Practical analysis for investment professionals
29 June 2011

How to Improve Your Investment Writing

To communicate effectively with your clients, use correct grammar and punctuation, avoid jargon, follow a clear structure, keep it concise, and employ a little wit.

That was the advice offered by two writing-skills trainers, Fiona Rintoul, a journalist (above, left), and Felicity Parsons, a business writer, at an hour-long educational event on investment writing organized by the CFA Society of the U.K. yesterday in London.

Does the advice seem obvious? Perhaps. But according to the presenters, investment writing is often “grammatically sloppy, overly formal, verbose, and infested with jargon and management-speak.”

Worst of all, they say, “it’s just boring.”

The topic of investment writing is clearly of interest to members of the CFA Society of the U.K.: Nearly a hundred investment professionals registered for this hour-long event hosted at an ultra modern venue provided by the event sponsor, State Street, at Canary Wharf.

Felicity Parsons and Fiona Rintoul

Felicity Parsons and Fiona Rintoul

During the interactive session, Ms. Rintoul and Ms. Parsons provided a number of examples of incorrect usage and asked the audience to point out what was wrong. To the credit of all attending, someone present managed to spot all the flaws mentioned.

Here are a couple of examples of investment writing — both good and bad — from the presenters’ slides:

  • “Beating its benchmark every quarter since its launch in April 2009, the performance of Sundial AMs Global Green Energy Fund is unparalleled.” (poor grammar)
  • “Beating its benchmark every quarter since its launch in April 2009, Sundial AMs Global Green Energy Fund boasts an unparalleled performance.” (proper grammar)
  • “The fund offers exposure to a combination of U.S. equities, bonds, and property.” (jargon)
  • “The fund invests in U.S. equities, bonds, and property.” (concise)

Ms. Rintoul and Ms. Parsons pointed out that sometimes financial jargon is also incorrectly applied outside of the context of finance, in phrases such as “leveraging the pioneering spirit.” This use of “leveraging,” said Ms. Rintoul, is “a crime against language.”

Not everybody is getting it wrong in the investment industry, however. The presenters cited famed value investor Warren Buffett and Bill Gross, the founder and co-CIO of Pimco, as examples of successful communicators who are as skilled at the art of writing as they are at the art of investing.

For those looking for useful resources that can help improve writing skills, the speakers recommended the Penguin Guide to Punctuation and free online style guides provided by The Economist  and The Guardian.

“Clients don’t want to wade through long, boring reports,” the speakers counseled attendees. “Investment writing should be interesting. At the very least, it should be concise.”


About the Author(s)
Usman Hayat, CFA

Usman Hayat, CFA, writes about sustainable, responsible, and impact investing and Islamic finance. He is the lead author of "Environmental, Social, and Governance Issues in Investing: A Guide for Investment Professionals;" the literature review, "Islamic Finance: Ethics, Concepts, Practice;" and the research report "Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact Investing and Islamic Finance: Similarities and Differences." He is interested in online learning and has directed three e-courses for CFA Institute: "ESG-100," "Islamic Finance Quiz," and "Residual Income Equity Valuation." The other topics he writes about are macroeconomics and behavioral finance. He has experience working in securities regulation and as an independent consultant. His qualifications include the CFA charter, the FRM designation, an MBA, and an MA in development economics. He has served as a content director at CFA Institute. He is a former executive director at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and former CEO of the Audit Oversight Board (Pakistan). His personal interests include reading and hiking.

8 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Investment Writing”

  1. Glad to hear our U.K. colleagues also care about good writing!

  2. T.R. says:

    Hi Usman,

    I hope all is well. I was reading your blog and I was wondering if you could help me. I’m looking for jobs at asset management firms (or even financial services more broadly) that require writing and research skills, but not excessive math. Not a research analyst job who builds financial models or evaluates investments, but rather someone who maybe reads all day about a topic (like nanotechnology) and then writes a report or somehow communicates their findings to either an internal customer (a portfolio manager) or an external customer (investors). Surely there must be a need for that?

    Any ideas where I can find information on these roles, what the roles are called, the skills required, who gets hired and what their background is, where the demand is, etc?


    1. alaric says:

      TR have a look at Copylab

  3. Bader says:

    Hi Usman,

    Another great article!

    Unfortunately, the link to Penguin’s Guide to Punctuation leads to a 404.

    1. Paul McCaffrey says:

      Thanks Bader.

      The link is now fixed.

      Thanks for reading.

  4. Alena Sham says:

    I enjoy this post because it has clear-cut ideas to be a successful writer. Why? I didnt think keeping to the three was all that important but as I think more of what your saying. Your absolutely right. Especially using bullet points.
    People are attracted to bold or highlighted text.

    I’m learning so much from these post.

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