Ten Business Writing Blunders You Can Easily Avoid


Most of us are too busy busy about what we're writing to think about how we're writing it. But in business communication, having command of a clear, readable style is essential to getting your point across.

Here are ten types of sentence blunders to avoid if you want your reader to get what you mean and do not have to stumble through what you write.

1. Run-On Sentences. You know the ones: they drag on and on, packing a paragraph's worth of details into a single sentence. Short sentences are easier to understand than long ones; they provide information in bits and pieces instead of a flood. In most business writing, aim for an average sentence length of 20 or fewer words. Note that this is an average, not a ceiling – the best writing contains both long and short sentences to keep it interesting.

2. Pompous Sentences. Many business writers use a phrase or a whole clause when a well-chosen verb would be much clearer. They do so to try to make themselves appear more knowledgeable or articulate than they actually are. Do not fall prey to this error by using big words or trite expressions – keep your writing at the level of your reader.

3. Overloaded Sentences. Such sentences are bloated with excess words. The passive voice is a common culprit, adding unnecessarily to the word count. Redundancies are also to blame – verbose phrases can usually be replaced with one or two words, making your sentences concise and meaningful.

4. Undue Enthusiasm. An occasional intensifier lends emphasis, but using too many can ruin your writing and give the impression that you're not being genuine. Otherwise, you come across like the literary version of a game-show host – wear that grin too bright for too long, and it will lose its meaning.

5. Crowded-Together Sentences. Many writers tend to try to connect a series of related sentences with conjunctions such as "and" instead of ending each with a period. In many cases these sentences can be improved and shortened by using only one subject.

6. Hedging Sentences. It is tempting to insert "it sees that" or "there appears to be" in your sentences in order to avoid firing a judgment as a fact. But when you have too many such hedges, particularly in the same sentence, you are not really saying anything. More often than not, your reader will know what is fact and what is inference.

7. Slow Starter. Starting a sentence with "it is" or "there are" simply delays getting to your point. Compare: "It would be appreciated if you could send the files immediately," versus "Please send the files immediately."

8. Nonparallel Sentences. Two or more similar (parallel) ideas should be presented in the same pattern, whether within sentences or between sentences. Lack of parallelism creates an awkward style. For example, the clauses in this sentence are not parallel: "Mr. Reynolds dictated the letter and next he signed it, and left the office." Compared that to this: "Mr. Reynolds dictated the letter, signed it, and left the office."

9. Awkward Pointers. To save words, business writers will often point readers' attention back with expressions like "as stated above," "the aforementioned," "the former." "the latter," and so on. Doing so is a distraction to the reader and is usually unnecessary. If a reference does need to be made, it's better to name or restate the specific thing being referred to.

10. Misassembled Sentences. A misassembled sentence is one in which an element is in the wrong place. The most common misplacement is at the beginning of the sentence, creating a "dangling modifier." Take this awkward example: "Walking the office, a red sports car passed him." Moving the modifier is an easy solution here: "A red sport car passed him while he was walking to the office."


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