September is Professional Development Month at The Muse! Check in all month for ways to boost your skills, get ahead at work, and be the best professional you can possibly be.
In business, how you write (and speak) is who people think you are. If you have lousy grammar, use tired clichés, spout biz blab, or dress up five-cent ideas in five-dollar words, people secretly (or openly, if you’re not the boss) think you’re mediocre or even stupid.
They’re probably right. Clarity of word goes hand in hand with clarity of thought. With that in mind, here are five free online apps that help you write more clearly.
1. Readability Checker
The readability concept has been around for a long time, but online application Readability-Score.com makes it easy to see where your writing ranks.
You plug whatever you’ve written into the box, and the app calculates two metrics:
- Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease
- The Grade Level
Flesch-Kincaid (named after the researchers who invented it) has a “higher is better” scoring. For business writing, shoot for a score of 80 or above.
Grade Level (which is calculated using several methods) defines the probable grade level of education required to understand the passage. For business writing, shoot for Grade 7 or lower.
Yes, I realize that Grade 7 implies the reading level of a 12-year-old. This seems a bit counterintuitive, because it sounds as if you’re “dumbing down” your content. But that’s not the case.
In business, the ability to simplify something complex is a sign of high intelligence, while writing in long, bulky, unreadable sentences is a sign of average intelligence combined with insecurity.
In other words, stupid people use big words so you won’t think they’re stupid.
To illustrate how this app works, I ran the two paragraphs above (which say pretty much the same thing) through the readability checker.
The paragraph “In business, the ability...” has a grade level score of 18.7.
The paragraph “In other words, stupid...” has a grade level score of 4.9.
2. Spam Analyzer
The spamanalyse.com tool checks the content of emails to see whether they’re likely to be caught by spam filters. As so with the readability checker, you plug your writing into a box and it flags words that might identify what you’ve written as spam.
What does this have to do with seeming more intelligent? Well, it turns out that many spam filters flag (and junk) emails with words that salespeople use, like “opportunity,” “free,” and “winning.”
Many business people (wrongly in my view) think that professional salespeople aren’t as smart as engineers, marketers, and executives. Therefore, when you write or speak “sales-talk,” people tend to think you’re less intelligent than you actually are.
This tool not only flags sales talk that you might want to reconsider but also helps ensure your writing, if in an email, actually gets to the recipient.
3. Grammar Corrector
Obviously, bad grammar makes you look stupid. The Online Text Correction app does a much better job than most word processors at identifying errors, both grammatical and stylistic.
I ran some of my own writing through the app and discovered I have a habit of introducing sentences with “There is.” The app identified this is a “dead phrase” and suggested that I rewrite the sentence.
Original: “There are ways to keep the beast at bay: [list]”
Rewritten: “Keep the beast at bay by [list]”
The original doesn’t exactly make me sound stupid, but if you consider that I’m a professional writer, it’s a bit embarrassing to discover I’m using such awkward wording.
4. Cliché Finder
This app is a bit less polished than the previous ones, but Cliché Finder is still useful. Rather than find spam or grammatical errors, it locates and flags commonly used clichés. Clichés make you sound unimaginative, so stop using them.
5. Corporate Bullshit Generator
Corporate Bullshit Generator is fun and useful. It shows a cartoon of four business people sitting around a conference room table. You click on the “Go” button, and speech balloons containing biz blab appear over the participants’ heads.
The app is humorous because we’ve all been in meetings like that. But it’s more than just funny.
Corporate-speak is a habit, and like any habit, it’s impossible to break if you’re unaware that you’re doing it. This app not only helps you realize how silly you sound when you talk or write biz blab, but also makes you more aware of when you’re doing it.
As a bonus, the app has an exhaustive list of corporate jargon to avoid.