How to Keep Your Business Writing Clear And Up To Date


January 22, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Most of us are busier than ever these days. We don’t have time to decipher the memos, e-mails, and other business messages we receive. We need to understand them the first time we read them. And we need to write them clearly so that our audience isn’t forced to labor over their meaning.

Years ago, old fashioned business messages were often filled with redundancies and stilted wording, for example, “Upon procurement of the supplies, your request will be scrutinized and taken under consideration in a timely fashion.”

Today, the most effective business messages are clear, concise, and easy to comprehend.

We write pretty much the way we speak, in Plain English, which most eighth and ninth graders can readily understand.

Here are eight things you can do to keep your business writing clear and up to date:

    1. Use every day words you and your audience understand. You need to impress your audience with clarity, not with words they have to look up in the dictionary. Write “old,” rather than “antiquated”; “certain,” rather than “unequivocal,”; “read,” rather than “peruse.” 
  • Omit, tighten or trim old-fashioned phrases. Rather than writing, “This is to inform you,” simply write your message. Use “because,” rather than “owing to the fact that”; write “I’ve just learned,” rather than, “It has come to my attention.” 
  • Write the way you speak with the appropriate level of formality. Use a conversational but professional tone. Obviously, you wouldn’t write the too familiar, “Hey Dude, How’s it goin’?” as a greeting for a business e-mail. You might write the words, “Hi Chris,” “Hello Jane,” or “Dear Mr. Johnson,” depending on how well you know the recipient. As you compose the rest of your message, ask yourself if you would use the words you’re writing when you’re speaking to someone in polite conversation. 
  • Avoid the passive voice–most of the time. The passive voice is indirect, wordy, and awkward. “The report was worked on by the team,” is written in the passive voice. Why not write, “The team worked on the report”? It’s stronger and to the point.
  • A few words of caution–You might also use the passive voice when you want to be diplomatic and nonaccusatory: “The fax machine is broken,” rather than, “You broke the fax machine.”
  • Write concise sentences and paragraphs, but don’t overdo it. A string of short sentences may sound choppy, and paragraphs that are too short may lack substance. Keep your audience in mind as you write only the words you need to make your meaning clear and focused. Sprinkle in transitions, such as “therefore,” “also,” and “however,” to make your sentences flow smoothly. 
  • Don’t use clichés. Clichés tell your audience that you didn’t make the effort to express yourself in your own unique way. Furthermore, if you’re writing for an
    international audience, clichés such as, “call the shots,” or “fall through the
    cracks,” may be meaningless. 
  • Use jargon with care, only when it’s appropriate for your audience. Jargon is
    language used by members of a profession or followers of a hobby. “Brasstacks,” “gravy plane,” and “TPN” are examples of jargon used in the finance,av iation, and nursing professions, respectively. Jargon is like shop talk, so be sure to limit its use to the specific group you’re addressing.
  • Always proofread your messages. It’s tempting to press “send” on an e-mail
    without looking it over. Check all your messages for correct grammar and proper
    punctuation. Even a forgotten comma can cause confusion: “After typing the
    secretary went home.” Did someone type the secretary? Or did the secretary go
    home after she finished typing? Your audience shouldn’t have to ask either question.

Writing clearly in up-to-date language saves time and money and can prevent misunderstandings. It shows respect for your audience and builds good will. Implement the above guidelines, and your colleagues will look forward to your business messages. You’ll also enjoy a competitive edge in the workforce.

Written on 1/22/2009 by Mary Ann Gauthier. Mary Ann is a writer and an adjunct instructor of English at a private college. She teaches listening skills to her business communication students and is also working on a book about the therapeutic benefits of journaling. Photo Credit:

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