Archive for the How not to write Category

Your attempts to be courteous can actually offend

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
Courteous language that can offend

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

Being as courteous as possible in your written English is the foolproof way to avoid offending your readers, right? . .

. . . wrong!

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 courteous 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…)