Pro Tips for Effective Business Writing: Write to Express, Not Impress

Businesses don’t have time for long or confusing words. Effective business correspondence relies on strict writing that relies on few but forceful words. Each word must convey a precise meaning that is understood in the same way by the writer and the reader. Use your thesaurus to replace long words with shorter, sharper ones.

Whether you’re writing a prospecting letter or report, follow-up letter or proposal, use the shortest, simplest word you can find to convey the meaning you want. Whether you’re writing up, down, or down, choose appropriate replacements for the cold, pretentious business expressions of the past. Please remove junk like: attached here with please find. Instead, say exactly what you mean: I’ve attached this for you. Use plain, run-of-the-mill English, I call it shirt-sleeve English, to get real results.

The simplicity makes it easy to read, and professional writers know that business readers want a quick and easy read. In fact, most busy readers get lost in sentences of 21 words or more. Equally important, when you choose the biggest, most impressive word, your reader is likely to find you less impressive, not more. According to Daniel Oppenheimer, researcher and collaborator of the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology“Anything that makes the text difficult to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words or complicated fonts, will lower readers’ evaluation of the text and its author.”

In twenty years of teaching business writing workshops and polishing proposals for my corporate clients, my experience tells me that it’s the least educated people who seem driven to use the biggest words, often with the silliest results. A writer, for example, searched for an alternative to “old” and found one that he liked. In his letter, he actually referred to “senile” teams. Another writer tried to impress a CEO with this: I value his needs and want the opportunity to help him achieve his visions. You may laugh, but that’s a direct quote, and it’s not funny.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you’ll make the same silly mistakes, but the principle of writing simply and cleanly is important, no matter how many titles you have or how good you are with a dictionary. Professionals do not complicate information, they simplify it. They don’t choose ten dollar words when a fifty cent word works better. They don’t try to dazzle with polysyllabic words when short, crisp words make reading easier and improve business results.

Don’t use “according to your request” when you could say “as you requested.” Don’t write “although” when you could write “although”. Don’t go for heavy lifting, “in reference to” when “about” works best. I’m sure you get the idea.

When you write for business, it’s not your job to teach your reader a new word. It is also not in your best interest to brag, speak ill, or confuse the reader. Charms of clarity. country of simplicity Write to express, not impress, and you’ll discover that your business writing actually means business.

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