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Friday, 15 November 2013

Blogging Style

One of the motivations of blogging, for me, is to better communicate ideas. I spend my day job working with large corporate companies, where I sometimes wonder if the concept of communication has been lost. Blogging is a way of re-discovering an ability to truly engage with the reader and communicate ideas. Its a personal journey and one where the ability to write needs to be re-learnt.

In the business world, reports are often written using a dry and unemotional language that masks their meaning. By failing to engage with the reader, the writers points are lost; it sometimes feels like the words are being thrown into the empty vacuum of space. For the writer there is meaning, but the reader has to concentrate so hard that they often loose concentration and fail to understand that meaning.

The sins of business writing, I suggest, include:
  • Long complex sentences that do little to communicate, but everything to tire the reader and hide meaning.
  • Obscure words and phrases that only a small subset of readers really understand. Often these seem designed to prove the intelligence of the author, rather than to aid the communication of ideas.
  • Acronyms that create a sense of exclusion to those unfamiliar.
  • Stilted, dry and formal prose that fail to excite or engage the reader.
  • A lack of emotion or personal opinion, with everything expressed in a disengaged third-party form. Often I’m left wondering “does the author actually believe this, or are they just going through the motions?”
It has become common-place for business writing to be in the third-person format. I do wonder if this has a lot to do with the unreadability of many reports. It has a tendency to detach the writer from the content and leads to a lack of emotion and belief.

I believe we should be making use of the more personal first-person format, where the writers opinions and beliefs are more easily expressed. It’s unusual in the business world, but perhaps misguidedly so. We are humans attempting to communicate with other humans; beliefs and opinions are part of that. We are not robots, so why do we write like robots when we get to work?

What has fascinated me about blogging is its use of a very informal and conversational style of language. Its a style designed to emphasise communication. And its the way we talk, not the way business people often write. I happen to think its a much better way of communicating ideas.

Did you notice the way I wrote that last paragraph?

Short, punchy sentences. Sentences starting with, horror or horrors, “and”. The use of “I” to express a personal opinion. These and other stylistic flourishes, I hope, make my blog posts a little more readable than the average work document.

Can we learn from blogging and use these lessons to help us communicate better in the business world? I think we can. I suggest, dear reader, that you consider the following:
  • Make sentences short. If a sentence is more than two lines, it probably needs breaking up. Not every sentence needs “and” and commas in it; be punchy.
  • Don’t use obscure words or phrases that demonstrate your educational excellence, but which only confuse readers.
  • Avoid acronyms that aren’t in common usage. If you need to explain what an acronym means, maybe you shouldn’t be using it?
  • Consider writing as yourself, expressing some opinions and maybe even a little emotion. Do you really need to write in the third-person? The more personal first-person format is better at engaging with the reader on an emotional level. I believe that readers better understand what they are reading when they connect with the author’s emotions, not just their words.
  • When you feel yourself using “sophisticated” English, consider replacing your choice of obscure words with something a little simpler. The “Plain English Campaign” website has a handy word lookup tool that suggests simpler versions of words. I suggest you review the tool; you might be surprised how many words you are using that have simpler alternatives.
Maybe we should all write our corporate communications with a little more simplicity and personal conviction. Lets put the robots back in the cupboard and celebrate our humanness!

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