Use words the reader will understand

Use modern, everyday words and phrases rather than archaic words and phrases.

Avoid archaic words and phrases people don't use in speaking any more. If you wouldn't say it, don't write it. A short list of such words follows to give you examples. Many other such words are being intruded into business e‑mails, memos, letters, or reports every day. Choose the alternative to the right of each.

as per your letter in your letter
yours of the 10th your letter of December 10
awaiting your reply, we are, omit
in due course today, tomorrow, next week
permit me to say that omit
we are in receipt of we received
pursuant to omit
in closing 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 omit
enclosed please find enclosed is
it has come to my attention I have just learned
please be advised that omit

Use plain English.

Use words you might speak in ordinary conversation. Avoid slang and colloquialisms, such as "keep on truckin'," unless you're writing to someone you know well. However, use simpler, conversational words rather than complex words or phrases such as these. Choose the alternatives to the right of each word or phrase.

accelerated sped up
preceding year last year
predicated based on
assumption belief
financial deficit losing money
ascertain find out, learn
consummate close, bring about
peruse read, study
nevertheless but
terminate end
utilize use
deem think
assistance help, converse, talk
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, to
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

Tighten up the use of words. Be precise.

Governmental Imprecise Wording

New Balance shoes has been in a 15-year debate with the FTC about imprecise wording. The FTC rules are that for a product to be labeled as "Made in the USA," "all or virtually all" of the product must be made in the United States. New Balance argues that 70 percent of its shoes are made in the United States, so that fits the "virtually all" standard. It labels all of its shoes "Made in the USA."

Precise wording would have saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in FTC employee time and legal expenses. Perhaps they could have written, "For a product to carry the 'Made in the USA' label, 95 percent or more must be made in the United States."

Avoid Imprecise Words

Avoid words such as "many," "some," "several," and "a few." They don't communicate clearly. Use the exact number when you know it.

Avoid words that have vague or ambiguous meanings such as "which involve," "in terms of," and "that reflect." The reader needs solid meaning on which to build understanding. This e‑mail will communicate very little:

John needs to make changes in terms of the reports, which will involve the headings and placement of data.

Avoid these vague words. Instead, use words that state what you mean for the reader to understand:

John needs to change the report headings so they contain words the reader will recognize immediately. He also needs to realign the columns of data so each column fits under the report heading describing the column contents.

Make sure the concept words you use convey your meaning precisely. The words in this sentence are too loose:

As many of you are aware and have participated, the agent-training team has worked with Agency Development to make training.

The "have participated" doesn't fit with "As many of you . . ." Also, the training team and Agency Development can't "make" training. They can perform training or design training. The writer should tighten up the writing by rewording the statements:

As many of you are aware and some of you know from participating in the effort, the agent-training team has worked with Agency Development to design and deliver training.

However, the entire sentence would be shorter and easier to read if the writer simply wrote "As many of you now know, the agent-training team . . ."

This paragraph uses words that do not describe the concepts or relationships among concepts:

For an employee to be productive and innovative while developing his or her career at any professional services firm, an active participation in educational programs is crucial for long-term success. One fundamental lesson is the idea of leadership and how an understanding of leadership principles can facilitate a new employee’s immersion into a professional atmosphere.

The writer is using words loosely. The first sentence begins with "to be productive and innovative," explaining what an employee must do to be productive and innovative, but the sentence ends by suggesting that the comment about what the employee must do "is crucial for long-term success." In other words, the writer applies the middle part to both the beginning and end even though they're two different concepts.

In the second sentence, the writer calls a "lesson" an "idea." A lesson isn't an idea. The writer then uses "immersion," which refers to lowering into water or deeply penetrating. That isn't appropriate for the employee's entrance into a professional atmosphere. He or she meant "entrance."

The result of these imprecise uses of words is that readers become confused, the writing sounds odd, and the writer will be judged as having cloudy thinking or being unintelligent. Be as precise as you can in your use of words.

Use jargon words only if the reader understands them. However, use jargon words for knowledgeable readers because they will expect them.

Jargon words are meaningful to readers who understand the jargon. A single word can contain a number of concepts so the jargon word communicates clearly and quickly to the reader who understands the words. Besides, the person who knows the words will expect you to use them to show you also know them and that you regard that person as knowledgeable.

However, if you have any doubts that the reader will understand the jargon, don't use it.

Some commonly used business jargon follows (adapted from Tony Proscio's In Other Words and Bad Words for Good). Much of it should simply not be used in business writing, but if you use any of these jargon words, be sure the readers all agree with you about the meanings:

Action Plan
Best Practices
Community Development
Consensus Building
Financial Assistance
Input see Throughput
Learning Organizations
Technical Assistance
To Partner
Value Added



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