No doubt, this memo was written in haste with little or no editing
(more on that in a minute). The
three thems actually refer to three
different things: reports, photocopies and an online printing company. Using the nouns instead of
pronouns gets more specific and
I’ve attached two reports and two
invoices for the photocopies. I had
the reports printed online. If other
instructors need to make photocopies, I recommend this online
When you do use pronouns,
make sure their lineage to the words
they represent is as close as sisters
and brothers. Too often they’re
third cousins twice removed. For
I love grabbing the dictionary to
learn something new. Of course, I
can check it online.
What does it refer to? In this
case, it stands in for word, but
where is that in the previous sentence? Nowhere. The words that
pronouns replace need to be clear
to the reader. If in doubt, use the
noun instead of the pronoun:
Of course, I can check the word
And avoid using some, most, all,
people or everyone too often. Rarely
do all or everyone agree on something, and just how many is some?
Instead, write that three-quarters
of the staff want to have a company
picnic or that three departments—
accounting, marketing and sales—
want to launch a new campaign.
2. Make the passive voice
Like a tire with a slow leak, passive
writing rolls along for a while but
eventually makes your document
The report was written and
The verdict was given.
No one is doing the action,
which can lead to problems and
misunderstandings. In the first
example, did the writer write the
report and approve it? Or were
others involved? This information
could make a big difference in how
the report is accepted. And who
gave the verdict? The jury? The
judge? The CEO? Again, more
information means less likelihood
of confusion. These two sentences
are more specific:
The manager wrote the report,
and the CEO approved it.
The board gave the verdict—the
budget had to be cut.
Of course, there are always
exceptions. Sometimes this kind
of vague writing is appropriate in
an office setting or in technical
writing, when the focus is on the
action itself rather than who is
Mistakes were made is more politic than Mary made mistakes.
The experiment was successful
highlights that the experiment
is more important than the individuals who conducted it.
But more often than not, choose
active voice for clarity and vitality.
3. Use vivid verbs
Look for those boring to be verbs
and replace them with something
more specific. Of course, not every
is, are or were is a problem. Sometimes you need nothing more than
a little to be verb. But vivid verbs
make your writing more specific
(and more interesting to read).
Notice, too, that they can increase
(To be) She is much taller than
(Vivid) She looms over everyone.
(To be) The copy is full of errors.
(Vivid) Errors choke the copy.
(To be) He is very professional.
(Vivid) He exudes professionalism.
(To be) His workspace is full of
(Vivid) Papers clutter his workspace.
4. Adopt a more positive
Consider this situation: You’re at
the cash register in the office cafeteria, and the bill seems less than it
should be. You might vaguely comment, “Something is wrong here.”
That, in turn, sets up an adversar-ial response from the cashier, who
assumes you’re complaining about
being overcharged. But what you
really meant was “Did you short-change yourself?” That starts the
exchange on a more positive note,
without any defensiveness from
the cashier. You were more specific, and you got your point across
more effectively. Watch for similar
situations with your writing.