Getting your ducks in a row or touching base this week? Try again but don’t be plain.

* Survey reveals the most disliked phrases at work (but Plain English Day isn’t the answer)

As far as writing at work goes, it would seem a lot of us are guilty of boardroom bingo. On a mission to demonstrate the value words have for business, the UK’s largest business language consultancy, The Writer, conducted a poll with over 500 members of the public* and asked about writing at work. It found:

• 74% voted ‘touch base’ as the most offensive phrase to read at work
• 72% didn’t like ‘I’ll socialise that’
• 70% chose ‘think outside the box’
• unprompted responses showed that ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘reach out’, ‘ducks in a row’, ‘take offline’ and ‘cascade’ were also unpopular
• over a third of respondents (36%) thought that their colleagues’ writing was ‘not at all’ or ‘barely’ effective at work
• in contrast, 58% said that their own writing at work was ‘very’ or ‘impressively’ effective.

Neil Taylor, creative director at The Writer, says: ‘These phrases taken out of context are so ridiculous they’re laughable. Plain English Day may be upon us but celebrating plainness isn’t the answer to bad writing. It’s dull and is never going to win customers round or get you a promotion. The answer is to be bold, be brave, be interesting. It’s what the best business leaders do. Then your colleagues won’t think your writing’s rubbish. And most do – our survey results prove it.’

Here are three tips from The Writer to get your writing from gobbledygook to human:

1. Write more like you speak: When we talk we’re much more likely to be personable, confident and engaging. Writing is just like speech, on the page. So, think how you’d phrase things in conversation, and start by writing that down
2. Read your stuff out loud: It’s the single most effective test for any bit of writing. Can you say your sentences easily in one breath? Do your words flow, or do you stumble over clunky phrases? Can you read it naturally, or do you put on a bit of a funny voice because you’ve actually written something you’re embarrassed to say out loud? Your voice is giving you clues
3. Be bold. Be brave. Be interesting: Take a close look at a bit of writing you admire. Chances are, the writer is being much more dramatic than you realise: Are there bold opinions? Short sentences? Questions? Bits of rhythm, repetition, rhyme? Stories that draw you in? Metaphors and similes that snag in your mind like velcro? And don’t be afraid to nick tricks from great business writers like Warren Buffett or the late, great Steve Jobs.