Bad Business Writing: 6 Words You Use That Might Drive Your Co-Workers Insane

Adweek once estimated that the average person processes about 285 pieces of online content every day on social media, which roughly translates to an eye-popping 54,000 words. Or, the size of an average novel for those of you still into books.

In order to not drive your co-workers crazy with information overload, if you use certain words in your correspondence you need to eliminate them from your writing. Who knows if it is that one extra word you use that will make them cry like a baby at their desk?

And since we’re all for keeping America sane, here’s our list of the top six offenders in business communication today:


Unless you’re a teenage girl from a 1980’s movie, you should steer clear of using the word, “like” in your communications. According to The Daily Muse, frequently using “like” in any type of business communication is a big no-no for managers and employees. Usually, this pops up in conversation more than in print and is an indication you are speaking too fast for your brain to catch up so you use “like” as a filler word. For example, “Bob sent out, like, 250 invitations to the conference.”  A better way to say it is to find out exactly how many invitations Bob sent out (either it was 250 or it was not) and say the exact number. If it is unknown, say “Bob sent out nearly 250 invitations to the conference.”


2. Value, valued 

“Value” has become one of those words that now means the exact opposite of what it used to mean. In business today, telling someone that they have “value” to you or the company really means that they have one foot out the door and better watch their step or you’ll be calling security. If you truly value the person, tell them that you appreciate the work they do and give specifics. For example, “Jill, I appreciate the extra hours you put in on the Finster account this week. Because of you, we were able to complete it on time. Thank you!”


3. That
Even executives fall into using “that” too often, or even misusing it entirely. Many times, professionals believe dropping “that” into phrases like “my co-worker said that …” creates clarity, when “that” is only acting as a filler word. The phrase “my co-worker said …” is grammatically correct and just as clear without the use of the word “that.” However, it is acceptable to use it when dissing a co-worker who just got promoted ahead of you by saying, “She thinks she’s all that … (“and a bag of chips” can go unsaid as it is a little dated now).”  Although, if you do say the previous phrase at work repeatedly, it might be the real reason you got pushed aside for that promotion.


4. Very 
Professionals use the word “very” because they can’t think of a more appropriate word. For example, you might write in a report that a proposal was “very strong” when just saying it “was strong” is good enough. Some jokesters in your office may see you write it was “very strong” and then mockingly tell you that they thought the other proposal was “very, very strong,” so the second proposal is obviously better. Meanwhile, another co-worker chimes in that she thinks the third proposal was the best, or “very, very, VERY strong” with the ALL CAPS “very” giving it more emphasis. Focusing on not using “very” can help you be more precise as you plot revenge against your co-workers.


5. Individual 
The poster child of corporate-speak, using the word “individual” de-humanizes whomever you are talking about and automatically distances the reader from the writer/speaker. In certain areas, like law enforcement, this is acceptable. Saying “the individual exited the vehicle and eluded police” sounds better than, “He got out of the car and got away.” In the corporate mission statement world, you’ll hear companies brag that they “value the individual” which is another way of saying, “We don’t have any idea who any of you are.” For fun, check out and churn out passionless mission statements of your own.


6. Respectfully

This word is almost exclusively used as a formal closing in memos and emails. Usually to soften the blow of you denying the reader something they requested. Avoid using this word because it creates too somber a tone to your correspondence and is not actually respectful.  Terms such as “Regards” or “Best wishes” are fine if your correspondence is informal. Use “Sincerely yours” if it is more formal. Ignore your co-worker who says that “Huzzah” is OK, because it’s not unless you’re taking part in a Renaissance Festival.


BONUS: Writing “And/or”

Seriously? It’s either “and” or “or” and can’t be both. Putting a slash between the two words doesn’t change their meaning. Pick one and stick with it. Or don’t.


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