Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Write with a conversational style, part of Writing in Plain English.
- All business writing should be professional and formal, correct? If you said yes, you scored 50%. Professional, yes; formal, no. Let's define those two terms first. Professional: professional writing is a type of written communication used in the workplace, or, writing that people do in companies and organizations using an appropriate standard and style. It uses clear language to give information to its intended audience in an easy-to-understand way.
Now, formal writing: formal writing style is more complex. Usually longer sentences and paragraphs are used without any first or second person pronouns; no contractions, slang, or cliches. Those may be over-simplified definitions, but the point is that most business writing should have a conversational style. Occasionally, the formal business or technical report is prepared, but on a day-to-day basis, informal writing is the norm. Plain English requires that you choose the correct level of formality.
Do consider your relationship with your reader and the purpose of your communication when deciding whether to write formally or informally. So the point I'm making is this: professional and formal are not synonyms. Professional, always; formal, infrequently. Can you be professional and conversational? Certainly. The company recommends that all employees review the updated company handbook, or, we recommend that you review the updated company handbook. Hear the difference in those two examples? The first if formal, the second, with "we" and "you", is informal.
But both sound professional. But these are not professional expressions, which means they are not appropriate for 99.9% of your informal business writing: "That's a no brainer." "You nailed that one, LOL." "You bombed that speech." And "Here 'ya go!" Might I say that to a long-time co-worker in a really informal conversation? Maybe. Well, maybe not the "you bombed the speech." But would I ever write those in a business context? Never. So, business conversational shouldn't include slang, unclear jargon or cliches.
Here's some examples that compare and contrast four categories: pompous legalese, slang, standard formal and conversational. First, pompous. Unacceptable by any definition. As one will notice, the account referenced on the enclosed statement is 30 days in arrears. If payment in full i s remitted by March 18, the said account will remain open. Otherwise, all future purchases will be COD. Slang and unacceptable by any definition: Hey, you owe us, so pay up! Acceptable, meeting formal style definition: Because account #2369 is 30 days delinquent, if full payment is not remitted by March 18, the account will be changed to COD.
But the preferred conversational style would be: Your account, #2369, is 30 days past due. If you pay the full amount of $490 by March 18, you may continue to buy on credit. After that date, your account will be COD. Here's another one, pompous, unacceptable by any definition: Pursuant to both parties' prolonged conversation on the 27th of April, RYAL Corporation will be afforded an opportunity and extended an invitation to submit a bid by May 19 for the upcoming city project.
An assessment of the bids will be performed by the end of June. Slang, and unacceptable by any definition: Wow, we chewed the fat for a long time last week, but you're on the short list -- you rock. Get that bid in by May 19. Acceptable, meeting formal style definition: RYAL Corporation is invited to submit a bid by May 19 for the upcoming city project discussed at the April 27 meeting, and the winning bidder will be notified by June 30. But the preferred conversational style: You are invited to submit a bid by May 19 for the city project we discussed last week.
The low bidder will be notified by June 30. So, plain English doesn't mean formal, although some business documents will use acceptable formal writing. But even that doesn't mean it should read like a contract. And informal doesn't mean slang. It professionally speaks directly to the reader in a conversational style. In other words, it uses plain English.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
- Explain how to make your writing clear, concise, and straightforward.
- Recognize the average reading level for most audiences.
- Identify commonly overused words.
- Recognize how strong verbs can help avoid passive writing.
- Explore the benefits of deleting extra words.
- Define “weasel words.”