Today is William Shakespeare’s 449th birthday. Imagine being remembered for your fine writing hundreds of years after your death!
But if you are a business writer, being remembered is not as important as being effective day by day. Has the email you sent this morning gotten a positive response yet? Did the proposal you wrote last week win approval? Did your newsletter article inform employees of useful information?
Those questions are more relevant than this one: Will your writing be quoted in a few hundred years?
If you wrote like Shakespeare, in iambic pentameter (the rhythmic meter of much of his poetry and plays) and used fresh, rich language and extraordinary, often comic metaphors and similes, you might be successful in the literary world, but not in the business world.
We use different methods to communicate with our audience.
Instead of fresh, surprising language, we use terms all our readers can understand, even people who live on the other side of the globe. When we use an unusual term or abbreviation, we define it. We don’t want readers guessing what it means.
Instead of writing in long, flowing speeches, we use short, crisp sentences that have their own short rhythm. We know that the shorter the sentence, the easier it is to understand.
Instead of striving for comic relief, we normally strive for clarity. We recognize that our readers typically need to understand us more than they need to laugh at our message.
Instead of using double entendres (words or phrases that can be taken more than one way, often with a sexual connotation), we avoid them. We never want our readers to dissect our work for the hidden meaning. We try hard to be transparent.
Like Shakespeare, sometimes we do write about big issues, with the goal of persuading or moving our audience emotionally. But much of the time it’s the small stuff—the deadlines we meet, the promises we keep, the positive outlook we convey, the attention to detail—that makes us and our readers successful.
As a former English major, I love Shakespeare. But I would not love him if we worked together and he sent me emails like his sonnets and soliloquies (speeches in which characters reveal their innermost thoughts). Rather than being gripped by his every word, I would be tripping over them, hoping to understand his point.
What comes to mind when you think about Shakespeare and business writing? Do you work with any Shakespeares?