Despite the trend toward more casual business copy, I’ve noticed that certain words still crop up on websites, in letters, and on blogs with a fair amount of frequency. These are words I dub “Businessese”–words that sound formal and business-like but don’t add any real strength to the copy itself. They’re words that may have been meaningful at one point, but due to overuse, they’ve lost any real punch. They may be words that came with the author from some other setting, such as the military or law enforcement. Or they may be words that are stuck in our heads from middle school composition classes when our teachers encouraged us to write “formal” business letters.
The problem with most of these words is that they put up a wall between the business and the audience. Businessese tends to create boundaries where they shouldn’t exist. Good business copy with a healthy punch will invite the audience into conversation with the business. By eliminating these seven words, you can increase the potential for great conversations with your audience.
Utilize: Ban this one from your speech, too. I think I hate this word to a point that’s almost unhealthy. It’s not the word itself that is bad, but rather it’s extreme overuse–or should I say “overutilization.” Here’s the problem: “utilize,” when used in business settings, is almost always just a long way of saying “use.” If you can substitute the word “use” without losing any meaning, do so.
Value-added: I’m sure there’s a reason that business people started using this phrase, but it’s probably been lost to the annals of time. To me, this phrase smacks of over-eagerness. If you have to tell your clients and prospects that something is “value-added,” then perhaps the value isn’t obvious enough on its own. Punch up the copy so that the product or service sells itself.
Bandwidth: I will admit to using this one in speech, but I would never use it in business copy. I should probably ban it from my speech, too. Why? It’s another case of “overspeak”–the business speech phenomenon that substitutes a bigger, more scientific word for the simple one that will work just fine. Rather than saying that “John does not have the bandwidth to take on another project,” simply substitute “time.”
As well as: “As well as” is mainly just a three-word version of “and.” There are times when it’s appropriate, but they are rare. You can almost always substitute “and.”
With regard to: Or even worse, “WRT.” I will confess that it took me ages to figure out what “WRT” even meant. In general, this phrase (and its sister, “regarding” or “re:”) is almost always unnecessary. I know that you use it to gently remind your audience about previous communications, but try leaving it out or rewording your sentence. Instead of, “With regard to our previous conversation,” try “I’m writing about our previous conversation.” You sound friendlier and less lawyerly.
As per: Closely related to “with regard to,” this phrase just sounds overly wordy or lawyerly. Lighten your writing by trying to reword or eliminate this phrase completely.
Attached please find: “Attached is” will do nicely, thank you very much. And you may not even need that much. In e-mail–which tends to be a more informal medium for communication–consider something friendlier, like “I’ve attached” or “Here is the document I promised you.”
I’m not saying we have to be informal and casual in all of our business writing, and there’s certainly no reason to devolve into textspeak in our e-mails! But relaxed formality isn’t lax formality. Relaxed formality can still communicate the right tone for your business even as it invites your audience to venture a little closer. Don’t be afraid to relax a bit. Your audience will thank you!