Posted by: wordsmithsuk | September 16, 2013

Writing informally


Many readers find an informal style in a business report easier to read than a more technical or bureaucratic approach. To achieve informality in your shutterstock_2241006writing, it’s useful to imagine that you are actually talking to your readers. This doesn’t mean that you can be sloppy or unstructured. Reports are most effective when they are personal, direct and friendly – but also well organised, concise and to the point.

The following rather longwinded extract is aimed at the sponsors of an international anti-poverty NGO.

The project’s impact continued to be monitored by the team. Of the 470 households surveyed, 77% had either improved their socio-economic position in comparison with the previous year or had remained the same; this was considered to be reasonably successful, especially given that the area had been hit by drought during the period. Overall, the evaluation has confirmed the success of the strategy for identifying appropriate sectors in which to address the needs of the poor.

There is nothing wrong with the content of the passage. But three main problems give it a stuffy, old-fashioned feel and make it a less than easy read for the target audience:

  • Use of passive: ‘The project’s impact continued to be monitored’, ‘This was considered’, ‘The area had been hit by drought’

Frequent use of the passive voice makes the tone rather stuffy and impersonal. It also makes sentences longer than they need to be.

  • Use of terms that may be unfamiliar to readers: ‘improved their socio-economic position’, ‘the evaluation has confirmed the success of the strategy’,’ identifying appropriate sectors’

It’s better to translate such words and phrases into more everyday language when writing for a general audience.

  • Long sentence: Of the 470 households surveyed, 77% had either improved their socio-economic position in comparison with the previous year or had remained the same; this was considered to be reasonably successful – especially given that the area had been hit by drought during the period. (44 words)

Readers find it hard to digest sentences which are more than 15 to 20 words long.

You might rewrite the extract as follows:

More than three quarters of the 470 households we monitored were either better off than the previous year or no worse off. This was not a bad outcome considering that there had been a drought during the period. Our evaluation shows that our approach of identifying the poorest people and communities is the right one.

I hope you can see how this plain English version of the same information is shorter, more direct, more informal and therefore much easier to read than the original.

By developing an informal, professional writing style, you will save your readers’ time and give your organisation a positive and contemporary image.

Do send me your questions about writing business documents, or send me samples of your writing for comments or help.

If you want to become a better writer, check my audio resource ‘Effective Business Writing for Success’.9780954886035

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