Choose Vocabulary that Communicates in Email Writing

You can write emails that have the impact you want them to have. To ensure readers know, believe, or do what you want, you must communicate clearly to all readers. Your business vocabulary is central to successful communication.

The average business reader understands vocabulary at a 10th grade level. That means some are reading at the 8th to 9th grade level. The average person in the general public understands vocabulary at the 8th to 9th grade levels, with some reading with the comprehension of an elementary-school student. If your business writing uses vocabulary suitable for an 11th grade or 12th grader, some readers may not understand all of your message. If business writing is at the level of a college student or higher, you are likely to have miscommunications with some readers.

Clear vocabulary is key to communicating clearly in business writing. This blog contains seven guidelines you should follow to use business vocabulary your readers understand.

Business Vocabulary Guideline 1:
Use modern, everyday vocabulary rather than archaic words and phrases.

Avoid archaic vocabulary people don’t use in speaking any more in your business writing. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it. A short list of such vocabulary follows to give you examples. Write the alternative to the right of each in your business writing.

as per your letter in your letter
yours of the 10th your letter of December 10
awaiting your reply, we are, omit
in due course today, tomorrow, next week
permit me to say that omit
we are in receipt of we received
pursuant to omit
in closing omit
attached herewith here is
the undersigned we, I
kindly advise let us know
under separate cover in another envelope
we wish to inform you omit
enclosed please find enclosed is
it has come to my attention I have just learned
please be advised that omit

Business Vocabulary Guideline 2:
Use plain English in your business writing

Use vocabulary words you might speak in ordinary conversation. Avoid slang and colloquialisms, such as “keep on truckin’,” unless you’re writing to someone you know well. However, use simpler, conversational vocabulary rather than complex words or phrases such as the following. Choose the alternative vocabulary to the right of each word or phrase for use in your business writing.

accelerated sped up
preceding year last year
predicated based on
assumption belief
financial deficit losing money
ascertain find out, learn
consummate close, bring about
peruse read, study
nevertheless but
terminate end
utilize use
deem think
assistance help, converse, talk
forward send, mail
advise tell
indicate show
reside live
we would like to ask that please
for the reason that because
are of the opinion believe
for the purpose of for, to
prior to before
despite the fact that although, though
in view of the fact that because, since
in order to to
subsequent to after
with reference to about
on the occasion of when
during the course of during
along the lines of like
succeed in making make
make use of use
have need for need
give consideration to consider
initiate begin, start
commence begin, start

Business Vocabulary Guideline 3:
Use precise wording in your business writing.

Tighten up the use of words.

Vocabulary for Business WritingGovernmental Imprecise Wording

New Balance shoes has been in a 15-year debate with the FTC about imprecise wording. The FTC rules are that for a product to be labeled as “Made in the USA,” “all or virtually all” of the product must be made in the United States. New Balance argues that 70 percent of its shoes are made in the United States, so that fits the “virtually all” standard. It labels all of its shoes “Made in the USA.”

Precise wording would have saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in FTC employee time and legal expenses. Perhaps they could have written, “For a product to carry the ‘Made in the USA’ label, 95 percent or more must be made in the United States.”

Business Vocabulary Guideline 4:
Avoid imprecise words in business writing.

Avoid words such as “many,” “some,” “several,” and “a few.” They don’t communicate clearly in business writing. Use the exact number when you know it.

Avoid words that have vague or ambiguous meanings such as “which involve,” “in terms of,” and “that reflect.” The reader needs solid meaning on which to build understanding. This email will communicate very little:

John needs to make changes in terms of the reports, which will involve the headings and placement of data.

Avoid these vague words. Instead, use words in your business writing that state what you mean for the reader to understand:

John needs to change the report headings so they contain words the reader will recognize immediately. He also needs to realign the columns of data so each column fits under the report heading describing the column contents.

Business Vocabulary Guideline 5:
Make sure the concept words you use convey your meaning precisely.

The vocabulary in this business writing is too loose:

As many of you are aware and have participated, the agent-training team has worked with Agency Development to make training.

The “have participated” doesn’t fit with “As many of you . . .” Also, the training team and Agency Development can’t “make” training. They can perform training or design training. The writer should tighten up the business writing by rewording the statements:

As many of you are aware and some of you know from participating in the effort, the agent-training team has worked with Agency Development to design and deliver training.

However, the entire sentence would be shorter and easier to read if the writer simply wrote “As many of you now know, the agent-training team . . .”

Business Vocabulary Guideline 6:
Use words that describe concepts well.

This paragraph uses vocabulary that does not describe the concepts or relationships among concepts:

For an employee to be productive and innovative while developing his or her career at any professional services firm, an active participation in educational programs is crucial for long-term success. One fundamental lesson is the idea of leadership and how an understanding of leadership principles can facilitate a new employee’s immersion into a professional atmosphere.

The writer is using words loosely. The first sentence begins with “to be productive and innovative,” explaining what an employee must do to be productive and innovative, but the sentence ends by suggesting that the comment about what the employee must do “is crucial for long-term success.” In other words, the writer applies the middle part to both the beginning and end even though they’re two different concepts.

In the second sentence, the writer calls a “lesson” an “idea.” A lesson isn’t an idea. The writer then uses “immersion,” which refers to lowering into water or deeply penetrating. That isn’t appropriate for the employee’s entrance into a professional atmosphere. He or she meant “entrance.”

The result of these imprecise uses of words is that readers become confused, the business writing sounds odd, and the writer will be judged as having cloudy thinking or being unintelligent. Be as precise as you can in your use of words in business writing.

Business Vocabulary Guideline 7:
Avoid business jargon.

Business jargon is words being used in business writing even though the words don’t communicate to all readers and have become clichés. Some commonly used business jargon follows (adapted from Tony Proscio’s In Other Words and Bad Words for Good). Much of it should simply not be used in business writing, but if you use any of these jargon words, be sure the readers all agree with you about the word’s meaning:

Action Plan
Best Practices
Community Development
Consensus Building
Financial Assistance
Input see Throughput
Learning Organizations
Technical Assistance
To Partner
Value Added

Business Vocabulary Guideline Tip 8:
Use technical jargon vocabulary if the reader expects and understands the jargon.

Some fields require the use of specialized vocabulary in business writing that is jargon for the field. Specialized jargon vocabulary is meaningful to readers who understand the jargon. A single word can contain a number of concepts so the jargon word communicates clearly and quickly to the reader who understands the words. Besides, the person who knows the words will expect you to use them in your business writing to show you also know them and that you regard that person as knowledgeable.

Use specialized jargon words common in your field in your business writing if the reader is also in the field and understands the jargon. If you have doubts about whether all readers will understand the technical jargon, use the common English alternatives when possible.

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