One of the world's most famous and successful investors - Warren Buffett, prefers to write in plain English.
He wrote the preface in the Plain English Handbook
, published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission - which gives some useful advice:"Write with a specific person in mind."
"When writing Berkshire Hathaway's annual report, I pretend that I'm talking to my sisters.
I have no trouble picturing them: though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them."
"My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don't need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform."
- Warren Buffett
Here, he captures the essence of writing in plain language, making four key points:
Keep your reader in mind
Use clear, simple language
Avoid technical jargon and gobbledygook
Write to inform not to impress
If writing plainly is good enough for Mr Buffett, it's good enough for anyone. Here's how he does it:
How to write like Warren Buffett
- Keep it personal - use 'you, we, us and I'. People respond more positively when addressed personally.
- Use short sentences and short paragraphs - aim for an average of 15-20 words per sentence. Make only one point per sentence. Break long sentences into 2-3 short ones.
- Aim to be understood - what you write must be clear on first reading.
- Use the active voice - it's more vigorous and direct. It's also easier to read and understand:
- use 'consider' not 'consideration'
- 'appoint' instead of 'appointment'
- 'notify' rather than 'notification'
- Be economical with words - use only as many words as you need:
- use 'A new bank account is being set up' instead of 'A new bank account is in the process of being set up'
- 'now' rather than 'at this present time'
- 'for' not 'on behalf of'
- Use everyday words and expressions - inflated words add little value; buzzwords even less. Stick to words you use in everyday conversation.
- Get to the point - remember your readers don't have much time. Be straightforward. Free yourself of corporate mumbo-jumbo.