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Clear Business English for Financial Services Professionals: Structure, Content and Story

Many people in financial services and other professions would like to be able to write clear business English in their day-to-day working lives.

Especially – but not only – non-native English writers.

English is a complicated language. It’s hard to know how to achieve a balance between being clear and fulfilling the rules.

But it’s possible to rise above the rules, even while paying attention to the ones that matter. Some principles – like consistency – matter more.

Any piece of business writing, however long and whatever the format, has three essential elements: structure, content and story.

Keeping these elements explicitly in mind will help you write more confident, more effective business English.

A Short Dash To Oblivion: 16 Tips On Hyphens and Dashes

In a previous blog we rediscovered the joys of the semicolon; in this one we look at hyphens and dashes.

Not with the same enthusiasm, admittedly. We love the semicolon, but we’re more suspicious of the hyphen and wouldn’t use it if we didn’t have to.

As writers, editors and proofreaders the hyphen causes us angst. The rules are, at best, complicated. And hang the rules, usage is complicated too.

There is a generational split: older users prefer it, younger users demur.

Ideally we’d avoid using it. But we also want to avoid punctuational ‘dad dancing’, getting down with the kids and embarrassing ourselves.

So, deferring to our actual generation, we point out where you really can’t get away without using a hyphen.

And throw in some dashes at the end.

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Punte e Virgola: The Magic of the Semicolon

This blog tries to reclaim the lost magic and tarnished reputation of the semicolon; our most valuable and flexible punctuational friend, and one this writer has kept in close touch with over the years; even at times when it has been blackballed from polite literary society or – at best – tolerated with hardly concealed suspicion.

Lionel Shriver a few years ago described the semicolon as “beleaguered” and “being eaten alive by the rapacious em-dash”. Why should this be? For my part I can’t understand why the semicolon is not the most popular member of the punctuation fraternity.

Quite literally the semicolon “makes sense”. It brings sense to any sentence where it is used; a subtle half-break to highlight the natural breath-point of the sentence and restore natural rhythm and cadence.

We acknowledge in this blog that the semicolon can be overused, almost a fetish for some writers. That word fetish is a bit theatrical, but I see the point. Here we argue that maybe the pendulum has swung too far the other way and – while avoiding compulsive overuse and sordid linguistic gratification – let’s leave some space in our hearts and minds for this special instrument.

Politics and The English Language: A New Look

George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language still resonates with readers today, and was part of the inspiration behind the founding of Prism­-Clarity.

Here we take a new look at this seminal piece and why it is still so relevant.

The argument is that language and politics are inseparable: politics is language and language is politics. Thought corrupts language, and language corrupts thought.

The message is that going back to clear English not only transforms bad writing into good, but helps clean things up more generally.

Maybe in other parts of professional or business life, not just politics. Maybe even in banking.