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The rule of thumb for writing newspaper articles also applies to writing clear and concise emails: Once you’ve explained the Who (your audience)? What (you want to tell them)? When (if it applies, if not, skip it)? Where (if it applies, if not, skip it)? Why (you’re telling them this)? and How (if it applies, if not, skip it)? STOP WRITING!
Major style manuals (for example, The Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association Style Manual) agree that Latin abbreviations, such as, etc., e.g., and i.e., should not appear in your everyday writing. You should only use them in footnotes, endnotes, tables, and other forms of documentation.
So instead of writing i.e. (the abbreviation of id est), in your business report, write that is. Instead of writing e.g. (the abbreviation of exempli gratia), in your cover letter, write for example. Let’s face it, most people don’t know what the abbreviations stand for—I often see i.e. and e.g. used interchangeably—so using them can affect the clarity of your writing… in a bad way.
One of the major tenets of plain writing is that simple, straightforward language is more powerful than flowery, verbose writing. This is common knowledge among writers, and has been for centuries:
“I never write metropolis for seven cents when I can write city and get paid the same.” Mark Twain
“Use the smallest word that does the job.” E.B. White
This quote by William Penn (1644-1718) also applies to writing in the 21st Century:
“Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”
“When you wish to instruct, be brief [so] that men’s minds [will] take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” — Cicero
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Abbreviations come in several sizes:
Refers only to abbreviations that sound like—and are read like—actual words: North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO (pronounced NAY-toe). Some acronyms spell out real words: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. And some acronyms become “real” words: laser began as the acronym LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation).
Refers to a series of letters that you say individually: ATM (automated teller machine), BBC (British Broadcasting Company), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).
Refers to abbreviations that include the first and last letters of the full word: Ms. (miz), Mr. (mister), amt. (amount), Gov. (governor).
1) To join two independent clauses: Some travelers like to plan their own trips; others like to use a tour company.
2) To link clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases: Travelers who use a tour company prefer to have everything planned for them in advance; however, they pay a premium price for that luxury.
3) To separate items in a list that includes commas: He packed a toilet kit that included a toothbrush, comb, and toothpaste; a computer bag that held his laptop, cables, and mouse; and a daypack that contained his water bottle, energy bars, and maps.
If you think today’s emphasis on clear and concise writing is a rather recent, historically speaking, concern of good writers everywhere, think again.
Here is some sage advice from the Earl of Chesterfield in December 1751 to his illegitimate son, Phillip, after “setting the boy up in the world”:
“The first thing necessary in writing letters of business, is extreme clearness and perspicuity;
every paragraph should be so clear and unambiguous, that the dullest fellow in the world may
not be able to mistake it, nor obliged to read it twice in order to understand it. This necessary
clearness implies a correctness, without excluding an elegance of style. Tropes, figures,
antitheses, epigrams, etc., would be as misplaced and as impertinent in letters of business, as
they are sometimes (if judiciously used) proper and pleasing in familiar letters, upon common
and trite subjects. In business, an elegant simplicity, the result of care, not of labor, is required.”
(excerpt from The Atlantic, “How to Write a Business Letter: Advice From the 18th Century,” Shannon Chamberlain)
“It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple.” Steve Jobs
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein
“You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.” Jonathan Ivie, Senior Vice President of Design for Apple [replace a product with an idea and parts with words and the quote now applies to writing.