9 Words & Phrases To Avoid In Business Writing 

Bad Business: 9 Words & Phrases To Avoid

In this post, Writers Write explores the worst words and phrases in business writing and how and why to avoid them.

Jargon and clichés are to be avoided, but they are not the only things business writers should limit. Words and phrases have everything to do with how your business is doing.

Words like ‘synergy’ and ‘respectfully’ are hated in almost every corporate environment. ‘Raise the bar’ and ‘teamwork’ bring forth visions of competing for work, or of dreaded team-building paintball events. 

Here are some of the words and phrases that can make for bad business, and why they don’t belong. 

9 Words & Phrases To Avoid In Business Writing 

1. Synergy

Synergy’ is used to mean things are working together, but it’s a lazy and overused choice. A Forbes article from 2012 lists ‘synergy’ as one of the least attractive words to read in any business document. 

If you see ‘synergy’, you might think of robots giving birth in the Matrix, not about company co-operation. 

Say ‘collaboration’, ‘unity’, or ‘liaison’ to replace it.

2. Outside The Box 

The idea of ‘outside the box’ thought comes from a nine-dot puzzle that often made its way into ’70s to ’90s business meetings. A possible solution to the puzzle looks outside the ‘box’ made by these dots.

‘Outside the box’ is a modern cliché, devoid of ingenuity. When you say or use ‘outside the box’, the irony is that it’s not new or genius at all. 

Say ‘ingenious’, ‘imaginative’, or ‘original’ in its place. 

3. Sorry

Forbes Coaches Council says that sorry seems to be one of the hardest words. Business agrees, and the word ‘sorry’ has the potential to put a company in hot water  (or in bad light).

‘Sorry’ can give a company added liability, or add a level of concerning weight the recipient of the email didn’t need to add.

A company can be apologetic, ‘sorry’ is just the worst way to express it.

Say ‘with regret’ or ‘apologetically’ in business. 

4. Respectfully

‘Respectfully’ has implications of the opposite for the reader.

The term has so much visible negativity that you could make photocopies of it. When someone says ‘respectfully’, they are about to say something that is going to fringe on disrespectful – and the speaker usually knows it. 

In business, to say ‘respectfully’ can be arrogant and can shut off any negotiation attempts.

Merriam-Webster suggests alternatives including ‘regretfully’ and ‘approvingly’ in its place. 

5. Please Be Advised

‘Please be advised’ is okay in rare instances, but mostly isn’t.

A letter which says ‘please be advised’ is going to be impersonal, with little to zero connection with the recipient.

Unless that’s the point of your message (as general communication), steer around the phrase ‘please be advised’.

‘Kindly note’, ‘please take note’, or ‘please be aware’ can be its replacement. They can also risk impersonality. 

6. Raise The Bar

‘Raise the bar’ is a bad punch line, and not a modern business phrase.

What does it make you think of? While answers will differ, almost nobody will say the greatness of their work performance first.

The phrase ‘raise the bar’ assumes inadequacy as a baseline, and it sounds more like a subtle insult. 

Aspire’ or ‘improve’ are better words, though think of some others yourself.

7. Teamwork

‘Teamwork’ reminds people of group exercise: jogging, paintball, things you don’t want to do with other people (but someone is making you).

While the writer almost never means it in a negative way, the phrase makes people imagine negative things. Just like that, your message is gone.

Suggestions include ‘collaboration’, ‘cooperation’, and ‘coordination’ according to Merriam-Webster. 

8. Performance

According to The Culture Trip, ‘performance’ is one of the most hated words in English, not just business. It’s right alongside everyone’s all-time pet peeve, the word ‘moist’.

‘Performance’ isn’t a serious business phrase anymore. 

The word makes one imagine sports and competition, often not cooperation and progress. 

Speaking of which: ‘progress’ is one good alternative to the word ‘performance’. 

9. Very

‘Very’ is a word that implies a loaded, superlative meaning… Then doesn’t deliver on its promise. When ‘very’ is used, the writer could always have done better and chose not to.

Heed against use of the word ‘very’ when there are many ways away from it.

The Last Word

In this post, Writers Write explored nine words and phrases that business writers should do their best to avoid. Browse for more great business writing posts from Writers Write.

By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:

  1. Dissecting Zombies in Fiction Writing
  2. Dirty Journalism: How Journalists Can Keep Research Legal
  3. How Writers Can Research Settings Remotely
  4. The Use Of Real People As Characters In Fiction
  5. 8 Proofreading Tricks (That Save Valuable Time)
  6. 7 Techniques Of The Faustian Story
  7. Famous Rejection Letters & Their Lessons For Other Writers
  8. 8 Self-Published Books (That Went Big)
  9. The Art Of The Complaint Letter
  10. 6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Authors’ Letters

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 18th October 2022