Sunday, July 29, 2012


Salam Ramadhan to all readers..

This semester, I am teaching Technical Academic Writing for semester 3 students, while browsing through, I found this article written by Alistair King. I think my students would appreciate this because part of the syllabus for Technical Academic Writing is Letter and Memo writing.

For your kind perusal


We continue our series on business writing by examining more clunky and vague phrases.

What do you do when you wish to enclose /attach a document which the other party has requested? Do your write a covering message like this:

Further to your valued recent request, enclosed herewith, please find a copy of our most recent catalogue for your kind perusal and necessary action.

As per your request attached herewith please find a copy of the above-mentioned report for you attention and retention.

What is the weirdest phrase in both of the above examples? Surely it has to be please find! Extremely common, but weird! That enclosure/attachment is not lost! We only tell people to find something that is lost! It is amazing that this phrase is so meaningless, yet so standard!

Earlier articles of this column have already mentioned certain features which militate against effective communication; two of them are displayed here.

Redundancy: enclosed/attached herewith is unnecessary repetition. If the item is here with the covering letter, then, of course, it isenclosed/attached. If the document is attached, then it has got to behere with the e-mail! In this connection, don’t use “together with” as it is also redundant. The word “herewith”, like “hereby”, “hereinafter”, “heretofore”, etc, is extremely archaic.

Verbosity: How many words do you need? Whatever is a kind perusal? It sounds almost like a sweet little furry animal! Whatever it means, it is way out of date.

Please don’t use “for your further action”; “for your attention”; “for your necessary action” (as if the reader is likely to do something UNnecessary with it!). All of these fail to tell the reader what he/she has to do. If you are sure that the reader knows what to do with the enclosure, then there is no need to write “for your ...”!

What about the word “valued” as in “Dear Valued Customer”? Don’t use it! If you value your customer, show it, don’t write it! One way to show that you value the customer is to take the trouble to use mail-merge so that his/her name appears in the salutation rather than the low-value “Valued Customer”.

A common and risky scenario is when the manager of a department receives an e-mail, decides that his/her downliner should deal with this, so forwards it with the caption: Please do the needful/Please take the necessary action/Please act accordingly.

When forwarding e-mails for other people’s action, always specify the intended action, otherwise the downliner may act according to ... WHAT?

Then how should we refer to a document that we are enclosing or attaching? Consider these.

We are enclosing a copy of the catalogue which you requested. If you would like to appear more joyful, try: We are pleased to enclose a copy of the catalogue which you requested.

We are enclosing a copy of the ______ Report, as you requested.

Notice that these are all written in the Active Voice. It is normally preferable to use the Active Voice in correspondence and the Passive Voice in certain other types of documents.

If you don’t want to appear friendly, you may want to consider: “Enclosed is a copy of the_____ Report, as requested.” This is all in the Passive Voice and creates distance between the Writer and the Reader, but should generally not be used.

Dr Alistair King has over 25 years experience in education and training for multinational corporations and government departments in several European, African and Asian countries. He can be contacted

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Boyfriends and Girlfriends

So today in class I was telling a story to one of my students about my mini vacation in Miami with one of my girlfriends. The look on his face was priceless — and while I continued to go on with my story — his face got more and more confused… to the point that I finally clued into as to WHY it looked like I was speaking a foreign language that he didn’t understand. (haha get it? — I was — but he understands)

So when I use the term girlfriend it actually means friends who are girls.

  • I’m going out with my girlfriends.
  • My girlfriend and I are going dancing tonight

But — this term is NOT interchangeable when discussing friends who are boys — we CANNOT say my boyfriends. What we say instead is my guy friends.

  • I’m going to hang out with my guy friends
  • I have a ton of guy friends.

So after clearing all of that up and having a little chuckle — he understood the difference.

Ha ha — do you?

by Jillian Zavitz

Saturday, June 09, 2012

English Expression: Go Bananas

If someone becomes very emotional and starts behaving in a crazy way, they go bananas.

"If you announce that you're going to drop out of school, your parents
will go bananas!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Malaysian top speaker to meet Prince Philip

THE front-page report "Malaysian top speaker to meet Prince Philip" (NST, May 22) deserves praise.


Marina Tan Hsien Wei’s achievement has won her the rare honour of meeting the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, in November.

Seventeen-year -old Marina Tan Hsien Wei did herself, her family, school and the nation proud by becoming the first-ever Malaysian to emerge champion in the just-concluded English Speaking Union (ESU) International Public Speaking Competition 2012 in London.

Marina's outstanding achievement won her a trophy and also the rare honour of a return flight ticket to London to meet the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip in November.

En route to winning the title, this intelligent Penang lass managed to bring out her best to beat 53 speakers and her great success certainly deserves the highest praise from us all. I hope the government will reward Marina accordingly to motivate her further to excel in public speaking and at the same time inspire others to follow her footsteps in bringing honour and success to the nation.

Marina attributed her success to conducting extensive research on the Internet and spending long hours preparing herself by writing and practising her speech. Her self-confidence, positive personality and excellent command of English are important factors that enabled her to come out top in this very prestigious international competition.

Speech means the act of speaking. The act of speaking includes conversation, public speaking, debating, discussions, storytelling and acting!

The impact of speech depends on the content and ideas expressed by the act of speaking. Public speaking is an art to be mastered as it is extremely useful and important in today's highly competitive, informative and demanding world.

A skilful speaker stands to gain more compared with ordinary or non-skilful speakers.

A good and effective speech will make a world of difference to the audience and influence the final results.

source: NST

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

English Expression: Mum's the word

To say "Mum's the word" means that the subject or plan is a secret
and must not be revealed.

"We're organizing a surprise event on New Year's Eve so

"Mum's the word" - OK?"

it has nothing to do with your mother :)

Monday, April 09, 2012

Email Etiquette

How do I compose an email to someone I don't know?

There are a few important points to remember when composing email, particularly when the email's recipient is a superior and/or someone who does not know you.

  • Be sure to include a meaningful subject line; this helps clarify what your message is about and may also help the recipient prioritize reading your email
  • Just like a written letter, be sure to open your email with a greeting like Dear Dr. Jones, or Ms. Smith:
  • Use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. THERE'S NOTHING WORSE THAN AN EMAIL SCREAMING A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS.
  • Write clear, short paragraphs and be direct and to the point; professionals and academics alike see their email accounts as business. Don't write unnecessarily long emails or otherwise waste the recipient's time
  • Be friendly and cordial, but don't try to joke around (jokes and witty remarks may be inappropriate and, more commonly, may not come off appropriately in email)

What are some guides for continuing email conversations?

Once you have exchanged emails with a person on a given subject, it is probably OK to leave greetings out of your follow-up emails. Here are some other points to consider about continuing conversations over email:

  • Try to respond within a reasonable time frame, though "reasonable" will depend on the recipient's expectations and the subject being discussed
  • Trim back the old messages: most email clients will keep copying older messages to the bottom of an email. Delete older messages so as to keep your message size from getting too large, and to keep your messages looking clean.
  • If someone asks a lot of questions, it may be OK to embed your answers into the sender's message copied at the bottom of your email. However, if you're going to do this, be sure to say so at the top, and leave generous space, for example:
    > How long are you staying?
    Less than two weeks.
    >Will you have time to visit with us?
    I'm really hoping to, but my schedule will be pretty tight. Let me get back to you about that after the weekend.

What sorts of information shouldn't be sent via email?

Most people do not realize that email is not as private as it may seem. Without additional setup, email is not encrypted; meaning that your email is "open" and could possibly be read by an unintended person as it is transmitted to your reader. With that in mind, never send the following information over email:

  • Usernames and passwords
  • Credit card or other account information

Additionally, avoid sensitive or information that could be potentially damaging to someone's career and/or reputation, including your own. Beyond email's general lack of security and confidentiality, your recipient can always accidentally hit the Forward button, leave her email account open on a computer, or print and forget that she's printed a copy of your email.

What about sending attachments?

The ease of transmitting files to a particular person makes email very attractive. However, there are some guidelines you should follow:

  • Never send an attachment to someone you don't know the first time you contact them (unless, of course, the contact has posted a job ad requesting a resume in a Word document). They (or their computers) might think it is spam or a virus, and delete your message.
  • Avoid unnecessarily large file sizes. Digital photos especially: most digital photos come off the camera much larger than can be viewed on screen. Learn how to resize your digital photographs.
  • When you must send a large file or set of files, do the recipient the courtesy of sending an email telling them what you'll be sending and why.
  • Be sure to have anti-virus software installed on your computer to scan all of your outgoing and incoming messages for viruses.

Email Listservs and Discussion Groups

Poor email behavior is always cropping up on email listservs and discussion groups. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Double-check the To: area of your email when you reply. Too many people have intended to reply to a message poster alone when, in fact, their reply went to the entire list—much to their embarrassment. If you want to be extra-careful, start a new email and type the single recipient's address.
  • Do not air your grievances or beefs about your school, colleagues, or employer on a list. Personal attacks should also be avoided. Such postings make the organization you are associated with look bad, while also making you sound like a gossip and whiner. Particularly on large lists, you also may not know who else is on it. Be professional, and likewise avoid piling onto discussions about who's got it worst at work, school, etc.
  • If you are new to a discussion list, you should "lurk" for awhile—that is, just be a reader to get the sense of what the group talks about, how it talks about it, and what types of behaviors are expected from list members. Only when you have gotten that sense should you initiate a post.

Source: OWL

Note: this resource was posted during a day-long workshop for Norfolk State University in the development of their OWL. Purdue OWL Webmaster Karl Stolley and the Purdue OWL wish them great success.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The teacher in you

from thestar online

Imparting knowledge and values to young children are by no means, easy tasks, but teachers remain in the profession for various reasons.

SINGER songwriter Bob Dylan once said: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between, he does what he wants to do.” After reading this, I asked this question seriously of myself. As a teacher, do I get to do what I want to do?

The answer is yes. Well, at least 60% of the time. When I am teaching, I do know that I am doing what I want to do, which is to help others gain understanding of a subject that I have a passion for.

If my teaching gives students the impetus to bring about positive change in themselves, be it in deportment, knowledge or attitude, then I know I am doing what I want to do.

For the rest of the time, like most other teachers, I do what I have to do. Bob Dylan’s words made me think further. What questions, if any, have been asked of me regarding my years as a teacher?

Listed below are some of the questions and answers that are based on my 25 years of teaching.

·Do I get the time to be creative and be motivated?

By the administration, not always. By my students, quite a fair bit. I do realise this however – teachers do need and appreciate incentives to propel them to be inventive.

As for me, I have always tried to come up with an innovative project, at least once a year. I am aware that for this to happen – it is up to me to find the time for it. The inclination to do so is important. If it doesn’t happen, I am to blame.

·Is teaching rewarding?

I would say it has its moments, particularly if a lesson goes well and you know that you are instrumental in bringing about some positive learning habits.

l Is teaching addictive?

Yes, it can be something that you want to return to time after time, especially if you have the knack for it. Your students’ faces will say it all ... whether they enjoy your lesson or just your sheer presence every time you walk into the class.

·A girl asked me this: is a teacher’s job exciting?

On days when the factors are just right, the students are great, funny and eager to work with you – yes, it can be exciting to teach.

Their enthusiasm is infectious and creates this warm feeling that is hard to describe. When they understand your wit and are rooting for meaningful communication, teaching can become exciting.

On other days? Let’s face it, like any other job, sometimes it’s just doing more of the same every day — dreary, dull and uphill tasks — that physically and mentally tire you out. On days like this, you just want the working day to end, so you can go home.

·“Is teaching a gift?” asks an 18-year-old who plans to take up the noble profession.

My answer? I’m afraid it is. Many people are taken on as teachers, but only a few take to teaching like ducks to water.

Why? It’s a gift to be able to reach out to people, touch them where it matters, and make them see the whys and what-fors of notching up change.

·Is teaching challenging?

It used to be, but not as much anymore as I’ve matured over time. Any new challenge can be tackled. But when I was new to teaching, I do remember the rush I felt – there were always so many things to do, to learn, to think and to discover.

A young teacher said to me, “I am extremely happy to be a teacher, it’s good to see the students’ progress and it’s fantastic to see that I (and teachers in general) am an important part in their learning life.” It was a good statement, I thought.

·Do teachers make a difference?

A student answered this for me. “A good teacher makes me want to be a better per-son,” he said.

·Is teaching rewarding?

For this, I sought out a senior teacher – a man due to retire soon and his answer stayed with me.

“Financially, you may not feel you have the best job in the world. But it pays well enough, and if you’re grateful for the privileges that come with the job (he meant free medical services, loans at low interest rates, not having to work during school holidays, etc), I think teaching is a good job to derive a pension from.”

But, the true rewards are the non-tangible ones, he shared, that of providing a charitable service, giving to the young, being involved in their growing years.

What is truly rewarding is when former students come back years later to tell their teachers how they inspired and brought about positive changes to them, he added.

“You really leave a little piece of yourself with them, and they with you,” he said.

I was touched.

·Does being a teacher teach you anything?

My answer would be “loads”. I have learnt so much from being a teacher. There’ll never be an ending to what I can still learn. Mentoring, coaching, training, counselling skills – all these I learnt from teaching.

Being a more accepting person — less ready to condemn and more ready to forgive and move forward — all this, I learnt from teaching.

Practising the habit of being honest, non-prejudicial, just, fair, caring, kind — this too came as an added bonus.

Understanding myself, knowing how I was viewed by others and realising what I needed to do to improve every day came directly from my teaching experience too.

The most important thing I learnt? How you are as a person is reflected by the look on the faces of your students.

When you do a good job, you see the look of enlightenment and appreciation on them. When you care, they often care too. And, if you don’t, they couldn’t care less.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How To Write Progress Report

In business, the bosses need to be informed of what’s happening on a project.

IN a well-established business organisation, a subordinate officer is usually required to submit periodic progress reports to his superior to keep him informed of what has been done on a project, what is being done and what remains to be done.

As progress reports are official documents, their tone should be serious and formal. Even though progress reports are often in the form of a memo, the writer should use standard English. Progress reports represent not only the writer’s ability to communicate, but also his organisational and analytical skills.

Progress reports can be written in different formats. However, the management should adopt a uniform format throughout. The following format is commonly used.

The beginning – If the progress report is a memo, it should contain the following standard items:

TO: Full name and position of the superior.

FROM: Full name and position of the subordinate with his/her initials.

DATE: Date the report is submitted.

SUBJECT: A phrase indicating the purpose of the report.

Introduction – Here the writer gives his superior some background information. Tell him what the project is and clarify its development over time. If there are earlier progress reports, a brief reference should be made to them.

This section is also known as “Background” or “Terms Of Reference” but in normal practice the heading is not required.

Body – This is the main section comprising three parts: “Work Completed”, written mainly in past tense, “Work in Progress”, written mainly in present tense, and “Work to be Completed”, written mainly in future tense.

Work completed: The first part of the body explains what work has been done so far. Follow the tasks chronologically or according to the sequence of the tasks completed.

Work in progress: The second part tells the superior what is being done. Perhaps there are some problems which hinder the progress of the project. As a result, part of the project may need to be modified or postponed. Explain your strategy for solving the problems encountered.

Work to be done: The third part specifies the remaining activities to be carried out. It is helpful to fix the deadlines for each of the tasks.

Conclusion – Here the writer gives a summary and evaluation of the progress or development of the project. Again the heading “Conclusion”, “Summary” or “Comment” is not required in a memo progress report.

Sample progress report

TO: Dr Razak Yusop, Regional Manager

FROM: Joseph Lam, Chairman of Organising Committee

DATE: Dec 27, 2011

SUBJECT: Planning for company motivation workshop

Our committee is in charge of planning a one-day motivation workshop scheduled to be held on Saturday, March 2, 2012. The proposed workshop, approved by the headquarters on Dec 8, 2011, aims to make our staff more aware of the importance of teamwork and contributing one’s best not only for individual career advancement but also for the ultimate growth and development of our Supreme Business Innovation Company. As requested, this update is submitted to you for your reference and advice.

Work completed

The committee met on Dec 16. We fixed a suitable theme for our proposed workshop, which was “Transforming Work Pressure Into Life Pleasure” or, in short, “Transformer Breakthrough”. The proposed motivation workshop was made compulsory by the managing director for all the staff members at the Petaling Jaya, George Town, Johor Baru and Ipoh branches.

Names of several popular speakers were proposed. They were Dr Manjit Singh from the National University of Singapore, Dr Hamzah Ibrahim from the Science University of Malaysia, Dr Grace Chong from the Multimedia University, Dr Loga Ramasamy from the Technology University of Malaysia and Prof Luke Yong from the Putra University of Malaysia.

Owing to heavy work schedule and other commitments, Dr Grace Chong and Dr Loga Ramasamy had indicated that they would not be able to come for the motivation workshop.

Dr Manjit Singh, Dr Hamzah Ibrahim and Prof Luke Yong had agreed to come. They would lead us in three separate sessions tentatively entitled “Knowing Yourself As A Team Player”, “Your Greatest Enemy” and “A Winner through Thick And Thin” respectively. Each session would take two hours, including a 10-minute intermission.

However, Dr Luke Yong mentioned that in the event that he could not make it, his faculty colleague Dr Paul Raj would replace him. The same topic would be presented. Dr Luke Yong would let us know by mid-January 2012 who would be coming.

Work in progress

We are finalising the workshop schedule and choosing the best venue in Petaling Jaya for our motivation workshop. Four hotels are available and we are studying their quotations and other terms. Meanwhile, we are also arranging for accommodation, food and refreshment for the speakers as well as our participants. We are also making a request to the hotels to provide us with a complete public address system. However, we need to get ready other ICT equipment such as laptops and LCD projectors. We are also looking into various estimated costs to ensure that the total expenses do not exceed the given budget.

Work to be completed

We will send out letters of invitation to all our company staff and a few special guests once everything is ready. Information will also be posted to our company website. A Master of Ceremony and a stand-by will be appointed by the Petaling Jaya branch manager shortly. Our CEO Datuk Michael Chew will deliver a speech and declare the workshop open.

There are a few more things that need to be done:

A staff member is required to fetch Dr Manjit Singh from the KLIA on his arrival. He will fly in a day in advance. His flight and time of arrival will be made known in due course.

The other two speakers will come on their own and report to the hotel in Petaling Jaya a day in advance too. Arrangement will be made for their meals and accommodation.

The management will work out the quantum of payment for each of the three speakers for their service.

All the necessary information must be relayed to the three speakers by the second week of February 2012.

We will make announcements to the press, various business leaders who have close association with us, the chamber of commerce, and a number of higher institutions of learning in the Klang Valley at least three weeks before the scheduled workshop.

Everything is going on fine so far. We have not been confronted with major issues and we are confident that the proposed motivation workshop will be able to reinforce the spirit of dedication and hard work among our staff members. This will go a long way in helping us to accomplish the vision and mission of our company.

Written by Yong Ah Yong

UTAR, Kampar, Perak.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The teh tarik man

Mind Our English



HAMID, why are you not preparing teh tarik for your customers?” I asked the Teh Tarik Man the other day, as I dug into my fortnightly helping of roti canai.

Pointing at the blue-shirted young man standing a short distance away, he replied, “His name is Raman, and he is helping my wife and me run the business. Actually, he is on loan from my brother-in-law, who owns a restaurant in Penang.”

“Just like a footballer joining a club on loan, eh?” I teased him.

“Yeah,” he said, chuckling like a jovial car salesman.

“Raman is here because I have a frozen shoulder – I can’t lift my right arm completely. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can resume my normal duties soon. Let me give you a piece of good news,” he added. “The health department gave my premises a clean bill of health yesterday.”

“I’m glad about the department’s certification and sorry about your medical condition,” I said.

Nodding, he said, “My primary goal is to maintain the business so that I don’t lose my regular customers. Raman works like a horse, and I am happy with his unexampled diligence. Even without preparing the teh tarik, I usually have my hands full: I serve the customers, collect the money and wash the dishes.”

“You can still prepare the teh tarik,” I said matter-of-factly.

“How do I do that?”

“If you tarik the drink downwards, you don’t have to lift an arm.”

“That is out of the question,” he demurred at my suggestion, his thick eyebrows rising to underscore his words.

“I lift my right arm above my head when I tarik my teh tarik. If I were to prepare the drink now,” he continued, after rubbing his upper arm a little, “I may lift my right arm from force of habit, and then –”

“You will be in pain,” I finished the sentence for him.

“No,” he corrected me with a naughty wink. “The pain will be in me!”

“Don’t worry about the frozen shoulder,” I said after I had recovered from a paroxysm of laughter. “It will heal by and by and you’ll be all right.”

With a smile full of cheerfulness pouring into the creases of his wizened face, the Teh Tarik Man said, “As you can see, I am keeping my chin up!”

The other day: At some time not long ago.

Dig into: To begin eating heartily.

Keep one’s fingers crossed: To hope.

A clean bill of health: A report that a person or thing is healthy or in satisfactory condition.

Work like a horse: To work very hard.

Have one’s hands full: To be very busy.

Out of the question: Not to be considered; impossible.

By and by: In the course of time; soon.

All right: (i) Healthy or safe. (ii) I agree; yes. (“All right, you may go to the party,” the father said to his daughter.) (iii) Satisfactory. (This article is all right, but it will be even better with another rewrite.) (iv) Acceptable. (Is it all right for me to go to the party?) (v) Certainly. (He is the culprit all right.)

Keep one’s chin up: To remain cheerful when faced with worries, disappointments or difficulties.

Until Today

THE expression until today is very common among Malaysians. I think the phrase is often wrongly used and does not describe what a speaker is really trying to convey.

When you say until today”, doesn’t it mean the situation or the process stops today and will not continue after today? For example, the statement He was a bachelor until today means He gets married today”; it does not mean He is still a bachelor today.”

Therefore, we cannot say “Malaysia is a multiracial country until today” when we know that Malaysia will still be a multiracial country tomorrow. Shouldn’t we say Malaysia is a multiracial country even today instead? – Nasir

You are right. “Until” means “up to the point in time or event mentioned” (online Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). So, we should NOT say “Malaysia is a multiracial country until today.”, BUT “Malaysia is still a multiracial country today.”, where “still” means “continuing until a particular point in time and not finishing.” (OALD)

Your suggested sentence, “Malaysia is a multiracial country even today.” can be used when we want to emphasise how surprising it is that Malaysia is still a multiracial country today! “Even” as an adverb is “used to emphasise something unexpected or surprising” (OALD).


Friday, January 06, 2012

How To Critize

George B. Johnston of Enid, Oklahoma, is the safety coordinator for an engineering company, one of his re-sponsibilities is to see that employees wear their hard hats whenever they are on the job in the field.

He reported that whenever he came across workers who were not wearing hard hats, he would tell them with a lot of authority of the regulation and that they must comply. As a result he would get sullen acceptance, and often after he left, the workers would remove the hats.

He decided to try a different approach.

The next time he found some of the workers not wearing their hard hat, he asked if the hats were uncomfortable or did not fit properly. Then he reminded the men in a pleasant tone of voice that the hat was designed to protect them from injury and suggested that it always be worn on the job. The result was increased compliance with the regulation with no resentment or emotional upset.

By criticizing, we do not make lasting changes and often incur resentment.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin