Guest Post: Make the Most of Your Words
When we write in business, we have a tendency to puff up our language to sound as professional as we can. But unnecessary, redundant, or vague words tend to muddle our meaning and it looks like we’re afraid to be direct or own responsibility—and as if direct expression would be too harsh or abrupt.
But often, expressing ourselves directly and clearly will save people time. The less time people have to spend trying to decode our website copy or blog content, the more productive that writing will be. So here’s some tips for professional writing to help create value in your blogs.
1. Actions Must Have Actors
1a. The following modification in company policy will be introduced with regard to annual leave for employees…
That’s harder to get through than it needs to be. It’s roundabout and clunky. We don’t know who is doing the introducing.
Try this: 1b. We will introduce our modified company policy regarding annual leave for employees…
1b is much easier to swallow, and it gets to the point more quickly.
Actor = we. Action = introduce. Object = policy.
In (1b) the actor, action, and object are right at the beginning of the sentence and there are fewer words in between them. That also makes the sentence easier to read because we have less words to hold in our head by the time we get to the point.
Furthermore, the “we” makes it personal. Sometimes people or departments don’t want to claim who’s responsible for changes, but unless someone needs protecting, actors doing the action are easiest to comprehend.
2. Be Precise, Not Vague
2a. We got a bit behind schedule due to budgetary concerns, but we hope to finalize the project soon.
That is really unhelpful. If we’re going to notify someone about our progress, we need to say exactly what we mean, even if it’s bad news.
Try this: 2b. We are two days behind schedule because we went over the budget. We will finalize the project by Thursday morning.
2c. We are two days behind schedule because we went over the budget. I don’t know yet when this project will be finalized.
It’s okay not to know something. Just make sure the recipient knows you don’t know. “I don’t know” in (2c) is more informative than “soon” in (2a).
The meaning between the two examples is different, but that’s okay. Giving specifics forces us to say what we really mean. And it helps people on the receiving end understand and know if they need to act.
3. Pay Attention to Your Tone
This can be difficult because we’re guessing how our message will be received.
3a. This letter is to notify you that your payment for the month of June is late. If your payment isn’t received within 10 days, your account will be charged late fees.
A word of caution on writing directly… (3a) is direct and clear, but not only is it harsh, it’s impersonal. And we will most likely upset or anger the recipient. Think about the best way to get results if you’re asking for something.
Try this: 3b. I’m writing to you because I haven’t received your payment for the month of June. If you haven’t sent it in yet, please do so within 10 days or your account will be charged late fees.
Of course, this is bad news and we can only soften bad news so much. But the difference in this example is that we’re putting the blame on us instead of accusing the recipient.
We haven’t received (3b) versus you are late (3a).
We have to measure our tone and decide how stiff or casual sounding we need to be. Getting the right tone can take a few rounds of revision, but it’s worth it.
To sum up… Check that your writing has actors doing the actions, that you are direct and specific, and that your tone is appropriate and effective.
Stacy Teitel is a book editor at Apoidea Editorial, a developmental editing service to help fiction writers strengthen their manuscripts. When she’s not working with authors, you can find her copyediting and managing content for eMarketingVS. Some of her favorite things to do are watching political and crime shows, drinking good-quality coffee, and snuggling up with her Kindle. @ApoideaEdits www.apoideaeditorial.com
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc