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Is Your Writing Inside Out?

Often business writers communicate from their company perspective, looking at things from the inside out rather than the outside in. But if you write to people outside your organization, you need to reverse your perspective.

For instance, in a recent Better Business Writing class, we reviewed the work of an attendee who writes for a retirement community. She was announcing an open house to potential residents, and she asked readers to reply to the Marketing Department.

Do the potential new residents want to think of themselves as being marketed to? Or do they want to be invited and welcomed? If the writer asked them instead to reply to the Welcome Committee or their Host for the Day, she would be communicating from their point of view.

Authors, speakers, and teachers often communicate about their offerings from the inside out. They say or write things like “I will teach you the secrets of . . . .” But their students are not asking “What will you teach?” Instead they want to know “What will I learn?” Reversing the perspective means engaging the audience with “You will learn the secrets of . . . .” It requires more you, less I and me.

Reversing perspective even applies to naming files and deciding on the subject line for emails. Let’s say you have just completed a proposal for ABC Company, and you work for XYZ Inc. The electronic file you send to ABC should include your name, not theirs. (They know their company name.) For example, your reader is looking for an “Audit Proposal From XYZ”–not an “Audit Proposal for ABC.” Another approach is to incorporate both perspectives by using both names: “XYX Audit Proposal for ABC.”

Do you turn your language outside in to appeal to readers? Do you find yourself turned off by writers who focus too much on their own perspective?


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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.

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