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The Plain English Approach to Business Writing

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The Plain English Approach to Business Writing

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Many times, simple is best. This is certainly true when it comes to writing well.

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Much of what passes for business writing today is so convoluted and pompous that it is difficult to understand. Here’s an example: “Subsequent to the adoption of the latest employee policy regulations-cum-guidelines, it is incumbent upon (said) employees to rigorously review the current documentation; and to then advise (or at the minimum, contact) management regarding any perceived, needed exceptions....” How about this instead: “Please review the proposed guideline changes, and let us know if they make sense and support current policies. If not, we’ll change them.” Far too many people think they need to write business prose with grandiose words and phrases, passive voice, third person and past tense, when actually such practices muddle their messages. Into the business-writing breach comes Edward P. Bailey Jr., a master of composition, and an expert at teaching people to write and speak plainly and simply. Although even the professor lapses into dullness now and then, getAbstract thinks that anyone who wants to write – and thus communicate – more effectively can learn a lot from reading this short, sensible book.


“Plain English”

The first and most important rule of English composition is to write in order to communicate, not to impress. Plain English means expressing your ideas in a simple, clear fashion. Make your sentences easy to read and understand. Write as you speak. Get to the point. Introduce your main subject up-front. Use simple words: for example, “near” not “close proximity to,” “try” not “endeavor,” “give” not “furnish,” and “begin” not “commence.” Similarly, choose “teacher” not “educator” and “lawyer” not “attorney.” Don’t use words to show off your vocabulary. Use them to communicate.

Consider this example from humorist and writer Russell Baker: “At the age of 80 my mother had her last bad fall.” In this sentence, Baker does not use any words with more than six letters. Most are half that long or less. Baker has a simple message to communicate: his aged mother suffered a bad fall, her last. He communicates this message perfectly. No elaboration. No words to impress. No unnecessary words at all. The point of good writing is to make the reader’s job easy, not hard. Of course, such writing is the opposite of verbose, showy business composition.

Avoid bureaucratic...

About the Author

Edward P. Bailey Jr. teaches business communication at Marymount University. He is an expert on writing and public speaking.

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    N. G. 3 days ago
    The tips are very useful
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    S. R. 7 years ago
    Interesting piece on Plain English with some good principles. It's a shame it doesn't follow suit (e.g. hardly any contractions etc.).