On LinkedIn, I sometimes post tips on pitfalls to avoid in your writing, as a series of posts with the hashtag #WhatNotToWrite. Here comes a round-up of numbers 11 to 15 in the series.
The tips are mainly geared towards business writing, and are largely based on things I’ve noticed when editing business content – but some are worth bearing in mind when doing other types of writing as well.
The earlier posts were compiled into these blog articles:
1️⃣1️⃣ Unless there’s a very good reason, don’t use the phrase ‘in place’ in this kind of thing:
❌ The company has a diversity policy in place.
❌ The company will put a diversity policy in place.
It’s abstract wording: the word ‘place’ doesn’t refer to an actual place. And abstract wording isn’t good for keeping your reader’s attention.
In the first example, it’s just pointless verbiage. Where else could the policy be, other than ‘in place’? It’s hardly likely to be floating above the clouds or buried underground. OK, so there might be a policy in draft form, not yet ‘live’ – but if that were the case, surely you’d say so. You can just leave out the ‘in place’, with no loss of meaning:
✅ The company has a diversity policy.
In the second case, you can’t just delete ‘in place’, as the verb ‘put’ would be left dangling in mid-air. But that’s abstract as well – there’s no actual ‘putting’ going on. Better to use a concrete, single-word verb, like this:
✅ The company will introduce a diversity policy.
As usual: keep it simple, stoopid! (I’m not calling you stoopid – it’s just an expression, stoopid.)
On LinkedIn: sorry, gone missing!
1️⃣2️⃣ Don’t refer to your organisation’s website as ‘our official website’ unless you’re sure there’s a good reason for it.
Let’s face it, unless you happen to be, say, a professional football club or the provider of a hugely popular product, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone will have set up an unofficial site about your organisation or product. Even if they had done, you probably wouldn’t mention it in your communications. And even if you did, surely you wouldn’t use the word ‘our’, as it wouldn’t be yours. So, ‘our website’ will do just fine.
This kind of thing can make you seem self-important, even though you might not be. And, like many other things I’ve discouraged in these posts, the word ‘official’ in this context is just needless clutter, giving your reader extra work to do. You have been officially warned 😏
1️⃣3️⃣ In business writing, don’t write ‘3rd party’ (unless you’re having to follow some strange style guide that tells you to).
It looks amateurish, and yet people keep doing it. The figure ‘3’ will ‘jump off the page’, distracting your reader and grabbing more attention than it warrants.
If you want to come across as professional and businesslike, it’s better to write ‘third party’, which will make for smoother reading.
This is part of a wider editorial style issue about when to write numbers using numerals and when to use words instead, which is too big a subject for a mere post like this …
1️⃣4️⃣ In your business writing, don’t use the ampersand symbol (‘&’) without a good reason.
⚠ It will make your writing look sloppy, untidy and disjointed.
⚠ Like other large characters, it ‘jumps off the page’, and this can be distracting.
⚠ It can make you look lazy, maybe even suggesting a certain disdain for the reader (‘I can’t be bothered to write “and”, so you’ll have to make do with this’). Even if neither of these things is true, it’s the perception that counts.
Using the word ‘and’ will hardly take any more time and effort anyway: it only needs one more keystroke.
As usual, there are exceptions. Here are some situations where it makes sense to use the ampersand:
✅ In official names of companies, brands etc. that do include it, such as ‘Ernst & Young’ and ‘Procter & Gamble’.
✅ In well-known terms such as ‘M&A’ and ‘P&L’, and in lesser-known similar terms that you expect your readers to understand.
✅ In things like tables and charts, if space is very limited.
1️⃣5️⃣ If you’re inviting your customers or prospects to take a quick look at something, don’t suggest that they take a ‘sneak peak’ – not with that spelling, anyway.
People often use this expression in social media and other places online, but they very often spell the second word wrongly: it should be ‘peek’. A ‘peak’ is the highest point of something, like a mountain peak, or the peak of your career. A ‘peek’ is a quick look.
It’s easy to get this wrong because of the ‘eak’ in ‘sneak’ – it just seems obvious that the next word should follow suit, but that isn’t the case.
Now you can be one of the special few who get it right. ✅
Thoughts on Words
An editorial blog. Posts by Graham Hughes.