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Should Business Documents Be Interesting?

A business associate wrote to me today about a disagreement she is having with a colleague. He believes that his extensive vocabulary (with words such as erroneous and ameliorate), complex sentence structures, folksy cliches, and rambling style make his business writing more interesting. She disagrees.

Whose side do you take? Should business documents and messages be interesting? If so, how?

For interest, I read several newspapers, a couple of magazines, a few blogs, business books, travel guides, inspirational volumes, cookbooks, gardening references, mysteries, and the dictionary.

But when it comes to business documents, I don’t need them to be interesting. Instead, I need them clear, concise, accurate, and complete. With all that, I also need them quick to read.

Interesting? No, I don’t need that from the work I read as I sit at my desk. So please keep the vocabulary simple, the sentence structures straightforward, the content clear, the format uncluttered, and the headings focused.

A quotation that has been attributed to the Chinese, May you live in interesting times, has been described as a curse. How would such a curse apply to business writing? May you receive interesting documents. Not me, I’d rather be blessed with clear, simple ones.

What’s your view? Send a comment or an email.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “Should Business Documents Be Interesting?”

  • Personally, I believe that while documents should be clear and consie, this does not exclude those documents’ capacity to be interesting.

    As my family has quoted for years (we forgot the source, though [sorry]):
    “Can’t ve have both?”

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