By Susan de la Vergne
You’re in the airport, about to board a five-hour flight across country. You stop at the paperback stand, looking for something to read.
“I’d like to find something kinda boring, something formulaic, written using a template,” you say to yourself. “I’m looking for something that’s very predictable, no surprises, and the writer should use a lot of boilerplate language. And he should use the kinds of same-old-same-old words we say over and over again. And clichés, too. Lots of those.”
Is that what you look for at the paperback stand in the airport? I didn’t think so. No, you’re looking for something to hold your interest, to surprise you, to wake you up, something that makes you want to turn the page.
“Predictable, lackluster, template-driven” describes most business writing. You would never in a million years choose to read something that’s predictable, lackluster, and template-driven. But that’s what business writing is–the opposite of good writing. Business writing is predictable. It uses tired, worn out, over-used words, and it is much more like forms-fill-out (that is, templates) than actual writing. It’s controlled, passive, overly cautious, and unoriginal.
No wonder no one reads it.
Want to freshen up your writing? Try catching your reader off guard. Don’t say “…the greatest thing since sliced bread.” Say “…the greatest thing since sliced baloney.” Don’t “open the kimono” or put on “thinking caps.” Instead, open the mayonnaise jar and put on your cowboy hat. Anything! Just surprise me.
Why does this matter? Haven’t we been limping along with bad business writing for as long as anyone can remember? Why change? Because not reading business writing—project plans, requirements, meeting notes, proposals, contracts, statements of work—wastes valuable expense dollars. There’s a hard dollar return on investment for better business writing, and it is this: people actually read it. They don’t have as many questions. They’re prepared to take action. They read faster. They read and they get it.
Write better. Work faster. Save money.
(Find a downside to this proposal. I dare you.)