If you’re trying to improve the writing in your business, you almost certainly have this problem.

My friend and colleague, Sarah McCartney, wrote this post five years ago. But she nails the challenge so so beautifully I wanted to get it out to you again…

Way back in the 90s, I wrote a dissertation about marketing on the internet. It was an amazing time to be venturing online. Only 0.5% of the UK population had email; there was no Google, no social network, and you never really knew where a hyperlink would take you. It was an exciting subject. I boldly went…

I got 73% for it. 75% was a distinction. ‘Fair enough,’ I thought. ‘It wasn’t quite good enough. Never mind.’

What I hadn’t realised was that my lecturer had given me 73% to make a point. I could have had a distinction, but I’d done something horribly wrong. Years later I met him again when I was teaching a course on internet marketing in his department.

‘Hello,’ he said, ‘I’m sorry we didn’t give you a distinction. But your dissertation was too interesting. It had all the facts in it, but reading a dissertation is supposed to be hard work. And yours was too enjoyable.’

The biggest problem with business writing

It’s the thing that no one dares to mention about your proposals, your presentations, your annual report and maybe even your website.

Most business writing is boring.

It’s tedious. Stuffed with clichés and fatuous jargon. Sentences ramble on for line after line, doubling back on themselves and making the same point twice. Possibly more. They have strings of words when one would do. The writing is so dull it leaves everyone with a depressing sense of life rushing by as they plough through the self important drivel that often passes for professionalism.

Because, despite the best efforts of successful start-ups whose writers have escaped from the corporate constraints and brought some fun into their working lives, most people still think they have to write in a po-faced, pompous way to be taken seriously. That they have to write down everything they know. That this is essential to look business-like.

Result: tedium.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There’s no reason to say utilise when you can say use. Utilise is just French for use. I’ve had this discussion with many a group of in-house writers.

‘But utilise sounds more intelligent, professional, serious, impressive…’ And other things that show they care more about what people think of them, than they do about getting their point over clearly.

No, it doesn’t. It just sounds more boring.

Sarah McCartney, writer, trainer and perfumer at 4160 Tuesdays.