Carrie wrote to me this week with a complaint about the writing at her accounting firm. She said:
"I proofread most of the mailings that the firm sends out. I often point out run-on sentences, only to be told 'It's industry standard language' or 'That's business writing.' My point of view is that proper grammar should be used at all times when writing . . . and that business communications are not exempt. Am I wrong on these points?' "
No, Carrie, you are not wrong. Your accounting firm needs to raise its standards.
CPAs (certified public accountants) have attended my business writing classes. They have shared samples of writing with 80-word sentences. Yes, sentences 80 words long! When I have commented on the difficulty in understanding complex sentences of that length, they have responded, "Oh, ignore that sentence–it's industry standard language." They even suggest that they are legally required to write those sentences that way.
Rubbish! There is no legal requirement to write incomprehensible sentences. And if that is the industry standard, then rise above it! Your clients will be grateful.
I am picking on accounting firms today because of Carrie's message. But I regularly see similar examples from other industries–even from communications companies–in the business writing courses I lead. When I give constructive feedback on a passage that is difficult to understand, the writer will say something like "That's our standard statement of work." Again I say, "Raise your standards!"
Remember: Your clients read the writing you send them. They read the letters, contracts, statements of work, responses to requests for proposals, project charters, and similar documents. If those documents are not clear and concise with short, well-constructed sentences, your clients are slogging through them. They may be wondering why they chose (or would choose) to work with you, since your writing is so dense and difficult to read.
Do not give yourself a free pass on effective business writing. Raise your standards. Exceed your clients' expectations. That is what they want from you.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.