Writing doesn’t come easily for many people, but it’s a crucial skill to master in business—and in life.
Clear, concise prose is essential, whether you’re preparing an internal company memo, creating a proposal for a client, emailing your boss about a concern or compiling a newsletter. Strong writing skills will serve you well throughout your career.
Here are 13 writing tips to remember, no matter the audience:
1. Write short sentences and paragraphs. If a sentence runs beyond two lines, break it up into smaller sentences. Paragraphs should rarely be more than three or four short sentences. Keep sentences and paragraphs concise.
2. Use simple words. Use use, not utilize. Try help instead of facilitate or start in place of commence. Straightforward language is best.
3. Cut out filler and fluff. Delete words such as “very,” “that,” “really” and “literally,” and go easy on the adjectives.
4. Use acronyms and other abbreviations sparingly. Use as few as possible—unless they are household names for your specific audience.
5. Avoid parentheses. If it’s not important enough to mention outside parentheses, delete it.
6. Tread lightly with puns. Humor can be a powerful, persuasive tactic, but corny or tasteless puns can tarnish your reputation and repel customers.
7. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. The definition of “buzzword” clarifies why you should avoid them: “Important-sounding usually technical words or phrases often of little meaning, used chiefly to impress laymen.”
8. Use active voice. Hot: The HR team answers employees’ questions. Not: Employees’ questions are answered by the HR team.
9. Lay off the adverbs. Erase those -ly modifiers in your prose; they’re seldom needed.
10. Avoid repetitive descriptors. “Her writing is clear, comprehensible, intelligible and understandable.” Pick one.
11. Don’t ramble or repeat yourself. Repetition is not persuasive; it’s annoying. Stick to the key points, and avoid going off on tangents.
12. Don’t make it about you. Put your reader first, and keep yourself in the background. Steer clear of ego writing. Focus on the message—not your own need to flex your expertise.
13. “Said” is fine. There’s no need to use claimed, insisted, asserted, opined, explained, noted, declared, stated or pronounced. Some of those words—especially “claim” and “insist”—can convey negative connotations. Just stick to “said.”
A version of this post first appeared on the Provident Communications blog.