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Effective Writing

Christine Phillimore

Abstract: Good writing skills lead to increased customer

satisfaction, an improved, more professional image, and
better understanding within your organization. This short
guide offers tools and techniques to help you write more
easily and acts as a reference for the rules of grammar. It
includes the correct use of commas, colons, semicolons,
apostrophes, and paragraphs. It also talks about how to
pitch your writing at the right level for the audience,
recommended sentence length and structure, and how
to effectively and efficiently proofread your own writing.

Keywords: appropriate audience, proofreading, punctua-

tion, rules of grammar.

Effective Writing
Every e-mail, report, or letter speaks volumes about you
and your organization. This is why it is important to e nsure
that every document leaving your organization is crisp,
professional, and polished. It is not easy to do with so many
writing rules to follow, but with p reparation and care, this
can be done. Accurate writing leads to increased customer
satisfaction, a more professional image and better under-
standing within your o rganization, and greater personal
confidence in your ability to express yourself well.
Following a successful career in If people can read a document only once to receive
Education, Christine Phillimore
became a freelance trainer. Focused
and understand the message as it was intended, instead
and well-read, she has worked in of having to read it two or three times, a lot of time can
Uganda, Israel, and South Africa, be saved, creating greater understanding and with less
as well in England and Europe. She stress for either party.
has delivered training courses in
Communication Skills and Business
Writing Skills. Her clients include GSK, Why Write in the First Place?
PIMCO, Addaction, the NHS, various The first question to ask yourself is, Why are you
universities, and the armed forces in writing? Would your goal be more successful in a

the United Kingdom, the United States, telephone call or a face-to-face interaction? Whether it is
and Germany.
to make a recommendation or complaint, to inform, to
create a record, apply for a position, looking for a certain
result such as a refund, or simply for pleasure, it is im-
portant that the writing is accurate, well-spelt, clear, and
grammatically correct so that your message is well-pre-
sented and easily understood.
Keeping your specific aim in mind as you write is v ital
and ensures that you tailor your words and message to

Business Expert Press 978-1-63157-913-4 (2018) Expert Insights

Effective Writing

avoid going off piste. It is a good idea to level of vocabulary and suitable terminol-
have your objective jotted down in as few ogy. Otherwise, your potential audience
words as possible to act as an aide-memoire will be alienated. Adopting too formal a
and placed in front of you as you write. tone is inappropriate for a light-hearted
Too many people start writing without document, whereas being too informal for
having any clear plan. Simply because we a serious business proposition is, likewise,
think we know what we would say in a wrong.
face-to-face conversation, and we know how Pitching the level of your writing too low
to react to peoples response, a plan is con- can be as bad as pitching it too high. We
sidered unnecessary. Planning gives any all know people who think it is evidence
document a specific structure and means
of their higher education or intellect to use
that everything that we need to say is in- as many long words as they can, whether
cluded. Otherwise, the writing can sound or not they understand them themselves.
disconnected and lacking in fluency, without In a recent rugby match, the commentator
apparent links. This is no way to convey the was heard to say that the player was being
message effectively or as quickly as possible. existential with the referee! Im still trying
This is where mind mapping comes into to work that one out. If in doubt, err on the
its own as an efficient tool, or at least, start- side of using clear, simple, but effective
ing with a spider diagram. Establish how English, with a well-presented argument
long you have to actually write the docu- that is accurately written.
ment, what resources you have at your Understanding who will be reading
disposal, what equipment is available, your writing is important to know exactly
what information is needed, and when it where to pitch it. Such questions as How
needs to be started and finished. All these much time does the reader have available
specifics influence how you go about your to spend reading this document?, Is my
writing and how it will be produced. With- reader already familiar with the topic?,
out addressing all these points, success is What do they know already?, What else
much harder to achieve. do they need to know?, and How diverse
This is especially true of e-mail. This is my audience? need to be asked. You also
is quite often where communication goes need to be aware of peoples attitudes to
awry. E-mails frequently start abruptly, the subject and to you, the writer.
without salutation, or end just as brusquely, As an effective writer, it is essential
without a final greeting or signature. P eople that you guide your reader through your
tend to take no a ccount of how their reader document so that it is easy to understand
will react; they simply write as they talk, and your message is transmitted speedily
ignoring polite c onventions or how words and correctly. This is done by making your
can be misinterpreted, addressing senior structure or argument clear by including
management in the same way they would such phrases as the outcome of this is ...
a friend. Text abbreviations are not suitable or by contrast . . . and itemizing ideas
in an e-mail, nor is the overuse of slang. such as second or finally. Consider also
using subheadings, where appropriate.

Who Is My Audience? Paragraphs are vital to support your struc-
An awareness of audience is essential so ture. This also allows you to be on track.
that your writing is pitched at the right English has approximately a third of a
level. Writing for an academic audience is million words, derived from Greek, Latin,
very different from writing for a business Sanskrit, Egyptian, Arabic, the European
one, or a close friend or acquaintance. Se- Romance languages, Old Norse, Germanic,
lecting the appropriate tone and style is Norman, Persian, Hindi, and Icelandic,
fundamental, as well as choosing the right among others. This accounts for its variety,

2 Business Expert Press 978-1-63157-913-4 (2018) Expert Insights
Effective Writing

but also explains why the language is so question concerning the whereabouts of an
hard to learn and get right, as seen in the item of clothing, but does not make sense
following sentences: on its own, although to the people having
The farm was used to produce produce, the conversation, the meaning is clear.
The soldier decided to desert his dessert Cheese sandwich plate table are just
in the desert, Since there is no time like a series of words with little meaning, but
the present, he thought he would present The cheese sandwich is on a plate on the
the present, and After a number of injec- table is much clearer.
tions, my jaw got number. A sentence is generally considered to
Comprehension can be so difficult have a subject and verb. The subject is
with apparently simple language. In the the person or thing carrying out the verb.
following examples, probably the writer
Averb is often described as a doing word.
was clear about the message he wanted It can express a physical action, such as
to convey, but something went drastically walk, talk, or swim; it can be a mental
wrong in the execution and the documents action such as think, wonder, or consider;
were clearly not proofread: it can also be a state of being such as exist,
seem, or appear.
If you think that our products are
unsatisfactory, you should see our Last week, Sam cooked chicken for
manager. dinner.

I want a list of staff, broken down by Tuesday was lovely and sunny.
age and sex.
Sam is the subject and cooked is the verb;
Miss Jones performed particularly Tuesday is the subject and was is the verb.
well in all positions in the bank, but However, should the sentence be an in-
has proved to perform particularly struction or a request, then the subject can
well over the counter. be left out.

Free dog! Eats anything and e specially Shut up!

fond of children.
Please sit down.
Desks for sale. Suitable for ladies with
large drawers and thick legs. Sentences can be any length, depending
on what needs to be said and the desired
effect; the perceived wisdom is that for
Sentences the average general reader, they should be
Writing in complete sentences is vital for between 18 and 22 words in length. Any
writing correct business English so that longer, and people tend to forget what has
your reader can fully understand what is been said and have to reread the sentence
being said in the way that you mean it. at least once. Varying the length of your
Writing a shopping list does not require sentences adds interest and keeps the
sentences, but applying for a job does. reader involved. Check that you have not
It helps to bear in mind the following written too long a sentence that should
three points when constructing a sentence. really be split into several.
The difference between a phrase and a sen- Use the correct punctuation when
tence is that the sentence is a group of words writing sentences, with a capital letter at
that makes complete sense on its own. In the beginning and a full stop, a question
the wardrobe may be the response to the mark, or an exclamation mark at the end,

Business Expert Press 978-1-63157-913-4 (2018) Expert Insights