Shirley's Articles / Business Writing

Business Writing Yesterday And Today

With the ever-increasing speed of technological change, we all need to stay up-to-date with new equipment and new computer programs. As soon as a new version of a popular program becomes available, we must learn it. When some new technology comes out, we have to have it. In line with technological developments, the way business is conducted generally has changed immensely over the last couple of decades. Business is being conducted in a much more informal way — a natural, informal, more relaxed language is being used in meetings and conferences rather than stilted, formal language.

It seems we are now writing more than ever. Most managers are creating their own communications – letters, memos, faxes, reports, articles, marketing materials, and especially emails. Especially in this global age, speed is often the key to successful negotiations, so writing effectively under these circumstances is often very demanding.

Email has promised us a future of minimum effort and maximum communication. Where once words were the signs of ideas, now words are being replaced by signs themselves ;-). Despite this, there is one huge anomaly that holds out against this torrent of speed and ultra-efficiency. Despite the growth of email and the new jargon it has introduced, it seems our skill in business writing has evolved very little. Age-old conventions are still being dredged up from the very core of our beings. Somewhere deep within each of us there seems to be a hoard of standard phrases and old-fashioned clichés that are just waiting to be included even in today’s modern emails.

Each office has someone who is intoxicated with the exuberance of their own verbosity. Phrases like “We have received your letter” and “Kindly be advised,” and “Please find enclosed herewith” are recycled regularly. For such people all correspondence has to be peppered with these standard clichés made up by our great-grandfathers. What a paradox to use such convoluted language in today’s business world that runs at 200 beats a minute!

Including stuffy formalities like this in business writing serves only to obscure the meaning, and spinning out sentences makes them intolerably long. The reader often ends up searching for the real meaning in this haystack of rhetoric.

This is 2002, not 1902! The speed of sound is old hat today. People want the speed of thought! If you are still peppering your writing with expressions like “Please be informed,” “Kindly be advised,” “I would like to bring to your attention” and “I am writing to advise you”, then you aren’t doing yourself or your company any favours – and you are certainly not helping your readers. Such phrases have only one place in today’s business language – the trash bin. Instead of “I should be very grateful” we should simply say “Please.” Short words like buy, try, start and end should be used instead of purchase, endeavour, commence and terminate. With commas, the rule is now less rather than more. Use short words, simple expressions, short sentences and short paragraphs that are clear and concise, instead of long-winded old-fashioned jargon that is sure to confuse.

Are you still using standard boring clichés like “Please find enclosed,” “Enclosed herewith please find our catalogue for your reference and perusal,” “Below-mentioned please note,” “With reference to your above-mentioned order,” “Further to the telecon today between your goodself and the undersigned,” “Should you require any further clarification please do not hesitate to contact me”? If so, perhaps it’s time to take a good look at your business language and decide how you can bring it up-to-date and in line with the 21st century standards?

Effective communication gives a professional impression of you and of your organisation. Effective communication helps to get things done. Writing effectively is perhaps the most demanding work we do. Writing requires imagination, creativity, organisation, careful planning and many other skills if a message is to be effective and get results. In today’s fast-paced business world, there should be no room for yesterday’s old-fashioned, long-winded jargon. Today’s business language should be proactive, stimulating, interesting, and most of all, it should reflect your own personality. Instead of using boring clichés that have been around for decades, the key is to write in a natural style, as if you are having a conversation. So, when you are composing any business document in future, ask yourself: “If I was speaking to the recipient, would I say this?” and remember: if you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it!

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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