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Writing for an Indian Business Audience

Summary:

This handout provides examples and information on writing for both domestic and international audiences doing business in India. It includes information on letters and memos, as well as important stylistic considerations. The handout concludes with comments on some important characteristics of English writing in India, and on the status of English in business writing compared with native Indian languages, such as Hindi and Bengali.

Writing for an Indian Business Audience

While many of the genres and conventions of business writing in English are found everywhere, some are unique to particular contexts, and may prove challenging to those attempting to do business in those contexts. Being able to create appropriate formal and informal written business documents in these contexts not only contributes to a more efficient business enterprise, but also enables the writer to be seen as knowledgeable and culturally sensitive.

This handout is designed to provide basic information on writing effectively in English for business audiences in India. While the information in the handout is designed from the perspective of familiarity with the norms of North American business writing, it will also be helpful as a guide for anyone, including students from India, who are unfamiliar with Indian business writing. The information included below is meant to serve as a quick and ready reference sheet on Indian business writing. Information borrowed directly from other writers are marked with one or more asterisks (*) and are listed at the end of the page.

The topics discussed in this handout are:

  • Letters and Memos
  • Style considerations
  • English and non-English writing in India

Letters and Memos

The purposes of business letters and memos in India parallel the purposes they serve in North American businesses: introducing a candidate for employment, requesting information, making complaints, disseminating information to an office, proposing projects, and so on.

Letters

  • Identify the subject of the letter at the top of the page (ex: Subject: Sales Presentation). If a letter is generated within an organization, it is likely that you will be required to enter a reference number (ex: D.O.NO.F.7-5/2007-Desk (MDM)) above the subject. This number identifies the letter's place in the organization's history of letters, as well as other information. North American business letters place the subject between the salutation and the body of the letter, and use of reference numbers is far less common.
  • Dates are indented toward the right side of the page, in day-month-year format without commas (ex: 16.5.07 or 16 May 2007), rather than in the month-day-year North American format (May 16, 2007).
  • Continue writing as you would in a North American letter, with a salutation, an introductory paragraph, body paragraph(s), and a closing paragraph.
  • The complimentary close, name of sender, and title may be aligned with the left margin, or indented toward the right side of the page.
  • As with a North American letter, type "Encl." on the lower left side to indicate any enclosures (resumes, pamphlets, catalogs, et cetera), and "CC" for anyone receiving an additional copy of the letter, followed by their names.

Reference Number Subject

Day.Month.Year

Full Name of Addressee

Title

Address

Dear ______________:

Introductory paragraph.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. . . .

Closing paragraph.

Complimentary close,

Your Name

Title

Encl.: Items

CC: Names

Memos

  • Memorandum numbers, comparable to the letter reference numbers noted above (ex: Memorandum No. 60320/FR/23-4) are included near the top of the page, underneath organizational letterhead or typed name of organization/section, and before date, addressee, and subject information. Memorandum numbers may be centered or aligned with the left margin. Contrast this format with North American memos, which follow the addressee with the individual writer/addressor and subject lines and optional placement of date.
  • The subject line may begin with "Subject" or "Re," as in North American memos, but some individuals and organizations simply type the subject, without any marker.
  • Typed individual writer/addressor name and title may be left aligned or indented toward the right side of the page, at the end of the memo. In North American memos, the individual writer/addressor name is included at the top, with addressee, date, and subject information.
  • Supplementary information (tables, charts, et cetera) may be included after the writer/addressor name.

ORGANIZATION NAME

DEPARTMENT NAME

Memorandum number

Day.Month.Year

Addressee

Subject

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. . . .

Your Name

Title

Supplementary information.

As is the case in nearly every country, Indian businesses use A4 paper (210 x 297 mm/8.27 x 11.7 inches), rather than the 8 ½ × 11 inch (215.9 × 279.44 mm) letter and 11 × 17 inch (279.4 × 431.8 mm) legal sizes that are standard in the United States and Canada. Format your documents accordingly, by changing the paper size used by Microsoft Word (click File, then Page Setup; click the Paper tab, choose the paper size from the pull down menu, then click OK). You can also format PDF files, by clicking File, then Page Setup, and choosing A4 from the Size pull down menu before clicking OK—but this is not something you will be forced to do, since Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat both re-size pages to automatically fit the user’s paper size. Web pages and other electronic documents that are not meant for print follow universal display standards, and do not need to be formatted differently.

Style Considerations

For the most part, the norms of North American business writing are valued in Indian business writing: in addition to being clear and well-structured, you should stick to main points, use active voice and passive voice strategically, and proofread for proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. There are also certain issues to be mindful of that are not immediately apparent to those who are accustomed only to North American audiences:

  • Due to a shift in Indian English audience expectations, audiences tend to prefer phrasing that is simpler and more direct in most—but not all—cases. In addition, you should avoid jargon whenever possible.
  • A recent review* cited examples of this kind of problematic English:
A copy of the aforesaid report will be forthcoming from the concerned person today itself, after which it would be my greatest pleasure to revert and discuss about the same for your valued feedback.
To enable other guests avail this facility, you are kindly requested to use the equipments for a maximum duration of 30 minutes time period.

Which in simplified and more modernized English might read:

After she delivers the report today, I would appreciate it if you could give me your own feedback on it.
So that other guests have a chance to use the equipment, please use it for no more than 30 minutes.
  • Always use titles in your writing, even in relatively informal text such as e-mails. Professional titles such as "Doctor" and "Professor" are preferable, but if they are not applicable or available, use "Mr.," "Mrs.," "Ms.," or "Miss."
  • Rather than directly refusing requests, use indirect refusals more often than would be found in North American business contexts.. Likewise, individual criticisms should be done carefully, in a face-saving manner. For example, a more direct form, one that would be acceptable in North America:
Since we have already gone far over budget on overtime hours, I am afraid that we will not be able to meet your request to finish the project by the 31st.

This sentence can be rendered in a way that says "no," while at the same time conveying respect for an idea*:

The project must be generating a lot of interest. We will try to have it completed by the 31st.

English vs. non-English writing in India

Despite the fact that the number of people in India identifying themselves as speakers of English is substantially outnumbered by the total number of native speakers of Hindi and Bengali***, English is overwhelmingly the preferred language of business, and of other fields. It will therefore be uncommon to find a business enterprise using non-English documents. English written within Indian contexts does not always resemble North American English, however, as it is often influenced by the native languages of India, and by Victorian era norms that continue to motivate a desire for “impressive” (i.e., verbose and lengthy) vocabulary and syntax. Be prepared to encounter such writing in the texts that you read—although reform campaigns have been emphasizing the value of more concise, “plain” English that more closely resembles contemporary writing from outside India.

Notes and References

* Juman, David. “May We Request Your Kind Attention!” 19 May 2007

** Iulianap. “Indian etiquette and business practice.” Alibaba.com. 25 September 2006. 16 May 2007

*** “Languages of India.” Ethnologue. 2007. 16 May 2007

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.