Here’s How Bad Writing Could Ruin Your Business

Thunderfoot Team

Redundant adjectives need not apply.

Have you ever wondered what workers did in the office before computers were invented? In today’s wired workplaces, email is the cornerstone of professional communication. In a 2015 poll of 400 white-collar workers in the U.S., respondents estimated that they spend 6.3 hours a day checking emails, with 3.2 hours devoted to work-related emails and 3.1 hours to personal messages.


Clearly, email plays an integral role in the day-to-day operations in corporate offices; yet most employees’ writing capabilities are subpar. In a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review, Josh Bernoff pinpoints the surprisingly sizeable impact that bad writing can have on business: 81% of the 547 people Bernoff surveyed agreed that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time. A majority said that what they read is “frequently ineffective because it’s too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon, and imprecise.”

Is less-than-excellent company copy hampering your team’s productivity — and in turn harming your bottom line? It may be time to address the (poorly worded) elephant in the room.

Skip the Fancy Words

It can be tempting to dress up office emails, briefs, press releases, and other written materials with adjectives pulled directly from Thesaurus.com. But are flowery descriptions getting your point across more clearly, or are they leaving room for confusion and misinterpretation among your readers and recipients? “In writing email, managers from the CEO on down must set an example by communicating exactly what they want, clearly, in the subject line or title and the first two sentences of everything they write,” says Bernoff. Fancy words and redundant sentences waste your coworkers’ time, forcing them to spend precious minutes decoding your meaning. Before clicking “send,” determine the action your email is meant to incite and make sure you’ve expressed it clearly. Delete anything extraneous to this aim.

Actively Participate In Your Writing

Passive voice is the linguistic equivalent of an apathetic shrug. It’s uninspiring, unclear, and its ambiguity can incite suspicion. Rather than writing, “the concerns you’ve expressed will be carefully reviewed,” in a company-wide email, consider a more active approach: “We’ve heard your concerns and are working now to address them.” For employees, the former incites an eye roll while the latter instills trust. This simple grammatical fix conveys increased authority, shows that the writer has a clear plan of action in place, and assumes responsibility for the outcome of that action. Without it, readers are left to wonder who, exactly, is “reviewing their concerns” — and how much this faceless entity really cares about their problems.

Cold Hard Cash

In addition to the time employees waste deciphering written materials from both their managers and peers, companies are pouring money into proficiency training for employees who aren’t adequately equipped to communicate. According to a study from College Board, blue chip businesses are spending as much as $3.1 billion on remedial writing training every year. Of this budget, $2.9 billion is spent on current employees — not new hires.

So how can your business combat these time sucking, pocket draining grammatical liabilities? One of the first places poor writing skills can be detected is on an employee’s resume and cover letter. Even for technical roles, consider the candidate’s ability to communicate in the workplace before making that hire.

For current employees, training may still be the answer. While costly, these courses could salvage business opportunities that may otherwise have been lost to avoidable writing errors.