25 super-quick tips for better business writing

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.

8 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. Marcus says:

    Great list. Now to get my work chums talking like people, not like CorpBot2000 nonsense word machines.

  2. Clare Lynch says:

    Good luck, Marcus!

  3. Julie Brammer says:

    Excellent list, thanks. Just found you on Twitter so I’m looking forward to my daily tip. It’s good to see someone standing up for good writing. Can you also do something about the rogue apostrophes that are springing up everywhere and hitting us in the face every day?

  4. Clare Lynch says:

    Thanks, Julie. I’ll do my best on the apostrophes, but I suspect it’s a losing battle…

  5. Gareth Cook says:

    Loving your work. You’re a very pleasant discovery via Twitter today – it’s refreshing and encouraging to find someone with the same passion about accuracy and clear communication in business writing.

    I’ve recently started http://justtherightwords.co.uk as my web presence for my fledgling foray into the freelance frenzy, but am hoping to use the site to spread awareness of plain English, correct spelling, punctuation and usage, and the value of good business writing. I’m planning a series of articles that will share some plain English nuggets, accompanied by tweets. Promise I won’t copy any of yours, and will include links and mentions of your blog where appropriate.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom, love your blog’s name, and look forward to reading more from you in the future.


  6. Show, don’t tell is my favorite tip. It looks like I almost always land new clients when emailing new people to initiate conversation and leave my P.S. at the end (with my tag line and two of the best blog posts that qualified me as the one-to-go copywriter)

  7. m says:

    It’s only a losing battle for the losers. Your tips are helpful; keep’em coming.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply