Let’s Agree: Subjects and Verbs in Your Writing

There are many examples of subject-verb disagreement that work their way into business writing. Here are some tips to avoid common traps. Many people ask: “Should the word ‘everyone’ be used with a singular or plural verb?” The indefinite pronouns – anyone, each, either/neither, every, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one and nobody – take a SINGULAR verb. Incorrect Example: Everyone of us here as individuals are the best and brightest. Correct Example: Everyone of us here as individuals is the best and brightest. Incorrect Example: Each of the protesters are right in … [Read more...]

Mind Your Pronouns In Business Writing

Incorrect use of pronouns is one of the most common grammar mistakes in business writing today. (1) Specifically, people get confused about when to use “I” or “me.” Here is the rule: “I” is always the subject of a verb. “Me” is the object of a verb or preposition. Incorrect Example: Send your invoices to Tony or I. (You would never say “Send your invoices to I.” One trick in getting this right is to mentally delete the “Tony or” clause and see how it sounds.) Correct Example: Kevin and I headed to the regulatory meeting. (“I” is the subject of the verb … [Read more...]

Avoid Stuffiness In Your Business Writing And Editing

It’s amazing how many duplicate terms have crept into business writing. These are second nature for many people, but picking them out can reduce document length and sharpen meaning.  Let’s explore three areas: redundancies, prepositional fillers and jargon. Can you spot them in your writing? (1) Redundant Concise actual truth truth advance warning warning basic fundamentals fundamentals collaborate together collaborate commute back and forth commute component parts parts consensus of opinion consensus customary … [Read more...]

Keep It Brief

Do you ever wonder how that one-page letter suddenly turned into a three-page diatribe? Or why that “simple” report transformed into an unreadable treatise. There are many aspects to the wordiness problem – but there are also ways to solve it. Here are three areas to watch. (i)“It and There” Disease. This writing clutter problem is usually found at the beginning of cover letters or documents. It involves the unnecessary use of an anticipatory construction at the start of a sentence. Since the real message of the sentence follows this anticipatory phrase, just drop the “it, there” … [Read more...]

How To Eliminate Clutter From Your Business Writing Part 2

Verbs are the lifeblood of good business writing. If you choose strong ones, they’ll vitalize your writing. Select weak or “smothered” verbs, however, and your readers will suffer. A common problem with business writing today is smothering verbs by adding lifeless or dull phrases. For example, certain verbs, such as “to be/is, make, have and come” are often added on to verbs, with no effect beyond increased wordiness. Check your documents for the disease of smothering (is-ness, make-ness, etc.) and other similar constructions. Smothered Example: Cutting our department’s budget is another … [Read more...]

How To Eliminate Clutter From Your Business Writing

Wordiness and clutter have a way of creeping into all sorts of business correspondence. We are going to look at several ways to avoid this trap. We’ll start with use of the active, not passive, voice. The passive voice is arguably the biggest enemy of concise business writing. Passive construction shifts the subject, or actor, into a position following the verb, or action, as seen in the examples below. While the passive voice is not wrong grammatically, it is cumbersome, wordy and often vague. Passive Example: It was determined by the committee that a response was necessary to the … [Read more...]

Chopping Through Writer’s Block

Writer’s block usually occurs for one simple reason – people are not ready to write. Many think if they clear their schedule, get a coffee and sit down at the computer, this will grant them magical powers of inspiration. Instead, frustration is often the result. The two biggest enemies of effective business writing are (i) procrastination and (ii) impulsiveness. Procrastination involves writers spending long hours thinking about something they should be composing. To avoid getting started or perhaps from the worry that what they first write must be instantly correct, they stall and move on … [Read more...]

Having Troubles with Your Business Writing? Get It Down P.A.T.

Most examples of poor business writing can be traced to the root: the absence of a proper outline. Writers often begin without a clear sense of Purpose, Audience and Tone (P.A.T.). Writing with these things in mind will yield successful results because they show you have a plan for your readers – and you respect their time. Here are several points to consider when preparing a letter, report or memo. Purpose Why are you writing this particular letter, memo or report? (This is the single most important question to ask yourself in anything you write) What, When, Where and How – adopt … [Read more...]

How Do You E-Mail?

I sometimes come across e-mail messages that seem discourteous. I often know the people sending these missives – they don’t strike me as impolite. Yet their e-mails send a certain vibe: “I communicate like a robot, not a human.” There is no greeting, such as “Hi, Craig,” or salutation, like “Regards” or, to get crazy, “Thank you.” Instead, the message is abrupt, even clipped. I think the “disembodied” nature of the e-mail medium is partly to blame (I won’t even address texting or twitter here; that is for another time). You are not communicating directly with a person, but a screen. E-mail … [Read more...]