The 10 Worst Business Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Clients, supervisors, even coworkers may not even always know they’re doing it — but they’re judging you on your written communication skills. And if you’re consistently missing the mark and letting incorrect word choice, poor writing, or bad grammar slip through, it’s reflecting on your professionalism and it’s damaging your credibility. It could even be stalling your career!
The following are common ‘sins’ many writers commit. Be sure your writing is clear of them.
1. Writing with a ‘writer’ focus rather than a ‘reader’ focus
‘I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere wish that our conference will be attended by you. I am sure we will make it well worth your time because we have spent the past six months planning every detail. Look for us at the reception table!’
- What’s in it for the reader?
- How could I use more of the second person?
‘In the majority of cases, such evidence appears to be suggestive of the possibility that said material has the capability of producing an inhibitory effect on and in fact serves the function of being considerably less than desirable for ingestion on the part of human beings or other intelligent living organisms.’
- Edit ruthlessly! One word is better than two, but clarity is better than brevity.
- How would I say it over the telephone?
3. Negative words and expressions
‘If you do not pay this bill within 30 (thirty) days, we will have no choice but to take further legal action that will result in the termination of your account.’
- Stress the positive
- Provide good news
4. Qualifiers and vague expressions
‘It appears that the rather urgent project should be submitted as soon as possible.’
- Take a stand and be specific
- Omit qualifiers—sort of, rather, quite, somewhat, almost
5. Clichés and jargon
‘In reference to the sweeping changes brought into necessity by circumstances beyond our control, please be advised that pursuant to our conversation we acknowledge receipt of the above referenced letter.’
- Write the way you speak
- Use jargon ONLY when you know your readers will understand it
6. Passive voice
‘The final edit was approved.’
- State the subject (the doer of the action)
- Place the subject of each sentence BEFORE the object (the receiver of the action)
7. Incomprehensible sentences
‘The program is being cancelled because gasoline sales tax revenues are down since this year’s lack of snow has kept tourists away from the ski slopes and program costs are funded by the gas tax.’
- Not too long—the ideal length for most business writing is 10 – 12 words
- Only ONE main topic per sentence
8. Impersonal style
‘It has come to the attention of this writer that the utilization of the client’s facility shall commence on the primary day of the calendar year previously agreed to by all parties.’
- Don’t be afraid to use personal pronouns
- The best-read word in the English language is ‘you’
9. Poor grammar
‘The many changes that have taken place in technology includes the countless options available in communication.’
- Befriend your grammar and style guides
- Proof-read carefully
10. Inflexibility with grammar
‘This is the type of errant pedantry, up with which I will not put.’ — Winston Churchill, upon being criticized for ending a sentence with a preposition
- The main goal of writing is to communicate
- When you write something that sounds awkward to you, rephrase it
- Know your reader
Exceptions and When it’s OK to break grammar rules:
- Ending sentences with prepositions
- Splitting infinitives
- Beginning sentences with conjunctions
- Repeating words
- Using ‘I’