‘Just write the way you speak.’ How often do you hear that advice?
That can be fine in an informal situation, but is generally not useful in business and technical writing.
When we speak, we frequently use ‘fillers’ to give ourselves time to think what to say next. Fillers may be as simple as um, you know, I think… or they may be clichés, tautologies, using long-winded or vague phrases (often called waffle), or a ‘posh’ word instead of a simpler one.
When we write, we have more time to consider our words and to review them before sending them off.
In fact, we must if we want our readers to clearly and easily understand our message.
These are words and phrases that have been used so much that they’ve lost their real meaning
and their effectiveness.
Generally, clichés have been around for a long time, or they could be the latest techno-speak or management buzz word.
In themselves, there’s nothing wrong with them, but they’ve become boring or taken on an indefinite meaning.
Phrases like: a window of opportunity the bottom line
the greatest thing since sliced bread move the goalposts
Our aim is to find fresh ways to express our thoughts so that our readers remain engaged with our message.
‘Our bottom line is to minimise disruptions.’ tells a story,
but ‘Minimising disruptions is our main objective.‘
is a stronger message that focuses the readers’ attention on the more important part of the sentence.
‘Using more words than necessary to express a thought’, or ‘saying the same thing twice’ are the classic definition of tautology (or pleonasm if you want to show off).
When you really listen, you’ll be able to hear so many tautologies in everyday speaking. Unfortunately, you’ll also read far too many of them.
PIN number (Personal Identification Number number) free gift extra bonus
ATM machine (Automatic Teller Machine machine) past history future plans proceed forward 5 am in the morning unite together true fact
‘when I first began the project…’ new innovations
as a consequence of… (because) in the event of… (if) in view of the fact that… (because)
upon the occurrence of… (when) in the course of… (during)
I was forced to have to… (I was forced to… or I had to…)
These chemicals are subject to rapid deterioration. (These chemicals deteriorate rapidly.)
A summary of these findings is given in Table 16. (Table 16 summarises these findings.)
Tissue sample dissection was performed. (The tissue sample was dissected.)
Reducing waffle and long-windedness sharpens your writing and takes your readers to the crux of your message in the most direct way – without being brusque or rude, of course.
My general ‘rule’ is to choose a simpler word if there is one.
utilise (use) endeavour (try) initialise (begin) transmit (send)
fabricate (make) ascertain (find out)
Of course, it’s fine if you’re using a word in its technical sense where it has a specific meaning.
Keep your writing clear, engaging and sharp.
Make sure you review before you send.
Focus on your readers.
I’d love you to add to my collection Writing Sharpeners – either more of the ones I’ve mentioned or other tips that will help business and technical writers.