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Lesson 4


Avoid Clumsy Phrases, Complex Vocabulary, and Stiff Language

 

Competencies

This lesson teaches the following competencies:

  1. Use simple, straightforward words.

  2. Avoid bureaucratic, business-eze words

  3. Avoid stilted, complex words

  4. Use common vocabulary

  5. Use positive words and phrases

 

Lesson Summary

The lesson summary contains the training information with few examples and activities. Read it if you want to go through the training more quickly. To skip to the full, detailed lesson, click here.

 

Introduction

Depending on your field and position, you may need to use technical language and jargon when you communicate with other specialists. The technical language makes it easier for you to communicate when the readers know the language. However, you should refrain from using technical jargon and difficult words when you are not sure the reader will understand them.

This lesson explains how you can communicate without these clumsy phrases, complex vocabulary, and stiff phrases.

Use Simple, Straightforward Words

Always use simple, straightforward words rather than complex words. Below is a list of some of the complex words and phrases business people use that have simple alternatives. Use the simple words to convey your meaning.


INSTEAD OF

WRITE

accelerated

sped up

preceding year

last year

ascertain

find out, learn

Exercise: Condensing Phrases

Condense the following phrases to their essence. You need only one word for each.
Phrases
Answers
1. in light of the fact that    
2. on the occasion of    
3. at this point in time    
4. on the grounds that    

Avoid Stilted, Bureaucrat Words

Some words first used in business decades or centuries ago have been replaced by the simple alternative English words. They still hang around, though.

Use today's language. If you wouldn't say it, don't write it. Avoid these words:

INSTEAD OF

WRITE

as per your letter

in your letter

yours of the 10th

your letter of December 10

awaiting your reply, we are

no alternative, just omit

in due course

today, tomorrow, next week

permit me to say that

no alternative, just omit

we are in receipt of

we received

Exercise: Avoiding Stilted Words

Practice getting to the point by matching the stilted words in the left column with their everyday language equivalent in the right column:

Phrases
Answers
1. for the duration of
2. in the interest of
3. contiguous to
4. by means of

Use Positive Words and Phrases

You usually have your choice of dozens of words you could use to communicate your meaning. Choose those that are more positive. Begin instructions with "We recommend" or "We've found." Use words such as "help," "satisfy," "provide," "try," "good," "effective," and the hundreds of other positive words.

Some words and phrases set a negative tone automatically, regardless of what you may be writing in the rest of the message. Avoid the following:

  • unfortunately
  • not our policy
  • can't
  • won't
  • not authorized
  • should be clear to you
  • no one else has a problem
  • not our problem

 

Full, Detailed Lesson

Introduction

Depending on your field and position, you may need to use technical language and jargon when you communicate with other specialists. The technical language makes it easier for you to communicate when the readers know the language. However, you should refrain from using technical jargon and difficult words when you are not sure the reader will understand them.

You may also have the feeling that business writing should sound businessy: "As per your request," "To maintain this time frame, it is imperative that we regularize our communications going forward." These archaic phrases grew out of the fourteenth through twentieth centuries and are now obsolete. They don't communicate clearly and give the reader the impression you're communicating in a form letter.

This lesson explains how you can communicate without these clumsy phrases, complex vocabulary, and stiff phrases.

Focus on the Reader

Throughout this course in writing effective workplace emails, the instruction will remind you that to have an impact, you must focus on the reader. Begin by deciding what you want the reader to know, feel, or do. Analyze the reader to see whether what you are writing will have the impact you want.

Here, decide how much background in the subject and education this reader has. If the reader has little background in the subject and less education, use simple, straightforward English words. Avoid jargon and complex words.

If the reader has a background in the subject and more education, use the terms this reader would expect you to use with him or her. That makes the writing shorter and lets the reader know you share the common knowledge with him or her.

Use Simple, Straightforward Words

Always use simple, straightforward words rather than complex words. Below is a list of some of the complex words and phrases business people use that have simple alternatives. Use the simple words to convey your meaning.


INSTEAD OF

WRITE

accelerated

sped up

preceding year

last year

predicated on

based on

assumption

belief

financial deficit

losing money

ascertain

find out, learn

consummate

close, bring about

peruse

read, study

terminate

end

utilize

use

deem

think

assistance

help

forward

send, mail

advise

tell

indicate

show

reside

live

we would like to ask that

please

for the reason that

because

are of the opinion

believe

for the purpose of

for

prior to

before

despite the fact that

although, though

in view of the fact that

because, since

in order to

to

subsequent to

after

with reference to

about

on the occasion of

when

during the course of

during

along the lines of

like

succeed in making

make

make use of

use

have need for

need

give consideration to

consider

initiate

begin, start

commence

begin, start

converse

talk

Exercise: Condensing Phrases

Condense the following phrases to their essence. You need only one word for each.
Phrases
Answers
1. in light of the fact that    
2. on the occasion of    
3. at this point in time    
4. on the grounds that    
5. in the event that    
6. regardless of the fact that    

Avoid Stilted, Bureaucrat Words

Some words first used in business decades or centuries ago have been replaced by the simple alternative English words. They still hang around, though.

"Under separate cover," for example, was first used in the fourteenth century when there were no envelopes. Writers wrapped an outside cover of paper around a document and secured it with sealing wax and a ribbon. But we're still writing about these paper covers in the twenty-first century!

Remember, if you wouldn't say it, don't write it. Avoid these words:

INSTEAD OF

WRITE

as per your letter

in your letter

yours of the 10th

your letter of December 10

awaiting your reply, we are

no alternative, just omit

in due course

today, tomorrow, next week

permit me to say that

no alternative, just omit

we are in receipt of

we received

pursuant to

no alternative, just omit

in closing

no alternative, just omit

attached herewith

here is

the undersigned

we, I

kindly advise

let us know

under separate cover

in another envelope

we wish to inform you

no alternative, just omit

attached please find

enclosed is

it has come to my attention

I have just learned

please be advised that

no alternative, just omit

Exercise: Avoiding Stilted Words

Practice getting to the point by matching the stilted words in the left column with their everyday language equivalent in the right column:

Phrases
Answers
1. for the duration of
2. in the interest of
3. contiguous to
4. by means of
5. at the present time
6. for the reason that
7. adequate number of
8. subsequent to
9. notwithstanding the fact that
10. prior to

Exercise: Rewriting Stilted Text

Rewrite this sentence eliminating the stilted business bureaucrat words:

 

In due course, after a thorough investigation, I determined that we were in receipt of your software order, and permit me to say that we were in obligation to deliver it with haste and will follow through with due diligence, but the volume of requests has caught us unawares, creating a condition of insufficient inventory for demand.

 



Exercise: Eliminating Stilted Words Without Losing Meaning

Eliminate the stilted, bureaucratic words while conveying the same meaning:

 

As per your email of 10 January, we wish to inform you that it is our intention to alter the user interface such that it will have ease of use in greater measure than you may have experienced at the present moment.

 




Exercise: Using Common Vocabulary

Write a common word beside each of the following words.

Phrases
Answers
1. attempt
2. purchase
3. request
4. terminate
5. instruct
6. encounter
7. commence
8. rectify

Use Positive Words and Phrases

You usually have your choice of dozens of words you could use to communicate your meaning. Choose those that are more positive. Begin instructions with "We recommend" or "We've found." Use words such as "help," "satisfy," "provide," "try," "good," "effective," and the hundreds of other positive words.

Some words and phrases set a negative tone automatically, regardless of what you may be writing in the rest of the message. Avoid the following:

  • unfortunately
  • not our policy
  • can't
  • won't
  • not authorized
  • should be clear to you
  • no one else has a problem
  • not our problem

 


Quiz

 

 

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