Business Writing Tip # 16 – Cut it out

If you don’t need a word, remove it.

If it doesn’t add anything to the meaning that needs to be there, get rid of it. Be ruthless. Often when we write more words, rather than less, we obscure the meaning, or make it harder for our reader to understand what we really want to say. When you edit your work (you do edit before you send, don’t you?), check for these. Your readers will thank you for it.

Tautologies

The main offender in this category is the wonderful, often amusing, tautology – that is, when we say the same thing, over and over, again and again in different ways. Listen to people speaking and you’ll hear it all the time. It’s amazing how often we repeat ourselves. But it’s out of place in business writing.

  • You don’t want to repeat yourself, over and over, again and again.
  • You don’t want to return back.
  • Please rewrite the report again. (This could be okay. You might have already rewritten the report once.)

    If it’s not useful, cut it out.

Emphasis

Then of course there are the words that we use to intensify another word. But take care. ‘Very’ before ‘large’ or ‘small’ is fine. But ‘very’, ‘quite’, ‘exceptionally’ and the like have no place anywhere near ‘unique’. It is unique, or it is not – there are no degrees of uniqueness. So cut them out.

Also avoid having strings of modifiers. ‘The tiniest, smallest minority voted against it.’ A ‘small minority’ does the same work, more elegantly.

Officialiese

Next there is officialese. Which of the following is easiest to read and understand?

‘I refer you to the matter previously discussed in this forum and to the minutes of the meeting of 18 August 2012. In accordance with our previous agreement I would appreciate it if you could sign them and return them promptly to my office before the end of the month, 31 August, to ensure that we have a record of you having seen them. Thanking you in anticipation.’

‘Please take a look at the minutes of the 18 August 2012 meeting, sign them, and return them to me by the end of the month. Thank you.’

Unnecessary Auxiliaries

Unnecessary auxiliaries also give an air of officialdom. This example is from Joe Glaser’s Understanding Style.

‘Students would be well advised to keep a journal, for this can help them consolidate what they may have learned.’

‘Students, keep a journal to consolidate what you learn.’

Elongating usages

These are where we use a string of words when one word, or a shorter string, will perform the task perfectly well. Here are some examples:

Old Fashioned Modern Business English
The way in which he spoke to me The way he spoke to me
As a result of the fact that Because
To make an application To apply
It is recommended that training be instigated [We] should start training
In the most efficient manner Efficiently
At that point in time Then
At this point in time Now

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