25 quick business writing tips (and a link to 100 more)

1. For writing that’s easy to read, make friends with the full stop.

2. Be concrete, not abstract. Call a hose a hose, not a fluid transfer solution.

3. “However”: if in doubt, punctuate with full stop, cap, comma. However, there are exceptions.

4. Capitalising job titles? One writer I know was taught to save caps for “God, the Queen and the Editor”.

5. It may look odd, but there’s only one apostrophe in the phrase “Dos and Don’ts”.

6. “While” sounds less pretentious than “whilst”.

7. You don’t need a hyphen with adverbs ending in “ly”: a “happily married couple”.

8. Ditch the corporate throat clearing: go back and see if you can cut your first paragraph.

9. “The data are” or “the data is”? Just choose whatever you think your reader would prefer.

10. Yes, you can split an infinitive. Trust your ears, not rules invented by 18th-century grammarians.

11. Both “under” and “way” are in the dictionary. “Underway”, however, is not.

12. “Don’t” is friendlier than “do not”, though non-native speakers may prefer it spelt out.

13. Remember: “e.g.” = “for example”; “i.e.” = “that is”. They aren’t interchangeable.

14. Don’t overuse “scare quotes” – they make you look like you lack “conviction”. See?

15. The past tense of “lead” is “led”, not “lead”.

16. To quote Hemmingway, “every first draft is s**t”. Always go back and edit.

17. Be active, not passive: “we will send you the document”, not “the document will be sent to you

18. Watch out: “loose” rhymes with “goose”, “lose” rhymes with “choose”.

19. As Mervin Block says, if it’s not necessary to leave a word in, it’s necessary to leave it out.

20. Remember the three “Cs” of great business writing: it’s clear, concise and conversational.

21. Use “comprises of” to sound like an illiterate estate agent. Otherwise, just “comprises”.

22. Never use the jargon “revert” for “reply” – especially if you work with non-native speakers.

23. If your wife compares you “to” George Clooney, be flattered. If she compares you “with” him, be worried.

24. Hyphens aren’t optional. Consider the difference between “extra-marital sex” and “extra marital sex”.

25. Look! No apostrophe: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s etc.

100 more quick writing tips

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

  1. dt says:

    “Spelt” is the past tense of “spell.” What you want there is “spelled.”

  2. Liat Gat says:

    Thanks for this list of tips! Because I’ve started to implement your advice, my readers are noticing a difference in my emails and blog posts. They say my writing is more straightforward and mature. Thanks to you!

    I love the quote from Hemingway. I wonder what perverse egoism makes a person think that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, his or her own particular first draft is just fine the way it is.

  3. Tony Haddon says:

    I love you.

  4. Martin Jezzard says:

    I’m with Tony! I share your blog with every team I work with.

  5. bransom bean says:

    Re Number 11 – “Underway” – As a marine journalist I must comment that underway is in fact a word – noun, adverb and adjective – and in at least one dictionary other than the Oxford: http://www.seatalk.info/cgi-bin/nautical-marine-sailing-dictionary/db.cgi?db=db&uid=default&FirstLetter=u&sb=Term&view_records=View+Records

  6. Nic says:

    Tip 16: what Hemingway (one ‘m’) actually said was ‘every first draft is shit’. Verbal coyness really grates. It’s what the Sun does (the Economist doesn’t).

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