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Business Writing Issue

September, 2013
In This Issue
Rules for Effective Business Writing
More Rules for Effective Business Writing
Business Writing Tips
Things you can do right now to improve your website
Measuring Readability
Team Effectiveness Survey
Quick Links
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Writing Story


An old blind man was sitting on a busy street corner in the rush-hour begging for money. On a cardboard sign, next to an empty tin cup, he had written: 'Blind - Please help'.


No-one was giving him any money.


A young advertising writer walked past and saw the blind man with his sign and empty cup, and also saw the many people passing by completely unmoved, let alone stopping to give money.


The advertising writer took a thick marker-pen from her pocket, turned the cardboard sheet back-to-front, and re-wrote the sign, then went on her way.

Immediately, people began putting money into the tin cup.

After a while, when the cup was overflowing, the blind man asked a stranger to tell him what the sign now said.


"It says," said the stranger, "It's a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.' "



Writing Quotes
"I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter." 
Blaise Pascal 
The pen is mightier than the sword."  
Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton 

"Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.."  
Joseph Pulitzer


"Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them." 

John Ruskin


"I did not attend his funeral, but I wrote a nice letter saying I approved it."

Mark Twain


"The fortunate man, in my opinion, is he to whom the gods have granted the power either to do something which is worth recording or to write what is worth reading: and most fortunate of all is the man who can do both."

Pliny the Younger


"Words are not as satisfactory as we should like them to be, but, like our neighbours, we have got to live with them and must make the best and not the worst of them."

Samuel Butler


"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."

Samuel Johnson 


"Writing comes more easily if you have something to say."

Sholem Asch 


Writing, when properly managed, is but a different name for conversation.

Laurence Stern


You write to be read. That is the bottom line.

Jane Yolen


"It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all." 

Will Shetterly

"Good writing is clear thinking made visible."
Bill Wheeler

"The most valuable of talents is never using two words when one will do." 
Thomas Jefferson
"Easy-to-read is hard to write." 
Pam Zollman
"The ABC's of quality writing: Accuracy, Brevity & Clarity." 
Author Unknown
"Good writing is bad writing that was rewritten."
Mark Raibert

"I have proved by actual trial that a letter, that takes an hour to write, takes only about 3 minutes to read!"

Lewis Carroll


"You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve." 

Jane Austen
Welcome to the matrix vision newsletter for September 2013. 


The theme of this newsletter is "Business Writing". This topic was selected because after not doing much training on business writing for many years, I have found quite a demand recently.
As you may be aware, I am an accredited trainer for KPMG.  Over the past few years I have conducted programs in a number of business skill areas.  However, in the last 18 months, I have been focussing on Business Writing Skills programs for them.  This has reinforced for me just how important this skill is for organisations.

Technology has made everyone in the workplace a writer, and writing is a highly visible skill. When you send an email or other written communication, it is out there for people to see. It reflects on you and, if you are an administrative professional, it also reflects on your boss, so it's essential to get it right. Today, your reputation and success in business are increasingly dependent on your ability to communicate well.


A recent study of 100 LinkedIn profiles. In the same 10-year period, professionals who received one to four promotions made 45 percent more grammatical errors than did professionals who were promoted six to nine times. 


No matter what your role, you need to know how to write effectively for business. That means paying attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation, along with good word choice and a consistent style.

Bad writing can have a wide-ranging, negative effect on your business, from creating a less-than-coherent business plan and hampering your efforts to attract investors, to communicating with employees, vendors and even your customers.


"If you are a native English speaker and never learned the difference between it's and its," Brad Hoover CEO of Grammarly wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, "especially given access to Google, an employer might wonder what else you've failed to learn that might be useful."

The newsletter covers several topics: 
  • the rules of effective business writing
  • some tips and to improve writing
  • writing content for websites
  • measuring the readability of documents
  • using Surveys and Feedback to establish and build stronger teams
Enjoy your reading and as always your feedback would be welcome!

If any of the information interests you and if you would like to find out how it can help you please contact us. We would love to talk with you.

Rules for Effective Business Writing



Quill As I mentioned in my introduction, It had been a long time since I had developed and conducted written communication skills programs.  The next two panels contain excerpts from a hand-out that was part of a program that I had written more than 20 years ago. 


The surprising thing is that despite some giant leaps in technology since then these "rules" are still very relevant today. 



Study Your Reader


The more you know about the reader, the more effective your writing should be. Ask yourself these questions about the reader:- 

  • What have you in common with them?
  • What is their attitude to the subject?
  • What is their attitude to you?
  • What was the objective of their request?
  • How much do they already know about it?
  • Will they understand jargon?
  • If you are originating the correspondence will the reader be sympathetic to your purpose?
  • Should you send a copy to someone else?


 Get It Organised


It is always a good idea to think before you start writing and plan what you are going to say. The amount of planning will depend of course on the nature and length of the correspondence but there is some planning which is essential:- 

  • think about your purpose in writing;
  • try to establish what information is required and obtain it;
  • arrange the information in logical order (each main point will correspond to a paragraph); and
  • draft your correspondence - unless you are following on exactly from something written previously, always make at least one draft. There are not many people who can achieve perfection with the first copy. 


 Use Simple Words Rather Than Complex


Business cannot afford what has come to be known as "Business English".


Most so-called business phrases and words add to length and complexity but do not add to meaning. In fact, they often obscure meaning.


To illustrate this point, one critic of official writing translated the catechism into "Business English", the first part read as follows:-




My duty towards my neighbour is to love him as myself, and to do to all men as I would they should do unto me: To love honour, etc........




In connection with my co-citizens a general standard of mutual goodwill and reciprocal non-aggression is obviously incumbent upon me; but a comprehensive delimitation of my obligations might be grouped under four categories.. ....."



 Use Familiar Words Rather Than Unfamiliar


To communicate effectively we need to confine ourselves to words that are in common use. To ensure that the reader receives our meaning we must use words that the reader can understand. (We already know how difficult this can be when communicating complicated insurance matters.)


If we force the reader to have to go to another source (a dictionary) to obtain our meaning, we have broken the communication process,

 Avoid Unnecessary Words


Nearly everyone who dictates puts in words that can be crossed out of a piece of writing without the loss of meaning. These unnecessary words tire a reader and fog up writing.


Most writers use more adjectives than necessary. Worst offenders are adjectives used to hide ignorance of exact amounts,for example:-


acute shortage

large majority

real danger

definite decision

essential condition

considerable number

substantial losses

grave emergency

major effect

integral part

active consideration

paramount importance



To find out how we can help your business to develop effective business writing skills for you and you team







More Rules for Effective Business Writing

Fountain Pen Keyboard


Use Precise Words Rather Than Vague


People ascribe much the same meaning to concrete words but they often have widely differing interpretations of abstract words. Remember people give meaning to words according to their past experiences with what the words represent.


Always choose words which have a precise meaning rather than words which are vague and ambiguous. Obviously the less ambiguity and vagueness in your writing, the clearer your meaning will be to your reader, 

Keep as many verbs active as possible


Active verbs in a sentence make it sound alive and vibrant.


Passive verbs make it sound lifeless and sluggish. Passive verbs can easily be found. They have word-phrases like "has been" and "was" between the subject and the verb,


Keep Sentences Short


Reading begins to get hard when sentences average more than 20 words. "Time" and "Readers Digest" each average about 17 words.


Lengthy sentences are our greatest vice. They are our greatest single writing problem.


The best way to cut sentences is to use the full stop. Many of us tend to run on sentences with lots of ands, buts, therefores, howevers and nonethelesses. We can control this tendency by two techniques:

  1. Limit sentences to 30 words.
  2. Limit sentences to one thought unit.

Breaking the sentence is important because people read words in spurts and absorb one point at a time. We do not want to blunt points, but we do want them to hang together. Thus we have the bridge word.


An excerpt from a list of bridge words and how to use them is below. This list will guide you in picking the exact word you need.

Bridge Words
If you would like the full list please email me and let me know

Vary Sentence Length


While aiming for short sentences do not let your writing become choppy. 
A variety of sentence lengths are needed so that the piece of writing is more interesting to read.
Write As You Talk


The written word is nothing more than a substitute for the spoken word. You will want to make your writing somewhat more precise than speech. But it is a good guide to consider as you write:


What would I say to this person if I were talking to him face to face?


  Write To Express Not To Impress


Don't confuse dignity or learning with pomposity. 


The best way to impress the reader is to express what you have to say clearly and directly.



This program could be custom designed to include examples from your business. To find out how we can help your business to develop effective business writing skills for you and you team








Business Writing Tips



Writing Many people believe business writing is a frustrating task that should be avoided. But good business writing is important for building and maintaining your company's image. The following tips will help you achieve clearer and more effective business writing.


What is your business writing objective?


Before you begin, you need to think about the objective of your business writing. Is it to inform, educate, persuade or entertain? It could be one or a combination of these. Whether you're writing a report, letter or email, you need to identify the message you want to present to your readers. A simple way to do this is to write a one-sentence summary of your objective and keep it in front of you as you write.


Keep your business writing simple


The large amount of business information available today is overwhelming. Why complicate and lengthen your business writing when you don't have to? Simple words and phrases are easier to read and take up less space on the page. When writing, choose simple words that convey the same meaning as complicated ones. For example, write:

  • 'help' instead of 'facilitate'
  • 'use' instead of 'operate'
  • 'prove' instead of 'substantiate'
  • 'now' instead of 'currently.'

This also applies to phrases. For example, replace 'on a regular basis' with 'regularly' and 'at this point in time' with 'now'.


Using simple words and phrases will shorten the length of your business writing and make it easier to read.


Use active voice in your business writing


Business writing that uses active voice is stronger and more direct than passive voice. Compare the following two sentences. 

  1. Innovative products and services are offered by our company. 
  2. Our company offers innovative products and services.

The first is in passive voice and the second is in active voice. The active voice example says the same thing but uses fewer words and is more direct. Which would you choose for your business writing?


Use personal pronouns in your business writing


Personal pronouns such as 'you' and 'we' are good for business writing. They create a conversational tone that is friendlier and speaks directly to the reader. Compare the following two examples. 

  1. Free advice can be obtained from our sales department. 
  2. You can get free advice from our sales department.

The first example sounds formal and distant, while the second speaks directly to the customer.


Another way to make your business writing more friendly and natural is to write 'we' instead of constantly repeating your company's name.


Aim for a short average sentence length for better business writing


Sentence length is an important factor to consider in business writing. Research shows that comprehension goes down when sentences are too long, so keep your average sentence length below 20 words. A sentence of over 35 words should be broken into two sentences, if possible.


Avoid clichés in your business writing


Clichés are overused phrases that have lost any meaning. Avoid phrases such as 'at the end of the day', 'for all intents and purposes' and 'as safe as houses' in your business writing. They add no meaning to your business writing and waste your readers' time.


Use a conversational tone in your business writing


One tip for maintaining a conversational tone in your business writing is to use contractions. Instead of writing 'it is', write it's. Write 'we're' instead of 'we are'. Many of us don't feel comfortable using contractions in our writing because some English teacher told us it was bad. It might not be appropriate in a formal school essay, but it's best for most types of business writing. If you don't use contractions, your business writing will sound robotic.


Another way to create a conversational tone in your business writing is to read the first draft aloud to judge how it sounds. Would you speak this way to a client or associate? If not, it's a good idea to go back to your writing and make changes.


Rewrite your business writing until you get it right


Even experienced business writers rarely get it right the first time. They might create two, three or more drafts before being satisfied with their writing. You'll find ways to improve what you have written by carefully reading it. Sometimes it helps to wait a day or two to let your business writing 'cool off' before you go back to it.


It's also a good idea to have a friend or colleague review your business writing. You might think you have expressed your ideas clearly, while others don't. Feedback from others can help you improve your business writing.


There is no need to be frustrated the next time you have to complete a business writing project. Applying these simple tips will help you express your ideas clearly and will make a big difference in the impression you create through your business writing.

Word Nerds

Use Transition Words.


Transition words tell the reader whether the next point or fact progresses, recalls, reinforces , or contradicts the previous point or facts. The following is just a partial list of transition words:


  Transition Words


Transition words help the reader anticipate the relationship of the next point or fact. Therefore, put the transition at the beginning of the sentence or clause.


Poor: Our plane landed one hour late in Frankfurt. We made, however, our connection to Lisbon. 

Good: Our plane landed one hour late in Frankfurt. However, we made our connection to Lisbon.


The transition word can also tell the reader if the points or facts are related by time or if one point or fact causes the other. Does A cause B, or does A merely relate in time to B? The distinction between cause and time is important for science and business.



Use Standard English Words.


English already has enough words, about 1.2 million. We rarely need to supplement standard English words by using other languages or inventing words.


A hundred years ago, college students studied Latin and maybe some Greek. This educated class often used bits of Latin in conversation, almost as code to signify their level of education. If their families had money, they took the "Grand Tour" through France and Italy. These wealthy people used bits of French in conversation to signify their social status. Now, many people go to college, and many people can afford to fly to France. Using Latin and French was pompous a hundred years ago and is just plain silly today.


Don't use Latin words unless necessary. Latin is still necessary for legal and medical texts and bibliographic citations.


Even the most common bits of Latin confuse. Ask a roomful of professionals what i.e. means, and you get as many as five answers. The abbreviation i.e. stands for the Latin id est, or English that is.


Instead of using i.e. and e.g., use English words like meaning, defined as, such as, including, for example. Avoid the Latin via. Instead, use more precise English words like by way of, by means of, through, or using. The Latin etc. might as well be translated as I'm too lazy to finish this list .

From Can Do Writing - Graham & Graham



Rules for writers


  1. don't use no double negative.
  2. make each pronoun agree with their antecedent.
  3. join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  4. about them sentence fragments.
  5. verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  6. just between you and I, case is important, too.
  7. don't write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  8. don't use commas, which aren't necessary.
  9. remember to never split infinitives.
  10. it's important to use your apostrophe's correctly.
  11. proofread your writing to see if you any words out.
  12. correct spelling is aboslutely essential.
  13. write all adverbs correct.
  14. don't overuse exclamation marks ! ! !
  15. writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  16. take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
  17. if you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  18. last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.







If you need help with building teams that create continuous improvement 

give us a call....






Things you can do right now to improve your website
My guest contributor to this newsletter is Carla Mollica - The Web Content Specialist. Carla specialises in writing great content for websites. She loves showing clients how a few small changes can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of their website. To learn more about "The Web Content Specialist" visit her website - CLICK HERE




Content is your business' voice so it is the most important element of your website. Your content should lead site visitors to conclude that what you offer is personal to them. Here are some simple ways to do that.


Get Personal


Speak directly to your reader by using "you" instead of something more impersonal like "business owners". It is why you are thinking about your own business and website as you read this. It is a technique most sites can incorporate and is a simple edit.


Goodbye paragraphs and hello bullet points


Get your message across quickly by mastering bullet points because readers will not read long paragraphs. Bullet points become a checklist of things you sell (do/solve/teach). Readers should mentally check off items as they read down your list.


Writing relatable bullet points:

  • Limit each point to one line.
  • Start each bullet point with an action (just as these bullet points do).
  • List services you want to sell more of at the top.

Punchy Paragraphs


The first sentence is the star, and the rest of the paragraph has a supporting role. How Ways to make paragraphs more readable:

  • Write short sentences.
  • Use familiar words (need not require, help not assist).
  • Make the first sentence punchy.
  • Be clear so readers know WHY you are telling them as well as what.


Proof reading - Get off your computer!


For accurate proofreading back away from the computer. Always use a pen and a print out. Remember to proof the headings. Decide on a style and stick to it, eg capitalising the first word of each bullet point (or not), and ending each with a full stop (or not). The more important the content the more vital it is that someone else proofs it before you upload it to your site.






Measuring Readability


Readability is the ease in which text can be read and understood.


Easy reading helps learning and enjoyment, so what we write should be easy to understand.

While many writers and speakers since ancient times have used plain language, in the 20th century there was much more focus on reading ease. Much of the research has focused on matching texts to people's reading skills. This has used many successful formulas: in research, government, teaching, publishing, the army, doctors, and business. 


Many people, and in many languages, have been helped by this. By the year 2000, there were over 1,000 studies on readability formulas in professional journals about their validity and merit. The study of reading is not just in teaching. Research has shown that much money is wasted by companies in creating documents that are hard for the average reader to read.


The Gunning Fog Index


The measure of readability that has been very popular for many years is the Gunning Fog Index.


In linguistics, the Gunning Fog Index measures the readability of English writing. The index estimates the years of formal education needed to understand the text on a first reading. A fog index of 12 requires the reading level of a U.S. high school senior (around 18 years old). The test was developed by Robert Gunning, an American businessman, in 1952.


The fog index is commonly used to confirm that text can be read easily by the intended audience. Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.




The Gunning fog index is calculated with the following algorithm:

  1. Select a passage (such as one or more full paragraphs) of around 100 words. Do not omit any sentences;
  2. Determine the average sentence length. (Divide the number of words by the number of sentences.);
  3. Count the "complex" words: those with three or more syllables. Do not include proper nouns, familiar jargon, or compound words. Do not include common suffixes (such as -es, -ed, or -ing) as a syllable;
  4. Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words; and
  5. Multiply the result by 0.4.

The complete formula is:


Gunnings Fog Index
While the fog index is a good sign of hard-to-read text, it has limits. Not all complex words are difficult. For example, "asparagus" is not generally thought to be a difficult word, though it has four syllables. A short word can be difficult if it is not used very often by most people.




Using MS Word Readability Statistics


Microsoft Word's readability scores are based on American audiences and Word's sometimes quirky grammar checking, but they can give an idea of the readability of documents and provide some general rules of thumb that can be useful.


The Readability Statistics facility in Microsoft Word includes:

  • Counts: the number of words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences in the document.
  • Averages: average sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters per word.
  • Readability statistics: percentage of passive sentences in the document, Flesch Reading Ease score, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.

You'll need grammar checking turned on to display readability statistics (even if you turn it off afterwards). To display readability statistics:

  1. Go to the Tools menu and select Options.
  2. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
  3. Tick the Check grammar with spelling and Show readability statistics checkboxes.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Go to the Tools menu and select Spelling and Grammar (or use the F7 key).


Interpreting Readability Statistics


Some of the information presented by Word's readability statistics is of little use, but you can use some of the statistics to check word count rules of thumb.


For Web writing:

  • The total word count (Counts > Words) should be no greater than 500 words for a general page, or 700 words for a long page.
  • The average length of sentences (Averages > Words per Sentence) should be no greater than 15 - 20 words.
  • The number of words per paragraph ([Averages > Sentence per Paragraph] x [Averages > Words per Sentence]) should be no greater than 40 - 70 words for general prose, or 30 - 50 words for a summary paragraph.

 Word Readability


The Readability area can draw attention to possible problems in the general writing style of the document. 



  • the Passive Sentences percentage is higher than 15%, or
  • the Flesch Reading Ease score is lower than 60%, or
  • the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is greater than 5 - 7 (for younger readers), 5 - 9 (general readers) or 7 - 12 (industry or technical readers)

... you need to look at the document with fresh eyes.



If you would like to know more about how readability measures can improve your writing

give us a call....







Team Effectiveness Survey to help people Work Together
20/20 Logo 
Matrix Vision is a user of the most powerful and versatile feedback software tool available today. 
People need an efficient, confidential and anonymous vehicle for giving feedback to each other. State-of-the-art software can simplify the process of collecting multi-source (360) feedback for anyone in your organisation.
20/20 Insight GOLD is the world's most versatile feedback tool. With this system, we can set up surveys to collect virtually any type of feedback-ideas, opinions, impressions, ratings - from any number of people about the performance of an individual, a team or even your organisation as a whole.organisation.





Using Feedback to Improve Team Effectiveness


High performing teams thrive on feedback.  They seek feedback to build on their strengths and use it overcome some of the perceived barriers or obstacles.


Matrix Vision has developed the Team Effectiveness Survey to help teams understand how the team members feel about some key areas that are essential to effective teamwork.


This survey provides the opportunity for each of the members of a team to give some confidential, anonymous web-based feedback about how they perceive the team is going in a number of key areas.

    • How well does the team set goals or establish priorities? - GOALS
    • To what extent does the team analyse or allocate the way work is performed? - ROLES
    • How well is the team working in terms of its processes, such as norms, decision making, communications? - PROCESSES/PROCEDURES
    • To what extent does the interaction that occurs between team members assist the team? - RELATIONSHIPS
    • To what extent is team leadership present to set direction and manage the team? - LEADERSHIP
    • In addition some general items are included to allow team members to give an overall picture of the team - GENERAL PRODUCTIVITY and CLIMATE

The Team Effectiveness Survey consists of 44 items, most of which are statements about the team which the team member is asked to indicate their strength of agreement on a ten point scale.  In addition there are several open questions for team members either to explain high or low scores or to make general comments about the team.


To get more details about the Team Effectiveness Survey CLICK HERE


To learn more about the power of 20/20 Insight Gold click on the image.


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To talk with us about how you can use feedback to help improve your organisation, please


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The theme of our next newsletter will be "Thinking".
All the Best,
Barry Signature
Barry McMaster
Matrix Vision Pty Limited