Good business writing means no waffle.
Are you the worst at business writing?
Snoopy knowingly and willingly plagiarised the first few words to a notorious and dreadful opening sentence for an even worse novel called “Paul Clifford”, written by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1830. The words were “a dark and stormy night” and snoopy was sitting on his kennel rooftop with his typewriter.
Thirty ago, “A dark and stormy night”, sparked off a bad writing contest and over 30,000 wretched writers have aimed to claim fame with their winning bad sentence. Visit the website www.bulwer-lytton.com/ for further amusement.
So it seems there is fame and fortune to be found in writing bad sentences.
However, bad sentences are not that productive or rewarding in business.
Would you rather read:
It is incumbent upon management to display appropriate behaviour and verbalise what is consistent
with the messages that are being conveyed via your business communication
methodologies. (James, N. 2007)
Or: As a manager, you should always demonstrate the communication methods of your business. (James, N. 2007)
Plain english is good business writing
I attended a short seminar on Plain English writing recently and it felt like the sun had finally shone through my years of accumulated grey and dense cloud (or should I say fear and absolute dread) since my school days in fear-filled grammar classrooms. Coming from an academic and health background, my burden with heavy writing has been tiresome.
Finally, I have a systematic structure on which to develop business writing that has clarity, efficiency, is readable and yet persuasive. It is called Plain English.
Writing is creative and meant to be fun; otherwise, why has it persisted since forever. Sometimes I think people would rather walk on hot coals than write words. Sometimes when they do write those words, the words and their meanings are so complex and obscure—and then there is the tone.
Yet the flexibility of words is such a powerful tool it can be utilised in business so successfully. We don’t necessarily want to be an Orwell, Greene or Austin. However, maybe not Bulwer-Lytton either, although he did coin a few well used cool phrases like “the almighty dollar” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
Written communication is a key business communication strategy, whether it is in reports, copy, newsletters, emails or websites. It reflects the quality of your business product, attention to detail and emphasises quality management.
Clear communications can save time, stress and money in the workplace and in the business community, and contribute to improved processes and efficiencies.
What is Plain English?
Plain English is a flexible and efficient writing style that readers can understand in one reading. It combines clear, concise expression, an effective structure and good document design. (Plain English Foundation)
Some easy plain english rules:
- Think about your readership before you write and write to them. Focus on your reader and make it relevant, easy to read and unambiguous.
- Put your main message in the opening paragraph with supporting information.
- Use a formal but friendly tone, and active voice rather than passive voice. ‘You can submit by Friday’ rather than ‘It is suggested that consideration be given to submitting by close of business Friday’.
- Avoid jargon even if it is in-house communication.
- Be direct and clear using short, familiar words. Sentences of around 15-20 words are good, but a variance in sentence length is good as well.
- Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.
- Effective editing and proofreading processes.
- A simple structure for a non-complex document is
- identify the issue
- discuss the implications
- discuss your conclusion
- identify a call to address the issue.
The Writing Shed. October 2011
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Good business writing makes great sense.