You’re not a corporate word machine

20 August 2009

Every business has its own culture – it’s own practices and style, its own ‘personality’.

One part of a company’s culture is their writing style.  Many companies produce their own writing style guide.  These include guidelines they want staff to follow when writing workplace documents, including things like spelling (British or American English), open or closed punctuation, date and number forms, abbreviations and so on.

A company’s writing style that develops over time involves tone.  And overwhelmingly, most people adopt a very formal tone when they write.  It’s part of fitting in – of sounding business-like.  In cases where people use English as a foreign language, this formal tone is reinforced when they use documents written by someone else as templates, or models, for their own writing. 


What’s wrong with formal writing style?

Nothing really, as long as you don’t mind impersonal and boring stuff. 

I mean, do you actually like to read documents written in a formal style?

OK, so let’s consider our readers (again).  You know, those humans that have to read all those thousands of words.  That includes you, too, by the way – and your closest colleagues and your external clients and vendors.

The main reasons we write are to provide information, to sell something or to support a proposal.  And we need to do those things as objectively and clearly as we can.  No problem there.

But remember – we’re writing to people – not to a computer screen.  Not to a filing cabinet or to the wastebasket (where many documents end up, with good reason). 


Communicate with people

So in your efforts to fit in with your company’s ‘style’ and to write so that you sound ‘business-like’ – think first of those humans you’re writing for – those everyday, talk-to-me-like-I’m-not-a-robot individuals.  After all, they know that you’re one of them – so stop writing like you’re a corporate word machine. 

Be yourself.  Your honest self.  Be brave and stop using documents written by someone else as templates for your own writing.  Be more personal.  Use words you’d normally use if you were speaking to someone instead of writing.  Your readers will trust you more, and they might even like the ideas you’re writing about. 

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