The growing ubiquity of e-mail means that everyone in business, from lords of finance to programmers who dream in code, needs to write intelligently. By using simple, clear, precise language--and following a few other basic writing rules--you can become a better communicator.
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1. Put metaphors on the back burner.
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you often see in print.
2. Use simple, concrete language.
Never use a long word where a short one will do. More often than not, an everyday word is better than a bookish one. Use simple, clear, precise language. Instead of mentioning "the current situation," explain exactly what it is.
3. Omit needless words.
Be ruthless about self-editing. If you don't need a word, cut it.
4. Stay active.
Never use the passive verb where you can use an active verb instead. Active verbs help energize your prose. Instead of writing "The meeting was led by Tom," write "Tom led the meeting".
5. Use English.
Never use jargon, a foreign phrase or a scientific word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Using jargon is lazy, and it clouds the message that you're trying to deliver. Using foreign language makes you look like a showoff.
6. Curb your enthusiasm.
Avoid overusing exclamation points. Use professional signoffs like "Best" or "Regards" instead of something cutesy like "xoxo."
7. Match your subject to your pronoun and verb.
This tip sounds obvious, but people often get it wrong. The number of the subject (whether it's singular or plural) determines the number of the verb. Use a singular verb form--and pronoun-- after nobody, someone, everybody, neither, everyone, each, either.
8. Limit your use of adverbs
Use a strong verb instead of a weak verb and an adverb. Instead of writing "Sales grew quickly," try "Sales accelerated."
9. Know when to use "that" and "which."
"That" usually introduces essential information in what is called a "restrictive clause." "Which" introduces extra information in a "nonrestrictive clause." Here's an example: "I'm interested in speaking with you about our new product, which has the potential to increase sales." The second clause provides extra information, and it isn't essential to the first clause. Therefore, "which" is correct. In a sentence such as "Computers are the only products that we sell," the clause "that we sell" is essential to the meaning of the sentence, so the correct word is "that." You can't remove the "that" clause without changing the meaning of the sentence.
10. Don't confuse "affect" and "effect."
Affect is a verb that means "to influence." "Effect" is a noun that means "result." "The weather affects our ability to travel, and had a terrible effect on our flight to New York."