Most of us are busier than ever these days. We don’t have time to

decipher the memos, e-mails, and other business messages we receive. We

need to understand them the first time we read them. And we need to

write them clearly so that our audience isn’t forced to labor over

their meaning.

Years ago, old fashioned business messages were

often filled with redundancies and stilted wording, for example, “Upon

procurement of the supplies, your request will be scrutinized and taken

under consideration in a timely fashion.”

Today, the most effective business messages are clear, concise, and easy to comprehend.

We write pretty much the way we speak, in Plain English, which most eighth and ninth graders can readily understand.

Here are eight things you can do to keep your business writing clear and up to date:

  1. Use every day words you and your audience understand. You

    need to impress your audience with clarity, not with words they have to

    look up in the dictionary. Write “old,” rather than “antiquated”;

    “certain,” rather than “unequivocal,”; “read,” rather than “peruse.”

  2. Omit, tighten or trim old-fashioned phrases.

    Rather than writing, “This is to inform you,” simply write your

    message. Use “because,” rather than “owing to the fact that”; write

    “I’ve just learned,” rather than, “It has come to my attention.”

  3. Write the way you speak with the appropriate level of formality.

    Use a conversational but professional tone. Obviously, you wouldn’t

    write the too familiar, “Hey Dude, How’s it goin’?” as a greeting for a

    business e-mail. You might write the words, “Hi Chris,” “Hello Jane,”

    or “Dear Mr. Johnson,” depending on how well you know the recipient. As

    you compose the rest of your message, ask yourself if you would use the

    words you’re writing when you’re speaking to someone in polite


  4. Avoid the passive voice--most of the time.

    The passive voice is indirect, wordy, and awkward. “The report was

    worked on by the team,” is written in the passive voice. Why not write,

    “The team worked on the report”? It’s stronger and to the point.


    few words of caution--You might also use the passive voice when you

    want to be diplomatic and nonaccusatory: The fax machine is broken,

    rather than, You broke the fax machine.

  5. Write concise sentences and paragraphs, but don’t overdo it.

    A string of short sentences may sound choppy, and paragraphs that are

    too short may lack substance. Keep your audience in mind as you write

    only the words you need to make your meaning clear and focused.

    Sprinkle in transitions, such as “therefore,” “also,” and “however,” to

    make your sentences flow smoothly.

  6. Don’t use clichés.

    Clichés tell your audience that you didn’t make the effort to express

    yourself in your own unique way. Furthermore, if you’re writing for an international audience, clichés such as, “call the shots,” or “fall through the cracks,” may be meaningless.

  7. Use jargon with care, only when it’s appropriate for your audience. Jargon is language

    used by members of a profession or followers of a hobby. “Brasstacks,”

    “gravy plane,” and “TPN” are examples of jargon used in the finance, aviation, and nursing professions, respectively. Jargon is like shop

    talk, so be sure to limit its use to the specific group you’re


  8. Always proofread your messages. It’s tempting to press “send” on an e-mail without looking it over. Check all your messages for correct grammar and proper punctuation. Even a forgotten comma can cause confusion: “After typing the secretary went home.” Did someone type the secretary? Or did the secretary go home after she finished typing? Your audience shouldn’t have to ask either question.


clearly in up-to-date language saves time and money and can prevent

misunderstandings. It shows respect for your audience and builds good

will. Implement the above guidelines, and your colleagues will look

forward to your business messages. You’ll also enjoy a competitive edge

in the workforce.

Written on 1/22/2009 by Mary Ann Gauthier. Mary

Ann is a writer and an adjunct instructor of English at a private

college. She teaches listening skills to her business communication

students and is also working on a book about the therapeutic benefits

of journaling.

Photo Credit: joi