Business Writing

Direct and Indirect Writing Styles

13. 6. 2016

B1- B1 B2 C1

There are times when we are comfortable asking for something in a direct style, and times when we want to soften our requests or comments. We use indirect language more when we want to be formal, or polite; perhaps when we don’t know someone very well. Or sometimes we use it to deliver bad news!

What are the differences? Here are some suggestions (adapted from Paul Emmerson’s Email English)


Language function Direct Indirect
Requests Can you …? Could you …?
Please could you … I was wondering if you could …
Could you possibly …?
Asking for permission Can I …? Is it all right if I …?
Could I …? I wonder if I could …?
Offering help Can I …? Would you like me to …?
Shall I …? Do you need any help with …?
Making a suggestion What about … (+ -ing)? Why don’t we …?
Shall we …? Perhaps we should …?
Softening comments There is a problem. I’m afraid there is a small problem.
It seems there is a slight problem.
That will be very expensive. That might be quite expensive.
Won’t that be a bit expensive?
That won’t be cheap, will it?
We can’t do that. I’m not sure we can do that.
That gives us very little time. Actually, that doesn’t give us much time.
It will be better to ask [person’s name]. Wouldn’t it be better to ask [person’s name]?
I disagree. I can see what you’re saying, but …
Don’t you think that …?
To be honest, I think it might be better to …
I think there may be an issue here.

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