Monday, March 18, 2013

The Weakest Link In Your Business Writing


My sister is big fan of the popular game show “The Weakest Link”, which has earned international success. It’s great show, in which contestants have to identify the weakest link from their follow players and get rid of them as quickly as possible.

What a great principle, and we can all easily use to improve our business writing skills and enhance corporate image. Business today is being conducted in a very formal way- in meetings and conferences we are using a natural, more relaxed language rather than stilted, formal language that was used several decades ago. So how come many people are still using business writing that is more suited to our great-grandfathers than to 21st –century businessmen and women? Here is what I believe to be 7 of the weakest links that I would like to eliminate from 21st –century business writing.

1. So many young people with so many old-fashioned expressions

When will people realize that business language has changed? Expressions like ‘Please to informed’, ‘Kindly advised’, ‘I would like to bring to your attention’ and ‘I am writing to advise you’ should have been relegated to the recycle bin way before the turn of the new millennium. Unfortunately today’s writing is still full of countries-old-expressions like these, not to mention even worse ones such as ‘Enclosed herewith please find our catelogue for your reference and perusal’, ‘With reference to your above-mentioned order’, ‘Further to the telecom today between your goodself and the udersigned’. This type of writing is BORING! People are using these standard clichés simply because everyone else uses them, and because they have been used for centuries. Please! Put some thought and personality and some feeling into your writing.

Instead of
We refer to your letter of 21st October

As spoken in our telecom today

Please revert to me soonest possible.

Should you require any further clarification
please do not hesitate to contact the

Thank you for your letter of 21

Thank you for calling me this morning.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Please give me a call on 2874722
if you have any questions.

2. So many long-winded expressions

Long words and long expressions, long sentences and long paragraphs will impress no one-they will only confuse. Later in this section I will talk about the KISS principle – Keep. It Short and Simple! Instead of ‘I should be very grateful’, why not simply say ‘Please’ (definitely not Kindly!). Use short words like buy, try, start and end instead of purchase, endeavor, commence and terminate. Remember to KISS in your business writing – use short words, simple expressions, short sentences and short paragraphs that are clear and concise.

3. Let’s get more active

Our great-grandfathers used passive voice in writing because they didn’t want to show who was responsible for anything. They preferred to use long sentences that beat about the bush but never revealed what was really happening and who was really responsible. Today’s business writers should use active voice, which is more alive, more focused, more personalized and much more interesting and clear.

Instead of
Arrangements have been made for a repeat
order to be dispatched to you immediately.

The cause of your complaint has been investigated.

The seminar will be conducted by Adrian Chan.

Sales of the X101 have exceeded all expectations.

I have arranged for a repeat order to be sent to you today.

I have looked into this matter.

Adrian Chan will conduct the seminar.

X101 sales have gone sky high.

4. Colons Colons Colons

Why is that many people have to put a line of colons in any list? It looks so cluttered and messy. Let’s get rid of all the clutter in our business writing, and make it look neat, clean and well organized.

Date       : 29 November 2003

Time      : 9.00am to 5.00pm

Venue    : Sheraton Hotel, Dhaka

Date        29 November 2003

Time       9.00am to 5.00pm

Venue     Sheraton Hotel, Dhaka

 5. Attention!

Our great-grandfathers invented the attention line (and they were not lazy – they wrote it in full, ‘For the attention of …’) because they were merely directing the letter to the desk of a real person, not writing personally to that person. In those days, even with the attention line, letters still began ‘Dear Sirs’ and the wording was formal and passive, as if talking to the company as a whole, not to a real individual person. Over the years the attention lines has been very much misused and lazy writers have abbreviated it to ‘Attention’ or even ‘Attn’. Attention lines today are being incorporated (wrongly) in personal letters with personal salutations such as ‘Dear John’, ‘Dear Mr Tan’. Let’s put the attention line in the recycle bin and relegate it firmly to the last century where it belongs. We rarely need it today. If you know the person to whom you are writing, and if you want to use a personal salutation, incorporate the addressee’s name and title into the address section.

Attn   : Leslle Lim Boon Hup

STP Distributors Pte Ltd (Books)
30 Old Toh Tuck Road #03-01
Thailand 57890

Mr Leslle Lim Boon Hup
STP Distributors Pte Ltd (Books)
30 Old Toh Tuck Road #03-01
Thailand 57890

6. Do you really need a line to sign your name on?

I thought it was only children who needed a line on which to write. Would managers really go into a fit if there was no line on which to sign their name? Would they really sit there and wonder where to put their signature? I really doubt it. Surely the space between ‘Yours sincerely’ and the writer’s name/title is indication enough that this is where the signature goes? Again this is something that we simply don’t need. Get rid of the line and let’s get rid of even more clutter in our writing.

Yours sincerely

Tan Lee Hong
Managing Director

7. Thank you!

Why do so many people need to say ‘Thank you’ at the end of a message? Thank you for what? For reading my letter? Stop wasting time and printer ink. If you have been courteous throughout your communication (and let’s face it, no matter what the circumstances, your writing should always be courteous) there should be no need to keep saying ‘Thank you’ over and over again just because someone read your letter or e-mail.

In today’s fast-paced business world, there should be no room for yesterday’s old-fashioned, long-winded jargon. Ditch the boring clichés that have been around for decades. Put some life into your business writing by using a natural, relaxed, friendly style. Put some zip into your presentation by using a style that is more proactive, stimulating and interesting – writing that reflects your personality. This is 2013, not 1913!


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