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Get to the Point: Simplify Your Business Writing

History teacher writing on board

When was the last time you wrote a 500 word essay?

Most of us learned to write with the goal of meeting a word count: “Write 250 words about your summer vacation” or “Deliver a four page paper on the Louisiana purchase.” Coming up with the longest, most complicated words or phrases to pad out those papers became a vital skill.

But good business writing demands the opposite. Padding your message with unnecessary words doesn’t make you sound more intelligent or impressive, it just makes it more difficult for readers to get your message.

Short and sweet

Dropping the verbosity habit can be difficult but can have immediate and positive effects on your business writing. Read the following sample passage:

At this point in time, our estimated date for this extremely important and necessary task is currently three months from today. If there is the slightest possibility of any sort of delay, our clients will be notified in the most timely fashion.

You probably understood the point of this message. It’s grammatically correct and full of A level vocabulary words. But as a client, wouldn’t you rather read this instead? 

We estimate the completion of this milestone to be June 15. We will immediately notify you of any potential delays.

Half the words retain all the meaning. If anything, the second sample is more precise, giving an exact delivery date. It’s more engaging, addressing the reader as “you” instead of the more impersonal “our clients.” And it takes half the time to read and digest. Who wouldn’t like that?

Get to the point

In business writing, the point isn’t to fill the page but to get your message across as quickly and clearly as possible. Using fewer, more precise words and an active voice does just that. Plus, it has these benefits:

  • Most Requests for Proposal (RFPs) and similar documents have word limits, so less is definitely more.
  • Shorter, clearer writing is much easier for English as a second language (ESL) readers than writing filled with obscure terms.
  • If your writing will be localized, eliminating unnecessary words can significantly lower translation costs.
  • Concise business, science, and technical writing is less prone to errors or misinterpretation.
  • Active and to the point prose sounds more sincere and less pompous than writing filled with five point words and long, meandering phrases.

It might take some practice to unlearn the type of writing that was drilled into you during your school days, but the rewards are worth it. And a few simple rules of thumb will go a long way to putting you on the right track.

Take the shortest route

Want to see immediate improvements in your business writing? Start with these three simple steps:

  1. Cut the fluff. Chop out words such as “very,” “so,” and “really.” They’re vague and rarely add quality. Look for more descriptive words instead. How about “extravagant” instead of “very expensive” or “vital” instead of “really important?”
  2. Get active. In most situations, active voice is the best voice. Write “The man took his cat to the vet,” rather than “The cat was taken to the vet by the man.” Passive voice leads to fuzzy meaning and longer passages.
  3. Adopt minimalist principles. Avoid a phrase when a word will do. The worst offenders? “As a matter of fact” and “In fact,” along with “In my opinion.” Unless you’re writing fiction or channeling a different person, these statements are obvious, which makes them unnecessary as well.

School’s out! Now focus on shortening your writing and giving your readers (and yourself) a welcome break.

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