If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…
Metaphors and similes
Metaphors and similes are useful figures of speech, but they are like a hot condiment you put on your food: a little is great but too much can ruin it!
Basically they are comparisons in which you describe your subject by likening it to something else – usually something bizarre and/or unexpected – rather than just using an adjective to describe it.
A metaphor achieves the same objective, but without using “as” or “like”:
After the meeting, the Chairman snorted and stamped his feet with rage
She sat down at her desk, flopping childishly into the chair
Unlike similes which are easy to pick out, metaphors can be a little more obscure. If you’re unsure about whether an expression is a metaphor or not, perform a reality check: would this happen in real life? If the answer’s no, then that’s a metaphor.
A simile is one of these comparisons that uses the words “as” or “like” for a link:
After the meeting, the Chairman was as an angry as a bull in full charge
She sat down at her desk abruptly, like a child playing musical chairs
With similes, you can tell right away that the comparison is not meant literally.
Watch out for clichés
Of course metaphors and similes are very useful to make your writing more interesting and enjoyable to read. The downside is that many popular business and social clichés are either metaphors or similes! For example:
Getting all your ducks in a row
Thinking outside the box
Push the envelope
Let’s hit the ground running.
Has legs and can go really far…
I don’t have the bandwidth
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater
Too many chiefs and not enough Indians
Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes
As mad as a hatter
Like a bat out of hell
As cool as a cucumber
Like trying to nail jelly to the wall
As proud as punch
As smart as a whip
Like herding cats
As clean as a whistle
As easy as ABC
Like a knight in shining armor
And above all, watch out for too many of them
As I mentioned above, with metaphors and similes it’s easy to get too much of a good thing by using too many. Take this short paragraph for example:
They waited outside the door of the meeting room, with bated breath and the nervousness of wild kittens. Even John, normally as strong as an ox and as cool as a cucumber on such occasions, shuffled a short tap dance routine in the corridor. Alyson, who is always the queen of cool, looked at John as if he had just stepped in dog poop. “We’re really have to push the envelope with this presentation, everyone,” she barked loudly, “and as soon as we get in there we’ve got to hit the ground running. We’ve to show them that we think outside the box and deliver their wildest dreams.”
Feeling nauseous yet? Me too. I know I have exaggerated the use of metaphors and similes in that paragraph but even a diluted version – which is something you often see not only in literary novels but also in business storytelling – can make you gag after a while.
Now: for something a bit different, try the exercises associated with this article in my “30 Day Business Writing Challenge” – Click here
More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!