The growing ubiquity of e-mail means that everyone in business, from lords of finance to programmers who dream in code, needs to write intelligently. By using simple, clear, precise language - and following a few other basic writing rules - you can become a better communicator and improve the prospects for your career.
"Clarity is the most important characteristic of good business writing," says Mignon Fogarty, creator of the "Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" podcast. "Often businesspeople will use big $10 words because they want to sound intelligent. Instead, they end up sounding like they're trying too hard."
Start by using short, declarative sentences. Never use a long word where a short one will do. (No need to write "utilize" when "use" works just as well.) Be ruthless about self-editing; if you don't need a word, cut it.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or any kind of jargon if you can think of an English equivalent. Regardless of how many times your managers ask you to "circle back," or "move the needle forward," take a stance against painful business jargon. These expressions may sound important - and like the official language of a club you'd like to join - but they make no sense.
When you're composing an e-mail, say what you need to say, and move on. If your big idea isn't in the first paragraph, move it there. If you can't find it, rewrite. "Simplicity doesn't mean simplicity of thought," says Kara Blackburn, a lecturer in managerial communication at MIT Sloan School of Management. "Start by asking yourself what you want the person to do as a result of this e-mail. Just asking yourself that question can make your communication much clearer."
Use plain English, and be specific. Instead of mentioning "the current situation," explain exactly what it is, whether it's low company morale, or an SEC investigation.
Curb your enthusiasm. Avoid overusing exclamation points, regardless of how energized or friendly you might feel. Choose professional sign-offs like "Best" and "Regards" over the too-cute "xoxo."
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