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
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:
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Photo Credit: joi