Why You Should Always Use Plain English in Your Business Communications

Kay Hutchings-Olsson is my go to person when it comes to writing.  She is so awesome, that she found a typo in this post and sent me an email so I could fix it.

Good writing can help you get the job you want, and then succeed once you’re in it.  She is an advocate of using plain English in your business writing.  I am too.  Check out what Kay has to say about using plain English in your writing…

What exactly is plain English? Well, it’s certainly not “dumbed-down” or patronizing language – quite the opposite.

Plain English is clear, precise and effective language. It doesn’t over-simplify or omit words. Instead, it presents complex information in a straightforward way so it is more accessible and quicker to read. It is in fact surprisingly difficult to use plain language to describe complicated ideas and very easy to fill text with superfluous and inflated words.

In our fast-paced business world, knowing how to use plain English is a vital skill. People want and need to be able to understand and act on information quickly rather than wade through unnecessary words, unfamiliar jargon and sentences more tricky than a game of Jenga. It is not because they lack the intelligence. They lack the time.

Plain English respects the reader because it gets to the point quickly. So with that in mind, let’s look at what makes your business communications clearer and more effective:

Replace your “fancy” words and phrases with “plain” alternatives:

Here is a selection:

“as a means of” – to

“by virtue of” – because of

“in addition to” – besides

“in connection with” – with, about, concerning

“in lieu of”  – instead of

“at the present time” –  now

“in the absence of” – without

“on the occasion of” – on

“on the part of” – by

“with the exception of” – except for

“concerning the matter of” – concerning

“as a consequence of” – because of

“inasmuch as” – considering that, since

“notwithstanding” – despite

“antecedent to” – before

“in the vicinity of” – near

“at the present time” – now

“with regard to” – concerning, about

“until such a time” – until

“is authorized to” – can

“with the object of” – to, for

“it is probable that” – probably

“adequate number of” – enough

“in the course of” – during

“in receipt of” – have

Use shorter words:

Why use additional when you can use extra? Commence instead of start? Advise instead of tell?

Shorter words are not only clearer to understand, they also have more of an impact and can give your text more life. Longer words can sound bureaucratic and dull, and they won’t impress your readers or improve your writing style. Use a thesaurus to check the options for shorter words.

Use shorter sentences

You should try to use on average 15–20 words in each sentence. It’s best to use a mixture of shorter and longer sentences to improve the flow. If you find yourself writing a long sentence, it’s usually possible to break it up into shorter sentences.

Be active, not passive

Here’s an example of a passive sentence: The 2015 Best Company Prize was won by ABC Limited.

And an example of an active sentence: ABC Limited won the 2015 Best Company Prize.

The active sentence sounds better, doesn’t it? That’s because it is clearer, uses fewer words and has more of a “punch”.

Use “you” and “we”

Always refer to your reader as “you”, not The Client, The Customer, etc. When you use “you”, you sound more personal and friendly.

And always refer to your company as “we”. It’s fine to use “we” and “I” in the same text.

Use lists

Lists are a great way to break up information as they help your readers skim-read important points quickly, so use them where possible.

Give instructions

A command such as “Please send us the completed report by Tuesday” is the most direct way to ask someone to do something. It’s like a call to action.

The key to not sounding bossy or unfriendly is to include a “Please” and “Thank you”. Plain English in business communications should always be polite.

Use jargon only when you know 100% your reader will understand

Jargon can be very handy. It can save you time explaining certain points – but only if your reader understands the terms and phrases you use. If you’re not sure they will, don’t use them. And don’t use specialist jargon when writing to the general public.

So, as you can see, using plain English is a valuable skill that will serve you well in your career and it deserves your attention. After all, communication means nothing if your readers can’t understand what you are saying.

I love this advice.  If you read this blog regularly, you know that I do my best to follow it.

Kay is a great editor, proofreader and business writer.  If you want to get in touch with her, check out her websites:  www.khocopywriting.com and www.kholanguageservices.com/

Your career mentor,





Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.