Ask the Editor™
Volume 7, Issue 2

In this issue:


Business Casual

When was the last time you received a piece of business correspondence that started, "Pursuant to..."? It's probably been a while, right? As with business attire, business communication has lightened up quite a bit in recent years, attributable at least in part to our growing dependence on e-mail. Informal and friendly is in. Cold and stuffy is out.

For the most part, this is a positive development. People are more likely to respond to writing that is conversational and easy to read than writing that sounds stiff and impersonal.

Of course, like business casual attire, informal voice can be carried too far. Just as you probably wouldn't want to meet with prospective clients in a tank top and flip-flops (although I've known people who have), you wouldn't want to start off a letter to them with, "Yo! Wuzzup?"

At the other extreme, there are still business people who feel they must sound cold and remote to sound professional. You know the ones. They use phrases such as "per your request" and "facilitate."

To learn how to write more conversationally, yet professionally, read on.

Incidentally, the results of our reader survey overwhelmingly favored keeping Ask the Editor as is instead of moving to a newsfeed format. Thanks to everyone who responded. The topic for this issue was suggested by a respondent.

The winner of the $25 Amazon gift certificate was Rich Duede.

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Tips on Writing Informally

  • Err on the side of sounding informal, instead of too formal
  • Write so you sound relaxed and conversational, yet professional
  • Avoid sounding overly formal, which sounds stiff and impersonal; your readers are more likely to respond to writing that sounds warm, courteous, and friendly
  • Find the right tone and level of formality appropriate for the occasion or the topic's seriousness; an invitation to a company party will be less formal obviously than a request for a raise
  • Consider the writing medium: an e-mail message will have a less formal tone than a major proposal
  • Think about your relationship with the reader of your message; jokes and jargon are more likely to fly with a close associate than a new client
  • Use contractions
  • Write as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face
  • Use plain and simple language
  • Avoid jargon and corporate speak
  • Keep it positive
  • Focus on the reader and personalize the message by using personal pronouns
  • Use tact
  • Test a draft by reading it aloud
  • Have a colleague read the draft for appropriate voice

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“All the fun's in how you say a thing.” Robert Frost


When to Use a Formal Tone

When you want to sound more formal, try avoiding contractions and using fewer personal pronouns. You should still strive to sound natural, positive, polite, and professional.

Consider using a more formal tone when writing:

  • messages to superiors
  • about serious topics or bad news
  • major documents such as proposals or project reports
  • messages to people outside the company who are unfamiliar to you

 

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“A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” W. Somerset Maugham


Ask the Editor™ Question

How do you quote people? Do you have to quote word-for-word, even if it sounds terrible?

Paul Crisp

For journalistic writing, it's important to quote accurately. Do not correct even minor grammatical errors or word usage, although you may want to use an ellipses in place of minor slips of the tongue.

Business communication is a different ball of wax. Many of the folks I collect sound bites from are stakeholders who are asked to review the article. Others are customers providing testimonials who review the piece before signing a release form. In these cases, I'll make sure the quotations are accurate, but I'll clean them up so they sound good, yet conversational.

“The Editor”

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