When I lived with my parents, I used to leave lights on in the house, especially in the winter when it gets dark early. No sooner did I turn a light on would my father be there to snap it off. (For him, it was more about saving money than about saving the environment.) It used to drive me batty, in the way most kids are driven slightly batty by anything their parents do that seems excessive.
Nowadays, although it pains me to admit it, I still am bad about turning off lights, particularly because I find dusk a downer. But now it’s my husband who dutifully turns them off for me. Each time he does it, it too makes me crazy. I guess it’s my childhood association with my father. At least now I appreciate both the economic and environmental reasons. And I do make an effort to pay more attention to things like sloppy use of electricity or being lazy about consistently using the compost bin.
The other day it occurred to me that every effort we make to help save the environment actually has a parallel with every effort we need to make to create effective business communications. This is particularly true when it comes to the first two “R’s” of the environmental mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. Here’s what I mean:
Writing Tips: Reduce, Reuse
Reduce Environmentally: Hopefully, we all try and reduce the amount of garbage we create. Even backsliders like me still make an effort to buy packaging that is recyclable, carry a shopping bag instead of always buying more plastic bags, and so on.
How can we reduce the waste in our business communications?
Use fewer words. Need I say more?
But seriously, in business writing less is more. Present your information or proposal in language that is crisp and to the point. Don’t “pollute” your writing with acronyms, jargon and text abbreviations. Using these casual elements of writing in formal business communication is comparable to using plastic drinking bottles instead of stainless steel or glass ones.
Reuse Environmentally: Most of us probably know people who are brilliant at turning “garbage” into something practical. For instance, a metal frame of an old bucket lawn chair becomes the mount for a BBQ. Or the discarded wood from a barn turns into a beautiful bookshelf.
How can we reuse “old” language we’ve used before?
Hang on to your best work. If you’ve hit on a powerful combination of words that gets an important idea across, don’t “waste” it; reuse it. Think of it in advertising terms – a really great slogan is used over and over again for good reason: it has impact. Of course, in business writing you need to be a little more subtle. Business writing isn’t about advertising, and no recipient of your communication will want to be bombarded with the exact same phrases all of the time. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from using a bit of powerful, persuasive language more than once.
The efforts we make to save our environment and the efforts to practice effective communication skills may seem like two very disparate ideas, but they do have this interesting parallel. Hopefully thinking about your own writing in light of “reducing and reusing” will sharpen your business communication. And hopefully it will also help me to remember to turn the lights out, and put the potato peels in the compost, not the garbage!
Do you have a great phrase or an idea in business you’ve reused? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish it in our newsletter.
You can also share it right here on the Language Lab blog.