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Do you make your English teacher cringe?

2 min read


This post is by Michelle Cubas, founder of Positive Potentials, an advanced enterprise coaching, training, consulting and publishing company.

Remember when you thought using big words would make you sound smarter or you would have a verbal duel with someone to upstage that person? Those days of bloated language are finished.

Today’s business standard is plain English. It means direct communication and emphasizes clarity and brevity, not industry jargon or technical language. This style is the standard for people writing for a general audience, including white papers, speeches, manuals and instructions, presentations and spoken language.

To improve your writing style, try these tips for two weeks and evaluate your progress:

  • Find an editorial buddy. Consider someone in your immediate circle whom you trust and admire for his or her writing. Arrange with that person to review and share feedback on important documents you intend to distribute.
  • Ask: What is the purpose of your message? Begin with a simple outline. Write the point you want to make at the top of the page as a reference. This is especially useful when writing e-mails. Track your tone and intention — what you really want to say and what you want the audience to take away. These elements are essential in written communication, in which nonverbal cues are missing. Read your work aloud.
  • Remember the five W’s. Remember who, what, where, when and why? They are your guide to clear communication.
  • Check for accuracy. This is particularly important in the digital arena.
  • Check for “interrupters.” Beware of homonyms, such as “their” and “there.” Spell-check will not save you here! Even nonexpert readers subliminally detect usage and spelling errors that interrupt the flow of ideas and become irritated.
  • Remove extraneous phrases, clichés and poor word choices. For example, “Finally” can replace “When all is said and done,” and “use” is generally better than “utilize.”
  • Avoid using social media language abbreviations and symbols in e-mails or documents to strangers.

What are your favorite tips for clearer writing?

Image credit, Stefan_Redel, via