by Branden R. Williams, CISSP, CISM
Have you noticed that most of the business writing you read is hard to understand? Or that the author did not run a simple grammar or spelling check? Complain if you must about Microsoft Word reminding you to use active voice and pointing out all your sentence fragments and verb agreement. Word’s spell check feature is good for creating a document without spelling flaws; but a perfectly spelled document can still be difficult to read or understand.
“Step 1: Extinguish the precipitous rubescent LED-based luminosity.”
Companies have developed a poor vernacular that removes the readability from memos, e-mails, policies, and other internal documents. We’ve all read language like what you see above and wondered, “Why can’t they just say ‘Turn off the solid red light?’” This is a major problem with writing in business. Often we write to try to sound smart; but instead our readers toss our writing in the garbage because they can’t understand it. Murky, jargon-laced writing does not make you smart, it makes you difficult to understand and ultimately an ineffective communicator.
William Zinsser highlights writing for business in his book “On Writing Well.” He says, “Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking.” It’s easy to use jargon, but hard to write in a manner that everyone can understand. Simple writing is usually the result of laborious rewriting and revising. Write (and rewrite) to a tenth-grade level and watch the clarity in your writing rise above your peers.
The other writing problem I often see is simply the abuse of our language. I’m not talking about the minor bruises from ending a sentence with a preposition, or adding ‘ize’ to any noun or adjective to make it into a verb (can we PLEASE stop that). I’m referring to the bludgeoning caused by poor sentence construction, overuse of passive voice, and cluttering phrases such as “due to the fact that” and “it should be noted.” Microsoft Word’s grammar check can only do so much. Reading your writing aloud can catch much more.
One way to remove the excess clutter from your sentences is to remove words and see if the sentence changes meaning. If the words are required to keep the meaning the same, then leave them in. Otherwise, use that delete key! Zinsser says that he hates writing, but loves rewriting.
The moral of this column is to take the time to ensure that every word plays its part in the end, just like a composer scrutinizes every note in his symphony. Better writing output shows that you care about your legacy. Just a small amount of time spent learning the language will demonstrate your utility and ensure you a spot at the top!
About the Author:
Branden R. Williams is an Information Technology and Strategy Leader sought after by the world’s foremost corporate executives. His rare combination of technology and business expertise have gained him respect and recognition among global top named clients and industry insiders. To learn more about Branden and his expertise visit his website.