A Newsletter Dedicated to Helping Businesspeople Write Smarter and Faster in Plain Language
Ten Writing Reminders (Part 1)
Writing anything—from short memos to lengthy reports—can be a daunting endeavor. So keeping a few simple tips in mind can make any project a little easier. Joan Stewart in her article, “10 Easy Solutions to Business Writing Problems,” offers some helpful reminders. This issue of Writing Tips will feature the first five solutions. The remaining five will appear in next month’s issue. Here is the article (edited for space):
Whether you’re drafting staff memos, blog posts, performance reviews, text messages or product descriptions, you can’t afford to write copy that leaves readers confused or bored. Here are 10 common traps in business writing that I’ve identified to help keep you on track.
1. Use strong verbs.
Weak verbs make writing boring. Look for a weak verb followed by a preposition. Often you can remove both and replace them with a strong verb.
Weak: Look up directions in the product manual.
Strong: Consult the product manual for directions.
2. Avoid pretentious or confusing words.
Many pretentious words have three or more syllables.
For a good example, go to the Gobbledygook generator and click on “Generate some gobbledygook.” You’ll see confusing sentences with meaningless words, empty phrases and buzzwords like this:
“Our upgraded model now offers parallel reciprocal resources.”
Use the handy tool, “A-Z of alternative words,” on the right side of the Gobbledygook generator page to find shorter alternative words.
3. Don’t overuse the verb “to be.”
Look for the forms of the verb “to be” (is, was and were), especially near the beginning of sentences. Try to replace each one with a stronger verb, even if you must rewrite the sentence.
Weak: The delivery man is frightened by the noises he hears in the dark factory.
Strong: In the dark factory, the delivery man hears noises that frighten him.
4. Steer clear of using many words ending in -ly.
Avoid cluttering text with “ly” adverbs. Sometimes adverbs are used to modify weak verbs. Remove them and insert stronger verbs.
Weak: I’m hopefully going to have unused sick days.
Strong: I hope I have unused sick days.
5. Shun trite business jargon.
Avoid using clichés in business writing.
Here are some of them: at the end of the day, throwing (anyone) under the bus, drinking the Kool-Aid, paradigm shift, pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box.
Look for the remaining five tips in the January 2021 issue of Writing Tips.
- Mistletoe is a parasitic plant.
- The first song ever broadcast from space was Jingle Bells, in 1965.
- In the early 1800s, gingerbread houses were inspired by the fairytale, Hansel and Gretel.
- Candy canes were shaped like a shepherd’s staff to remind children of the shepherds who visited baby Jesus in the manger.
- The USDA suggests you can keep a fruitcake in the pantry for 1 month, refrigerated for 6 months, and frozen for 1 year. Recently, a fruitcake was found in a hut in Antarctica that dates back to Robert Scott’s 1911 expedition to the South Pole.
- St. Nicholas, whose legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus, was born in which modern-day country: Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, Germany?
(Fun Facts Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
Word of the Month
erudite | AIRY-uh-dite | adjective
• having or showing great knowledge or learning
“Keith was impressed by the erudite intern who could quote Aristotle and Mark Twain.”
Wacky & Wise Websites
Click here to pick any city, town, or village on a map of the world and listen to the radio station broadcasting from that location.
Click here to check out the world’s—not just the U.S.’s—favorite Christmas movies.
American Express, Amgen, Cisco Systems, Department of the Navy, Fluor Corporation, General Electric, Motorola, The New York Public Library, Procter & Gamble, SEAL Team Six, State of Utah, Supreme Court of Virginia, United Way, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Writing Tips & More
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Choose the words that, when inserted in the sentence, best fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
Laboratories have been warned that provisions for animal protection that in the past were merely ____ will now be mandatory; ____ of this policy will lose their federal research grants.
- comprehensive … adversaries
- nominal … advocates
- disregarded … proponents
- recommended … violators
- compulsory … resisters
(SAT Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
Mind your p’s and q’s is another way of saying, “Be precise and careful in your behavior and speech,” or simply “Mind your manners.” The saying dates back to the days when books, newspapers, and magazines were typeset by hand. Each lowercase and uppercase letter of the alphabet was an individual metal “type” stored in boxes in, of course, alphabetical order. A lowercase p looks like the reverse of a lowercase q, and these two letters just so happened to be in boxes next to each other. So a typesetter had to be very careful not to grab a p when a q was needed, and vice versa—in other words, they had to mind their p‘s and q‘s!
Answer: recommended … violators. The word for the first empty slot must indicate the opposite of mandatory; recommended is the only viable choice. And only violators could logically be penalized by losing their federal research grants.
Fun Facts Answer
Turkey. St. Nicholas was born in 270 BC in the seaport of Patara in Asia Minor. Then, Patara was a Greek possession but today it is part of modern-day Turkey.