Business writing tip
that defies mathematics

I’d like to share with you a business writing tip that seems to challenge one of the most basic rules of mathematics.

Many people may be familiar with the concept I’m about to mention. However, very few remember to put it into practice when they get the chance.

That’s a shame, because ignoring this tip will almost certainly cost you readers and which writer ever wants that to happen.

Everyday scenario
Perhaps the best way for me to explain what I mean is to offer you a simple, everyday scenario.

Let’s say it’s your birthday and your friends have clubbed together to give you £25. Then I come along and thrust another fiver into your hand. You now have a grand total of £30.

No one can argue with that. After all, £25 plus £5 always equals £30. That’s just simple addition which most of us are taught in infants school.

Basic arithmetic
Nor can anyone argue that as a result of my gift you are £5 richer. Or to put it another way, thanks to me you are 20 per cent better off. That’s just basic arithmetic of a kind most of us learn in junior school.

Now let's consider another scenario.

Suppose you are writing a business document - perhaps a report or a proposal. And within that document there’s a 25-word sentence.

Laws start to break down
Imagine I come along and insert another five words into that sentence. It now contains 30 words. Again, no one can challenge that, because we all know that 25 plus 5 equals 30.

But that’s as far as it goes in terms of mathematics. From this point on everything starts to break down.

Here’s why.

Extra words
When we were talking about your birthday just now, we agreed that my £5 gift meant you were 20 per cent better off.

However, in the case of your written document, it's probably fair to say that my extra five words have not made your sentence 20 per cent better.

In fact, they have probably made it a lot worse.

Readability suffers
Of course, in the world of business writing, there are always exceptions. But in most cases when you make a sentence longer than about 25 words, readability starts to suffer.

The sentence becomes harder to read, possibly more complicated to follow, and as a result you start to lose readers.

Whatever kind of writing you do, losing readers is something you want to avoid if you can help it.

General business writing tip
So a good general business writing tip would be: vary the length of your sentences. But try to keep each one to no more than about 25 words.

If it turns out you need to add some words and this takes you over the limit, you should consider starting a new sentence.

Part two
In part two of this article, I’m going to take this a little further. We’ll consider a situation where my business writing tip is commonly ignored.

If you do a lot of writing for business, you may well recognise this scenario.

You can read more in my article on editing by committee.

Our business writing courses
At Strawberry Training we run a number of tailored courses for business writers. These are packed with practical business writing tips.

Each course is designed to help you develop your writing skills and convey key messages, clearly and effectively.

Courses include:

Contact details
To learn more about our business writing courses, or to make a booking, call: 020 8773 4718.

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