This is a unprovoked and no-mercy-spared attack on the perceived right of ordinarily sane, everyday individuals (such as middle managers and project co-ordinators) to morph into corporate executives with a mouth full of marble-shaped glass paperweights when they open Microsoft Word or Microsoft Outlook and their fingers first glance the keyboard.

I’ve blogged before about The 10 Worst Business Phrases of All Time.  That was about spoken phrases and incidentally, was the fifth most popular blog post here.  This is The 8 Worst ‘Written’ Business Phrases of All Time.  Some of these were – no apology – taken directly from letters and emails I have seen.  Some were taken from letters that were presented to me, as examples of the fine writing style of someone specifically brought in to spruce up business letters being sent out to customers, by a business right here in Northern Ireland.

Oh the excruciating joy with which I whipped out my red pen!  And consequently discovered thirty-four errors of grammar and punctuation in one letter, without trying too hard.  That was more than one per sentence.  Ya!

1. Dear Shareholders/Investors and Friends

I am your Shareholder, Investor, Customer or Client.  Never, ever address me as your Friend, unless I am.  In which case, Dawn would do.

Alternatives?

This is one to leave out completely.

2. I write to inform you…

Listen, people.  I am reading something, a letter, an email, a memo (yes, there are businesses in Northern Ireland who still use memos, a step beyond even faxes).  Therefore, I know you are writing.

Yes, it takes a little thought.  It takes some creativity.  However, you can and will develop something a little more inventive, if you take your time.

Alternatives?

Thank you for your letter, dated 12/03/09.

We have received your letter concerning the transfer of all your savings.

3. It has come to our attention that…

No.  I rang you to tell you.  If I had not, you would have ignored my initial phonecall and carried on your merry way.  <<N’est pas?>>  Don’t lie to me, don’t patronise me.  Apologise for your incompetence as a multi-national organisation, and tell me how you’ve already started to fix the problem (preferably, starting yesterday).

Alternatives?

We apologise for the inconvenience we have caused.  Now that you have made us aware of the problem, we are taking the following steps to fix it.

4. Printed overleaf is our Terms and Conditions which contains important information about your policy, please read this.

OK.  First of all, you are – due to simple laziness – running two sentences into one.  And, who says Printed Overleaf?  Why write in the passive voice?  This makes things sound back to front, awkward.

Alternatives?

Please read our Terms and Conditions which are printed on the back of this letter.  They contain important information about your policy.

5. Let me assure you of our best intentions at all times.

This phrase is endemic in financial institutions.  If you’d hadn’t said so, I’d have been quaking in my boots, that one of your part-time assassins was just around the corner!

This sentence might just be one great, big, fat redundancy.  (I’m exaggerating for dramatic, ironic effect.)

Alternatives?

There are none.  Just do not write it down.  We assume that your intentions are at their best.  We do not even contemplate anything else.

6. I should be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this letter.

Why?  So that you can continue to ignore my requests in the full and secure confidence that at least I’ve received and read your latest pathetic offering?  And, who says stuff like this!?  Why would you ever write it down!?

This type of phrase most often appears at the bottom of letters and emails written by those who cannot be bothered to respond to yours.  If anything has made my blood boil dry ’til the saucepan burned, it is this phrase.  Those of you following me on Twitter will know why.

Alternatives?

Please respond in writing by 20/09/09.

(But, beware utilities (or other) provider.  Do not incur further brimstone by suggesting that I respond within a certain timeframe if you do not also keep to your agreed timeframe.  Ooo… this is a very bad mistake.)

7. Should you require any further help or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

OK.  You’re bound to be getting the drift of this blog by now.  There are two things that pain me, to the point of sackcloth and ashes, about this sentence:

  1. Help and assistance, in this context, are the same thing.  So, why complicate your letter by adding in unnecessary words?  Anyone who’s read the fantastically funny book by Thomas Parrish – The Grouchy Grammarian – or attended one of our fabulous Business Writing Skills workshops will know this is called a ‘redundancy’.  In other words, it’s surplus to requirements.
  2. Who says (please do not hesitate to) contact me?  Surgically remove the bracketed phrase from your brain.

Alternatives?

If you need anything further, please let me know.

If you think of anything else, please contact Susan on 012 3456 7890.

Email ron@businessservices.org if we can do anything else to help.

8. Thanking you in anticipation.

Admittedly, this is a true Norn Iron one.  Inhabitants of other countries, feel free to ignore this.  There are two things which make my eyes bleed here.  Thanking you.  What are you thanking me for?  Co-operating?  Just don’t, OK?  No-one else anywhere in the known world says or writes this type of thing.

Secondly, in anticipation.  No, do not anticipate anything I might do.  I might surprise you and cancel my agreement, just because your grammar offends me!

Alternatives?

Just leave this phrase out.  It is meaningless.

If you are one of those miserable people who works for a business that has standard templates which includes such inane phrases, show your boss this blog.  I hold you in my heart as you begin to address the thorny issue of But, it’s always been written like that.

Image credit: Smudgie’s Ghost.