Business Writing Tips

The following business writing tips are collected from a variety of sources over a lifetime. Follow them to produce writing  that is easy to read and hard to misunderstand:
  • Use present tense
  • Avoid words that end in: ing and in ly (e.g., really) or in y (e.g., very)
  • Avoid words that have  a z in them (e.g., utilize)
  • Do not use contractions
  • Make points in the positive (i.e., don’t be negative)
  • Avoid words that hedge or evade such as “it is my understanding” or “possibly,” or  “perhaps,” or “could.”
  • Be assertive.  I.e., Say, “I need your reaction to the new product recommendations” instead of saying, “I want to meet with you to come up with a recommendation for the new product.”
  • Phrase requests in declarative form rather than interrogative. Say: “Please provide …,” not  “Can you provide …”
  • Use simple, direct sentence structure (subject – object – verb)
  • Avoid personal pronouns (i.e., he, she)
  • Refer to the reader and to others more than to yourself (calculate the I-to-You ratio by counting and comparing such references)
  • Keep lists to no more than 7 plus or minus 2 (think of a 7-digit phone number as the standard)
  • Bullets should be about 7 words or less long
  • Paragraphs should be no more than five lines long…because most readers only read the beginning and end of things (papers, paragraphs, sentences, etc.) and not the meat in the middle.
  • Spend the most time on the first paragraph and then the last and then the beginning and end of all the other paragraphs, next with the second and then the second to last, iterating top and bottom (3rd, 4th, etc.) until you meet in the middle.
  • Be careful about using the word “this” because most of the time it refers to something clear to the writer but not to the reader…consider replacing it with specifically what you mean to refer.
  • Use flush left and ragged right margins in your writing layout. People cannot read more than a couple of lines that are centered and the spacing required for right-aligned text is torturous to most.
  • Eliminate jargon and buzzwords
  • Choose clear, familiar words of one syllable (or less!). You will stand tall in your readers’ eyes if you replace long words with shorter ones. For example:

Long word

Shorter word

articulate explain
culmination end
endeavor try
facilitate ease or help
indication sign
reiterate repeat
subsequent later
utilize use

Long phrase

Shorter word

at the present time now
at your earliest convenience soon
be in a position to can
in accordance with as
due to the fact that because
in the amount of for
under the circumstances therefore
in the event that if
in reference to about
in view of the fact that because
in order that so
noted in our recorded noted
pending receipt of awaiting
under date of on

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