I wasn’t surprised when I read an article recently saying that our culture is going through a “forgiveness moment.” Lately, it seems every time I hear the news there is someone — a politician, a media figure, a religious leader —apologizing for something. For instance, there was former CBC journalist Evan Solomon apologizing for using his position to access wealthy art buyers. Even the Pope asked for forgiveness for something that happened in the Middle Ages.
One hopes, of course, that the person apologizing is sincere. Part of the reason that phrases like “I’m sorry” have such an impact is it’s not just about the person speaking them; it’s the words themselves. They’re simple and straightforward. It’s difficult to mistake their meaning. It’s this kind of clarity we all need to strive for in our business communications.
Creating simply worded business communications is one of the reasons that “plain English” or “plain language” is such a powerful tool. It’s also why the Plain English Campaign presents the annual “Golden Bull Award” to organizations that create hilariously confusing written business communications.
But poor business communication really is no joke, particularly in how it reflects on you as a businessperson. And since the root of many of the problems in our written work comes down to unnecessarily complicated language, here’s a quick checklist that will help strengthen your writing.
The Language Lab’s Writing for Business Checklist for Keeping Writing Simple
Have you chosen everyday words?
“Agree,” instead of “accede to.”
“Despite,” instead of “notwithstanding.”
Have you used one word, instead of two words meaning the same thing? (Redundancy)
“Close,” instead of “close proximity.” “Exists,” instead of “already exists.”
Have you avoided unnecessarily turning verbs and adjectives into nouns? (Nominalization)
“The increase in theft is causing concern among local businesses,” instead of “Theft is increasing and local businesses are becoming concerned.”
Have you been precise?
For example: “Our hope is for a fifty percent increase in productivity,” instead of “Our hope is for a massive increase in productivity.”
Have you gotten right to your point, or have you backed into it?
“You need to call me as soon as possible,” instead of “The point I wish to make is that you should call me immediately, if not sooner.”
The above checklist should help you to keep your writing simple. Of course, if you do find yourself falling into the trap of overcomplicating your written work, you could always apologize to your readers!
If you have tips for how to keep writing simple, without confusing your readers, please contact me at The Language Lab. We’d love to hear your ideas.