Elizabeth Burr

According to Target, Back to School season started in July, right after they cleared out all the fireworks and red-white-and-blue accessories. However, as the wife of a teacher and mother to a rising fifth grader, I refused to acknowledge it.

Alas, it can’t be avoided any longer (even if the summer heat is ever-present here in North Carolina). That said, if I must suffer, then I’m bringing y’all down with me.

So, let’s go. Class is in session.

You might have noticed a lot of our blogs so far this year have been putting our presentations from years past into written form. Today is no different, as we’ve gone over these evil pitfalls before – almost monthly, as many come up during sales training – but never in this medium.

Consider the following:

Sector takes a holistic approach to care, utilizing a SPOC to ensure we follow all QA, HACCP and TJC standards and policies while leveraging open, transparent feedback channels to ensure we are able to meet and exceed expectations related to the successful implementation and execution of your dining and support services program.

Legit, what did that just say? (I’ll wait.)

THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY THAT?

See, the problem with business writing is people tend to unnecessarily elevate it, which, ironically, decreases its value. The above example displayed plenty of common problem areas – buzzwords, nominalization, excessive acronyms, being so convoluted that I want to poke my eyes out with my son’s new back-to-school supplies.

So, let’s go over the Top 10 tips for better business writing.

1. Avoid jargon

There’s a time and place for industry terms, but corporate jargon and buzzwords are never welcome. Be purposeful in your language; even words like “innovative” and “state-of-the-art” are meaningless if you overuse them.

2. Limit acronyms/abbreviations

Similarly, while acronyms/abbreviations can be useful for streamlining content, don’t be lazy. Every acronym you use might save you time/space, but your reader is still forced to figure out what you mean. Your goal should always be to make things easier on your reader, so don’t make them do the hard work (especially when it’s easy as writing out a word).

3. Trim the fat

Your goal when writing should be to make it as short as possible, but no shorter. Therefore, eliminate redundancy and cut clutter; empty phrases like “As a matter of a fact” are needless and wordy phrases such as “in order to” and “on a daily basis” can be trimmed to “to” and “daily,” respectively.

4. Write like a human

You know how a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it? Well, the same is true for your writing. Skip the grandiose language and use simple words in simple sentences that way you get your point across, simply.

5. Avoid liar words

Words like faster, better, more, lots, tripled and so on all sound good, but they don’t actually say anything. Faster than what? Better than what? Zero percent tripled is still zero. Avoid these generalities and, again, be purposeful. Specificity creates credibility.

6. Limit adjectives/adverbs

In business writing, adjectives and adverbs tend to weaken your message. I consider them flowery jargon. You’re usually better off replacing these with a strong noun or verb; however, if you must use one, then make it a good one. For instance, say “ecstatic” instead of “very happy.”

7. Choose stronger nouns/verbs

Speaking of such, while I don’t want you to pull a Joey from “Friends” and use a thesaurus for every word, you should always consider where your writing could be improved. A common issue in business writing is called nominalization, where we transform certain parts of speech into nouns. The problem is, typically, using the verb is the stronger choice – “decide” is better than “make a decision” – and this type of structure also leads to using a passive voice (which is bad; see below).

8. Use active voice

Just like we want strong, active verbs/nouns, you want to write with an active voice, too. In business writing, we tend to hide the subject, which quickly leads to problems with passive voice. Alas, shoot for more direct language and you’ll solve most of those errors, but you can also search for the word “by” to find areas that may need improvement.

9. Learn the basics

There’s no shame in admitting what you don’t know. Some grammar lessons simply need to be memorized, as do commonly misspelled words. Financials are important in proposals, yet math is often enjoyed even less than writing. And don’t get me started on punctuation (stop with the ellipsis!).

10. Read everything out loud

Yes, this is technically an editing tip, but as we’ve mentioned before: Writing is rewriting. When you read your writing out loud, you will find silly grammar errors, mistaken words (manger is a common one that doesn’t show up in spellcheck), repetitive copy and you’ll also hear issues with tone and pacing.


Don’t be sad. We’ll be back on the first Monday next month with a new blog post. If you can’t wait that long – whether because you have a topic you’d love us to cover, a question or you simply want to throw your two cents into the pot – we love talkin’ shop, so drop us a line.  

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