‘Yes,’ I told the document’s author. ‘I removed some of the words and phrases that added nothing to either the substance or the tone. But if you think I have been too severe ….’
‘Umm … no,’ she said. ‘It reads better. But it has made it rather short. It’s now only about half as long.’
What is it that leads so many writers of business documents to value the thud factor over clarity and style? Readers of business documents are, in the main, busy people. They have neither the time nor the inclination to struggle through a badly written War and Peace. The want simple, succinct documents that are easy to read and easy to understand.
What do I need to know?
Why do I need to know it?
And what do I need to do next?
Phrases like ‘notwithstanding the aforementioned’ and ‘in light of the fact that’ seldom add anything useful to answering these questions. But they do encourage readers to start skip-reading. And, once this happens, there is a good chance that the reader may inadvertently skip your key point (or points).
I have said it before, but it’s worth saying it again. If you want your reader to know that the cat sat on the map, simply tell them: The cat sat on the mat.