Business Writing with Impact
by Melanie Joy Douglas, Monster.ca
Readers surmise personalities of writers from their writing style. A bland, boring writing style suggests a bland, boring person - right or wrong. If you would like to create the impression that you are energetic and assertive, you should develop a writing style suggesting just that. In any business, you will make more of an impact, if you write with impact.
Here are some tips for being concise and assertive.
1. Cut out Clutter
Think about your half-dead plant at home. Removing the half-dead leaves fortifies the living ones. Just the same, a sentence full of useless or meaningless words or expressions is invigorated when you prune away the dead syntax. Simply put, wordiness weakens.
Consider these cluttering phrases and their concise alternatives:
at this point in time
due to the fact that
when all is said and done
with regard to
it is possible thatmaybe
it is probable that
in all likelihood
as a matter of factactually
for the purpose offor
in the near futuresoon
in the eventuality that
in view of the fact that
be of the opinion thatthink, believe
2. Avoid Which, Who, That Clauses
Instead of cluttering a sentence with many clauses, simplify the clause into a single word.
Before: The cars that are damaged will be repaired by two mechanics who are umemployed.
After: The damaged cars will be repaired by two unemployed mechanics.
3. Kick the Noun Habit
Are you addicted to nouns? Do you endlessly transform verbs into nouns? This bad habit increases sentence length, drains verb strength, slows the reader, and muddies the thought.
Consider these wordy noun phrases and their concise verb counterparts:
conduct a discussion of discuss
create a reduction in reduce
engage in the preparation of prepare
give consideration to consider
make a discovery of discover
make an assumption of assume
perform an analysis of analyze
reach a conclusion about conclude
take action on act
1. Use Active Verbs
Verbs are, by definition, action. Therefore, using strong, specific verbs will increase your assertive style. However, as you might recall from grammar class, verbs may be used actively or passively. An active verb in a sentence means that the subject does the action, while a passive verb means that the subject receives the action - it is acted upon.
Active: I ran the employment booth at the job fair.
Passive: The employment booth at the job fair was run by me.
While the passive voice is useful in certain situations, as a general rule, use the active voice in business writing.
2. Eliminate Expletives
Business writers try to be objective in their writing, and sometimes begin sentences with impersonal expressions such as "it is," or "there is." While sometimes these phrases (called expletives) can be useful, more often than not, they add dead weight to the sentence.
Before: It was discovered that staggered hours were unacceptable to our supervisory staff.
After: We discovered that our supervisors did not want staggered hours.
3. Eliminate Cliches
Cliches, or overused and overworn expressions, should be avoided in business writing at all costs:
- Rear its ugly head
- It goes without saying
- Tighten its belt
- Easier said than done
- It stands to reason
- Nip in the bud
- With all due respect
- Increase by leaps and bounds
- There is no time like the present
- Strike while the iron is hot
4. Make Important Ideas Stand Out.
- Place keywords in strategic positions. (The most emphatic parts of a sentence are the beginning and end.)
Before: The Monster contract will be a money-maker, despite our early concerns. After: The Monster contract, despite our early concerns, will be a money maker.
- Apply graphic highlighting. Underlining, italicizing, or boldfacing, used sparingly, can be very effective ways of stressing or drawing attention to information. Moreover, you can organize a long list of thoughts using headings and bullets, numerals (1), or letters (a).
- Use repetition. Repeating a key word or phrase can build the drama and interest of a sentence. It should be used very sparingly. For example:
Babyboomers believe. They believe in teamwork and that it is critical to success. They believe in relationship-building. They believe that their work ethic is measured in hours worked. They believe that technology brings with it as many problems as it provides solutions. They believe rules should be obeyed unless they are contrary to what they want -- then they are to be broken.
- Use contrast. Highlight your point through contrast. It adds style and personality.
Before: I won this freelance contract through hard work.
After: I won this freelance contract, not through luck, but through hard work.
- Vary sentence length. Long sentences are more reflective, as they wind their way toward the conclusion. Short sentences, by contrast, are emphatic.
Beware Spell Check!
The problem with spell checkers is that they don’t find all the problems, because spell checkers cannot understand words in context.
In their book, Business Communication: Process and Product, Guffey, Rhodes, and Rogin suggest typing this poem in your Word program, and see what your spell checker detects:
I have a spell checker
That came with my PC.
It plainly marks four my review
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I’ve run this poem threw it,
I’m sure your pleased too no.
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My checker tolled me sew.
Some users attest that their spell check shows errors with the words "your" and "it’s," while others indicate that none of the words appeared with the red swiggly underline, indicating spell check registered a spelling error.