Vague, unclear, wordy, and gibberish are all words you do not want associated with your business writing. With so many consumers reading their news on mobile devices, the pressure on business writers to hook (and retain) their readers has never been greater. We have a couple of simple tips to trim your writing down and clarify your ideas to keep your readers engaged.
Remove false subjects
False subjects (i.e. there is, it is, there are, this is), usually lie at the top of a sentence and displace the main subject. To remove false subjects, simply use the find function for the words, (“this,” “there,” etc.), and reframe the sentence to input real subjects.
False — It is possible he won’t qualify for the job.
Real – He might not qualify for the job.
False – There is a lot of gossip in our neighborhood about the school closing down.
Real – Neighbors gossip about the school closing down.
Eliminate wordy phrases
Longer sentences aren’t necessarily bad if it makes sense for the context, but here is a difference between a long sentence and a wordy sentence. You certainly want to be able to keep your writing digestible, but don’t remove important context or break up sentences only to keep your average sentence length short. Instead, check your writing for instances where one word may do the same job as many. For example:
- At this time vs. now
- At which time vs. then
- Based on the fact that vs. due to/because
- In a number of cases vs. many, or some
- It is obvious that vs. obviously
Avoid habitual hedging
Hedging is the use of words or phrases that express cautiousness, hesitation, and uncertainty. Hedging has its purpose and is often used in academic writing when the author wants to ensure that the reader understands they are not making a claim or stating something as fact.
However, hedging shouldn’t be a habitual way of writing in journalism and instead should be a conscious and deliberate choice based on the context of your writing. For example, when you are writing about legal charges to a company, phrases such as ‘allegedly,’ ‘it could be,’ and ‘it appears that’ are necessary components as no conviction has actually occurred.
Remember to review your finished writing and based on how strong or cautious you want your piece to be, ensure your hedging use is equal to that.
Use plain language and avoid jargon
Put simply, never use a long word when a short one will do. Contrary to popular belief, using shorter words when you are able does not dumb down your writing. There are certainly longer words that have very specific meanings and will make more sense to use at times. If a short word will give the same meaning as a longer one, then all you’re doing is creating unnecessary complexity for readers.
One of the biggest culprits of complex language when something simple will do is jargon. Jargon is a gatekeeper for the average consumer because it is language that is specialized to a specific group or profession and should be avoided in clear business writing. If a source uses industry specific terms in your interview, ask them to either rephrase the sentence in lay person’s terms or explain what it means so you can relay that to the reader.
Finesse by hand and ear
Years of daily practice makes news reporters and journalists excellent self-editors. One method to help you self edit is to proof your work by hand. Print out your article and remove any extraneous words, such as “this,” “that,” constructions etc. by pen. Having the hard copy in your hands frees up your mind to edit more aggressively.
Another method is to read your writing aloud. If you stumble reading your sentences, chances are your reader will struggle following your thoughts as well. Reading aloud helps ensure you have varied sentence patterns and are using plain language to keep your writing as digeastable to the consumer as possible.
Lastly, remember to space out your first and final draft. Often the best self-editing ideas emerge after a good break. Your mind needs time to absorb the content and analyze the validity of your structure, research, and language. Some writers edit best immediately after painting, or some other indulgent and restful activity. Allowing your mind time to relax helps you become more decisive after. So, ensure you’ve exercised, relaxed, and slept well, before your final polish of your writing.