Necessary Words Only

Business writing (from e-mails and memos to articles and reports) needs to be about clarity over length. Keeping your sentences short, using easily understandable words and minding the length of your writing ensures a clearer message for your reader.

Tip 1: Use short sentences.
Research shows that understanding drops when sentences are too long. A suggested average sentence length is less than 20 words. Break longer sentences down into two or more sentences, if possible. Try to stick with simple sentence construction by using the S-V-O (subject-verb-object) model for your sentences, where the subject of the sentence is first, the verb second and the object last.

Tip 2: Use simple words.
Simple words ensure that your meaning comes across loud and clear. Your audience may not have the same vocabulary that you have. Here are some examples:

  • Use “prove” instead of “substantiate.”
  • Use “use” instead of “utilize” or “operate.”
  • Use “now” instead of “currently.”
  • Use “broken” instead of “nonfunctional.”
  • Use “this means” instead of “tantamount”

Apply this tip to phrases as well. Instead of saying “on a regular basis,” just say “regularly.” Instead of saying “advance planning,” stick with “planning” (all planning is technically in advance after all). You don’t want to overload your reader with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

Tip 3: Pay attention to overall length.
Avoid general wordiness — cut out any words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs that aren’t central to what you want your reader to understand. A general rule is to proof read your writing and cut it by 10%.

In today’s business writing, wordiness and length tend to obscure the meaning of the writing, leaving the reader confused. We tend to value length over clarity — a habit that needs to be broken so our readers will understand what we are saying.

Writer for the Harvard Business Publishing blog, David Silverman poses the following challenge to reduce a complex phrase to something simple. Can you cut this to just a word or two?

It is the opinion of the group assembled for the purpose of determining a probability of the likelihood of the meteorological-related results and outcome for the period encompassing the next working day that the odds of precipitation in the near-term are positive and reasonably expected. [Silverman, David. “Why Is Business Writing So Bad?”]

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