Business has no time for long or fuzzy words. Effective business correspondence is built on tight writing which depends on few, but hard-hitting words. Every word must convey a precise meaning that is understood in the same way by writer and reader. Use your thesaurus to replace long words with shorter, crisper ones.
Whether you are writing a prospecting letter or a report, a follow-up letter or a proposal, use the shortest, simplest word you can find to convey the meaning you want. Whether you are writing up, out or down, choose appropriate replacements for the cold and pretentious business expressions of the past. Eliminate the junk like: attached herewith please find. Instead, say exactly what you mean: I am attaching this for you. Use ordinary, everyday English–I call it shirtsleeve English–for real results.
Simplicity makes reading easy–and professional writers know that business readers want a quick, easy read. In fact, most busy readers get lost in sentences of 21 words or more. Equally important, when you go for the bigger, more impressive word, the chances are your reader will find you less impressive–not more. According to Daniel Oppenheimer, researcher and contributor to the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, “Anything that makes text hard 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 it’s the people with the least education who seem driven to use the biggest words–often with the silliest results. One writer, for example, searched for an alternative to “old” and found one he liked. In his letter, he actually referred to “senile” equipment. Another writer tried to impress a CEO with this: I value your needs and I wish to have the opportunity to assist you in achieving your envisions. You may laugh, but that is a direct quote–and it isn’t funny.
Now, I am not suggesting you would make the same foolish mistakes, but the principle of writing simply and cleanly is an important one–no matter how many degrees you have or how good you are with a dictionary. Professionals don’t complicate information–they simplify it. They don’t choose a ten dollar words when a fifty cent word works better. They don’t try to dazzle with multi-syllables when short, crisp words simplify reading and improve business results.
Don’t use “as per your request” when you could say, “as you asked.” Don’t write, “despite the fact that” when you could write, “although.” Don’t go for the heavy-duty, “in reference to” when “about” works better. I’m sure you get the idea.
When you write for business, it is not your job to teach your reader a new word. Nor is it to your advantage to show off, talk down, or confuse the reader. Clarity charms. Simplicity pays. Write to express, not to impress, and you’ll find your business writing actually means business.
When companies need to improve their business writing skills, they call Fern Lebo–because it pays off big time. Author, consultant, trainer and coach, Lebo is President of FrontRunner Communications, adjunct faculty at Auburn University and a frequent keynote speaker at conferences, retreats and meetings across North America. A respected communications expert, Lebo focuses on writing and presentation for business and sales. (more…)