In previous posts, we’ve discussed improving your business writing by getting to the point, using simple language, and using the active voice. We’ve also talked about avoiding jargon, tautologies, platitudes, truisms, and obvious statements. This time, we’re talking about keeping sentences short and making sure your language is specific.
Use Short, Declarative Complete Sentences
When it comes to writing, clearer is better. An easy way to write clearly is to use short, declarative sentences. For example, consider this statement:
An unwitting insider is someone in your organisation who inadvertently helps an outside attacker and they can be a threat; in 2015, Wellpoint (then the second-largest healthcare insurer in the US) revealed that information from 78 million customers had been stolen, constituting the largest data breach from a healthcare provider in US history—and it all began when a single user at a Wellpoint subsidiary clicked on a phishing email . . . that single user is an example of an unwitting insider.
That statement is 80 words broken into only one sentence. A better way to write it is:
However, insiders can unwittingly be a threat too. An unwitting insider is someone in your organisation who inadvertently helps an outside attacker. In 2015, Wellpoint, then the second-largest healthcare insurer in the US, revealed that information from 78 million customers had been stolen. It was the largest data breach from a healthcare provider in US history, and it all began when a single user at a Wellpoint subsidiary clicked on a phishing email. That person is an example of an unwitting insider. Source.
Although the wording is largely the same, it’s now five sentences. An easy way to shorten sentences is to hunt down semi-colons, em dashes (these things), ellipses, and swap them out for periods. Then re-work the sentence to make it grammatically accurate.
If your sentences are still too long, consider eliminating parentheticals. You can also try cutting down on commas. If you have a sentence with five or more commas, see if you can break it up into multiple sentences.
Business writing has a tendency to be overly broad. Consider the following two statements:
Statement one: Corporate structure should support strategies based upon mission-focused hierarchy. We should optimize our utilization of employees and core assets for increased productivity, streamlining, and innovation.
Statement two: The most important thing for us right now is shipping our new product, Widget 2.0. Therefore, we’re shifting 20% of the budget to the Widget 2.0 team. Also, the following employees are joining the Widget 2.0 team for the next two weeks . . .
Instead of broad generalizations, be specific. Good business writing says exactly who is doing exactly what for exactly what amount of time with exactly what amount of money.
The Bottom Line
When writing, remember KISS: Keep It Simple and Specific. Is your writing brief enough to hold your readerships attention? And is it specific enough to make exactly the point you want it to make?