Category Archives: 4. Classroom Exercises

Conversational but Professional: Hitting the Right Note

[ Instructors: Download PDFs of this exercise at the bottom of the post.]

Capturing the right tone in business communication requires careful consideration of audience, an organization’s corporate climate, and writing purpose. Whether composing a text message or an e-mail, good writers project professionalism by choosing words that will make them sound educated, mature, and conversational.

To hit the right note between being too relaxed or too formal, keep these points in mind:

  • Adopt a casual tone that sounds conversational instead of the high-level diction found in formal reports or letters.
  • Avoid overblown words such as awesome or incredible.
  • Be concise and polite.
  • Compose using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Don’t use abbreviations that are appropriate only for non-work messages (BTW instead of by the way or gr8 for great).
  • Use personal pronouns such as I, we, and you to sound friendlier.

Practice hitting the right tone by rewriting the sentences below. If the tone of a sentence is appropriate, mark it as correct with a C.

  1. All managers are hereby instructed to administer the pro forma documents to the approrpriate parties for the ensuing quarters.
  2. Bossman Steve, totally awesome news!! Gretchel has FINALLY tossed her heinous idea so we can go with the cool one Benny came up with.
  3. Please return the signed documents so we can process your check quickly.
  4. The advent of unforeseen events adding to the difficulty of completion of the tasks does not abrogate your presence at meetings nor the original due date.
  5. Hey, dude, you promised me those docs like three days ago? WTH?
  6. As a new employee, you can contribute to our volunteer efforts in many different ways.
  7. Per the dictates contained in the previously mentioned contract containing your signature, your inability to fulfill the parameters of the assignment are reasonable cause for immediate dismissal.
  8. R U coming 2 the mtg at 3 cuz if not el jefe will be mucho mad.
  9. Pursuant to our orla communication which took place on the afternoon of the 12th of November, you are hereby notified that your application for vacation has been met with approval.
  10. It is desirous that all employees adhere to the signs posted in various and sundry locations throughout our establishment and properly cleanse their hands.


  1. Original too formal, wordy, contains a typo. REWRITE: All managers should give the prepared documents to involved staff members quarterly.
  2. Original too informal, uses impolite language, wordy. REWRITE: Steve, Gretchel has agreed to go with Benny’s idea.
  3. C
  4. Original too formal, wordy.REWRITE: Despite the sudden events, you must attend meetings and finish the job on time.
  5. Original too informal, uses inappropriate abbreviation. REWRITE: Mike, do you have the documents you promised me a few days ago?
  6. C
  7. Original oo formal, wordy. REWRITE: Because you have not completed the assignment, we are dismissing you, according to the terms of the contract.
  8. Original too informal, grammatically incorrect, use of abbreviations. REWRITE: Are you coming to the meeting at 3:00? I think the boss is expecting you.
  9. Original too formal, wordy, typo. REWRITE: Your vacation is approved. Have fun!
  10. Original too formal, wordy. REWRITE: All employees must wash their hands.

Conversational but Professional

Conversational but Professional Solutions


Succinct Summaries

[Instructors: Download the exercise and its solution at the end of the post.]

The ability to condense information into a format that preserves the original meaning but does so in fewer words than the original is an important skill in professional writing. Summarizing is not linear; it does not simply reduce the number of words in each paragraph. Instead, good summaries produce a thoughtful but streamlined and abbreviated version of an original.

To write a summary, follow these steps.


  1. Read the original carefully and look up any words you do not understand. Note key words or phrases.
  2. Isolate the selection’s main idea, which is the primary point the author is making
  3. List the ideas that support the main idea. Try to do this from memory so you are not tempted to use the exact wording from the original. You may find it helpful to limit each idea to one bulleted point.
  4. Reread the selection to be sure you have a good understanding of its overall meaning.
  5. Write the summary in your own words.

Keep these points in mind as you write:

  • Start with a topic sentence that states the main idea clearly.
  • Include only essential information such as names, dates, facts.
  • Eliminate nonessential information such as examples and some descriptive details.
  • Use transitions to link ideas and to unify the summary.
  • Arrange the sentences in the most logical order for a reader who will come to the summary with no prior knowledge.

Using the selection below, write a summary of about 100 words.

“Acid rain” is precipitation with a high concentration of acids. The acids are produced by sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other chemicals, which are created by the burning of fossil fuels. Acid rain is known to have a gradual, destructive effect on plant and aquatic life.

The greatest harm from acid rain is caused by sulfur dioxide, a gas produced by the burning of coal. As coal is burned in large industrial and power plant boilers, the sulfur it contains is turned into sulfur dioxide. This invisible gas is funneled up tall smokestacks and released into the atmosphere some 350-600 feet above the ground. As a result, the effects of the gas are seldom felt immediately. Instead, the gas is carried by the wind for hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles before it floats back down to earth. For example, sulfur dioxide produced in Pennsylvania at noon on Monday may not show up again until early Tuesday when it settles into the lakes and soil of rural Wisconsin.

Adding to the problem is the good possibility that the sulfur dioxide has undergone a chemical change while in flight. By simply taking on another molecule of oxygen, the sulfur dioxide could be changed to sulfur trioxide. Sulfur trioxide, when mixed with water, creates sulfuric acid—a highly toxic acid. If the sulfur trioxide enters a lake or stream, the resulting acid can kill fish, algae, and plankton. This, in turn, can interrupt the reproductive cycle of other life forms, causing a serious imbalance in nature. If the sulfuric acid enters the soil, it can work on metals such as aluminum and mercury and set them free to poison both the soil and water.

Damage from acid rain has been recorded throughout the world, from the Black Forest in Germany to the lakes in Sweden to the sugar maple groves in Ontario, Canada. The result is a growing concern among scientists and the general public about the increasing damage being done to the environment by acid rain.* (334 words)

Suggested Solution

Acid rain is a worldwide problem that concerns scientists and the public. Acid rain is caused by burning fossil fuels. The worst acid rain comes from sulfur dioxide, which is a byproduct of burned coal. When coal is used in large power plant boilers, it emits sulfur, which is carried thousand of miles by the wind. Sulfur dioxide undergoes a chemical change to create sulfur trioxide, which, when mixed with water, becomes highly toxic sulfuric acid. This acid can upset the ecosystem and poison water and soil. Because acid rain knows no borders, it is a global problem. (98 words)

Succinct Summaries Exercise

Succinct Summaries Solution

*From Writer’s Inc.

Intended for classroom use only–posting or wide distribution with authors’ permission only (c) The Guffey Team, 2018

Uncovering Cover Letters

Some hiring experts say candidates should not apply for a position if they do not send a cover letter with their résumé. Writing effective cover letters that detail qualifications for a specific job requires awareness of the dos and don’ts hiring managers look for in these persuasive requests.

Good cover letters have the following characteristics:

  • Address the reader.
  • Name the job title.
  • Promote the applicant using examples of experience and education as they pertain to specifics named in the job ad.
  • Target and tailor the letter to a specific job.
  • Make it easy for reader to respond by providing contact information.
  • Ask for an interview.
  • Refer to an attached résumé.
  • Avoid errors in spelling, grammar, and formatting.
  • Concentrate on the organization’s needs instead of the writer’s.

Task: Read the following cover letter and list its weaknesses. Your instructor may ask you to revise this letter before showing you an improved version.

To Whom It May Concern:

I saw your accounting associate position listing yesterday and would like to apply right away. It would be so exiting to work for your esteemed firm! This position would really give me much needed real-world experience and help me become a CPA.

I have all the qualifications you require in your add and more. I am a senior at Colorado State University-Pueblo and an Accounting major (with a minor in Finance) and have completed 64 units of upper-level course work. Accounting and Finance are my passion and I want to become a CPA and a financial advisor. I have taken eight courses in accounting and now work as a part-time financial advisor with Primerica Financial Services in Pueblo. I should also tell you that I was at Target for four years. I learned alot, but my heart is in accounting and finance.

I am a team player, a born leader, motivated, reliable, and I show excellent composure in stressful situations, for example, when customers complain. I put myself through school and always carry at least 12 units while working part time.

You will probably agree that I am a good candidate for your accounting position, which I understand should start about July 1. I feel that my motivation, passion, and strong people skills will serve your company well.


Camille Montano

Letter’s Weaknesses

  1. Fails to use the receiver’s name in the salutation.
  2. Neglects to identify the position title and specifically where the announcement appeared.
  3. Fails to back up assertions with evidence of qualifications.
  4. Offers little to show how her qualifications fill the position requirements.
  5. Fails to promote her experience and special skills.
  6. Overworks the pronoun I. Nearly every sentence begins with
  7. Fails to refer to her résumé, and does not request an interview.
  8. Does not make it easy for the reader to respond.
  9. Has several typographical, punctuation, and spelling errors.

[Instructors: You may choose to ask your students to write the letter as an e-mail or as a letter that is attached to the job application as a PDF. Our revision is formatted as a letter, which you can download here.]