General Pointers

1) No matter what you are writing, keep it simple!

As William Zinsser says in his book On Writing Well, the most common disease in writing today is clutter. Unnecessary words, meaningless jargon, and pompous frills are everywhere in contemporary writing, and readers get frustrated when they try to sort through it.

Why do so many writers make their writing so complicated? Often writers use long words or complicated syntax because they think it will impress their readers. What they fail to understand is that the best way to impress their readers is to communicate interesting ideas in clear, simple language.

2) Understand the difference between active voice and passive voice, and use active voice whenever possible.

A sentence in active voice is a sentence in which there is a subject that is performing some sort of action. For example:

The teller counted the money.

In this sentence, the subject is “the teller,” the person doing the action (the “counting”). “Money” is the object. If we were to rewrite the sentence in passive voice, we would say:

The money was counted by the teller.

By using the passive voice, we have placed the focus on the object rather than the subject. Note that the original sentence conveys a stronger tone, and communicates more directly (and in fewer words).

Of course, if for some reason we want to focus on the money rather than the teller, then using the passive voice is useful. Otherwise, there is no reason to use the passive voice. Our rule of thumb should be to always use the active voice, unless we have a good reason not to do so.

Note that this rule applies to all kinds of writing, including business writing. Let’s look at another example.

If there are any questions, we can be reached at the following number.

This sentence is in passive voice. It isn’t particularly friendly to the reader, because it fails to acknowledge his or her existence. Let’s rewrite the sentence in active voice.

If you have any questions, call us at the following number.

Although the difference is subtle, it’s unmistakable. By using the active voice, we are actively engaging the reader, which he or she will undoubtedly appreciate.