Business Writing Tip #75—The Secret of Good Writing

As a writer I read a lot. Much of what I read is about writing. Today I was reminded of some important things that I learnt about good writing from a master. William Zinsser is a US writer and On Writing Well is one of his best known books.On Writing Well

Today’s post is full of quotes from Zinsser. He said what he wanted to say so clearly there was no point me messing with it!

In this book Zinsser shares his secret of good writing:

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to the education and rank.”

In August 2009 Zinsser gave a talk to international students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism on “Writing English as a Second Language”. Whether English is your second language, your third, or your mother tongue, the four principles he described are sound. Check out his original article to read the examples he used to illustrate the points he was making.

 Principle One: Clarity

“If it’s not clear you might as well not write it. You might as well stay in bed.”

Principle Two: Simplicity

“Simple is good. Most students from other countries don’t know that. When I read them a sentence that I admire, a simple sentence with short words, they think I’m joking … Writing is not something you have to embroider with fancy stitches to make yourself look smart.”

Principle Three: Brevity

“Short is always better than long. Short sentences are better than long sentences. Short words are better than long words. Don’t say currently if you can say now. Don’t say assistance if you can say help. Don’t say numerous if you can say many. Don’t say facilitate if you can say ease. Don’t call someone an individual [five syllables!]; that’s a person, or a man or a woman. Don’t implement or prioritize. Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. Writing is talking to someone else on paper or on a screen.”

Principle Four: Humanity

“Be yourself. Never try in your writing to be someone you’re not. Your product, finally, is you. Don’t lose that person by putting on airs, trying to sound superior.”

Happy writing.


Business Writing Tip 74—The Writing Process

Photo: Sherry Almas

Photo: Sherry Almas

Often when I write I just park myself in front of the keyboard and start typing. And this is fine when I want to capture an immediate thought, or have an idea that’s already formed in my head.

But it’s not always the best way to approach writing for business. What I’ve typed without thinking deeply or planning is not my final work. It is part of my process. If I’m writing a report or a sales letter, website copy or a brochure, I need to plan my writing rather more carefully. Sure, I’ll probably open a word processing document and jot down ideas and notes, but only as a resource for my larger writing project.

What is the writing process?

One version, and a version I find useful and quite like, is a 3 stage process.

Stage 1—Prewriting

Use this stage to:

  • Collect, synthesise and organise information (including information about the purpose of your writing and your intended audience)
  • Brainstorm your take-home messages (what do you want your audience to remember?)
  • Work out ideas away from the computer (I often use Post-It Notes. One idea per note. They’re easy to shuffle around to help you with the next step.)
  • Develop a road map/outline (move the Post-Its around until they’re in a logical sequence and add extras if necessary.)

Stage 2—Writing Your First Draft

  • Put your facts and ideas together in organised prose, following your road map and writing up the ideas that you identified in stage 1.

Stage 3—Revision

  • Read your writing out loud. Think about sentence length, paragraphs, style.
  • Get rid of any clutter. Look at the verbs. Have you used adverbs? Is there a stronger verb you can use that doesn’t need an adverb? What about jargon? Is your writing in Plain English? Have you used the same word or expression repeatedly?
  • Do a verb check and make sure that your tenses are consistent.
  • Get feedback from others, assess its validity and incorporate it if it’s useful.
  • Do a final check of grammar and spelling.

Good writing reads well. Every word is in its correct place and means what it should mean. But good writing is not easy to achieve. Very few people are able to create their final draft at their first attempt. I often listen to interviews with published authors and they all mention the time they spend revising. They don’t say, “I just sat down, wrote one draft and then sent it to the publisher.” When you have a writing assignment to complete, avoid leaving it to the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time for revision and write the best piece you can.

Business Writing Tip #73—Easily Confused and Often Misused Part 3

Thanks to Steve Heap of Alchemy Corporate Training in Malaysia for adding some more words that people often confuse or misuse to my list.


Actually is used in spoken English when you are giving an opinion or adding new information to what you’ve just said. She’s been the CEO of the company for a few years. Since 2008 actually. It can also be used when telling someone the truth of a situation. He may look young but he’s actually in his late thirties.

Now means at the current time, at present, or immediately


Bring is to take something or someone to the place where you are now. So you might ask someone to ‘bring you a coffee’. Take is used when you are moving something, or someone, from where you are now to somewhere else. ‘I’m taking my sister to the hospital.’

Now, this is a fairly simple rule and, like any rule, there are exceptions. The main one is when you are talking about a time in the future, then the word you use depends on what you wish to emphasise – where you are or where you are going.

As Grammar Girl explained on her blogplum cake - low res

“Do you bring rum cake to the school bazaar or do you take rum cake to the school bazaar? It simply depends on where you want to place the emphasis of the sentence—which perspective you want to adopt.

If you want to focus on the school and write from the perspective of the bazaar, you bring the cake to the bazaar.

If you want to focus on your kitchen and write from the perspective of home, then you take the cake to the bazaar (which puts the focus on taking it away from your home).

When you start writing about the future and have to choose between “bring” and “take,” imagine where you are in the scenario, and make your word choice based on that location.”


This one isn’t so complicated. Bad is an adjective so it modifies a noun. For example, bad news. Badly is an adverb so you use it with verbs. The company was badly managed.

Remember though the comparative and superlative versions of these two words are the same, worse and worst so you don’t need to worry about adverbs and adjectives, nouns or verbs, when you’re talking about degrees of badness.

Hope these are helpful!

Business Writing Tip #72—Easily Misused and Confused Words Part 2

A few weeks back I posted about some words that are often misused or confused. Today I thought I would continue with some more of the most common errors I see.


Regularly abused and misused! Uninterested means that you have no interest in something. ‘The budget t-shirt manufacturer is uninterested in breaking into the luxury goods segment of the market.’ Disinterested means that a party is independent. ‘Since the CEO stands to profit from the sale of the company, she cannot be considered a disinterested party in the current dispute.’


If a remark is ironic it conveys a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. It does not mean ‘coincidental’. For example on a dull, rainy, windy day one might say, ‘What fabulous weather we’re having.’ This is irony. ‘This is the fourth time we’ve run into each other today. How ironic!’ is not irony.

Everyday/Every day

Old Town SquareEveryday is an adjective used to describe something that is used or encountered typically. ‘Tourists milling around in Old Town Square, viewing the sights through their camera lenses, is an everyday scene in Prague.’ Every day refers to something that happens day after day. ‘Every day the sound of birds wakes me at 5 am.’


Enormity means excessive wickedness or monstrous evil. If you talk about the ‘enormity of the issue’ you are not talking about its size. Enormous is very large (as in ‘An elephant is enormous when compared with a mouse.’


Noisome is not a word about noise. If something is noisome it is offensive to the senses, perhaps to the point of disgust (a noisome odour), or harmful (noisome fumes).


Discrete means having separate parts. ‘The paper is very long, but because it’s divided into discrete, clearly marked sections, it’s easy to find the results of the committee’s deliberations.’ Discreet means that someone is judicious in their conduct or speech. It’s often used in the context of keeping silent about a delicate matter. ‘I need you to be discreet about what you heard at today’s meeting because we don’t want the press getting hold of the information before we’ve told the staff.’

Business Writing Tip #71—Email Tips

emailI know I’ve talked about emails in a previous post. I shared my top tips with you some time back:

  1. Make your subject line meaningful; and
  2. Put your main point in the first paragraph and use bullet points and short paragraphs to make your email easy to read.

Today I want to share a few more business email tips with you.

  1. When you are writing professional emails, make sure you are using a professional looking email address. You may need to use a gmail or ymail address or something similar, but these can still be professional. You can use your name, or company name, or perhaps a description of your service. Remember though or are not professional – keep these for your friends!
  2. Always include a greeting. Think about it. If you’re walking down the corridor at the office and someone launches into a discussion without saying “hello”, how do you feel? It’s basic politeness.
  3. End with a sign-off phrase. It might be “Kind regards” or “Sincerely”, or even “Thanks for your help”. Again think of how you end a conversation – you don’t just walk away.
  4. Include your name, position and contact details. You want to make it easy for the other person to contact you. They might want to pick up the phone and call you and they probably don’t want to spend time hunting up your number.
  5. And before you hit send, re-read your email, run the spell checker, and make sure you haven’t made any silly errors.

We all think of email as an informal way of communicating, but increasingly we are using it for just about everything in business. I’ll leave you with two parting words:

Be professional.

Business Writing Tip #70—Making Recommendations

This is another post in the series on report writing aimed to help you when you are searching for words to add variety to your writing.

I often suggest that people develop and use templates if they are producing particular types of documents regularly. Do this and, when you are ready to write a document, you don’t have to worry about developing the framework. Here are some possible expressions you can use in the recommendation section of your report template.

Remember, these are just for guidance. You need to choose the appropriate expression based on the context, audience and style of report you are writing.Recommended stamp

Suggested expressions:

We’d suggest …

I/we therefore (strongly) recommend that …

In my opinion, we should …

Based on the figures we have, I’m quite certain that …

I would therefore recommend that we …

It would seem that … is the best idea.

Having considered the options, I would like to suggest/recommend that …

You may wish to consider …

I propose that …

We should also …

I believe that we should …

We could …

If we were to …, we could …

I suggest we … We would then be able to …

All things considered, I believe that …

Taking all these points into consideration, I would recommend …

I recommend that we look into the possibility of …

These findings suggest several courses of action for …

An implication of these findings is that both … and … should be taken into account when …

The findings of this study have a number of important implications for future practice/policy. These include …

There is, therefore, a definite need for …

There are a number of important changes which need to be made. These include …

Another important practical implication is that …

Moreover, more … should be made available to …

Other types of … could include: a) … b) … , etc.

Unless [the organisation] adopts … , … will not be attained.

This information can be used to develop targeted interventions aimed at …

A reasonable approach to tackle this issue could be to …


Free Kindle Ebooks this weekend

Just wanted to let you know my Kindle ebooks are available free from Amazon this weekend. You don’t need a Kindle — you can download a Kindle reader app free for just about any kind of device from Amazon.

Business Writing – A Tip a Day for 30 Days Vol 1 is available free from 3 to 5 August.

Volume 2 is available free on 3 and 4 August, as is The Busy Person’s Guide to Networking: Maximum Benefit for Minimum Effort

Please tell anyone that you think will benefit! Enjoy.




Power Words


Power Words

Just moved apartment (from one side of the river in Prague to the other) and after a few days without my internet connection I was relieved to get it back today. To celebrate I decided to spend a little time browsing, fairly randomly, and see what I could find.

The reward for my effort was to find this blog post about power words. Now they’re not all words that you will be able to use in Business English, but some of them are. Some of them will find very comfortable homes in sales copy…

So enjoy exploring the lists and let me know if you find them useful.