In my first job as a qualified accountant I learned most of what I had to do from the files left by my predecessor. This included numerous reports and standard letters that I copied in terms of style and content. It meant that I would write sentences like:

“I would be grateful to receive your remittance at your earliest convenience.”

It’s awful, isn’t it?

“Please pay by [date]” is much shorter, and much more understandable. It is more effective because it sets a clear deadline for action rather than the vagueness of the receiver’s convenience.

But the worst thing is that everything was over-written in this way. We were accountants and of course that meant we knew a language most people did not. We were also working in government and, at least back then, there was a tendency for communication with the public to be unnecessarily formal.

No-one was looking to use plain language.

These days, there is no excuse. After you write something — especially something for a non-accountant — check the language for jargon and long words and take them out.

Here are some examples of terms to avoid:

  • collaborate, use ‘work with’
  • deliver, use ‘make’, ‘create’, ‘provide’ or a more specific term instead
  • going/moving forward, use ‘from now on’ or ‘in the future’ (it’s unlikely we are giving travel directions)
  • in order to, is usually not needed so don’t use it
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense), use ‘influence’ or ‘use’
  • transform, describe what you’re doing to change the thing
  • utilise, use ‘use’.