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Write To Inform, Not To Mystify: Plain English Made Simple
(Marketing Memo, June, 2008)

The goal of business writing is to convey your thoughts to your readers, not to mystify them with fancy language. Business writing experts recommend using "plain English" when you write for work. This means using common words in sentences that readers can understand without having to reread them. Here are seven of my favorite writing tips:

Divide and conquer. If you have crammed too many ideas into in one sentence, your ideas will be hard to unpack. Divide the sentence in two, and remove unrelated ideas and extra words, phrases, and clauses.

  • Problem: Companies talk about Software as a Service (SaaS), which might mean running their data on another company's servers, which introduces concerns about controlling and securing data, plus concerns about the host company's hiring and security practices.
  • Solution: Companies talk about Software as a Service (SaaS), which could mean running their data on a vendor's servers. Before subscribing to SaaS, companies should ask about the vendor's data security policies.

Remember that "more is not necessarily better." Eliminate redundant expressions, such as "new innovation" and "first and foremost," as well as other repetitive words.

Substitute a noun or pronoun for fill expressions, such as "there is" and "it appears."

  • Problem: It appears that the best way for saving electricity is for you to install compact fluorescent bulbs. (17 words)
  • Solution: You should install compact fluorescent bulbs to save electricity. (9 words)

Save learned words for crossword puzzles. Say "use," not "utilize," and "consists of," not "is comprised of." Mark Twain observed in Simplified Spelling, 1906, "I never write metropolis for seven cents because I can get the same price for city.…"

Avoid using jargon. If you use jargon when writing for lay people, you will confuse them. Adjust the language you use to meet the needs of your audience.

Omit Clichés. "At the end of the day" and "playing on a level playing field" are trite expressions that annoy, rather than enlighten, readers. Here is a new cliché.

  • Problem: Employees should bring any questions or concerns they may have about the company's stock directly to the CFO for clarification.
  • Solution: If employees have questions about the company's stock, they should ask the CFO.

Use "they" instead of wordy gender neutral language. Replace wordy expressions, such as "his or her" with the neutral pronoun "they." Make nouns and pronouns consistent in number.

  • Problem: If someone hasn't yet submitted their employee survey, he or she should bring their survey to the HR department. (18 words and inconsistent use of number).
  • Solution: Employees should bring their completed surveys to the HR department. (10 words)

For more tips, see or download A Plain English Handbook.

Copyright © Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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