If you want to succeed in business, excellent writing skills are crucial. What you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money you need.
With that said, here’s some advice on several points that’ll improve the effectiveness of your writing.
The dash is used in two ways. One is to amplify in the second part of the sentence a thought you stated in the first part.
“We decided to keep going – it was just 50 more miles, and we’d get there in time for dinner.”
Here, the dash pushes the sentence ahead, explaining why they decided to keep going.
The other use involves two dashes, which set apart a parenthetical thought within a larger sentence.
“He told me to get in the truck – he had been after me all month to get some exercise – and we drove to the gym.”
Here, an informative detail that might otherwise have required a separate sentence is neatly dispatched along the way.
The colon serves well in bringing your sentence to a brief halt before you start an itemized list.
“The flyer said the food bank needed the following canned goods: luncheon meat, tuna, corn, peaches, carrots, and cranberry sauce.”
Alert your reader as soon as possible to a change in mood from the previous sentence. Words like “but,” “yet,” “however,” “instead,” “still,” “now,” “today,” and “later” do a good job of this.
It’s much easier for your readers to process a sentence if you start with “but” when you’re changing direction. It announces total contrast to what has gone before, and the reader is primed for change.
If you need relief from too many sentences starting with “but,” switch to “yet.” It does a similar job as “but,” though its meaning is closer to “nevertheless.”
Either of these words at the start of a sentence – “Yet he decided to go” or “Nevertheless he decided to go” – can replace a long phrase that summarizes what the reader has just been told: “Despite the fact that all these risks were pointed out to him, he decided to go.”
Careless writers also confuse their readers by changing their timeframe without notification. To ensure your readers are oriented, use words such as “now,” “later,” and “today.”
“Now I know better.”
“Later I found out why.”
“Today you can’t find such a product.”
That and Which
Always use “that” unless it makes your meaning unclear. In most cases, “that” is what you’d naturally say and therefore what you should write.
But if your sentence needs a comma to achieve its exact meaning, it probably needs “which.” “Which” serves a particular identifying function, different from “that.”
“Take the car that’s in the garage.”
This means to take the car that’s in the garage, not the car in the driveway.
“Take the car, which is in the garage.”
Here, only one car is in discussion; the “which” tells you where it is.
And a lot of “which” usages describe or explain the phrase that preceded the comma:
“The house, which has an apple tree,”
“The store, which is called Andy’s Market,”
One of the most annoying questions for writers is what to do with sexist language. Feminists may get annoyed with words that contain “man,” such as “chairman” or “spokesman.”
One solution is to change the word into its gender-neutral form, such as “chairperson” or “spokesperson.”
Another solution is to find another term: “chair” for “chairman,” and “company representative” for “spokesman.”
You can also turn the noun into a verb:
“Speaking for the company, Mrs. Smith said…”
More bothersome words include “he,” “his,” and “him.” What do we do with the following sentence?
“Every resident should decide what he thinks is best for him and his family.”
One solution is to turn them into the plural:
“All residents should decide what they think is best for them and their families.”
Another solution is to use the word “or.”
“Every resident should decide what he or she thinks is best for him or her.”
But the best solutions eliminate connotation of male ownership by using other pronouns or altering some other part of the sentence. For instance, general nouns can replace specific nouns. Take a look at the following sentence:
“CEO’s often neglect their wives and children.”
To get rid of the suggestion that all CEO’s are male, try:
“CEO’s often neglect their families.”
For more tips on how to write more effectively, check out On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
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