Shirley's Articles / Business Writing

Seven Deadly Sins Of Business Writing

Business today is being conducted in a very informal way – in meetings and conferences we are using a natural, informal, more relaxed language, rather than stilted, formal language that was used several decades ago. So how come many people are still using business writing that is more suited to our great-grandfathers rather than 21st Century businessmen and women?

Here are my impressions of business writing today in the form of seven deadly sins.

1. So many young people with so many old-fashioned expressions

When will people realise that business language has changed? Expressions like “Please be informed,” “Kindly be advised,” “I would like to bring to your attention” and “I am writing to advise you” should have been relegated to the recycle bin way before the turn of this new millennium! Unfortuntately today’s writing is still full of centuries-old expressions like these, not to mention even worse ones like “Enclosed herewith please find our catalogue for your reference and perusal”, “With reference to your above-mentioned order,” “Further to the telecon today between your goodself and the undersigned,” This type of writing is BORING! People are using these standard, boring clichés that have been used for years simply because everyone else uses them, and has used them for centuries! Please! Put some thought and personality and some feeling into your writing!

Instead of Say
We refer to your letter of 21st October 2013. Thank you for your letter of 21 October.
As spoken in our telecon today. Thank you for calling me this morning.
Please revert to me soonest possible. I hope to hear from you soon.
Should you require any further clarification please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned. Please give me a call on 2874722 if you have any questions.

2. Do some KISSing

Long words and long expressions, long sentences and long paragraphs will impress no-one – they will only confuse! Remember the KISS principle – Keep it Short and Simple! Instead of “I should be very grateful” why not simply say “Please” (definitely not Kindly!) Use short words like buy, try, start and end instead of purchase, endeavour, commence and terminate. Remember to KISS in your business writing – use short words, simple expressions, short sentences and short paragraphs that are clear and concise!

Instead of Say
purchase buy
transmit send
provide give
sufficient enough
terminate end
endeavour try
commence start
in spite of the fact that despite
in view of the fact that as
in the event that if

3. Let’s get more active

Our great-grandfathers used passive voice in writing because they didn’t want to show who was responsible for anything. They preferred to use long sentences that beat about the bush but never revealed what was really happening and who was really responsible. Today’s business writers should use active voice, which is more alive, more focussed, more personalised and much more interesting and clear.

Instead of Say
Arrangements have been made for a repeat order to be despatched to you immediately. I have arranged for a repeat order to be sent to you today.
The cause of your complaint has been investigated … I have looked into this matter …
The seminar will be conducted by Shirley Taylor. Shirley Taylor will conduct the seminar.
Sales of the X101 have exceeded all expectations. X101 sales have gone sky high.

4. Colons Colons Colons

Why is it that many people have to put a line of colons in any list? It looks so cluttered and messy. Let’s get rid of all the clutter in our business writing, and make it look neat, clean and well-organised.

Date: 29 November 2001 (Thursday)
Time: 9.00am to 5.00 pm
Venue: Sheraton Towers Hotel

Date Thursday 29 November 2001
Time 9.00 am to 5.00 pm
Venue Sheraton Towers Hotel

5. Attention!

Our great-grandfathers invented the attention line (and they were not lazy – they wrote it in full, “For the attention of …”) because they were merely directing the letter to the desk of a real person, not writing personally to that person. In those days, even with the attention line, letters still began “Dear Sirs” and the wording was formal and very passive, as if talking to the company as a whole, not to a real individual person. Over the years the attention line has been very much misused and lazy writers have abbreviated it to “Attention” or even “Attn”. Attention lines are today being incorporated (wrongly) in personal letters with personal salutations like “Dear John, Dear Mr Tan”. Let’s put the attention line in the recycle bin and relegate it firmly to the last century where it belongs. We rarely need it today. If you know the person to whom you are writing, and if you want to use a personal salutation, incorporate the addressee’s name and title into the address section.

Attn: Leslie Lim
STP Distributors Pte Ltd (Books)
30 Old Toh Tuck Road #05-02
Singapore 597654

Mr Leslie Lim
Product and Sales Manager
STP Distributors Pte Ltd (Books)
30 Old Toh Tuck Road #05-02
Singapore 597654

6. Do you really need a line to sign your name on?

I thought it was only children who needed a line on which to write? Would managers really go into a fit if there was no line on which to sign their names? Would they really sit there and wonder where to put their signature? I really doubt it. Surely the space between “Yours sincerely” and the writer’s name/title is indication enough that this is where the signature goes? Again, this is something that we simply don’t need. Get rid of the line and let’s get rid of even more clutter in our writing.

Yours sincerely

Low Chwee Leong
General Manager

7. Thank you!

Why do so many people need to say “Thank you” at the end of a message? Thank you for what? For reading my letter? Please! Stop wasting time and printer ink. If you have been courteous throughout your communication (and let’s face it, no matter what the circumstances, your writing should always be courteous) there should be no need to keep saying “Thank you” over and over again just because someone read your letter!

In today’s fast-paced business world, there should be no room for yesterday’s old-fashioned, long-winded jargon. Ditch the boring standard clichés that have been around for decades. Put some life into your business writing by using a natural, relaxed, friendly style. Put some zip into your presentation by getting rid of the clutter. Put some feeling, imagination and creativity into your writing by using a style that is more proactive, stimulating and interesting – writing that reflects your own personality. This is 2002, not 1902!

Thank you. kidding

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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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