By Tina Arnold, M.A.
Do you remember having to write 3-5-page papers when you were in junior high? When you became a high school student, your teachers probably asked you to write 10-15-page papers. By the time you were in college, your professors required 20-page, 30-page, or even 100-page papers! If you were like most academic writers, you learned to write long, elaborate sentences as you struggled to meet minimum page requirements. The more words you could string together, the better your chances were of receiving a good grade.
Fast forward to the world of business. After we finished school and went to work, the rules of the game changed. Why? In the business world, wordy documents (including e-mails, letters, reports, and proposals) work against us. Business readers prefer clear, concise documents. They simply don’t have time to read the kinds of documents we wrote for our English teachers and college professors. To be effective business writers, we have to unlearn the style of writing we learned in school, and that can be difficult.
Don’t worry?I’m going to share a simple writing tip that will help you write more concisely for business. Here’s my tip: Change wordy noun phrases to simple action verbs. To illustrate this technique, I’ve provided a few examples.
Original: We made a decision to bring about a cancellation of the national recruitment campaign.
Revision: We decided to cancel the national recruitment campaign.
See the difference? In the revised version, I changed the wordy noun phrase “made a decision” to the concise verb “decided.” I also changed the wordy noun phrase “to bring about a cancellation of” to the concise verb “to cancel.” In so doing, I reduced the number of words in the sentence from 14 to 8. I can convey the same message using about half the words. The original version shows the kind of writing that worked well in school. The revision shows the kind of writing that works well in business: clear, concise, and to the point.
Here’s another example:
Original: Her preference was for the lower-priced model.
Revision: She preferred the lower-priced model.
In this example, I changed the wordy noun phrase “preference was for” to the concise verb “preferred.” If your business writing is too wordy, can you see how this writing technique will help you write more concisely? Here’s one more example:
Original: Carol was in agreement with John’s comment.
Revision: Carol agreed with John’s comment.
In this example, I changed the wordy noun phrase “was in agreement” to the concise verb “agreed.”
By changing wordy noun phrases to simple action verbs, you’ll shorten your business documents, which will make them more effective. Today’s business readers are overloaded with work; as a result, they’re more willing to read short, concise documents than long, wordy ones. Begin using this writing technique to produce clear, concise business documents, because e-mails, letters, reports, and proposals are only effective if people take the time to read them.
Of course, if you decide to go back to school, be prepared to use those noun phrases when your professor asks you to turn in a 30-page paper!
Tina Arnold is president of Verbal Advance LLC, a training company dedicated to helping business people communicate clearly, confidently, and effectively.