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. See my article "Are We ‘Dumbing Down’ Our Writing?"

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.