Skilful business writing involves getting your message across simply and quickly. This often means writing in a style that is easily read and understood by a broad audience.
Yet, writing simply is often difficult for most of us.
Why? The answer lies in our school education. We learnt that if we used big words and complex sentences, we were more likely to get an ‘A’ by our English teacher. The education system taught us that people who use a broad range of vocabulary are more intelligent that the rest of us.
There is nothing wrong with writing beautifully pieces of prose that feature a stunning range of vocabulary knowledge. However, such writing is unsuitable for a business market.
Generally, most business executives do not have the time (or motivation) to wade through material that wanders and weaves before a point is made. They are even less likely to have time to grab a dictionary to work out what the writer is trying to say.
When I was in the second year of my collage, I was assigned a project to write about the unfortunate events of 9/11, and the rise of Jihadi terrorism across the globe. My immediate response was to write a report that would have most of us mortals reading the dictionary more frequently than the report itself!
I started the project by simply jotting down my thoughts on a piece of paper – obviously, this was in a very simple and plain language. As I started to read what I had jotted, I realised how much more readable and effective it was! I decided to stick with that tone for the rest of the project.
I proudly produced my ‘easy on the brain’ project to my lecturer. He told me “You write like you talk”. To this day, I still don’t know if he was criticising my talking or writing ability! But I was happy with what I had produced, and conciously or sub conciously, adopted this style of writing for the rest of my assignments.
Later on in my career, I worked at a company that prided itself on its easy to read reports. While this was true (to some degree), one of the directors loved to throw in a difficult word in every mail he wrote to make the rest of us reach for the dictionary. He thought this was really clever and that his clients would be in awe of his knowledge. I’m guessing his clients thought he was a tosser (interestingly, I met an ex-client later who told me that when their company received one of his reports they would quickly scan it to find the unusual word and then erupt into hysterical laughter).
Articles that are written to impress your audience about how clever you are, do nothing more than distance them. No matter how learned your market is, they still prefer to read information that is easy to digest.
A great way to test whether your writing is easy to comprehend is to read it out to yourself. If someone spoke to you, using those words, could you instantly understand what they were getting at or would you have to really concentrate?
Writing that is heavy on technical terms and jargon can be a real turn off. Surprisingly, clear writing can be quite a difficult writing style to master, but the effort is well rewarded. And look at the bright side, at least people won’t burst into fits of laughter when they read your masterpiece.