In all my trainings, with hundreds of professionals each year, this is the thing people ask for above all else: How do I write more clearly?
The answer is so simple it’s almost embarrassing: Write the way you speak.
Write the way you speak. In every document.
I don’t care whether the audience is a CEO or board or minister in government or guys on the street or a scientist. I don’t care whether you’re writing a technical specification or a standard or a policy or an email or a website. Just write the way you speak.
You’ll increase your credibility
Research shows that writing more like the way we speak gives us more credibility. It makes us sound smarter. That’s good for our career development, for our brand, for our business outcomes.
- write using everyday words – use instead of utilise, today instead of on today’s date, we recommend instead of it is recommended
- write the kind of sentence patterns we use for speech – in a nutshell, that’s the active voice over the passive voice (and that’s a whole other article – check out this one while I write mine)
You’ll appear more confident
Confidence sells. It reassures. It stands out. It gets remembered and responded to. Studies support that expressing things confidently gets better outcomes.
- own your statements – say we think, I recommend, you should, not some have observed, it is recommended, should be considered…
- use fewer words – the more words we use, the weaker the message. Think of an EXIT sign. It doesn’t say Consider removing yourself from the building through this orifice in the event of an untimely or unexpected occurrence. It just says EXIT.
You’ll revert to what comes naturally
Imagine how much simpler business communications would be if they were more like conversations? It’s faster to write that way, it’s faster to read that way, and we can all get on with our to-do lists. We know this for a fact. So,
- trust your instincts about how to express an idea – we’re all actually pretty great at communicating verbally
- read what you’ve written out loud – does it sound like you’re actually having a conversation?
You’ll get rid of confusion and misinterpretation
When we write the way we speak we’re more direct. The academic, legal, and traditionally formal corporate voice is a minefield of ambiguity. It’s learned and affected and therefore not natural. That means it’s harder for us to get right. It’s commonly recognised that the active voice is strong from a legal standpoint.
- start your sentences with a who – the client damaged the car, not the car was damaged
- break up long sentences – the more ideas and words in a sentence, the more opportunity for misinterpretation
As I always say in my trainings – just test it out. Just give it a try and see what kind of response you get. If no one mentions anything about the change, that’s a win! It means your writing is working. Even better, people might comment on how easy something was to read, or how quickly you’ve been plowing through the emails. Again, a definite win.
The only caution I have is about expectations.
If you want to dramatically change the way you’re writing documents that others have to approve, give managers/reviewers/end users a heads up.
Get buy-in. A disconnect in expectations is guaranteed to bring out the red pen – and resistance to change.
Other than that, go!
And write the way you speak.