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A Law Against Poor Writing?


Guest articles > A Law Against Poor Writing?


by: Robert Deigh


More than a few years ago, my high school English teacher insisted that there should be a federal law against poor writing. Of course we laughed, smug in the knowledge that there could be no such thing. After all, it would be unfair to turn a bunch of grammar-challenged students into a criminal class - even one that certainly would be held in an ultra-minimum security facility (a public library?). You can imagine the scene:

"What're ya in for kid?" "Split infinitives." "Ouch, that's a tough one."

Now, to my surprise, there is a bill in Congress making it mandatory that "Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly..." It is called H.R. 946: Plain Language Act of 2009. (Shouldn't it be The Plain Language Act of 2009?) There is also a Senate bill -- S. 574: Plain Writing Act of 2009.

Sure, today the bills apply only to documents created by the federal government. But next thing you know, we'll all be expected to use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. I'm no attorney, but it seems like this might be a good time to polish up our writing so that if this legislation passes, we'll be on the right side of the law.

Here are a few suggestions to improve your business writing. Clear communication will enable prospective customers to understand the benefits of your services and products and help them make the "right" buying decision.

-- Use newspaper style when writing. Put important facts up top so readers can get the information they need with the least effort.

-- Be concise. Edit like you mean it. Then remove redundant words like "current" services, "future" plans, "new" innovations. Make each word earn its place.

-- Translate everything from your industry's jargon into plain English. You'll be amazed at how that single act can make a big difference in the clarity and sparkle of your writing.

-- Get rid of cliches. No one needs to "drill down and get more granular," for example. Here are a few more cliches to avoid: (with English translations): "low-hanging fruit" (already interested in buying), "at the end of the day" (the net effect), "no brainer" (easy decision), "win-win" (mutually beneficial), "cutting edge" (innovative) and "talk offline" (chat in private).

-- Update your materials. Send old Web page text and soggy sales materials back to the right staffers to update. Revamping a whole Web site is daunting -- not so much if each person is responsible for only a page or two.


Robert Deigh is principal of RDC Communication/PR and the author of "How Come No One Knows About Us?" (WBusiness Books, available May 2008), the PR guide for organizations large and small that want to win big visibility. Deigh helps organizations increase their visibility and build their brands by creating strong and positive relationships with the press and other audiences. He is also a well-known speaker and trainer on media and PR topics. Want more free info to build your business? Subscribe to Deigh’s popular monthly 1-page online newsletter “PR Quick Tips” from his website at He can be reached via email at, or by phone at 703-503-9321.

Contributor: Robert Deigh

Published here on: 21-Feb-10

Classification: Communication



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