Business English Quick Tips: over-writing


Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…


For many people, writing does not come easily no matter how thorough your thinking or how well prepared you are to make a start. Even though we may speak with great fluency, chattering on at nineteen to the dozen, when faced with the prospect of writing any of it down on a blank screen or unmarked piece of white paper, our brains can freeze solid. It’s that old small step/huge leap US astronaut Neil Armstrong was talking about.

Remember that although it’s easy to talk about what you need to write, there’s something that feels frighteningly final and permanent about recording any of your words. That makes it quite daunting and it is still daunting even for professional writers, although not quite so daunting after many years’ practice.

When we do manage to get writing, we tend to over-complicate our message and wrap it up in all sorts of unnecessary verbiage which, at the end of the day, just gives us something to write down while our brains get to the point. And if this outpouring-style method works for you, that’s OK – provided that you then chop all the garbage out of it and reduce it to something sensible.

Sadly, far too many so-called “corporate style” documents don’t get put through the garbage-chopping process before being published, either because the writers don’t dare cut anything the Chairman has written or because someone high up thinks long-winded, over-worded prose somehow looks more grand and superior.

Especially now, in our online age, this is – well, garbage.

But what exactly is “over-writing?” Here is a tongue-in-cheek example of what I mean:

Piece of writing # 1:

The instrument in question is constructed from lightweight wood the interior of which houses a cylindrical core of carbon. It is necessary to sharpen the surrounding wood at the end of this instrument in order to obtain a conical point and expose the carbon core appropriately. Once this preparatory start-up sequence has been implemented the technology involved enables the object to be held in the dominant hand and, through the application of the correct degree of pressure and suitable movement of hand and arm, the carbon point will convey an image upon the piece of paper placed directly beneath it. At this time it is not a meaningful proposition for the foregoing technique to be demonstrated in a live situation, due to the hardware’s non-permanent redistribution to a remote location.

Piece of writing # 2:

I’m talking about a pencil. It’s made of wood with some carbon inside it. If you sharpen one end, you can write with it. Right now I can’t show you how it works because I’ve mislaid it.

Whereas most people will tend to start with a draft that’s like piece of writing #1 and after much editing work and sweat end up with something closer to #2 (we hope), what many of us professional writers do is conduct some or all of that editing process in our heads. This way the first draft looks more like #2, hence saving time, energy, fingernails, etc. Developing your writing ability so you can do this too is not something you’ll achieve overnight, but with a little help it’s a process you can learn and eventually it will become automatic. It’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle.

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!