The A-B-C Approach to Better Business Writing: Easy-to-Remember Tips for Improving Your Business Communications

If writing is a reflection of the writer’s personality, a lot of business executives should think seriously about a communications makeover. Consider the following sentence:

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“As per our meeting of this afternoon, it has been agreed that the objectives which were identified by the task force as a result of current market conditions require a coordinated response that is multi-interdepartmental and collaborative in both nature and implementation and must be completed by the end of the second fiscal quarter.”

Pshew! It might take a few attempts, but the reader might eventually be able to decipher the following:

“As we agreed this afternoon, our deadline for achieving the Task Force’s objectives is the end of the second fiscal quarter. This will require inter-departmental coordination and cooperation.”

The difference between the first and second messages? The first is passive, bland, and bloated. The second is Active, Bold, and Concise. Chances are that the second message will be more readily understood—and acted on. Let’s take a look at how each A-B-C component helps enhance clarity and effectiveness.

Use the Active Voice

Here’s a quick grammar lesson, courtesy of the Purdue University Online Writing Lab:

  • In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb; the subject acts. (The dog bit the boy.)
  • In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon. (The boy was bitten by the dog.)

Using the active voice almost always adds clarity and vigor to writing. Examples:

Passive: I am most appreciative of your remarks last evening, which were quite candid. Active: Thank you for your candid remarks last evening.

Passive: Should the occasion ever again arise in which I may be of any service whatsoever, I hope you will not hesitate to advise me. Active: Please call whenever I can help.

Passive: We are not in agreement regarding the strategy which was developed by the marketing department. Active: We don’t agree with the marketing department’s strategy.

Go for the Bold

It sometimes seems that business executives received a memo instructing them to use as many multisyllabic words and euphemisms as possible. Bad advice. This approach comes across as stilted and pretentious. Results-oriented writing uses bold words that appeal to the emotions. Examples:

  • Prove vs. attest
  • Expect vs. anticipate
  • Pay vs. remit payment
  • Ask vs. inquire
  • End or fire vs. terminate
  • Use vs. utilize
  • Enough vs. sufficient
  • Leave vs. depart

Be Concise, not Cluttered

Abraham Lincoln’s famous second inaugural address (“…with malice toward none, with charity toward all…) was just 703 words. Over 500 of those words were just one syllable. If simple but powerful words and short sentences worked for Lincoln, chances are they can work for today’s business professionals, too. There’s always room to make the message more concise by remove the “clutter.” Examples:

Cluttered: The proposal in its current iteration does not meet acceptable standards. Concise: The current proposal is unacceptable.

Cluttered: Kindly remit payment in order to ensure the maintenance of a satisfactory credit rating with our company and a potential cessation of services. Concise: Please pay as soon as possible so that we may continue to serve you.

Cluttered: It is my belief that the advertising expenditures outlined in the plan I submitted will realize a recoup of the investment within four months of the initiation of the campaign. Concise: My advertising plan will pay for itself within four months.

Using the A-B-C approach can help anyone’s writing come alive… and get results.