This is the second tutorial on what I call ‘The You Rule’. This rule is almost universally broken by business writers — including myself. The You Rule states that you should always refer to your reader in the singular.
More broadly, The You Rule admonishes us to write about our reader, instead of about our product or service.
In this tutorial I also show you how to fix two more common errors. And please take a look at the three earlier tutorials, if you haven’t already.
And don't forget to order your copy of Write Like You Mean Business.
I call it ‘The You Rule’. In business writing, ‘you’ is always singular. And more generally, you should write about the reader rather than your proposition.
This is covered in more detail in Write Like You Mean Business.
The verbosity of business writing includes oddities that I call ‘logic bombs’. These are words that are not just excess to the writer’s requirements, but technically illogical. So logic bombs weaken your proposition two ways:
1. They make it harder to read by increasing the average words per sentence.
2. They make it harder to understand by bending logic.
Here’s a sentence from the website of a university publishing house. I’ve highlighted the logic bomb.
We are developing a new journals program and are actively commissioning new titles and working with publishers to develop existing titles. (21 words)
It is logically impossible to ‘develop a new journals program’ without ‘commissioning new titles’. Either phrase is illogically redundant, so either can go. I would cut the first one, because the second talks about ‘titles’, and this is the topic of the final phrase.
With the logic bomb defused, we have this:
We are commissioning new titles and working with publishers to develop existing titles. (13 words)
Business writing that has been cleared of logic bombs is easier for your readers to read and understand. That makes it easier for them to respect and believe what you’re trying to tell them.
Watch the video tutorial to see how I defuse other logic bombs. Thanks again for visiting.
‘Logic Bombs’ are words or phrases that are logically impossible. Here’s an example from a recruitment ad:
LOGIC BOMB: Your role will be responsible for managing, developing and overseeing operations.
A ‘role’ cannot be held ‘responsible’ for things. Responsibility is exclusive to human beings. The fix is simple; replace ‘your role’ with ‘you’.
LOGIC BOMB EDITED: You will be responsible for managing, developing and overseeing operations.
Sadly, this is a common example of HR-speak. Like their cousins in government bureaucracies, Human Resources writers use language which absolves all humans of all responsibility for anything. That way they don’t have to blame anybody for failing to perform.
To see more logic bombs defused, check out the video tutorial. And thank you again for being interested in better business writing.
As you proofread and edit your documents, check that your subjects and verbs agree in number:
Subject – Verb Agreement: When the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb must be singular. When the subject is plural or compound, the verb must be plural.
Subject – Verb Disagreement: Over the decades I’ve found a certain type of sentence most often contains a subject and a verb that do not agree. The danger sign is a prepositional phrase between the subject and the verb. If the object of this phrase differs in number with the subject, the verb often agrees with the prepositional object instead of with the real subject of the sentence.
For instance, read this sentence aloud: ‘Understanding that fully and acting on it is essential for success in every aspect of business.’
It probably sounded OK to you, even if you’re a native English speaker.
Next I’ll highlight the subject in blue (a compound subject in this case) and the verb in red. Now read only the coloured words:
‘Understanding that fully and acting on it is essential for success in every aspect of business.’
That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But change the verb to the plural form, ‘are’ , and it sounds correct. This is how I recommend you check for subject-verb agreement in your business writing.
Watch the video tutorial for a closer look at this. And thank you once again for taking the time to visit my blog.
The ‘FROM … TO’ case is a pair of linked phrases expressing movement in space or time. When you find examples in your business writing, test them like this:
1. Delete all but the first word after ‘FROM’.
2. Delete all but the first word after ‘TO’.
3. Read aloud what’s left of the sentence, to hear if it goes “clunk”.
4. Edit both phrases so that the words after ‘FROM’ are grammatically and syntactically identical to the words after ‘TO’.
Here’s an example:
Our clients range from the smallest family-owned startups to multinationals.
Now delete all but the first word after ‘from’ and all but the first word after ‘to’:
Our clients range from the … to multinationals …
It doesn’t sound right; in fact it doesn’t even make sense. For this example we’ll edit the ‘TO’ phrase so that it has the same grammar and syntax as the ‘FROM’ phrase:
Our clients range from the smallest family-owned startups to the biggest publicly-held multinationals.
You can see — more importantly, you can HEAR — how the sentence glides along when both halves of the ‘FROM … TO’ pair are followed by phrases with the same types of words (the same ‘parts of speech’), in the same order (the same syntax).
Watch the video tutorial for a closer look at this. And thanks again for visiting.
The first video tutorial is now up on You Tube. It’s an example of basic copy editing. Take a look, then let me know what you think.
Thanks again for wanting to become a better writer. In an era of too much bad writing, yours is a noble ambition.