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Let Your Purpose Guide You

Today I received an interesting comment from Matthew, who expressed concern about writing for the reader. He wrote, in part:

If I continue to write a more conversational tone and interject more “slang” type language in my writing and speech, I then begin to manage down my communication skills versus managing up.

But writing for the reader must always be guided by your purpose in writing. Compare these three examples:

1. Your purpose in writing to all employees is to get them excited about the annual employee picnic or party. This message might include an exclamation point or two, a bit of slang, and some silliness.

2. Your purpose in writing to all employees is to announce that the employee parking lot will be closed for a week for line repainting: Exclamations points, slang, and silliness would not fit this straightforward bad-news message. The announcement might include a brief explanation, some empathy, and links to maps about where to park during the lot closure.

3. Your purpose in writing to one employee is to warn him that his tardiness is jeopardizing his job: The tone and language in this message are likely to be serious and straightforward, with a bit of encouragement.

Writing for the reader does not mean writing sloppily, incorrectly, or immaturely. It does mean speaking the reader’s language–while keeping in mind your purpose.

For a fine story about speaking the other person’s language, see Kenneth Davis’s post over at Manage Your Writing. And while you are there, look around. You will find some excellent advice and resources.

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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.