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Sea Level or C-Level

In a recent business writing workshop, a participant introduced himself by saying he writes for a C-level audience. Another attendee, who lives in Alaska and works with the communities of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, was immediately intrigued: Sea level writing? Why didn’t she know about that?

title graphic stating "sea level or c-level"

In many places in corporate America “C-level” refers to senior executives: chief executive officers (CEOs), chief financial officers (CFOs), chief information officers (CIOs), and others. They sit in the “C-suite.”

My guess is that people who live in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are much more interested in sea level than C-level.

Our lesson, once again: Consider your audience.

Do you have lessons to share? I welcome them!

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P.S. If you want to learn to write better in an online self-study business writing course, try my Business Writing Tune-Up. 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

6 comments on “Sea Level or C-Level”

  • Really quite interesting reading and informative difference. I hope people will understand this difference and will not be confused between C and Sea. Thanks for sharing.

  • Fascinating. I initially thought they were referring to third-tier, as in A, B, C-level writing, intended for those in lower management or operational level. 🙂

  • Whatever happened to Plain English? I wish people do not use terms such as this. It is better to say “Executive Level” rather than C-Level and people will understand it better.

  • Wow — I must really be out of the loop! I was a teacher for many years and thought C-level referred to C academic level (OK, but not super bright, so write accordingly)! Thanks for expanding my horizons this morning.

  • I recall my own confusion when I first heard the term. I was working as a consultant and in a situation where it would have been awkward to ask, “What does C-level mean?” Fortunately, it was clarified within a few seconds in the conversation.
    I have learned (am learning?) that it’s OK to ask questions like that, but it’s not always comfortable.
    As speakers and writers, we must continually guard against using jargon that is not commonly understood. Some communicators use trendy phrases to show that they are “in the know.” But is that more important than being understood? We should strive to rank clarity above ego.

  • Hello, Travel Writer, Rona, Renga, Patty, and Randy. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    It is fun to note that “C-level” made some of you think of third-tier employees and C grades in school. You made my point wonderfully!

    Randy, as a consultant, I too have found myself struggling to understand the jargon in the room, on the screen, and on the page. In my case, it is usually part of the reason I am brought into a company–to improve communication. Your advice is perfect.


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