How does business deal with government’s GV monster?: Just when you think things can’t get any worse they always do. The challenge for business is
Corporate responsibility reporting is now a standard business practice worldwide: KPMG’s Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2013   Reporting on corporate responsibility (CR) is now a standard business practice
A+ A A-

Warren Buffett's guide to writing in plain English

Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Warren Buffett Warren Buffett

One of the world's most famous and successful investors – Warren Buffett, prefers to write in plain English.


He wrote the preface in the Plain English Handbook, published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission – which gives some useful advice:


“Write with a specific person in mind."

"When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters.
I have no trouble picturing them: though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them."

"My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.”
– Warren Buffett


Here, he captures the essence of writing in plain language, making four key points:


  • Keep your reader in mind
  • Use clear, simple language
  • Avoid technical jargon and gobbledygook
  • Write to inform not to impress


If writing plainly is good enough for Mr Buffett, it’s good enough for anyone. Here's how he does it:


How to write like Warren Buffett


1. Keep it personal – use 'you, we, us and I'. People respond more positively when addressed personally.


2. Use short sentences and short paragraphs – aim for an average of 15-20 words per sentence. Make only one point per sentence. Break long sentences into 2-3 short ones.


3. Aim to be understood – what you write must be clear on first reading.


4. Use the active voice – it's more vigorous and direct. It's also easier to read and understand: 


         – use ‘consider’ not ‘consideration’


         – ‘appoint’ instead of ‘appointment’


         – ‘notify’ rather than ‘notification’




5. Be economical with words – use only as many words as you need:


         – use ‘A new bank account is being set up’ instead of  'A new bank account is in the        process of being set up’


         – ‘now’ rather than ‘at this present time’


         – ‘for’ not ‘on behalf of’


6. Use everyday words and expressions – inflated words add little value; buzzwords even less. Stick to words you use in everyday conversation.


7. Get to the point – remember your readers don't have much time. Be straightforward. Free yourself of corporate mumbo-jumbo.

Last modified on Monday, 28 January 2013 09:56
James Hurford

James Hurford

James Hurford
James Hurford | Copywriter | Corporate Trainer | Owner of Passion – the copywriting company | Author of 'How to write well'
At Passion we specialise in copywriting in plain language for the financial services sector. With over 25 years of experience working for top international companies, we bring a vast amount of knowledge and copywriting expertise to every client we work with.


Related items

More in this category: « 20 tips for better business writing Understanding Digital PR »
Login to post comments

The SA Leader Magazine


In the March issue


Publicity boosts trade – so don’t skimp on your public relations

Crafting a successful employee value proposition

Corporate responsibility reporting is now a standard business practice worldwide


Copyright © 2013 gdmc (Geoffrey Dean Marketing Corporation cc). All rights reserved. Material may not be published or reproduced in any form without prior written permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. External links are provided for reference purposes. is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

Login or Subscribe