“The costs of specialization: architects build to impress other architects; models are thin to impress other models; academics write to impress other academics; filmmakers try to impress other filmmakers; painters impress art dealers; but authors who write to impress book editors tend to fail.” ~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Do not write to impress
Writing for customers or clients should be like having a conversation, relaxed and practical. When you write for business or professional reasons, you should not be thinking like an author who wants to impress a potential publisher.
Do not show-off your knowledge. Do not try to be clever—in your language, in your choice of metaphor, or any other way. Be simple and direct.
People instinctively know and recent research has proven when a person is trying to impress he/she is probably being insincere. Yet many people delude themselves that this will work:
“Many writers write to impress and not to inform. Those who write to impress feel that it is necessary to use words that are uncommon, the more obscure, the better. They also believe that a complicated writing style is a reflection of a writer’s capability. The more complicated, the more learned he appears” – Malaysian Litigation Practice Guide.
Some people who write to impress have no ulterior motives. Others, who practice intentional incoherence, know exactly what they are doing. They may be trying to cover up what’s really going on.
Let’s look at an example, which an author might think shows off impressive education or credentials. The problem is that, without high motivation, a reader will not bother to read on because it takes too much effort to keep up”
A large influx of Indonesian immigrants seeking asylum from racial and religious persecution into our hospital service area alerted providers to the need for specific cultural knowledge about this ethnic group, and to develop new skill sets to effectively care for this population.
It is so much easier to read something that uses concrete words and avoids jargon. And people find it more credible and more likely true.
We recognize that we need to develop new skills and to learn more about the culture and special needs of Indonesian immigrants, who have become an important part of our patient population.
Pompous or pretentious language suggests that you are striving to impress or make a sale. Better to sound like you care, but you can only carry that off with sincerity.
Write to share
Write to engage your reader in a conversation. And if you need a reminder, put a photo of your target reader in front of you on your desk, while you write or dictate your message. Imagine you are writing to just that person. Then, write as if your sole motivation is to share some useful information.
Be authentic. Being authentic helps build trust in you, in your service, or in your product. As George Orwell put it:
”The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”
Show respect for your reader and her/his own time constraints.
What information does a person need to make a decision? Just give them the information. Try to figure out what it is they fear; then give them the information to overcome it.
Too many in business never try to see the world from the customer’s point of view. When a potential customer or client approaches you with questions he/she wants answered, think about their needs, not yours. I think that is why early web sites had to provide a FAQ page for Frequently Asked Questions. Nowadays, web writers try to answer those questions on the front page.
Before you respond in writing to customers/clients, find out from your salespeople or customer service agents the most common questions they’ve posed. Start with the answers to these questions. And adopt the language used by customers. Don’t get all technical; don’t use your own jargon; don’t be overly formal.
As Cory, the high school senior, wrote on the Internet recently at The Book Lantern, “Flashing around twenty dollar words indicates that you’re probably the sort of person who lists their SAT score alongside their IQ score in the About Me section of your website.”
Building trust and credibility
Being inauthentic is distracting. Your reader gets side tracked by your language or your tone and soon loses focus on the message. Also, you, the author, lose sight of your message, when you write to impress.
On the other hand, when you consistently share information that is credible, factual, and useful, you build trust. You can be persuasive and honest. The techniques for persuasion are simple:
- Choose words suited to the reader
- Keep your sights on your purpose
- Keep it short and simple
- Cut out unnecessary information.
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Cheryl Stephens favors clear communications. Learn more about plain language Wizardry at Cheryl’s Plain Language website. You’ll also find her free list of Bathetic Words, and information on her latest new book, Plain Language in Plain English.