Archive for the ‘How not to write’ Category

Five words and phrases that are guaranteed to make your reader’s hackles rise

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Expressing yourself clearly in a foreign language is hard enough, but how about expressing yourself clearly while also not offending anyone?

Last week, I ran a series of workshops on professional communication at the University of Cambridge. All the participants were new graduate students whose first language isn’t English and I introduced them to the “roundabout” nature of much English office speak. That indirect way we ask for things and give feedback that is designed to keep everyone feeling happy and good about themselves.

But it struck me that even native speakers can struggle to use language that builds bridges rather than barriers.

Here are five words and phrases that you might think sound polite and professional, but that are guaranteed to get your reader’s back up (this reader at least). (more…)

A great example of why corporate tone of voice guidelines are usually pointless

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Most large organisations have at least one set of guidelines for writers.

Often, one of the documents you’ll be told to read before you start writing will be all about capturing the firm’s “brand personality” through tone of voice. Invariably, this document is pointless. (more…)


Monday, June 3rd, 2013

A reader who works in internal comms was recently asked to translate this astonishing piece of verbiage into something the average employee could understand: (more…)

Targeted to mislead?

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Last week, the Investment Management Association (IMA) announced it was renaming a particular type of investment.

From now on, says the trade association for investment managers, the “Absolute Returns Sector” will be known as the “Targeted Absolute Returns Sector”.

The reason for the rename? With rumblings of another mis-selling scandal in the works, the IMA wanted to make it absolutely clear that if you put your money in these investments, you might lose some of your dosh.

In what sensible person’s head does “Targeted Absolute Returns Sector” say “you might lose some of your dosh”? (more…)

“Advise”, “revert” and the importance of empathy

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

We regularly get people coming to this blog who have searched for the phrase “advise and revert”. Invariably, these visitors are from Asian countries where English is not the first language.

I suspect an Anglophone colleague has utterly befuddled such readers by sending them an email promising to “advise and revert” or asking them to “please advise and revert”. (more…)

Are jargon-weary investors ditching Apple?

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Despite announcing record sales, Apple experienced a 10% fall in its share price yesterday. Investors, it’s been claimed, are out of love with Apple.

Is it any wonder, when the firm’s investor relations homepage contains this sort of impenetrable gunk: (more…)

Guest post: LG’s smart advertising

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Today, we have a guest post by copywriter Phil Williams. Thanks for bringing this dreadful bit of ad copy to our attention, Phil! (more…)

How self-important corp-speak could lose you sales

Monday, December 10th, 2012

We spotted this van outside a building site across the road from Doris and Bertie towers:

Fluid transfer solutions?

It could mean anything, couldn’t it? (more…)

Don’t use that tone of voice with me!

Friday, November 30th, 2012

On finishing a delicious Doris and Bertie power lunch from itsu yesterday, I was confronted with this image…

…and this one…

…and this one…

They’re what Naomi Wolf once described as “beauty porn”: pictures of women, aimed at women. And designed to make us all feel rubbish about our wobbly bits.

What made them all the more alarming was that they were accompanied by this nauseating bit of baby speak:

Like the pics, the infantilised tone of voice seems primarily aimed at the body-conscious woman. Whoever wrote it must be the only person on the planet who hasn’t noticed that Innocent-style “wackaging” is deeply annoying and the subject of mainstream ridicule.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on here. (more…)

Who wrote this pompously ponderous prose?

Monday, November 19th, 2012

If you can bear to, take a look at the following paragraph. It’s from a PhD submitted to the University of Cambridge in 2000. (more…)