Business Writing Tip #184—Decluttering Tips

The world seems full of tips about decluttering. There are books, websites and TV shows devoted to giving us advice on how to declutter our homes, our desks, our bookshelves, even our lives. They all suggest we will be much happier once we have got rid of the clutter.keep-calm-and-declutter-17

Decluttering is something we can usefully apply to our business writing too, and it will make our readers much happier.

Many of the long words we use in business are no better than their shorter alternatives. Here’s a list of examples, taken from William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, to help you declutter.

Long word/phraseShorter equivalent
referred to ascalled
With the possible exception ofExcept
Due to the fact thatBecause
He totally lacked the ability toHe couldn’t
Until such time asUntil
For the purpose ofFor

Other phrases to watch out for are:

  • It should be pointed out …
  • I might add …
  • It is interesting to note …

Think about the meaning of your sentence with and without such phrases and words, and see if the meaning remains clear once you’ve deleted the clutter.

By cutting out the clutter, and paring your work back to the basics, you will be able to see your essential message clearly.

‘But what about style?’ I hear you ask.

Style is important, particularly in sales and marketing copy where you want to engage your readers in a specific way.

Once you’ve decluttered, once you’ve defined the essential message, then you can start to add words. But you will be adding them deliberately, thoughtfully, not just tossing them into the mix from your subconscious.

So when you’re writing:

  • First give your subconscious free rein and get the words on the page, or the screen.
  • Then strip it back. Be ruthless with it until your words convey the essential message.
  • Then, thinking of your audience and your purpose, dress the text up with words that you have thought about, that you have considered carefully, that help achieve the purpose of the piece, and that will appeal to your readers.

Happy writing.


Business Writing Tip #183—Suggested Words for Email Subject Lines

In previous posts I’ve talked about the importance of meaningful email subject lines. I don’t know about you but I’m getting about 100 emails a day (I’m sure some of you get more). I love it when people make it easy for me to know what their email is about.

One great idea is to use one or two words to indicate the category your email falls into. This means that the person you’re writing to can quickly scan the email titles and decide which need to be opened first.

Here are some suggestions to help you write great email subject lines.


Category Word/PhraseExample
Action: Action: submit business plan by 4/5
Reminder:Reminder: Project meeting @ 10 am, 8/8/2015
Meeting:Meeting: HR meeting @ 9.30 am, 13/8 - request for agenda items
Order:Order: Your order 46845, delivery date
Job application:Job application: Pos 563, D Trost
Interview follow up:Interview follow up: D Trost, Pos 563
Sales Report:Sales Report: Q1 2015
Requesting information:Requesting information: cost/range of recycled wood garden beds
Work request:Work request: Q1 delegate figures by 7/4

Happy writing.

Image: © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Business Writing Tip #182—Judgement Day

Whenever we meet people, they judge us. They assess our look (clothes, smile, hairstyle, skin colour …) and our manner (how we speak, how we relate to others …). There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s human nature.Judge-holding-gavel-008

It’s the same when we ‘meet’ people through our writing—for example through emails or business letters, advertisements or sales pitches. People judge us, and our organisations.

Of course when people ‘meet’ us through our writing, they have no idea how we’re dressed, or whether we are well-groomed. But that doesn’t mean they’re not judging. When it comes to writing you will be judged on your word choice, your punctuation, how well you communicate your message, the layout …

These aspects of your writing don’t only affect understanding. They can affect your reputation and that of your company.

And every day, when someone reads what you have written, it’s judgement day.

Do your best to get it right, every time, and make a good impression.

Some things you can do to improve your writing

  • Practise! The more you write, the better your writing will become.
  • Ask your colleagues and friends for feedback. Listen to them and think about what they’ve said.
  • Read as much as you can. You can read about writing, but if that doesn’t interest you so much, read whatever you enjoy reading. Think about it. Why do you enjoy it? What word choices has the author made? How do different authors communicate their ideas?

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #181—Build Relationships

Often we write emails in a hurry, and we automatically use ‘stock’ phrases. Think about ‘Further to our phone conversation’ or ‘I received your email’.

These phrases communicate by providing a reference to let your reader know why you are writing. But they don’t sound much like a person wrote them, do they?

You are not a machine, and neither is your reader. So think about bringing some humanity, and some personality, to your emails. It will help strengthen your relationship with the reader.IMG_0282

Here are some suggestions:

  • It was great to speak to you…
  • I was so pleased to meet you today…
  • I enjoyed meeting you earlier today…
  • I thought our chat this morning was really useful …

Use your email openings to build the relationship and to let the other person know it will be a pleasure to communicate with you. It’s the equivalent of a smile and a greeting in the office corridors.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #180—The 6 Cs of Business Writing

In this tip I want to share six important ideas with you. I call them the 6Cs.

  1. Concise: Time is money. Avoid wasting other people’s time and make your writing easy to read. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  2. Correct: Your business writing is you representing the company. Consider the company’s image. Spelling and grammar are important so proofread carefully.The 6Cs of Business Writing
  3. Courteous: Be polite. Sometimes when we are emotional we write things that are damaging or even rude. Write quickly, but stop before you hit the send button. Reread before you send. Remember your writing is representing the company, and yourself, and reputation is important.
  4. Clarity: Make sure that your writing is precise and your meaning is absolutely clear. Ask a colleague to check what you have written and to let you know if there are any ambiguities you missed.
  5. Complete: Include all the information you need to include.
  6. Coherent: Ensure you have a logical flow of ideas and that your writing isn’t jumping all over the place.

Happy writing.

PS You can download a pdf version of The 6Cs of Business Writing.

I created the infographic in Canva.

Business Writing Tip #179—Memo, Letter or Email?

Email is so common these days it seems to have taken the place of traditional letters, or memos. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and wondering whether memos and letters still have a place in business writing. And I’ve concluded they do.

So, when might we consider a memo, or a letter, rather than an email? Here are some email layoutideas. Of course you can always distribute a memo or letter via email (attach the main document rather than including it in the body of the email).

When the message will have a long life

By this I mean that a memo is ideal if your message is going to be read, and referred to, over a period of time. For example, if it’s to announce a new policy, to introduce an important report or to provide some technical details. Think about how many times you expect people to refer to the item. If you think they’ll read it again and again, use a memo.

When the format is important

Some documents include tables, graphs, bulleted or numbered lists, graphs, headings … These are added to make the document clear and easy to read, but sometimes these elements can be distorted in an email. If the layout and format is important, avoid sending the information in the body of an email.

If people are likely to print your document

Sometimes it’s important for people to have a printed copy of your document. It might be something they need to refer to regularly (think about a proofreading checklist). Again send the document as an attachment.

For formal communication

By producing a document on letterhead, with company details and the names and contact details of the recipient and author, you indicate that the contents are important. Your document is more likely to be taken seriously.

When you are communicating with clients

An email is fine with vendors and peers, but if you are writing to someone you serve (customer, patient, etc.) a letter remains the traditional format.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions on when a letter or memo is better than an email.

Happy writing.





Business Writing Tip #178—Plurals of Compound Nouns

I’ve been researching this topic trying to find some definitive answers, but not had much luck. In this post I’ll tell you a bit about compound nouns, giving you some plurals that are commonly used in business writing (and maybe one or two that aren’t if they are unusual). If you need one that isn’t here, I’d say check it in an up-to-date dictionary, or using Google or another search engine!

What is a compound noun?

A compound noun consists of two or more words which are used together as one. They can be joined together, hyphenated or separated by a space. They are formed in different ways.

  1. Two nounsairpoet

E.g. airport, cash register, bookcase

  1. An adjective plus a noun

E.g. half-truth, real estate, special delivery, freeway

  1. A noun with a descriptive phrase

E.g. editor in chief, board of directors, point of view

  1. A noun formed from two words which aren’t nouns

E.g. drive-in, get together

Now to plurals.

Compound nouns written as one word

When compound nouns are written as one word, the last element is changed following the normal rules. Airport becomes airports, bookcase becomes bookcases, freeway goes to freeways, and grandchild becomes grandchildren.

Compound nouns written with spaces or hyphens

  1. If the compound noun is formed by two nouns with a space between them, pluralise the second.

Carbon copy becomes carbon copies, money order becomes money orders and the plural of coffee break is coffee breaks.

  1. When the compound noun is made up of a noun and another part of speech or a phrase, we need to change the main element to its plural.

The plural of letter of credit is letters of credit. And you may have multiple sisters-in-law (not sister-in-laws)

  1. When the compound is made up of two non-nouns.

For these, you pluralise the final element. So drive-ins, hang ups, and get togethers.

Why you need to check

Just to be completely confusing we have attorneys-general and governors-general, but brigadier generals.

I’m going to keep researching this topic and if I can find some useful rules I’ll share them. But don’t hold your breath. I’ve been trying for a while already.

Happy writing.


A bit about the image. It’s by artist Richard Tipping

(Airpoet2003 ink; plastic screenprint, printed in blue ink, from one stencil
Impression: undesignated impression as issued
Edition: edition of 300; edition of 7 as a boxed set August 2005
printed image 7.3 h x 9.8 w cm
Gordon Darling Australia Pacific Print Fund, 2008
Accession No: NGA 2008.154.25
© Richard Tipping)

Business Writing Tip #177—Keep it simple

I just spent a week enjoying some sun and beach time, staying in a holiday unit. A notice in the apartment reminded of the need to keep it simple.

In the kitchen a notice was displayed asking us to leave the apartment neat and clean when we left. It included a small amount of information about the recycling bin and then told us that ‘More information can be found in your compendium.’lone gull

I laughed out loud. ‘Compendium’ is hardly a word one expects to see in a beachfront holiday apartment. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw the word. What’s wrong with ‘information pack’ or ‘apartment guide’?

When I got back to Canberra I picked up the notes of a business writing course written by a fabulous trainer, who is also a good friend of mine, Anne McDougall. She included a great example. This is a sign that she saw in London.

Soliciting of gratuities by refuse collectors is expressly forbidden.

That is, ‘Dustmen mustn’t ask for tips.’

Big words don’t make us seem more intelligent. They have their place, but it’s not in notices that are designed for the general public. Some of the audience will have no trouble understanding, but think about the people with literacy issues, people who speak English as a foreign language, young children . . . All that these long words do is make it harder for the audience to understand. (Multisyllabic expressions obfuscate the meaning of the utterance for the person who is perusing your written musings to determine a course of action.)

Keep it simple.

Happy writing.