I’ve been working with some government clients this week and when I sat down to write an email, the strangest thing happened!
I suddenly began writing in “government-speak” - using bureaucratic words and jargon that I wouldn’t normally put in an email.
It reminded me how easy it is to fall into bad writing habits.
You might work in a large organisation where formal, in-house language dominates everyone’s written communication - or perhaps you’ve come from a similar background and find it hard to shake that writing style.
If you want your emails and other written communication to cut through - so your reader clearly gets your message - it’s best to ditch the formality and write in plain language.
Pick a shorter word if it has the same meaning as a longer one.
The English language has many shades of meaning - often there are lots of words that mean the same thing. Some of these will be long and formal, others will be short and to the point.
Whenever you can, choose a shorter one. This isn’t about “dumbing down” your writing; it’s making your meaning clear and ensuring your reader doesn’t have to work hard to get your message. That has to be a good thing; do you know anyone who want to spend extra time deciphering complex emails? I didn’t think so!
Write it how you’d say it.
When you’re writing an email, imagine your recipient sitting in front of you. How would you convey the information if you were talking to them? Use that as the basis of your email, rather than lapsing into corporate-speak.
Be more personal.
For report writing, you might be able to justify a more detached style - but if it’s a direct email to a person or people, use personal language including “you”, “I”, and “we”.
While we’re on that, make sure you have the balance right. Use too many “I”s and you’ll come across as focused only on your own needs. Lead with your reader’s need and use “you”-focused language as much as possible.
Writing in plain language is a habit and discipline, and without continual reminders it’s easy to fall back into old practices.
How will you use plain language in the next email you write?