Archive for March, 2011

25 super-quick tips for better business writing

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

I’ve started tweeting a daily business writing tip. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter – or those of you who are but would like to have the tips all in one place – here’s the first 25.

1. Put the most important info first (how many stories in this morning’s paper did you actually finish?)

2. Always ask: “What happens if we don’t publish?”. If they can’t articulate a business case, spike.

3. Circle every word/phrase/allusion your mum wouldn’t understand. Rewrite so she would.

4. Ban -ing words from headlines in your staff mag. “Achieving success”? “Delivering excellence”? Ugh.

5. Using “the above” or “the below” in your copy makes you sound instantly officious. Remove and reorder.

6. Search for ion/ment/ence to ditch clunky abstract nouns (eg, driving improvement = improving).

7. Full stops are good. Use them. If you can’t read a sentence without taking a breath, it’s too long.

8. Avoid using the word “basis” – eg, on a timely and efficient basis = quickly and efficiently.

9. A camel is a horse designed by committee. For copy without lumps and bumps, give 1 person final say.

10. Show, don’t tell. Any business can claim to be “world-class”. Explain why yours is.

11. The word “focus” makes you sound, er, unfocused. Don’t “focus your efforts on” something. Just do it!

12. Make life easy for your reader. Follow each thought with “full stop, paragraph return”.

13. Diversity officers, please don’t use “female” as a noun. We’re women. Females belong in a zoo.

14. Not a postman or a midwife? Then find a stronger verb than “deliver”. Deliver service = serve.

15. Going forward adds nothing that the future tense doesn’t say. “Going forward we will” = “We will”.

16. Never use a word you wouldn’t say outside the office. Do you align/integrate/leverage things at home?

17. Always ask “what do I want my reader to do/know/think?”. The answer gives you your first line.

18. Never open with “As you know”. Lead with the news and then provide the context.

19. Commitment: two “m”s and one “t”. Or avoid the brain ache by ditching this overused word.

20. If you can’t imagine your dad saying it, it’s probably corpspeak. Rewrite until you can.

21. Can’t distinguish between “historic” and “historical”? Then use “past”. It’s probably what you mean.

22. Unless you aspire to be White Van Man, stop “driving”. Driving improvements = improving.

23. Only capitalise a word if it’s the name of a particular person/place/org.

24. Never use the word “regarding” when “about” will do.

25. Don’t start sentences with words like although/while/despite/given. Lead with your main point.

Twelve more words to ban from your workplace

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

1. Values
All 90,000 of your employees around the globe share the same six corporate values decreed from the heights of the HR director’s office, do they? Are you sure about that?

2. Change
Not so long ago, change was something we could all believe in. It’s just a shame that, as with Tory governments, when your boss uses the word “change”, it probably means you’re about to lose your job.

3. Offering
Have you noticed that nobody provides a service any more? Keen to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of The Client, companies now have “offerings”. Sadly, when I click on “Our Offerings” on a corporate website, I’m invariably confronted with some babble about “go-to-market strategies” and “cutting-edge solutions aligned to your specific needs”. Disappointing when what I really wanted was a burnt cow, a tenth of your annual salary and the life of your firstborn son.

4. Sustainability
This one seems to have overtaken “diversity” as the cliché of choice for the corporation that wants to sound like it gives a shit. Are you tempted to become one of the thousands of businesses claiming to be “shaping a sustainable future” through your products and services? Google “the earth plus plastic” and have think about how you sound.

5. Platform
Whenever someone claims to be building a platform for change/action/success, it’s a sign they’re stalling for time. So a useful word to include in your objectives for the year as it’ll make you sound busy without requiring actual work.

6. Excellence
Mere competence doesn’t cut it in a world where everyone else is in the business of excellence. Like “solutions”, “excellence” is one of those words to which other corporate clichés invariably adhere. If you’re not actively “delivering” excellence, then you’re probably at least “passionate” about it. And if you’re building a “platform” for it, it’s probably because you want it to be “sustainable”.

7. Outside-in thinking
No, not the path to true enlightenment to be pursued through yoga, sweat lodges and psychedelic drugs. Rather, the path to true customer-centricity to be pursued through paying a management consultant thousands of pounds to spout nonsense like this. As far as I can gather, “outside-in thinking” just means thinking like a normal person. The sort of person who wouldn’t say “outside-in thinking”.

8. Practitioner
Include this impressively Greek-sounding and consonant clustery word in your job title and you instantly sound like you’ve spent years training in an elite medical academy – as do all those chiropractic practitioners, homeopathic practitioners, astrological counselling practitioners and Bach Flower practitioners with their advanced diplomas from various departments of the Des O’Connor University of Shoplifting. Now the corporate world has its own public relations practitioners, marketing practitioners and internal comms practitioners, who no one suspects of selling snake oil at all.

9. Holistic
The original business woo woo word. Need to win more clients? Simply let that marketing practitioner sprinkle some of her “holistic solutions” over your brand.

10. Experience
We no longer shop. Instead, we have a “luxurious retail experience”. I don’t merely get a haircut – I go for a “total hair experience” (available from the Bond-Street-of-the-burbs that is Sutton High Street, if you’re interested). What’s more, you’ll find that an expensive glass is the most effective way to “enhance your wine drinking experience”. This vile hyperbole loses further points by virtue of its frequent use with the word “ultimate”.

11. Toolkit
Remember when the economy was booming and every other executive wanted to jack in the nine-to-five to become a plumber? Ah, the romance of wearing overalls to work. Of profiting from the nation’s love affair with ever-rising property prices. Of being paid to stick your hand down a blocked toilet. Lacking a bagful of pipe cutters, the rest of us got in on the zeitgeist by creating “Toolkits” for “Successful Delivery”, “Joined-Up Working”, “Diversity” and the like. Funnily enough, now everyone’s feeling grateful to have a job – any job – it’s been a while since I’ve heard this one.

12. Benchmarking
A word you’d never use outside the office. A word you’d never use inside the office, unless you were trying to suck up to your boss. A word made all the more revolting by its frequent pairing with “best practice”. According to Wikipedia, the term was first used by cobblers when measuring people’s shoes, so with a bit of luck its blue-collar associations will send it the way of “toolkit”.

For more words that drive me mad, see Thirty words you need to stop using today and Another 30 words and phrases you should stop using right now

Guest post: Corp speak down under

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Brits, if you thought laid-back Aussies would be immune to biz babble, how wrong you were. In this wonderful guest post, Teresa North, an ex-pat communicator, reports back on the verbiage that’s doing the rounds down under. (more…)