Rely on Everyday Words and Phrasing in Your Business Writing
The short everyday words you use in ordinary speech are almost always best for business writing. They’re clear, practical, and direct. They’re also powerful enough to express your deepest and widest thoughts. They’re the words that reach people emotionally, too, because they stand for the most basic and concrete things people care about and need to communicate about. For example, home is a whole different story than residence, and quit carries a lot more overtones than resign.
Make a list of basic one- and two-syllable words. Almost certainly, they come from the oldest part of the English language, Anglo-Saxon. Most words with three or more syllables were grafted onto this basic stock by historical invaders: the French-speaking Normans and the Latin-speaking Romans for the most part, both of whom aspired to higher levels of cultural refinement than the Britons.
If you were raised in an English-speaking home, you learned Anglo-Saxon words during earliest childhood and acquired the ones with Latin, French, and other influences later in your education. Scan these previous two paragraphs and you know immediately which words came from which culture set.
For this reason and others, readers are programmed to respond best to simple, short, low-profile English words. They trigger feelings of trust (an Anglo-Saxon word) and credibility (from the French). Obviously, you shouldn’t choose to write entirely with one-syllable words. Variety is the key — just as with sentences. English’s history gives you a remarkable array of words when you want to be precise or produce certain feelings. Even in business English, a sprinkling of longer words contributes to a good pace and can make what you say more specific and interesting. But don’t forget your base word stock.
If you’re writing to a non-native English speaking audience, you have even more reason to write with one- and two-syllable words. People master the same basic words first when learning a new language, no matter what their original tongue, so all new English-speakers understand them. This applies to less educated readers too. Given the diverse and multicultural audiences many of your messages must reach, simplicity of language should rule.
This principle holds for long documents such as reports and proposals as much as for emails. And it’s very important for online writing such as websites and blogs. When you read on-screen, you have even less patience with multi-syllable sophisticated words. Reading (and writing) on smartphones and other small devices makes short words the only choice.
Choosing reader-friendly words
The typical business English you see all the time may lure you toward long, educated words. Resist!
Consciously develop your awareness of short-word options. Clearer writing gives you better results. Opt for the first and friendlier word in the following pairs:
The longer words aren’t bad — in fact, they may often be the better choice. But generally, make sure that you have a reason for going long.