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.’
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.
Today I thought I’d write a few tips about business letter writing style. This list is adapted from Business English HQ.
Remember the ABCs. Audience, brevity, clarity. Next time you write a letter, think about the following:
- Use clear language. Avoid using long, complicated sentences. Use short, simple sentences that are easy for your reader. Business English HQ suggests twenty-five words or less.
- Write from your company’s perspective. Remember that whatever is read, outside of your organisation, represents the organisation. Show your strengths and the strengths of the company you work for.
- State your purpose in the first sentence. Get to the point quickly. People have so much information to process these days. Make your first sentence one which lets your reader know why you are writing.
- Keep your readers’ needs and interests in mind when you’re writing. Do they need facts, or interpretation? How much do they already know?
- Use lists—lists help you present information in short blocks and provide white space. These make your letter easier to read. Use parallel structures. By this I mean that all the verbs are in the same form. E.g. write, state, keep, use, etc.
- End your letter with a call to action. What do you want them to do? If you want a meeting, try “When can we meet to fine tune the details of the proposal?” Or if you need approval for something, “Please approve this proposal by close of business on Wednesday 24 June.”
A creative approach to editing
I found this blog post describing a creative approach to making sure your documents are the best that they can be, and wanted to share it with you. For all of you who love colour 🙂 Thanks for the idea Copyblogger.
PS Today’s photo is one I took during my Prague years – a humorous take on pedestrian lights by Czech artist David Cerny.
Following last week’s tip about redundancy I thought it might be useful to provide a list that includes some more, commonly-used, redundant expressions.
|Add an additional
||When you add something it is, by definition, additional.We added $3,000 to the budget.We added an additional $3,000 to the budget.The only time you might need additional is if you had already added something. So if you had added $2,000 to the budget last week, you might add ‘an additional $3,000’. (That is, if you’re budgeting skills are not so good!)
||If you plan something, it is in advance of the event. The same goes for advance notice, advance warning and advance reservations. Giving notice, warning and making reservations are, by definition, done in advance.
|At the time when
||‘When’ is about time.We will start the project at the time when the new staff join the team.We will start the project when the new staff join the team.
||Result is what happens at the end, so ‘end’ is redundant. You may have ‘preliminary results’ which imply that something isn’t finished, and these could be followed by a ‘final result’. But the end result of this discussion is that we don’t need ‘end’.
|Classify into groups
||Classifying is putting things into groups so there is no need to add ‘into groups’.We classified the responses into groups according to size.We classified the responses according to size.
||A breakthrough is a significant event. It does not need ‘major’.After 10 days effort, the team had a breakthrough and worked out how to solve the production problem.
||This is frequently used in conversation, but we don’t need it when we write. We wrote down notes during the presentation. We wrote notes during the presentation.
There are thousands of common redundancies. I’ve highlighted a few so you understand that you can often remove words that you don’t need.
That said there are some that are so common, that it is likely their use will continue forever. Think about these.
- Free gift
- Added bonus
- All-time record
- Cameo appearance
PS Today’s photo is of the beautiful Gibraltar Falls near Canberra.
Have you noticed that when we’re speaking, whether we are giving a presentation or carrying on a conversation, we often repeat ourselves, using different words. We say things a number of times in different ways. Like I’ve just done. When we say the same things in different ways we call it ‘redundancy’.
The amount of redundancy is one of the major differences between written and spoken English. It’s very common in spoken English but not so common when we write. Usually when we write we only express each idea once. This is because we are striving for the ABCs—Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity.
But it’s not just repeating ideas. There is one expression I see regularly in written English, which I would say is not ‘good’ English.
Here it is:
The reason I am writing this is because I want you to understand that in business English it is a good idea to remove redundancy.
The word ‘because’ is always about the reason. It implies ‘reason’.
So for the sake of ABC:
I am writing this because I want you to understand that in business English it is a good idea to remove redundancy.
So I am writing this blog post because I want to make it clear that when you use ‘because’ you don’t need to include ‘the reason is’. (Not, “So, the reason I am writing this blog post is because …”)
Today’s image is courtesy of Niels Heidenreich (https://www.flickr.com/photos/schoschie/3182804947)