Delete words that don't add meaning but do give the writing a distant, overly formal feel, such as "It has come to my attention" and "to that end."
Don't use a series of exclamation points or question marks for emphasis.
Full, Detailed Lesson
1. Use Short, Clear, Complete Sentences
use simple, straightforward sentences. Avoid complex sentences and constructions.
Some business writers think that using simple language is "dumbing down" the text
to the lowest level and that the explanations lose something. To them, using complex words and sentence structures seems to make the writing look more intelligent, businesslike, or professional. Nothing could be further from
the truth. The information readers need to accomplish business objectives can be written fully and clearly using simple, straightforward, direct language. Writing clearly and simply is particularly important
in business e-mails because the reader must act correctly and successfully based on the content.
Write in Shorthand
Don't drop articles
and the other glue words that hold sentences together thinking that the e-mail will be quicker to write and the reader will
pick up on the missing words. Dropping words makes the writing
more difficult to read and saves very little time.
Write in complete
sentences and include all of the smaller glue words, especially articles
(a, an, and the).
Request you locate employee information in database.
Please locate this employee's information in the company database.
Write Complete Sentences
Some business writers write e-mails that sound like they are text messaging or writing as thoughts pop into their minds. This is an example:
Can't get to the meet tonite. Fill me in--lunch maybe afternoon maybe....call.
Write in the same complete sentences you would use in a letter. The few seconds it takes to do that may save the reader from having to spend a few minutes trying to figure out what you mean, and may save you from receiving an e-mail asking what you meant to convey. Instead of the clipped text-message writing, write like this:
I can't get to the meeting tonight. Fill me in on what happened tomorrow. Call me in the morning and we can arrange to have lunch or get together in the afternoon for a few minutes.
Only One or Two Ideas in Most Sentences
Generally, limit the amount of information you include per sentence to one or two ideas,
with an occasional sentence containing three and even four ideas. Break
up longer sentences into smaller thoughts:
TOO LONG: The
best thing to do in this situation is to remember not to input more
data, which can cause the data already entered to be lost and can
result in your having to re-enter the data, and possibly you may need
to re-enter the data from the previous entries that could have been
The best thing to do in this situation is to stop inputting data.
If you input more data, you may lose the data you have already entered.
That may result in your having to re-enter the data you just entered
and, possibly, the data from the previous entries that could have
Short, Simple Sentence Constructions
Keep subject, verb,
and object together. Avoid putting interrupting words in the middle of a sentence.
If you have a comment to insert, put it at the beginning or end of the
sentence, or rewrite the sentence so the comment doesn't interrupt the
A corporation, because of its permanent legal status, generally
has more credibility with potential clients.
Because of its permanent legal status, a corporation generally has
more credibility with potential clients.
ABC Corporation has struggled, over the course of 2000, to see
its strong operating results reflected in its share performance.
2000, ABC Corporation has struggled to see its strong operating results
reflected in its share performance.
Avoid mixed grammatical
The hiring process is long and tedious is why you should apply now.
The hiring process is long and tedious, so you should apply now.
When possible, begin
sentences with the subject.
There is no law that specifically addresses this question.
No law specifically addresses this question.
the Active Voice
Active verbs show
the subject doing something rather than something being done to the
subject. Using the passive voice slows down your writing and makes it
New regulations have been proposed by committee members.
Committee members proposed new regulations.
Change this sentence
to the active voice.
number was changed during conversion.
Writing Clear Sentences in Active Voice
Put this sentence
into the active voice.
was already logged.
the Simplest Tense
Tense refers to
the time of an action. Unless you have a really good reason to use another
tense, always write in the present, future, and past tenses. Avoid conditional or perfect tenses.
AVOID: We had been aware that the argument could have been less confusing.
knew the argument was complicated.
2. Use Simple Vocabulary
Business writers tend to fall into using a business jargon language with vocabulary such as "as per your request," "thanking you in advance," and "commensurate with our aforementioned agreement." Don't do that. Instead, use the same plain, simple words you would use if you were speaking.
Delete words that don't add meaning but do give the writing a distant, overly formal feel, such as "It has come to my attention" and "to that end." Your goal is to communicate clearly, and simple vocabulary will help you achieve your goal.
Address readers directly using "you." Even when you're writing an e-mail to a number of people, they're reading it as individuals. Use "you" instead of "all employees" or "everyone."
3. Use Simple Punctuation
Don't use dashes,
semicolons, ellipses (dots), and other punctuation that extends sentences
and makes the relationships among words unclear. Use parentheses sparingly.
Such punctuation is used in technical,
academic, and more formal types of writing that can be unclear and complex, but business writing must be clear and straightforward. When you find yourself wanting to use complex punctuation, start a new sentence instead.
PUNCTUATION: Place the order number in the top blank--making sure
to include the ED at the beginning; including date ordered and method
of payment--check or credit card--unless payment will be made at time
PUNCTUATION: Place the order number in the top blank. Make sure
to include the ED at the beginning. Include the date ordered and method
of payment (check or credit card). Do not put anything for the method
of payment if you will pay at the time of delivery.
Don't use a series of exclamation points or question marks for emphasis. E-mail has no nonverbal signals, so the reader can't see you smiling or hear the calm tone of your voice as you say the words. Instead, a reader may easily feel you are angry or frustrated. Your emphatic exclamation points or question marks may sound to the reader like lecturing, whining, or shouting. You have no control over the reader's reactions when you aren't there speaking the words.
Write clear, simple, short sentences. If you are writing simple sentences with
only one or two ideas per sentence, you will not need complex
punctuation. Complex punctuation often results from trying to stack
into sentences that are too long to begin with. Long sentences only slow down
the reader as the reader organizes the thoughts in his or her mind, which is work the writer should have done. Always remember that clarity is your main goal.