Review by Mike Unwalla.
Fiona Talbot and Sudakshina Bhattacharjee, 2012. Improve Your Global Business English. London: Kogan Page. 238 pages. ISBN 978-0-7494-6613-8.
"The purpose of this book is to help you grow your understanding and use of English in the global context of things and be aware of the cultural, social, and professional environments of your readers, customers, or target audience - so that you can speak, interact and write clearly, comprehensively and successfully."
Improve Your Global Business English contains many interesting facts and gives some useful advice. However, the content is badly organized and the guidelines for global English are not sufficient.
Chapter 4 is 'Common challenges in business English in a global workplace'. For example, the authors explain that although colour can be useful, the meaning of a colour is dependent on culture. In Europe, black is associated with funerals. In India, white is associated with funerals.
Although the content of chapter 4 is good, the section 'Presentations should always showcase your talent' is not in a good location. What is special about presentations such that the topic is in this chapter? Chapter 5 is 'How does writing in a global economy affect us all?', but most of the chapter is about how to write letters. Other types of document are discussed in separate chapters:
- Writing e-mails (chapter 6)
- Report writing (chapter 9)
- Writing agendas, notes, and minutes of meetings (chapter 10)
- Personal and company promotion in the digital age (chapter 11). This chapter is about public relations, press releases, and writing for websites.
- Using word power skills with social networking media (chapter 12). This chapter is about social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and company blogs.
The opposite problem is that each chapter that is about a specified type of document contains general information, as these examples show:
- Chapter 6 contains an analysis of parts of e-mail messages. One example sentence contains 48 words, and the authors explain the problems with that sentence. Although the text came from an e-mail message, the same text could be on a website or in a report.
- Chapter 9 explains the importance of answering the questions that readers are likely to ask. However, "in chapter 4 we highlighted the importance of anticipating likely questions when you deliver a presentation. This same advice applies when you write reports…"
- Chapter 10 explains the importance of specifying technical terms at the start of a meeting. However, that advice is applicable to all documents.
- Chapter 11 contains the advice to "Maintain quality and professionalism by ensuring that there are no mistakes in what you write." That advice is applicable to all documents, not only to websites.
- Chapter 12 gives a before-and-after example of marketing text. The authors explain that adjectives such as leading, gorgeous, and smart help to make the text more interesting. Although the example is from a page on Facebook, the same text could be in a printed brochure or in a letter.
A better way to structure the book is to have 2 sections. The first section can be about English. The second section can be about the special problems of the different types of documents.
An index can help to overcome the problem of bad organization of the content. Unfortunately, the book does not have an index.
The authors use the terms standard English and global English to mean the same thing:
- "A working description of standard or global English… is the English that displays the least regional variation."
- "If we widen the description to talk about standard UK English or about standard US English, these standard forms are the ones taught in schools and the varieties most in use professionally in these countries or where standard English is taught worldwide."
Standard English that is taught in schools in the UK and in the US is not optimized for global audiences. Standard English causes many problems for international readers. For example, multi-word verbs are a large problem for international readers. "English that displays the least regional variation" is good, but it is not sufficient for global audiences.
Frequently, the guidelines are too vague to be useful. For example, the section 'Defining global business English within your organization' mentions that a consistent style is important. I agree. Unfortunately, the writers do not give clear guidelines about what to do and what not to do. The image that follows shows the 'Checklist of things to consider'.
To tell readers to 'consider something' does not help those readers. To be useful, guidelines must tell people what to do, or what not to do.
The last page of the chapter is a template for a style guide. A 1-page style guide cannot contain all the necessary information. Typically, a style guide has many hundreds of pages, as these examples show:
- The Elements of International English Style has 162 pages.
- The Global English Style Guide has 310 pages.
- The Yahoo! Style Guide has 512 pages.
As an overview that shows the typical content of a style guide, the page is satisfactory. As a template, the page is not satisfactory. One way to make the template more useful is to include cross-references to other parts of Improve Your Global Business English and to other style guides.
Sometimes, the text in Improve Your Global Business English is contradictory. A task cannot be 'demanding' and 'have no short cuts to quality' and at the same time have 'virtually no cost':
- Page 18: "…each time you write, you need to think, write, check your meaning, spelling and grammar… It's a demanding task. There are no short cuts to quality.
- Page 26: "There's virtually no cost involved in harnessing written word power effectively."
The title of the book is Improve Your Global Business English. Therefore, I expected a book that is about the problems of writing for a global audience. Improve Your Global Business English does not contain sufficient information about that topic.
Reviews of books that are about English for international readers
TechScribe's international English website