Write On The Beach © Sheila Williams                  Website Design © Write Good Books  Write Good Books

Watch your Language

I have been thinking about language.  May I invite you to leave the frenzy of the dance floor and come out onto the balcony?  Perhaps I can persuade you to cross your threshold of conviction and together we will mandate ourselves to find, at least pro temp, a band-aid solution.  

Do you have any idea what this means?  No, me neither.  

However, a quick Google soon put me right and I spent a fascinating half hour immersed in the art of neologisms (newly coined words and phrases) – I had to look that one up too.

This all came about because I was reading some business brochures, intended, eventually, to gladden the hearts and loosen the purse strings of would-be customers.  Some were about an inch thick and liberally larded with the most amazing buzzwords, phrases and metaphors, who was going to read them?  Not me, they quickly found their way into the recycling bin.

So, I have an arrow I would like to fire at you (sorry, I will stop now):

* Approximately three-quarters of business communications are in writing.

At best, management-speak used in company literature and on web sites might show that we are “cool” and on the ball.  More often, it irritates, obscures the message or worse still gives rise to the suspicion that we do not really know what we are talking about.

I would like to plead for no-nonsense writing that does, according to one advertising slogan, “exactly what it says on the tin”.  Here are some tips.

* The only people who matter are your readers.  Put their interests first.  Always consider what is in it for them.

* KISS - Keep it short and simple - it is easier to understand.

* Use positive language rather than negative – it makes it sound as though you want something to happen.  For example “remember” rather than “don’t forget”

* Use active verbs for a more interesting read.  “It has been decided to…..” is less compelling than “I decided to…” or “the Managing Director decided to…”  In the latter, you know not only “what” but also “who”.

* Use verbs rather than nouns.  Compare “we focus on performance measurement and standardisation” with “we measure and standardise performance”. Which packs more punch?

* Watch your e-mail etiquette. Use another medium for personal or confidential material.  Use the subject box in the same way as newspapers and magazines use headlines…to grab attention.

* Provide information in a format and style that makes your readers comfortable.  Look at popular magazines, blogs, web-based forums – how do they “talk” to their readers and generate interest?

* Check your readability score.  If you use Microsoft Word, go to ‘tools’, then ‘spelling and grammar’.  Click on ‘options’ and tick the ‘show readability’ box.  Whenever you do a spell check, you will get a readability summary.  Look at the Flesch reading ease -   the higher the score the better.  A score of 60% equates to plain English.

Finally, let me run this up the flagpole and see if you salute it - watch out for the insidious management-speak and over-blown metaphors. Some of us may need to push the envelope on this one!

First published in the Health Service Journal