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Clarify Your Writing By Cutting Use of One Four-letter Word

If only there were one word to cut from your writing to make it more concise, clearer, what would THAT word be?

Editors know the four-letter word is precisely that. In fact, the problem of misuse and overuse of the word has become so common, there are now macros for word processing software to flag the word and help editors catch and delete use of that much of the time.

Here are a few examples of misuse:

That for who. “We would like to thank everyone that participated in the meeting.” People who participate deserve the proper pronoun, and it’s who, not that.

Which? That or which? This actually is more of a misuse of which than that. Stay with me here… “He is the best business writer which I know.” This misuses which. That would be more appropriate, but actually both are unnecessary (see below). Which is used after a comma. “Business writing is an important skill to have, which means you should continue to practice and learn.”

And here are a few examples of overuse:

As a conjunction following a noun. “This is the kind of support that we need to complete the project!” You can simply say: “This is the kind of support we need to complete the project!” It’s still clear, and you’ve dropped one word from your total count!

As a conjunction before a noun clause: “It’s critical to make sure that everyone is enrolled in the new benefits plan by the enrollment deadline.” Again, the sentence reads fine without the four-letter buffer of “that.”

To add a clause that describes an action or adjective. “We eliminated a product that was obsolete from our catalog.” Instead, simply reword to say, “We eliminated an obsolete product from our catalog.” The sentence also reads better. And if you put “from our catalog” right after “product” in the first example, you also create confusion about whether the product or the catalog are obsolete. No worries when you eliminate the word that and the clause that goes with it!

To see how often you use that, simply search for the word in your composed emails or word processing documents. As you begin to catch yourself overusing the four-letter word in your writing, you’ll get better at spotting times when it’s easily eliminated, such as following “says” or “said.” On the other hand, if you use the word “contend,” you really need to follow the verb with “that.” And sometimes, the word simply works, such as in “Business Writing That Counts!”

When in doubt, read the sentence aloud or in your head, an excellent practice to improve your writing in all cases! If the sentence reads oddly or you believe leaving the word that out might cause confusion, then put it back in. No harm done, as long as you’re not overusing the word throughout your piece.

Need help with grammar in your business writing? Check out our new online course Grammar That Counts!

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