July 5, 2013 by bradcharlesbeals
Be clear. It’s the goal of all honest communication. Don’t use 4 words, when 3 will do. Don’t use jargon or buzzwords when an everyday word will say the same thing. Loosen the tone; it will result in shorter sentences. Try too hard to sound like a business professional and you’ll run up the word count without improving the message.
Subject does verb. Like this: Joe wrote this report. Not something or someone does verb to subject, as in This report was written by Joe. 1. too many words; 2. The active sentence keeps the emphasis on Joe, not the report. But like all rules, there are exceptions.
Avoid obfuscation in missives and inter-locution. Joke. Being direct is considerate. It puts the reader’s understanding over the writer’s desire to impress. Be straight-forward and concise. Avoid euphemism and whitewash. Say what you mean. Speak and write like the hero from a Louis L’amour novel. Cut the superfluous circumlocution! ha.
Match tone to audience and purpose. When you have leeway, err on the side of the informal. Consider message form, context, and local precedent. Ask around if you’re not sure of the appropriate tone. Tone carries tremendous meaning (why else would we use those goofy emoticons?) and merits at least a few seconds of consideration.
Consider also the role of any particular piece of communication. Does it have a broader context? Is it part of a larger set of collateral material? If so, imitate length, tone, paragraph structure, and any other markers you can identify.
Above all else, make it readable. Mixing sentence structures is a great way to do this. If you don’t know your sentence types, vary the word count. For every two sentences longer than a dozen words, write one shorter than 6. (There are no rules here–that’s just a starting point. Experiment.) Variety keeps your writing from becoming wooden and requires closer engagement from your audience. It’s good practice for the writer too.
Loosening formality is one thing, but stooping to vulgarity, slang, or dissing a co-worker for the sake of getting a laugh is never worth the risk of having your words go public. Today, we must assume that emails, word-processed docs, and all other electronic communiques have permanence. Write everything as though it were being broadcast, and you’ll never have to learn this tip the hard way.