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Become a better business writer

One thing guaranteed to release my father’s inner grammar Nazi is hearing TV news readers or sports commentators say, “There’s …” something plural.

“There’s lots of people at the game today, Mike.”

My mother torments him by thinking up possible complications.

“There’s about a thousand people I reckon, Ted.”

Sometimes I wish I had a simple grammar guide to leave with my parents … or send to the TV station.

Susan McKerihan’s Clear & Concise: Become a Better Business Writer has been sitting atop my review pile for longer than publishers Black Inc. would like. Visiting my parents was a good prompt to examine the contents of the already highly regarded writing guide.

The back cover blurb goes too far claiming it is the only writing guide you will ever need. At only 181 pages it can hardly be all-encompassing (the book itself includes three pages of sources and further reading).

But it is very handy.

The book’s main audience is the business writer who wishes “to be seen as a credible professional” and not force their readers to “plod through wordy, cumbersome text”.

Any writer will benefit, however. McKerihan told the NSW Writers Centre, “The principles of plain English are clarity, accuracy, relevance and readability, which is surely the goal for most writers.

“Plain English is usually thought of in the context of business or legal writing, but it's just as appropriate for academia, medicine, possibly even creative writing — and certainly for publisher or funding submissions. Really, any writing where you want to get a message across clearly and accurately.”

Through four sections, Clear & Concise covers clear, concise language; grammar; readability (layout and structure); and checklists, including a plain English word finder. By following these guidelines a writer should help readers understand their message quickly and accurately, and give them confidence in the writer’s professionalism.

McKerihan’s plain English tips will help you write in a more succinct, reader-friendly style. Use direct style, she says. Don’t use nominalisation. Sometimes you are allowed to use long or unusual words.

Grammar junkies and connoisseurs of style guides will find little that’s new in the book but the guidelines are clearly presented and explained. Each section has many examples and tests so readers will be clear where a problem lies and what the solution should be.

And my father’s pet hate? There is/there are add nothing to the meaning. Remove them. Along with unnecessary qualifiers, wordy phrases, repetition and throat clearers (platitudes or statements of the obvious).

If you do use them, the verb agrees with the subject that follows.


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