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 allegations.

Active Example: The committee responded to the allegations.

You can see how, in the active voice, the subject of the sentence (the committee) is the agent of the verb’s action.

Passive Example: A profit loss of $10 million was experienced by the brand product.

Active Example: The brand product lost $10 million.

Passive Example: A survey of patient needs was undertaken by the regulatory body.

Active Example: The regulatory body took a survey of patient needs.

In some cases, it may be appropriate to use the passive voice. This occurs in situations when you want to avoid directly identifying or emphasizing the actor or “doer” in a sentence. For example, this could involve a negative situation.

In this case, instead of:

Active Voice: John Smith forgot to include the correct budget projection in the medical document, which resulted in an unfavourable regulatory assessment.

You could use:

Passive voice: The correct budget projection was inadvertently left out of the medical document, which resulted in an unfavourable regulatory assessment.

In general, it is best to avoid the passive voice in business writing. However, there are occasions when its judicious use is required for tact and diplomacy in documents.


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