Great Grammar: A Tool for Powerful Business Communications

Let’s face it: grammar might not set your heart racing, but it’s a fundamental tool in the world of business communication. Every now and then, it’s worth dusting off those grammar skills and getting back to basics.

The purpose of this article is to support you in the development of your skills in grammar-related topics such as sentence structure and active/passive voice.

Oh My! That’s a mouthful! Let’s try that again:


Let’s focus on two key areas: crafting clear sentences and mastering the art of active and passive voice.

See, clear writing makes a difference! Clear writing is all about avoiding ambiguity, ensuring everyone’s on the same page and giving crystal-clear instructions.

10 Tips for Crafting Clear Sentences

When writing jitters kick in, it’s easy to get carried away with trying to impress with fancy words and complex sentences. For example, we may use overly formal words, long and complex sentence structures and technical jargon. To avoid this, focus first on clear and simple sentence structures, which are essential for effective business communication. Here are some tips to help you achieve clarity in your writing:

  1. Use Simple Language: Use straightforward and easily understandable words and phrases. Avoid jargon, technical terms or overly complex language that might confuse your readers. Be clear with the goal or request – ideally placing the subject and verb near the beginning of the sentence.
  2. Keep Sentences Short and Concise: Break down complex ideas into shorter sentences. Aim for an average sentence length of no more than 15-20 words. Shorter sentences are easier to digest and understand. Avoid starting sentences with a dependent clause. Here’s an example. Instead of “With the exception of Tuesdays, the cafeteria is open 12-2pm.” Try: “The cafeteria is open 12-2pm except for Tuesdays.” (Extra credit if you include what happens on Tuesdays!)
  3. One Idea per Sentence: Convey a single main idea for each sentence. Don’t overload your reader with several concepts crammed into one sentence. If you have multiple points to make, write separate sentences.
  4. Follow Subject-Verb-Object Structure: Structure your sentences so that the subject performs the action (verb) on the object. This helps maintain clarity and readability. For example: “The cat (subject) chased (verb) the mouse (object).”
  5. Avoid Ambiguity: Be precise in your wording to avoid ambiguity or confusion. Clearly express your intended meaning to ensure that readers interpret your message correctly. Avoid meaningless terms like “thing” and “issue.”
  6. Use Active Voice: In general, it is better to use active voice instead of passive voice in business communication. Active voice sentences are more direct and engaging. While passive voice does have its place, it can make sentences wordy and less clear. More on this below!
  7. Vary Sentence Length and Structure: While shorter sentences are generally easier to understand, incorporating some longer sentences like this one can add rhythm and variety to your writing. Just make sure longer sentences flow logically and are still clear and well-structured.
  8. Provide Clear Transitions: Use transition words and phrases (e.g., however, therefore, in addition; first, second, third, finally) to guide readers through your ideas and establish logical connections between sentences and paragraphs.
  9. Read Aloud and Revise: After writing, read your sentences. If it sounds awkward to you, it will probably sound awkward to others too. Looks for run-on sentences or unclear constructions – like noun/verb mismatches. Revise as needed to improve clarity. This may also be a good time to use an AI-supported grammar check, which can provide you feedback on sentence structure, word choice and tone.
  10. Invite Feedback: If possible, have someone else review your writing. Fresh eyes catch issues that you might overlook. Again, a grammar checker may be a good substitute if no one is available.

Pay attention to questions or feedback you receive from customers or your others. What is clear to you may not be clear to them, so continuously improve your writing based on cues from others.

Using Active and Passive Voice

The use of active and passive is an important topic in grammar because so many people use the passive voice, when the active voice would be better. Active voice is generally preferred for its clarity and directness – it helps the reader clearly know who is doing what to whom, and preferably how, when and why.

There are situations, however, where the passive voice can be more appropriate or effective. Here are some examples:

Emphasizing the Receiver of the Action: In the following example, if the focus is on the cake rather than the eater, the passive voice is more suitable.

– Passive: “The beautiful cake was eaten by all.”

– Active: “Everyone ate the beautiful cake.”

When the Actor is Unknown or Unimportant:  Using the passive voice can be the best choice when the actor (subject) is unknown, unimportant, or irrelevant to the message.

– Passive: “Mistakes were made.”

– Active: “Someone made mistakes.”

In Formal or Scientific Writing:  While this is changing over time, some formal journals prefer the use of the passive voice in formal or scientific writing, to maintain objectivity and avoid personal pronouns.

– Passive: “The experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis.” Or “The hypothesis was confirmed through the experiments.”

– Active: “We conducted the experiment to test the hypothesis.”

To Soften Blame or Assign Responsibility More Broadly: Passive voice can be used to avoid directly assigning blame or responsibility, especially in sensitive situations.

– Passive: “The window was broken.”

– Active: “Someone broke the window.”

When the Focus is on the Action Itself: The passive voice can highlight the action (rejection in this case) rather than the person or entity performing the action.

– Passive: “The manuscript was rejected.”

– Active: “The editor rejected the manuscript.”

To Maintain Cohesion in a Series of Sentences: Using the passive voice can help maintain consistency in a series of actions without repeating the subject (we) in each sentence.

– Active, followed by Passive: “After we wrote it, the report was reviewed, edited and approved.”

– Active: “We reviewed, edited and approved the report.”

Remember that while the passive voice has its uses, it should be used selectively (or, you should use it selectively!) and only when it enhances clarity or serves a specific purpose in conveying the intended message.

Understanding Business Communications in Your Organizations

When you sit down to write for your job, you are the voice of your organization. It’s important to follow the preferences and styles followed by your boss, your team and your organization.

  • Follow your organization’s style guide: If your organization has preferred terms and formats (font, headings, bullets), use them.
  • Approach business writing with care and thought. This includes informal writing, like email and instant messages. Your audience may extend beyond the addressee. Also, when responding to a question asked in person that you respond to later in email, include a reminder of the question asked in your response. A lot may have happened since that earlier conversation and your message may be confusing without context. (i.e., “This morning, you asked for names to volunteer for the bake sale. I confirmed Karen and Joel are available.”)
  • Use templates and past examples to give you a sense of how long letters, memos and reports should be, and how they are generally organized in your company. Consider asking for an example or asking how many pages you should target for a specific deliverable.
  • Consider how a graphic, chart, table, picture or call-out box help communicate your message. Use bullets instead in lists in a paragraph.
  • Count the lines in each paragraph. If your paragraph is longer than eight lines, consider editing to shorten or split it into two paragraphs.  

Making your document visually appealing – while aligning with organization standards – increases its readability and attractiveness!

Next Steps

Pryor Learning understands how much organizations care about writing in the workplace, so we have many offerings in the category of Business Writing and Grammar. Within the category, you can search for learning modules on email, grammar basics, punctuation, word usage and writing skills. Here are some examples within PryorPlus:

  • Technical Writing for Business (Half Day)
  • Mistake-free Grammar and Proofreading (1 Day)
  • Business Writing for results (Half Day)
  • Email Writing for the Workplace (Half Day)
  • Grammar Guide Series (Downloadable)