7 tips for Business & Technical Writing gleaned from “25 Commandments for Journalists”

The Writing Center’s November 2013 through January 2014 blogs featured tips adapted from our newly updated Writing Effective Performance Appraisals course. Now we return to tips adapted from our instructor-led and online Business Writing, Technical Writing, and Business Grammar courses.

Tim Radford, former Science, Letters, Arts, and Literary Editor of the British Guardian, collected “25 Commandments for Journalists” for his writers over the years. Among those, the following 7 tips are especially applicable for Business and Technical Writing. Tim Radford’s commandments are presented in italics. The Writing Center’s insertions and suggestions for implementing the commandments are provided in brackets.

 Tip #5—Clarity.  No one will complain because you made something too easy to understand. [To be clear, eliminate all unnecessary words, and include all words necessary for meaning. Define technical vocabulary. Present content in logical order. Enable your computer’s Readability Statistics feature (in your Proofreading options) to gauge whether your sentences’ length interferes with your document’s readability.]

Tip #7—Audience Analysis.  A classic error is to overestimate what the reader knows and to underestimate the reader’s intelligence. [Keep this tip in mind when determining how much background, explanation, and detail to include in a document.]

Tip #12—Purpose Statements.  A well-written first sentence—the right first sentence— helps you write all the other sentences. [To write, you must first articulate your purpose. In Business and Technical Writing, a well-written first sentence defines the purpose and scope of a document—for both the writer and the reader.]

Tip #15—Precision.  Use a dictionary. Words have meanings. Respect those meanings. Look [words] up. Find out where words have been. Use them properly. [Increase your credibility through the use of precise wording. Invest in an unabridged dictionary that provides the derivation and history of words and explains the fine distinctions of their use. Invest in an authoritative usage dictionary such as Bryan A. Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, and visit Garner’s website regularly: https://www.lawprose.org/blog/.]

Tip #18—Tone & Precision.   [Unlike spoken language,] the language of the page has no accent, no helpful signaling tone of irony or comedy or self-mockery.  Language must be straight, clear, and vivid. And to be straight, clear, and vivid, it must follow [standard] grammar. [Review every text message, email, and document you write before sharing it with your reader. Ensure that the tone is collegial, the wording is clear, and the punctuation and grammar are correct.]

Tip #19—Natural Wording.  If you are a science writer, you have to use [highly specialized] words like ‘mitochondrion’ and ‘isostasy.’  [So don’t surround those already difficult words] with words like ‘effulgent’—just use ‘happy.’ [Be precise, but define your terminology and prefer words that are familiar to your readers. The best words are those that disappear and allow their meaning to shine through.]

Tip #22—Improving Vocabulary.  Read. Read lots of different [articles, blogs, and books—nonfiction and fiction]. Look at the astonishing things you can do with words. [And listen to the vocabulary used by well-spoken individuals. Regularly complete the vocabulary quizzes at websites such as http://www.merriam-webster.com/quiz/index.htm . When you hear or read a word that you would like to add to your vocabulary, add it to your “word bank”—a list of new vocabulary words collected on your computer or other electronic device—or your “word jar”—a large see-through jar in which you collect new vocabulary words and their meanings on slips of paper.]

To read all 25 commandments, you can visit The Guardian:



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