Advanced Business Writing
Style and Sophistication
When someone reads text you wrote in a conversational style, they think: "I am reading something that I can imagine is someone talking."
Techniques that make your writing seem conversational include the following:
• Use contractions.
• Use conjunctions to begin sentences.
• Use short sentences, even non-verb sentence fragments.
Note: Writing conversationally doesn't mean you write the way you actually talk. Instead, it's writing in a style that is universally accepted as seeming like talking. It's the words that we can imagine using if we had a lot of time to perfect every sentence before we said it out loud, such as authors do for dialogue in novels.
When someone reads text you wrote in a personalized style, they think: "I am reading something that I can imagine is you talking with me."
The difference is subtle, but significant. It is the difference between observing and participating. It is also the difference between the reader's mind thinking, "someone is speaking; I can listen", and, "we are speaking with each other, so I had better pay attention and follow along; I may have to respond". That is when your reader is truly engaged in what you are saying with your written words.
The techniques to make your writing seem personalized start with the techniques for a conversational style, but also include the following:
• Ask questions.
• Share mistakes you have made.
• Explain why you want to change the world.
• Use a personal anecdote to illustrate a point.
• Pretend your audience is one person, and address that person as you.
This is subjective but worth trying. Consider a paragraph written in conversational style:
I have a suggestion for the next app we're planning to code. We should implement version control early. And we should get Lee to be in charge of it. We had high hopes for that last app. But late to market and buggy aren't things customers appreciate. For the sake of our reputation, we really should make this change.
Now consider that paragraph written in a personalized style:
We should be the company that everyone trusts for error-free apps. But as you know, we are not there yet. That last app didn't work so well. Remember that? Late to market and buggy. We probably lost a lot of customers. I hope you agree we can do better. For our next app, we should implement version control early and get Lee to be in charge of it. I wanted us to do that for the prior app, but I didn't speak up. I regret that. I hope you agree that to improve our reputation we should make this change.
Which paragraph had you thinking, "Interesting!", at least a little bit? If it wasn't the second paragraph, perhaps you should cut back on the coffee.
But that second paragraph is twice as long! you say. And brevity is paramount in our writing at work! you say. Okay, points taken. Sort of. Brevity is always a goal, but it's not always a necessity. What is paramount is to get useful things done at work. So, when it's crucial for you to engage your reader, personalize your message.
Module: Style and Sophistication
Course: Advanced Business Writing