writer meant to say if that’s not clear. If the recipient acts on misinterpretations, and others base their actions on that action, you can soon find that even small errors can have damaging ripple effects that infuriate everyone involved.

Sample 1: Review the following poorly written email.

Analysis: The poorly written draft has the look of a hastily and angrily written text to a “frenemy.” An email to a superior, however, calls for a much more formal, tactful, courteous, and apologetic approach. The undifferentiated wall of text that omits or botches standard email parts such as opening and closing salutations is the first sign of trouble. The lack of capitalization, poor spelling (e.g., councilor instead of counsellor), run-on sentences and lack of other punctuation such as apostrophes for contractions, as well as the inappropriate personal detail all suggest that the writer doesn’t take their studies seriously enough to deserve any favours. Besides tacking on a question at the end, one that could be easily answered by reading the syllabus, the writer is ultimately unclear about what they want; if it’s an explanation for why they failed, then they must be upfront about that. The rudeness of the closing is more likely to enrage the recipient than get them to deliver the requested information.

Sample 2: Now review the revised email.

Analysis:  The improved version stands a much better chance of a sympathetic response. It corrects the problems of the first draft starting with properly framing the message with expected formal email parts. It benefits from a more courteous tone in a message that frontloads a clear and polite request for information in the opening. The supporting detail in the message body and apologetic closing suggests that the student, despite their faults, is well aware of how to communicate like a professional to achieve a particular goal.

After running such a quality-assurance check on your email, your final step before sending it should involve protecting yourself against losing it to a technical glitch. Get in the habit of copying your email message text (ctrl. + A, ctrl. + C) just before hitting the Send button, then checking your Sent folder immediately to confirm that the email sent properly. If your message vanished due to some random malfunction, as can happen occasionally, immediately open a blank MS Word or Notepad document and paste the text there (ctrl. + V) to save it. That way, you don’t have to waste five minutes rewriting the entire message after you solve the connectivity issues or whatever else caused the glitch.


Figure 18.2: A summary of important tips to composing effective emails (Doyle, 2019).

For similar views on email best practices, see Guffey, Loewy, and Almonte (2016, pp. 90-97), which furnished some of the information given above.

Key Takeaway

key iconFollow standard conventions for writing each part of a professional or academic email, making strategic choices about the content and level of formality appropriate for the audience and occasion.


1. Take one of the worst emails you’ve ever seen. It could be from a friend, colleague, family member, professional, or other.

i. Copy and paste it into a blank document, but change the name of its author and don’t include their real email address (protect their confidentiality).
ii. Use MS Word’s Track Changes comment feature to identify as many organizational errors as you can.
iii. Again using Track Changes, correct all of the stylistic and writing errors.

2. Let’s say you just graduated from your program and have been putting your name out there, applying to job postings, networking, and letting friends and colleagues know that you’re on the job market. You get an email from someone named Dr. Emily Conway, the friend of a friend, who needs someone to put together some marketing brochures for her start-up medical clinic in time for a conference in a week. It’s not entirely what you’ve been training to do, but you’ve done something like it for a course assignment once, and you need rent money, so you decide to accept the offer. Dr. Conway’s email asks you five questions in the message body:

i. Our mutual friend mentioned you just graduated from college. What program? How’d you do?
ii. Can you send a sample of your marketing work?
iii. How much would you charge for designing a double-sided 8½x11″ tri-fold brochure?
iv. When you’ve completed your design, would you be okay with sending me the ready-to-print PDF and original Adobe Illustrator file?
v. If I already have all the text and pictures, how soon can you do this? Can you handle the printing as well?

Dr. Conway closes her email asking if you’d like to meet to discuss the opportunity in more detail and signs off as Emily. Draft a formal response email that abides by the conventions of a formal email.


Doyle, A. (2019).  How to write and send professional email messages.  Thebalancecareers. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewy, D., & Almonte, R. (2016). Essentials of Business Communication (8th Can. ed.). Toronto, Nelson.

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Khanna, K. (2017, March 25). Attachment size limits for Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Facebook and WhatsApp. The Windows Club. Retrieved from

Klockars-Clauser, S. (2010, March 26). Flaming computer – “don’t panic” (4549185468). Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from

MindToolsVideos. (2018). 6 steps for writing effective emails [Video file]. Retrieved from

Neel, A. (2017, March 7). Follow your passion. Unsplash. Retrieved from

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. (2010, July 21). Collection and use of employee’s email deemed acceptable for purposes of investigating breach of agreement. Retrieved from

The Radicati Group. (2017, January). Email statistics report, 2017-2021. Palo Alto, CA: The Radicati Group, Inc. Retrieved from

Rawpixel. (2018, March 28). Person using MacBook Pro on brown wooden desk 1061588. Retrieved from

Tumisu. (2017, December 14). Contact us contact email phone mail inbox. Retrieved from

Vanderkam, L. (2016, March 29). What is an appropriate response time to email? Fast Company. Retrieved from

7.2 Netiquette and Social Media

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to discuss emerging netiquette standards in social media used for professional purposes.


We create and curate personal profiles, post content and comments, and interact via social media as a normal part of both our personal and professional lives. How we conduct ourselves on the open internet can leave a lasting impression, one not so easily undone if it’s regrettable. The hilarious but compromising selfie you posted on Instagram five years ago is still there for your potential employer to find, judge for what it says about your professionalism, and speculate about what customers might think if they saw it too. That sarcastic but not-so-PC reply to a public post on Facebook or Twitter in a heated moment a decade ago can come back to haunt you. We’re all learning as we go in this new media environment, but any mistakes we make along the way, no matter how much we’ve matured since, are still there for all to see and can have lasting impacts on our careers. Many candidates for political office have been taken down by their past social-media posts and the agents tasked with digging them up and you can be sure that untold numbers of job applicants have similarly scuppered their chances with similar cavalier shares. Some guidance about what can be done about those mistakes, as well as how to conduct ourselves properly moving forward, can help improve your employability

Shea’s Netiquette

Virginia Shea’s Rules of Netiquette offer helpful guidelines for online behaviour:

Her rules speak for themselves and remind us that the golden rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) is relevant wherever there is human interaction.

Legal Responsibilities

Your writing in a business context means that you represent yourself and your company. What you write and how you write it can be part of your company’s success but can also expose it to unintended consequences and legal responsibility. When you write, keep in mind that your words will keep on existing long after you have moved on to other projects. They can become an issue if they exaggerate, state false claims, or defame a person or legal entity such as a competing company. Another issue is plagiarism, using someone else’s writing without giving credit to the source. Whether the “cribbed” material is taken from a printed book, a website, or a blog the reproduction is plagiarism. Plagiarism can create both legal and professional difficulties for you. The owner of the content may initiate a copyright claim and  the act of plagiarizing will be viewed as unprofessional and may violate formal company policies. In addition, industry standards often have legal aspects that must be respected and cannot be ignored. For the writer, this can be a challenge, but it can be a fun challenge with rewarding results.

The rapid pace of technology means that the law cannot always stay current with the realities of business communication. Computers had been in use for a couple of decades before the Copyright Act of 1985 was amended in 1997 to deal with internet-enabled copyright infringement. Technology advanced even further before the next major amendment came with the Copyright Modernization Act of 2012. Developments since then will continue to demand new laws to clarify what is fair and ethical, what should be prohibited, and who owns the rights to what.

For example, suppose your supervisor asks you to use your Facebook page or Twitter account to give an occasional “plug” to your company’s products. Are you obligated to comply? If you later change jobs, who owns your posts or tweets—are they yours, or does your now-former employer have a right to them? And what about your network of “friends”? Can your employer use their contact information to send marketing messages? These and many other questions remain to be answered as technology, industry practices, and legislation evolve (Tahmincioglu, 2009).

Our product is better than X company’s product. Their product is dangerous and you would be a wise customer to choose us for your product solutions.

What’s wrong with the two sentences above? They may land you and your company in court. You made a generalized claim of one product being better than another, and you stated it as if it were a fact. The next sentence claims that your competitor’s product is dangerous. Even if this is true, your ability to prove your claim beyond a reasonable doubt may be limited. Your claim is stated as fact again, and from the other company’s perspective, your sentences may be considered libel or defamation.

Libel is the written form of defamation or a false statement that damages a reputation. If a false statement of fact that concerns and harms the person defamed is published—including publication in a digital or online environment—the author of that statement may be sued for libel. If the person defamed is a public figure, they must prove malice or the intention to do harm, but if the victim is a private person, libel applies even if the offense cannot be proven to be malicious. You have a Charter right to express your opinion (section 2[b]), but the words you use and how you use them, including the context, are relevant to their interpretation as opinion versus fact. Always be careful to qualify what you write and to do no harm.

Using Social Media Professionally

Review sites, blogs, tweets, and online community forums are some of the continually developing means of social media being harnessed by business and industry to reach customers and other stakeholders. People’s comfort in the online environment forces businesses to market and interact there or risk a massive loss in sales and interest. Though most users learn how to use social media as an extension or facilitator of their social lives, using the same platforms for professional reasons requires some change in behaviour.

First, recognize that every modern business or organization should have a social media presence in the sites they expect their customer base to frequent, especially popular sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Messaging here must be consistent across the platforms when alerting the customer base of important information such as special events, deals, and other news.

Next, follow expert advice on how to properly take advantage of social media in detail to promote your operation and reach people. Large companies will dedicate personnel to run their social media presence, but small businesses can do much of it themselves if they follow some decent online advice such as the following:

Know also that social media is a constantly evolving environment. Stay on trend by continually searching out and implementing the latest advice similar to the above.

Finally, always consider how the sites you access and what you post represent you and your employer, even if you think others don’t know where you work or who you are. Internet service providers (ISPs) are required by law to archive information concerning the use and traffic of information that can become available under subpoena. Any move you make leaves digital footprints, so you will have to answer for any misstep that brings shame upon you or your company

Key Takeaway

key iconWhether in the public or private corners of the internet, conduct yourself online in a manner that is always conducive to your professional success, following established netiquette principles, as well as using social media effectively and responsibly.


1. Recount how you have experienced a breach of netiquette such as online bullying. Were you a perpetrator, enabler, victim, or combination? What did you learn from it?

2. Identify and explain three ways that you can professionalize your online presence using social media.


Additional content from Business Communication for Success.


Dawley, S. (2018, January 30). How to use Instagram for business: A complete guide for marketers. Retrieved from

Harris, K. (2015, September 17). How political operatives dig up dirt to take down candidates. CBC News. Retrieved from

Jackson, D. (2016, December 20). The ultimate guide to Twitter for small business in 2017. Retrieved from

Mineo, G. (2017, September 19). The do’s and don’ts of how to use Facebook for business [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Tahmincioglu, E. (2009, October 11). Your boss wants you on Twitter: Companies recognizing the value of having workers promote products. MSNBC Careers. Retrieved from

7.3 Texting and Instant Messaging

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

Target icon After studying this unit, you will be able to use rapid electronic communication channels such as texting and instant messaging in a professional manner.

Whatever digital device you use, written communication in the form of Short Message Service (SMS), or texting, has been a convenient and popular way to connect since the 1990s. Instant messaging (IMing) apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger have increased the options people have to send and respond to brief written messages in real time when talking on the phone would otherwise be inconvenient. In business, texting and IMing are especially advantageous for hashing out details precisely in writing so that they can be referred to later. Texting and IMing are not useful for long or complicated messages but are great for connecting while on the go. However, consider your audience and company by choosing words, terms, or abbreviations that will deliver your message most effectively using these communication tools.

Tips for Effective Business Texting:

Key Takeaway

key iconProfessionalize your use of rapid electronic communication such as texting and instant messaging so that you can assume a competitive advantage throughout your careers.


1. Write out your answers to the following questions:

i. How old were you when you got your first mobile phone?
ii. When did you send your first text?
iii. How many texts do you send per day, on average, now?
iv. How many times do you speak on the phone with the same device, on average, throughout your day? If you call (or receive calls) far less than text, why do you think that is?
v. Is the first thing you look at when you wake up in the morning your smartphone notifications, and are they the last thing you look at before you go to sleep at night? If so, why? If not, why do you think it is for so many people?
vi. Do you think it’s fair to say that your smartphone use can be characterized as an addiction? If so, how is it impeding you from living a more healthy and fulfilling life? Is there anything you are prepared to do about it? If not, do you see it as a problem for people around you? Do you challenge them on it? Do you find it a challenge to discipline yourself to prevent it from being an addiction in your case?

2. Identify three ways that you must change your texting and IM behaviour in professional—rather than purely social—contexts.


Chapter 8: Ethical & Intercultural Communication

Learning Objectives

Target icon1. Understand the importance of nonverbal communication and its impact on clear communication.

2. Understand and explain the importance of business ethics.

3.  Appreciate the impact of intercultural communication in the modern work environment.

So far we’ve focused on writing and presentation skills in the workplace, but you can be a highly-skilled writer and speaker and still not be at the top of your profession.  In a world gone mad for technology, we still value the human element of face-to-face interactions most. Though online shopping has stolen some of the retail market shares from brick-and-mortar stores, the vast majority of business interactions require in-person contact—not just at the customer-to-business front end, but especially in the back end of internal office operations. The advantages of in-person workplace collaboration will protect those face-to-face interactions for a long time to come, as well as require that everyone in the workforce have high-level or interpersonal skills. Divided into the following topics, this chapter focuses on the interpersonal skills that lead to success.


8.1 Ethical Behaviour in Business

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter reviewing this information, you will be able to

      • describe the role of ethics in a business environment
      • explain what it means to be a professional of integrity
      • distinguish between ethical and legal responsibilities
      • describe three approaches for examining the ethical nature of a decision


Whenever you think about the behaviour you expect of yourself in your personal life and as a professional, you are engaging in a philosophical dialogue with yourself to establish the standards of behaviour you choose to uphold, that is, your ethics. You may decide you should always tell the truth to family, friends, customers, clients, and shareholders, and if that is not possible, you should have very good reasons why you cannot.

Clients, customers, suppliers, investors, retailers, employees, the media, the government, members of the surrounding community, competitors, and even the environment are stakeholders in a business; that is, they are individuals and entities affected by the business’s decisions. Stakeholders typically value a leadership team that chooses the ethical way to accomplish the company’s legitimate for-profit goals.

Being successful at work may consist of much more than simply earning money and promotions. It may also mean treating employees, customers, and clients with honesty and respect.  Thus, business ethics guides the conduct by which companies and their agents abide by the law and respect the rights of their stakeholders, particularly their customers, clients, employees, and the surrounding community and environment. The video below provides information on how to be ethical in five very distinct areas.

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Ethical vs. Legal

Many people confuse legal and ethical compliance. They are, however, totally different and call for different standards of behaviour. The concepts are not interchangeable in any sense of the word. The law is needed to establish and maintain a functioning society. Without it, our society would be in chaos. Compliance with these legal standards is strictly mandatory: if we violate these standards, we are subject to punishment as established by the law. Therefore, compliance in terms of business ethics generally refers to the extent to which a company conducts its business operations in accordance with applicable regulations, statutes, and laws. Yet this represents only a baseline minimum. Ethical observance builds on this baseline and reveals the principles of an individual business leader or a specific organization. Ethical acts are generally considered voluntary and personal—often based on our perception of or stand on right and wrong.

Some professions, such as medicine and the law, have traditional codes of ethics. The Hippocratic Oath, for example, is embraced by most professionals in health care.  Business is different in not having a mutually shared standard of ethics. This is changing, however, as evidenced by the array of codes of conduct and mission statements many companies have adopted over the past century. These have many points in common, and their shared content may eventually produce a code universally claimed by business practitioners of how to treat with honesty and integrity customers, clients, employees, and others affiliated with a business.

Behaving ethically requires that we meet the mandatory standards of the law, but that is not enough. For example, an action may be legal that we personally consider unacceptable. Companies today need to be focused not only on complying with the letter of the law but also on going above and beyond that basic mandatory requirement to consider their stakeholders and do what is right.

Ethisphere provides an annual report on the world’s most ethical business based on several categories: ethics and compliance program, organizational culture, corporate citizenship and responsibility, governance, and leadership and reputation.  Take a look at the Canadian companies that made the 2020 list.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

The Benefits of Being Ethical

The notion that maximizing profit is the sole objective of any business does not reflect the modern business environment.  Today, leadership is grounded in doing right by all stakeholders directly affected by a firm’s operations. That is, business leaders do right when they think about what is best for all who have a stake in their companies, and not just think about maximizing profit. Not only that, research shows that companies benefit financially when they take a holistic approach to their operations, especially over the long run.


Figure 44.1: Statistics on the impact of the 2020 most ethical companies. (Ethisphere, 2020)

Although it is certainly permissible and even desirable for a company to pursue profitability as a goal, managers must also have an understanding of the context within which their business operates and of how the wealth created can add positive value to the world. Even as a company pursues the maximizing of profit, it must also acknowledge that it owes a reciprocal obligation to do what is best for as many stakeholders as possible.

What Employers Owe Employees

A contemporary corporation always owes an ethical, and in some cases legal duty to employees to be a responsible employer. In a business context, the definition of this responsibility includes providing a safe workplace, compensating workers fairly, and treating them with a sense of dignity and equality while respecting at least a minimum of their privacy. A discussion of three such ethical responsibilities follows.

Modelling Ethical Behaviour

If a corporation expects its employees to act ethically, that behaviour must start at the top, where managers hold themselves to a high standard of conduct and can rightly say, “Follow my lead, do as I do.” At a minimum, leaders model ethical behaviour by not violating the law or company policy. One who says, “Get this deal done, I don’t care what it takes,” may very well be sending a message that unethical tactics and violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the law, are acceptable. A manager who abuses company property by taking home office supplies or using the company’s computers for personal business but then disciplines any employee who does the same is not modeling ethical behaviour. Likewise, a manager who consistently leaves early but expects all other employees to stay until the last minute is not demonstrating fairness.


This duty begins during the hiring process when the company communicates to potential employees exactly what is expected of them. Once hired, employees should receive training on the company rules and expectations. Management should explain how an employee’s work contributes to the achievement of company-wide goals. In other words, a company owes it to its employees to keep them in the loop about significant matters that affect them and their job, whether good or bad, formal or informal. A more complete understanding of all relevant information usually results in a better working relationship.

Transparency can be especially important to workers in circumstances that involve major changes, such as layoffs, reductions in the workforce, plant closings, and other consequential events. These kinds of events typically have a psychological and financial impact on the entire workforce. An ethical company will give workers advance notice, a severance package, and assistance with the employment search, without being forced to do so by law. Proactive rather than reactive behaviour is the ethical and just thing to do.

Safety and Security

Employers also have an ethical and legal duty to provide a workplace free of harassment of all types. This includes harassment based on sex, race, religion, national origin, and any other protected status, including disability. Employees should not be expected to work in an atmosphere where they feel harassed, discriminated against, or disadvantaged.

Two relatively recent examples of workplace environments that descended into the worst excesses of sexist and other inappropriate behaviour occurred at American Apparel and Uber. In both cases, principal leaders engaged in ruthless, no-holds-barred management practices that benefitted only those subordinates who most resembled the leaders themselves. Such environments may thrive for a while, but the long-term consequences can include criminal violations that produce hefty fines and imprisonment, bankruptcy, and radical upheaval in corporate management. At American Apparel and at Uber, these events resulted in the dismissal of each company’s CEO, Dov Charney (who also was the founder of the company) and Travis Kalanick (who was one of the corporation’s founders), respectively.

In 2017 and 2018, a renewed focus on sexual harassment in the workplace and other inappropriate sexual behaviours brought a stream of accusations against high-profile people in politics, entertainment, sports, and business. Entertainment industry mogul Harvey Weinstein; Pixar’s John Lasseter; on-air personalities Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose; politicians such as Roy Moore, John Conyers, and Al Franken; and Uber’s Kalanick, to name just a few.

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What Employees Owe Employers

Employees must also do their part in maintaining ethics in the work environment.  A few of the obligations that employees owe their employer are discussed below.


Our understanding of commitment and loyalty between employer and employee is changing. An ethical employee owes the company a good day’s work and his or her best effort, whether the work is stimulating or dull. A duty of loyalty and the best effort are the primary obligations of employees. However, a manager who expects a twentieth-century concept of loyalty in the twenty-first century may be surprised.

One indicator that our understanding of the term is changing is that millennials are three times more likely than older generations to change jobs.  According to a Forbes Human Resources Council survey, about nine in ten millennials (91 percent) say they do not expect to stay with their current job longer than three years, compared with older workers who often anticipated spending ten years or even an entire career with one employer.


Figure 44.2: Results of the Forbes survey confirm the changing expectations between millennials and previous generations. (Forbes, 2017)

Loyalty to an employer requires that an employee refrains from acting in a manner contrary to the employer’s interest. This duty creates some basic rules employees must follow on the job and provides employers with enforceable rights against employees who violate them.  In general terms, the duty of loyalty means an employee is obligated to render “loyal and faithful” service to the employer, to act with “good faith,” and not to compete with but rather to advance the employer’s interests. The employee must not act in a way that benefits him- or herself (or any other third party), especially when doing so would create a conflict of interest with the employer.


Employers can also expect their employees to owe them a duty of confidentiality.  In the competitive world of business, many employees encounter information in their day-to-day work that their employers reasonably expect to be kept confidential. Proprietary (private) information, the details of patents and copyrights, employee records and salary histories, and customer-related data are valued company assets that must remain in-house, not in the hands of competitors, trade publications, or the news media. Employers

Respecting the Brand

Every company puts time, effort, and money into developing a brand, that is, a product or service marketed by a particular company under a particular name. As Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon, BMW, McDonald’s, and creators of other coveted brands know, branding—creating, differentiating, and maintaining a brand’s image or reputation—is an important way to build company value, sell products and services, and expand corporate goodwill. In the sense discussed here, the term “brand” encompasses an image, reputation, logo, tagline, or specific color scheme that is trademarked, meaning the company owns it and must give permission to others who would legally use it (such as Tiffany’s unique shade of blue).

Companies want and expect employees to help in their branding endeavors. Disloyal or disgruntled employees can damage a company’s brand, especially on social media.  Consider these examples:

All three companies experienced financial and goodwill losses after the incidents and struggled to restore public trust in their products. The immediate and long-term costs of such incidents are the reason companies invest in developing brand loyalty among their employees.

Respecting Customers

As the public’s first point of contact with a company, employees are obliged to assist the firm in forming a positive relationship with customers. How well or poorly they do so contributes a great deal to customers’ impression of the company. And customers’ perceptions affect not only the company but all the employees who depend on its success for their livelihood. Thus, the ethical obligations of an employee also extend to interactions with customers, whom they should treat with respect. Employers can encourage positive behaviour toward customers by empowering employees to use their best judgment when working with them.

It may take only one bad customer interaction with a less-than-engaged or committed employee to sour brand loyalty, no matter how hard a company has worked to build it. In the same way, just one good experience can build up goodwill.

Following Codes of Conduct

Companies have a right to insist that their employees, including managers, engage in ethical decision-making. To help achieve this goal, most businesses provide a written code of ethics or code of conduct for all employees to follow. These cover a wide variety of topics, from workplace romance and sexual harassment to hiring and termination policies, client and customer entertainment, bribery and gifts, personal trading of company shares in any way that hints of acting on insider knowledge of the company’s fortunes, outside employment, and dozens of others. A typical code of conduct, regardless of the company or the industry, will also contain a variety of standard clauses, often blending legal compliance and ethical considerations.  Table 7.1 provides examples of some areas that are typically covered in a company’s code of conduct or code of ethics.

Table 7.1
Sample Code of Conduct
Compliance with all laws Employees must comply with all laws, including bribery, fraud, securities, environmental, safety, and employment laws.
Corruption and fraud Employees must not accept certain types of gifts and hospitality from clients, vendors, or partners. Bribery is prohibited in all circumstances.
Conflict of interest Employees must disclose and/or avoid any personal, financial, or other interests that might influence their ability to perform their job duties.
Company property Employees must treat the company’s property with respect and care, not misuse it, and protect company facilities and other material property.
Cybersecurity and digital devices policy Employees must not use company computer equipment to transfer illegal, offensive, or pirated material, or to visit potentially dangerous websites that might compromise the safety of the company network or servers; employees must respect their duty of confidentiality in all Internet interactions.
Social media policy Employees may [or may not] access personal social media accounts at work but are expected to act responsibly, follow company policies, and maintain productivity.
Sexual harassment Employees must not engage in unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Behaviours such as conditioning promotions, awards, training, or other job benefits upon acceptance of unwelcome actions of a sexual nature are always wrong.
Workplace respect Employees must show respect for their colleagues at every level. Neither inappropriate nor illegal behaviour will be tolerated.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:


pen and paper icon    1.  Suppose you work in retail sales for an international clothing company. A perk of the job is an employee discount of 25 percent on all merchandise you purchase for personal use. Your cousin, who is always looking for a bargain, approaches you in the store one day and implores you to give him your employee discount on a $100 purchase of clothes for himself.

    • How would you handle this situation and why?
    • Would it matter if the relative were someone closer to you, perhaps a brother or sister?
    • If so, why?

2.  Imagine that upon graduation you have the good fortune to be offered two job opportunities. The first is with a corporation known to cultivate a hard-nosed, no-nonsense business culture in which keeping long hours and working intensely are highly valued. At the end of each year, the company donates to numerous social and environmental causes. The second job opportunity is with a nonprofit recognized for a very different culture based on its compassionate approach to employee work-life balance. It also offers the chance to pursue your own professional interests or volunteerism during a portion of every workday. The first job offer pays 20 percent more per year.

    • Which of these opportunities would you pursue and why?
    • How important an attribute is salary, and at what point would a higher salary override for you the nonmonetary benefits of the lower-paid position?



Bovee and Thill Business Communication Video. (2018).  The five zones of professional ethics [Video]. Youtube.

Bovee and Thill Business Communication Video. (2018). How to make good choices when the choices aren’t clear [Video]. Youtube.

Ethisphere. (2020). Mission and mandate. Retrieved from

Ethisphere. (2020). The 2020 world’s most ethical companies honoree list. Retrieved from

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Murdock, P. (2017). The new reality of employee loyalty. Forbes human resource council. Retrieved from

Rice University. (2020). Business ethics. OpenStax. Retrieved from


8.2 Business Etiquette

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter reviewing this information, you will be able to

      • identify the importance of business etiquette


Good manners and a professional attitude is an important intangible skill in the work environment.  Employers want to hire and your peers will want to work with friendly, pleasant, and polite people.  These intangible skills are called Business Etiquette.  Your personal behaviour is important in establishing and maintaining harmony and contributing to a positive and energetic work environment.  Our earlier examination of specific writing skills (e.g., using courteous, polite, and passive language) touched on this concept in written language.  Here, we will examine specific applications of etiquette associated with how you present yourself in social situations, what type of telephone manners you have, your professional appearance and other areas of business etiquette.

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Business Etiquette in Social Settings1

From business lunches to conferences, you may need to represent your company in a variety of social settings.  If you are at such an event, remember your manners will be assessed. Though it may not be obvious, people will observe whether you use your utensils correctly, chew with your mouth closed, use your cell phone when others are speaking, or dress appropriately. Why does all this matter?

You may think all of this has nothing to do with the quality of work; however, your business etiquette shows the extent to which you developed appropriate habits and are self-aware. Someone who chews with his/her mouth open, for instance, either lacks self-awareness or does not care what people think. Either way, that lack of self-awareness can lead to behaviors that will ruin the reputation of the company you represent.

Figure 45.1: Business is often conducted over meals.  (, 2019)

Here are some tips on proper etiquette in social situations.

  1. Get to know the culture of your audience.  For example, in Canada a firm handshake is expected, while in Japan a bow of the head is expected
  2. Include a brief description of your role in the company when introducing yourself to others
  3. Know basic dining etiquette: don’t order alcohol, order food that is easy to eat, leave business documents under your chair or in your briefcase until the entree plates have been removed
  4. Don’t use your cell phone until the meeting has concluded
  5. Stay away from controversial topics, like politics, religion and personal matters
  6. Don’t speak poorly of your employer or job
  7. Avoid profanity and be careful with humour

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Dressing Appropriately for the Workplace

When we hear the word uniform, we often think of a very specific style such as what a police officer or nurse wears. In a general sense, however, we all wear uniforms of various styles in whatever professional or institutional environment we participate in. Dressing appropriately in those situations and in the workplace specifically has everything to do with meeting expectations. In an office environment, clients, coworkers, and managers expect to see employees in either suits or a business-casual style of dress depending on the workplace. In such situations, conformity is the order of the day, and breaking the dress code can be a serious infraction.

Though some infractions are becoming less serious in many places because the general culture is becoming more accepting of tattoos, piercings, and dyed hair as more and more people use these to express themselves, you might need to be careful. Consider the following points:

Because conformity is the determining factor of acceptability in proper attire in any particular workplace, the best guide for how to dress when you are not given a specific uniform is what everyone else wears. Observe closely the style of your co-workers and build a similar wardrobe. If the fashion is slacks with a belt that matches the color of your shoes and a long-sleeve, button-up, collared shirt for men and a full-length skirt and blouse for women, do the same.  You might be against conformity, but consider this: according to a recent report a majority of managers report that an employee’s attire affects his/her chances of receiving a promotion.2


Figure 45.2: A recent report reveals what type of dress code employers prefer.2

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Telephone Etiquette

The telephone is an essential communication medium that you will use frequently throughout your career.  Business conversations over the phone are often direct and time-sensitive.  Just like a letter, memo, or email, you don’t want to make a phone call unless there is a reason.  Thus, knowing some general rules around making business calls will ensure you are always prepared for all your telephone conversations.

Figure 45.3: Whether a cell phone or landline, telephone conversations are an integral part of business. (, 2015)

Business Etiquette in the Digital Age

People sometimes forget that good digital communication etiquette is as important as non-digital communication etiquette and can have as many potential pitfalls.  Just as you represent your organization in face-to-face interactions, you do the same through your digital interaction with your company’s stakeholders.   Thus, learning the basics of professional etiquette in the digital world will be beneficial to your career.  Figure 45.4 provides some professional etiquette tips for communicating online and via text message.


Figure 45.5: Knowing how to respectfully communicate on the web and via text message will add to your professional reputation. (Adopted from Business Communication Essential, 2016; Business Communication: Process and Product, 2019).

Virtual Meetings

Many things about how business is conducted have changed.  One of the areas most impacted is the rise and prevalence of virtual meeting.   Virtual meetings are here to stay.  Learning how to organize and participate in them will prove beneficial.  The video below presents some virtual meeting etiquette best practices you should know.

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:


pen and paper icon    1.  First, think of someone who exemplifies everything you aspire to be in terms of their good behaviour in the workplace (loosely defined as anywhere someone does work—not necessarily where it’s compensated with money). List the qualities and actions that make them such a good, well-liked model for behaviour. Second, think of someone who exemplifies everything you aspire to avoid in terms of their misconduct in the workplace. List the qualities and typical misbehaviour that make them so detestable.


2Agovino, T. (2018). Fashion statement. SHRM. Retrieved from

1Adapted from Bovee, C., Thill, J., & Scribner, J. (2016). Business communication essentials  (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada Inc. Retrieved from

Bovee and Thill Business Communication Video. (2018).  The five zones of professional ethics [Video]. Youtube.

Etiquettescholar. (2019) Dining meal etiquette. Retrieved from

Forbes. (2020). Conference call etiquette for those who work from home [Video]. Youtube.

Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Lee, S. (2015). 8 phone etiquette rules every professional should know. Retrieved from


8.3 Intercultural Communication

Jordan Smith

Learning Objectives

Target iconAfter reviewing this information, you will be able to

      • define intercultural communication in the context of professional interactions.
      • identify several benefits of intercultural communication
      • identify the five dimensions of cultural
      • explain strategies for how to establish and maintain friendly professional relations with people from different cultures


All communication is intercultural. The term “intercultural communication” may conjure in your mind a picture of two people from different continents speaking or writing to one another. Considering the vast size of Canada and wide variety of cultures from the west coast to the Maritimes, however, or from northern communities to the border-lining south, or from Indigenous peoples to first-generation immigrants, much of the communication in Canada is intercultural. You can hear it in the diverse accents across the provinces and even within a province from urban to suburban to rural cultures. Every culture you’ve ever participated in has left its mark on you with a set of perspectives and values that shape your worldview and behaviour. Still, we are a cohesive rather than a fractured people, which suggests we can all get along with one another despite our cultural differences.

Always approach intercultural communication as an opportunity to overcome cultural differences and achieve the cross-cultural understanding you need to be a better person and do your job effectively in a multicultural environment. Engaging with other cultures with simplistic, preconceived notions informed by media stereotypes reducing everyone in a culture to a one-dimensional character or prop will lead you into serious error. Intercultural communication requires openness to difference, patience in overcoming cultural and language barriers, and the desire to learn about other cultures and points of view.

If your work brings you into contact with cultures that you know little about, forget the stereotypes and learn about their culture by both researching it and talking to them respectfully. Along these lines, this chapter provides some basic principles for conducting intercultural communication in the modern workplace by considering what you share in common with the people you interact with, what to look for in terms of cultural differences, and how to act in either case.

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Common Cultural Characteristics

Culture involves beliefs, attitudes, values, and traditions that are shared by a group of people. Thus, we must consider more than the clothes we wear, the movies we watch, or the video games we play as the only representation of a culture. Culture also involves the psychological aspects of our expectations of the communication context. For example, if we are raised in a culture where males speak while females are expected to remain silent, the context of the communication interaction governs behavior, which in itself is a representation of culture. From the choice of words (message), to how we communicate (in person, or by e-mail), to how we acknowledge understanding with a nod or a glance (nonverbal feedback), to the internal and external interference, all aspects of communication are influenced by culture.

Culture is part of the very fabric of our thought, and we cannot separate ourselves from it, even as we leave home, defining ourselves anew in work and achievements. Every business or organization has a culture, and within what may be considered a global culture, there are many co-cultures. For example, consider the difference between the sales and accounting departments in a corporation. We can quickly see two distinct groups with their own symbols, vocabulary, and values. Within each group, there may also be smaller groups, and each member of each department comes from a distinct background that in itself influences behavior and interaction.

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view other cultures as inferior to one’s own. Having pride in your culture can be healthy, but history has taught us that having a predisposition to discount other cultures simply because they are different can be hurtful, damaging, and dangerous. Ethnocentrism makes us far less likely to be able to bridge the gap with others and often increases intolerance of difference. Business and industry are no longer regional, and in your career, you will necessarily cross borders, languages, and cultures. You will need tolerance, understanding, patience, and openness to difference. A skilled business communicator knows that the process of learning is never complete, and being open to new ideas is a key strategy for success.


Figure 46.1: Cultural diversity has a positive impact on corporate culture and the bottom line. (The Balance, 2020)

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5 Dimensions of Culture

Successfully communicating across cultures requires understanding and respecting how the culture or cultures you represent differ from those of the people you’re communicating with. While you may think that you should just follow the golden rule and treat everyone else the way you would like to be treated yourself, the more you travel to distant lands, the more you realize that cultural conventions and expectations for how people would like to be treated are relative. One culture will place a high value on a friendly handshake and eye contact, while you would come off as aggressive or awkward if you did those things well in another.

Though you can’t be expected to know every little custom across the planet, having a general sense of large-scale cultural differences and a willingness to learn the details as necessary can save you from embarrassing yourself or offending people of different cultures when interacting with them. An open approach to cultural differences can also impress your audiences in ways favourable to your reputation and the organization you represent. With this goal in mind, let’s examine five broad categories of culture.


Cultures can be divided into two distinct context categories: low and high context cultures.  Low context cultures are said to logical, analytical and action oriented.  A direct and straightforward communication style tends to be the communication pattern.   Countries in North America and many European countries are considered low-context in orientation. High context cultures on the other hand are more intuitive in their communication style.  Non-verbal communication: voice tone, eye contact, gestures, and posture,  plays a more important part in communication.  Speakers use indirect communication to communicate messages.  Asian, African, and many Latin American cultures are considered high-context cultures.


Individualism refers to a culture’s attitude towards independence and control.  People in low context cultures tend to be very individualistic, that is, they value independence,  freedom, initiative, personal responsibility and resist many forms of control.  Competition and personal achievement is  hardwired into the culture as people try to stand out from one another.  On the other hand, people in high context cultures tend to be group oriented.  Acceptance of group values, duties, and responsibilities is encouraged.  High context cultures resist independence, freedom, and competition. People would rather blend than stand out.


Formality is the degree to which a culture places emphasis on tradition, ceremony, and social rules.  In low context cultures, tradition is not an important value.  This lack of value is exhibited in a more casual business attire, use of informal language to address superiors and the elderly, and lack of rituals.  In low context cultures, social mobility is more possible and likely to occur. On the other hand, high context cultures value tradition.  This value is exhibited is the wearing of formal business attire, the use of formal greetings with superiors and the elderly, and observance of rituals.  In high context cultures, social mobility is often very difficult and unlikely to occur.

Communication Style

Communication style refers to the value place on verbal or non-verbal communication.  Low context cultures place a high degree of importance on verbal communication.  Low context cultures take words literally and value straightforward communication, words are suppose to mean what they say.  On the other hand, high context cultures place more importance on the surrounding context than on the actual words.  Words are only part of the message, and a lesser part of the message than all the other information connected to the message.

Time Orientation

Time orientation refers to the degree to which a culture considers time limited.  In low context cultures, time is limited and considered a commodity.  Time is connected to productivity, efficiency, and money.  The saying “time is money” is part of commonplace.  Waiting is wasting time and considered rude.  On the other hand, time is unlimited in high context cultures.  Time is a resource to be enjoyed.  Decisions take time, meetings do not always start on time, and it is not considered rude to keep someone waiting.

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Harmony and acceptance do not happen automatically within a culturally diverse work environment.  An organization must put forth real effort and commitment to creating an inclusive workplace.  However, the benefits of inclusive work environment include increased productivity and profitability.

Intercultural communication is a fascinating area of study within business communication, and it is essential to your success, particularly as it relates to the importance of considering multiple points of view. If you tend to dismiss ideas or views that are “unalike culturally,” you will find it challenging to learn about diverse cultures. If you cannot learn, how can you grow and be successful?


Figure 46.2: A summary of the many benefits of an inclusive work environment.


pen and paper icon    1. When meeting businesspeople from other countries, you will feel more comfortable if you know the basics of business etiquette and intercultural communication, such as greetings, attire, or dos and don’ts.  Visit some online sites about international business etiquette and answer the following questions:

  • How do people greet each other in Australia, India, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Spain?
  • In what countries is is important to keep a certain distance from the person you are greeting?
  • In what countries is a kiss on the check an appropriate greeting?


Guffey, M., Loewry, D., & Griffin, E. (2019). Business communication: Process and product (6th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education. Retrieved from

Institute of Cultural Diversity. (2019). Why is culture so important in the workplace. Retrieved from

Skills Boosters. (2014). Cultural awareness in the workplace [Video]. Youtube.

The Balance. (2020). Cultural diversity in the workplace. Retrieved from


Version History

NSCC Adaptation Notes

The open textbook NSCC Communication @ Work is an adaptation of the open textbooks: Seneca College Communication @ Work

Version Mapping
NSCC Version Seneca Communication @ Work (an adapted version of Communication @ Work)
Chapter 1 chapter 1 + Unit 43
Chapter 2 chapter 2
Chapter 3 chapter 3
Chapter 4 chapter 4
Chapter 5 chapter 5
Chapter 6 chapter 10
Chapter 7 chapter 6
Chapter 8 chapter 12 minus Unit 43 (moved to ch 1)

Additional Changes

Seneca Adaptation Notes

Communication: Fundamentals for the Workplace is adapted from the open textbook Communication @ Work: Seneca College Edition. The Seneca edition was adapted by Tom Bartsiokas, Robin Potter, and Tricia Hylton from Jordan Smith’s Communication @ Work.

Communication @ Work  is adapted from A College-to-Career Guide to Success (2019). Partially Adapted from Business Communication for Success (2015)



Jordan Smith and NSCC


Martin, K. C. (2016, April 5). Should you capitalize the word Internet? Retrieved from

Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J., Courduff, J., Carter, K., & Bennett, D. (2013). Electronic versus traditional print textbooks: A comparison study on the influence of university students’ learning. Computers & Education. Retrieved from