Advising and recommending can each be done in numerous ways
THE IMPORTANCE OF ADVISING & RECOMMENDING
Advising and recommending are both common in professional writing. Advice might found, for example, within instructions – for laboratory work, examinations, consumer products and the like – or in health leaflets. Recommendations frequently occur at the end of reports. I am considering advising and recommending together here because, though they are not the same, they have a similarity to each other that is reflected in the occasional usability of the same wording for either.
In this post, I will first try to clarify the difference between advising and recommending, and I will then survey the variety of ways in which each can be expressed in professional contexts. I will also consider how advice and recommendations can be reported rather than given directly.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ADVISING AND RECOMMENDING
Advising and recommending have very similar aims. They both inform an addressee of a particular behaviour that someone (usually the speaker) believes the addressee ought to carry out because it would be beneficial. The behaviour could be considered a weak kind of necessity (see 129. Differences between Necessity Verbs).
The difference between the two ideas seems mainly to be the reason why the benefit-bringing behaviour is mentioned. Advice appears to have the aim of saving the addressee from something undesirable – it suggests that ignoring it might bring harm – while recommendations suggest this much less or not at all. There might also be more subjectivity in recommendations: they seem often to be their giver’s opinion about what is best, rather than what is generally accepted to be so.
Note that English says give advice and make a recommendation (see 173. “Do Research” or “Make Research”?).
THE LANGUAGE OF ADVICE AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A key distinction is between advice that is the speaker’s own and advice that the speaker attributes to other people. Both may be communicated either to advise the addressee – i.e. to try and persuade him/her to carry out the advised behaviour – or simply to establish awareness of what the advice is.
1. Advice Originating with the Speaker
In most cases, this kind of advice is communicated in order to advise the addressee. A natural way to introduce the advice is with you, a word that can sometimes feel inappropriate in formal writing (see 46. How to Avoid “I”, “We” and “You”). However, in many advice-giving contexts, including examinations and government leaflets, this word is quite normal. Common expressions with you include:
You should / ought to / need to…
What you should (etc.) do is…
You would do well to…
It is best if you…
Informal giving of the speaker’s advice can also make a reference to the speaker:
I advise / urge you to…
I advise -ing / (NOUN)
My advice (The advice I give) is to…
(If I were you,) I would…
On the other hand, if it is wished to avoid informal words like you, one could write:
It is advisable to (or that…) (see 103. Postponed Subjects in “It” Sentences)
It would be best to…
It is best if …
The (best) advice is to / that…
Customers are advised/urged to…
In this last, any noun describing the addressee like customers can be used. Other common examples are candidates, members of the public, readers, students and visitors.
A further option is verbs in the base “imperative” form, which only rarely have a “commanding” function (see 128. Imperative Verbs in Formal Writing). However, to prevent these from sounding like commands, there must be some other clue present – either contextual or verbal – that advice is meant. The following sentence has a contextual clue in its first half:
(a) If the condition persists, contact your physician.
An example of a verbal clue is my/the advice is… placed just before the imperative verb.
The main occasion where mentioning one’s own advice need not also be advice-giving seems to be when the advice is reported to someone. Useful expressions for reporting one’s own advice (formal equivalents in brackets) include:
My advice (The advice) was/is to…
I advised X (X was advised) to…
2. Advice Originating with Other People
Most ways of communicating other people’s advice require indirect speech. If the purpose of mentioning the advice is to advise the addressee, you is again common:
You are advised to…
The advice is that you…
X advises you to…
According to X, you… (it is best if you…)
X says / advises (that) you… (it is best if you…)
X here can be either a name, or a personal pronoun like she, or a description of someone (e.g. the doctor, experts).
To avoid you, one could replace it with a noun like customers (see above). Alternatively, there are expressions that do not need the meaning of you to be expressed at all, e.g. X’s advice is to… and X advises (NOUN).
Direct speech is a rare alternative way to report other people’s advice (X advises “…”), but it must be chosen for one of the special reasons suggested in 127. When to Use Indirect Speech
In order to report someone else’s advice without trying to advise the addressee, it is usually enough to avoid you in one of the ways suggested above – the context will then often clarify whether or not advice is being given. One other option is to use the verb TELL (someone). It must be followed not by to… (which expresses a reported command – see 150. Verbs with Indirect Speech), but by that…should…, e.g.:
(b) Students were told that they should check their answers carefully.
The recipient of the advice is normally expressed by the subject of such sentences.
1. Recommendations Originating with the Speaker
In order to recommend something, it is again possible to include or avoid informal words like you. Common expressions with you include:
You should / ought to / need to…
What you ought to / should do is…
You would not go far wrong -ing / with… / if…
You will find that X meets all of your requirements.
It will be seen that should, ought and need can express recommendations just as easily as advice.
Note that *you are recommended to… – an apparent equivalent of you are advised to… – is a grammar error. The subject of BE RECOMMENDED (the object of RECOMMEND) must express what is recommended, not the person being addressed. This error is a good example of the kind resulting from words of similar meaning not having similar grammar (see 10/140. Words with Unexpected Grammar).
Informal recommendations with a reference to the speaker include:
I (would) recommend X / that…
My recommendation is that / to…
We have the following recommendations to make.
More formally, the following are possible:
The most suitable (choice / option / alternative / solution) is…
…would be a suitable choice
…would meet all the requirements
…would solve the problem
2. Recommendations Originating with Other People
Indirect speech is again the norm. Most of the possibilities are again interpretable as either making or simply reporting a recommendation. The options include:
X recommends -ing / that… / (NOUN)
It is recommended that…
The / X’s recommendation is to… / that… / (NOUN)
PRACTICE EXERCISE: ADVISING & RECOMMENDING
The following exercise is offered as a means of making the numerous possibilities listed above a little easier to remember. Below are presented a number of sentences with their words in the wrong order. The task is to reorder the words so that they make sense. Answers are given afterwards.
1. be museum a would good visit to a choice
2. forget be it best refund to about claiming would a
3.complaint write you I letter I a of were would if
4. recommend every walking minutes of experts vigorous 20 day
5. our are prices is that recommendation reduced primary
6. the inform you is do what to ought police
7. far parents children would go reading not their wrong to
8. of keep you to would do a any documents well sent copy
1. A visit to a museum would be a good choice (or A good choice would be a visit to a museum).
2. It would be best to forget about claiming a refund.
3. If I were you, I would write a letter of complaint.
4. Experts recommend 20 minutes of vigorous walking every day.
5. Our primary recommendation is that prices are reduced.
6. What you ought to do is inform the police.
7. Parents would not go far wrong reading to their children.
8. You would do well to keep a copy of any documents sent.