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issue 12

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Business Communication by Michael Watkins

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Training Bulletin Issue 12

Welcome to Issue 12 of The Training Bulletin.

How much does poor writing cost your organisation?

We usually talk about writing, but let’s start by looking at a few numbers, just for a change.

Let’s assume that staff in the UK earn an average of £26,000. If they work a 40 hour week and for 48 weeks a year, that’s 1,920 hours, earning £13.54 an hour.

The average person can read business materials at a rate of about 200 words per minute, so it takes about 25 minutes to get through 5,000 words (about ten pages). So, each ten-page document costs your organisation about £5.64 per person to read.

Assuming people read two such documents a day, this comes to £11.28 a day. Multiply this by how many days they work. Let’s see: we said 48 weeks, five days a week, that’s 240 days minus eight public holidays…232 days spent at work.

That’s an average annual cost to an organisation of £2,617 per person for reading time. Multiply £2,617 by the number of people in your company to see how much it costs just to sit and read. And that’s for specific documents – what about the huge numbers of emails that most people receive these days?

If you can read something once, pull out the salient points and carry on, that’s great, but how often do you have to read something several times to grasp what the writer is trying to tell you?

Unnecessary Waffle

Unnecessary waffle isn’t just annoying: it costs your organisation money because it takes longer to wade through and to understand it. So, what do we mean by waffle?

It’s all too easy when writing to rely on stock phrases, and to keep using them out of habit when there is a quicker way to say what you mean. Are you guilty of any of the following?

In the order of, instead of about.
Are in a position to, instead of can.
Be deficient in, instead of lack.
Despite the fact that, instead of although.
In the near future, instead of soon.
In the vicinity of, instead of near or about.

A method to get you into the right frame of mind for tightening text is to look for any paragraphs that end with just a couple of words. Prune enough words from these paragraphs to shorten each by that one line. You’ll soon develop the habit of going back over your writing with an eye to trimming it. It’s often easy to take half a dozen words out of each paragraph.

To show you what I mean, here is an earlier draft of my opening lines:
“This training bulletin usually talks about words but this time, let’s try looking at some numbers, just for a change. We’ll start with a few sums.”

And here’s my pruned version:

“We usually talk about writing, but let’s start by looking at a few numbers, just for a change.”

Twenty-six words, now down to eighteen, with the added advantage that a single-sentence paragraph grabs attention.

Correct and Concise Writing

It’s easy to dash off your thoughts as they occur to you. But a document produced this way will be wordy and poorly organised. What takes time is making your writing exact and concise. Blaise Pascal once apologised for a lengthy letter, saying, “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it short.”

The suggestions above, on cutting out padding, come from two of Plain Words’ training courses, Brush Up Your English! and Effective Business Writing. These courses address many of the common problems in business writing—poor grammar and punctuation, bad sentence structure, lack of organisation of content—all things that make documents longer to read and harder to understand. You can see the full outlines of these courses at

Brush Up Your English!

“Great fun, thought provoking and an undoubted benefit to improved writing”

Effective Business Writing

“A very good introductory course to effective business writing”

It’s tempting to think that you don’t have time to make your writing concise. But consider what it costs to read: at over £5 for each recipient to read a report just once, an investment of time to write it well in the first place starts to look very sensible.

Editor recommends

Michael Watkins, Business Communication

This is one of the Harvard Business Essentials series, and is a good overview of many basic principles of effective communication for business, covering letters, emails, reports, memos and so on. As a general text, it does not go into great depth but has useful hints and serves as a good reminder of points you could forget in the hustle of a busy day.

– find it at

(If you’re interested in the source of the model for calculating writing costs, it’s derived from

Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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