How Thameslink can help you sharpen up your business writing


I’m on a Thameslink train into London, watching their little carriage info screen. It’s sharing some pretty useful information. But it’s not as impactful as it could be because their writing’s a little clunky.




There are four basic better writing principles that will make it much more effective. They’ll also help your own business writing work harder for you. I’m going to rewrite Thameslink’s on-screen messages to show you how they work.


1 - Keep it snappy


As a rule, the fewer words the better. For example, check out:


  • We will shortly be arriving at Three Bridges


It’s a short sentence, but it still feels wordy. So let’s turn it into:


  • We’re about to reach Three Bridges


That’s two words and eleven characters shorter. And it sounds much more natural.


After all, you’re much more likely to say:


  • I’m about to serve supper




  • I will shortly be serving supper


2 - Talk about ‘you’ and ‘us’


It’s a subtle but effective way of reaching your audience more directly. So, you could turn:


  • This is coach 9 of 12




  • You’re in coach 9 of 12


The second version is much more direct and personal. It’s the difference between:


  • This is supper




  • Here’s your supper


Which would you rather hear when you sit down for your sausages?


3 - Lose the pointless detail


Now here’s some very useful information. There’s a diagram of which train loos are open, a little ‘you are here’ dot and:


  • Toilets on this train
  • You are here
  • Something so small I can’t actually read it


I’ve never noticed that tiny, unreadable bit of writing before. So let’s lose it. That gives us more space to make the important words bigger. And they can be snappier, too:


  • This train’s toilets
  • You’re here


Using our supper example, it means moving from:


  • A supper of sausages, chips and peas mumble mumble mumble




  • Your supper’s sausages, chips and peas


4 - Avoid off-putting corporate language


Some words have a very cold, corporate feel to them. Here’s a great example:


  • This train terminates at Bedford


Now I’m thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most robotic. So let’s get rid of ‘terminate’ and say:


  • Our last stop is Bedford


That’s much less distant. And we can change its companion message, ‘The next station is / Balcombe’, to match it:


  • Our next stop is Balcombe


Or, in food terms, instead of:


  • We terminated supper


Which just sounds wrong, we’d say:


  • We finished supper


Which doesn’t.


What’s all that actually achieved?


None of these are big changes. But they create a very practical pay-off – people are much more likely to read and act on shorter, sharper, friendlier writing.


So, if you’ve got a second, why not take our four principles:


  • Keep it snappy
  • Talk about ‘you’ and ‘us’
  • Lose the pointless detail
  • Avoid off-putting corporate language


And try them out on your own business writing? They’re sure to change it for the better.

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