When to Start a New Paragraph

There is nothing more ominous to the time-pressed reader than a dense paragraph taking up half or more of a page. This not only dilutes your message; it runs the real risk of the reader simply skimming the page and ignoring vital information. Effective business writers make use of short, crisp paragraphs to develop points, clarify ideas or signal a change in direction. The reader can then locate specific information. Short paragraphs also open up white space on the page, a blessing to the weary-eyed reader. When you have a clearly defined topic sentence, the supporting details should … [Read more...]

The Structure of Paragraphs

Proper, effective paragraphs should have a structure. This gives clear, confident direction to the reader and presents a logical flow to the material. The three main components of a paragraph are the topic sentence, supporting details and a closing sentence. (i) The topic sentence introduces the main idea of the paragraph. You should spend time developing three or four key topic sentences in a business letter. These can become the basis for your response or explanation to an external source. Ask yourself: What points do I want to make in this business letter? What exact messages do I … [Read more...]

Don’t do the Run-Around: Avoid Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences represent a significant problem in business writing today. The examples of improperly constructed sentences can be obvious (often referred to as “spliced” or “fused” structures) or subtle (typically involving lengthy complex-compound sentences that should be broken down). The fused sentence contains no internal punctuation, such as commas or semicolons. The splice, in which two or more sentences are joined by a comma, is another form of run-on sentence. The complex run-on sentence contains too much information and too many supporting clauses. The result is confusion for … [Read more...]

Frequently Mistaken Words

Have you ever come across these “twin” words? It’s amazing how many times they are misused in a sentence. Keep an eye out for these pairings that often confuse business writers.   Adverse . . . . opposed, unfavorable Averse. . . . . . unwilling, reluctant (Especially when used with risk-averse, not risk-adverse)   Affect . . . .verb, to influence Effect . . . .noun, outcome, result, also verb, to cause to happen (i.e. to effect change)   Altogether. . . . completely All together . . .collectively   Beside . . . . alongside Besides. . . . in … [Read more...]

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...]