You're a human. So write like one.
I know what you're thinking. Ummm, I AM a human, so of course, I know how to write like a human.
That may be true. But, I also know too many companies that think big words + jargon + fluff = good writing that makes you sound smart.
The difference between good writing and bad writing?
You can mostly sum this up by sounding like a human and sounding like a jargony robot, or a jargon-bot.
The jargon robots are everywhere, and to be honest, it’s not their fault. I was a jargon robot too. Early in my career as a project manager, I’d search for the big words, I’d write in a formal tone, and draw out my sentences.
I did this because I thought it made me sound smart.
I was dead wrong.
You know what’s smart?
Writing for your audience.
Using the actual words that they would use.
Speaking their language.
Even if they're jargon-bots and are having a passionate love affair with using four-syllable words, you can choose to use simple words. Doing this does them a huge favor – it helps them understand your point more easily so they can read your message and get on with their day.
This is most important in email - when we need to get to the point.
Here’s how to get to the point, and sound like a human in all your writing.
1) Write how you speak.
This is the best place to start. Of course, you don’t want to write exactly the way you speak because regular speech is filled with lots of fillers like “Ums” and "ahs", and tends to be more rambly than most writing.
2) Don’t stress about grammar.
When in doubt, focus on what sounds right to you. Even if it's not perfect grammar, who cares? And if the grammar police come out to get you, go ahead and give them the one finger salute.
3) Use contractions.
This means saying “I’d” instead of “I would”, “Couldn’t” instead of “could not.” If writing with contractions gives you indigestion, try just weaving in one or two. It will make you sound more relatable. If you're like me, school and my early management consulting days taught me to write like this. I've spent almost a decade relearning how to write like a human.
4) Read it out loud.
When you're finalizing a written draft of semi-important, read it out loud. If you feel weird doing this, just whisper it.
5) Pretend you're writing to a friend.
This means keeping your message casual and super focused. You wouldn’t beat around the bush asking your friend if they were free to come over for dinner on Friday night, would you? Get to the point quickly.
6) Write to one person.
It doesn't matter who it is, but write to one single person. People don't sit around in groups reading your emails.
7) Don't be passive.
With your voice that is. The passive voice is not your friend. In Microsoft Word, you can set it up to flag when you use passive voice so you can edit it out - that should tell you how important it is to avoid. If you’re used to writing very corporate-speak, this will feel very unnatural at first. When you lose the passive voice you’ll be able to get to the point faster, use fewer words, and most importantly—sound more human.
8) Be direct, and kind.
True story – in a previous performance review someone, I received peer feedback that said I was too direct in my communication. Ummm, thank you? Don’t mistake someone’s direct style of communicating with them being a jerkface. They very likely could be very nice and are sparing you the extra three minutes from reading a bunch of words that say nothing.
9) You have a personality, use it.
If you want to have fun in an email, do it! This is your life - if you suppress your natural voice too much it will disappear, and that would be a tragedy.
10) Cut the fat.
Cut out unnecessary words. Could you say what you need in 3 words and instead have 20 words? Stop it. That's rude and inconsiderate. In fact, if you ramble on, you might be lazy.
11) Ask yourself, would you want to read this?
If someone sent you what you just wrote, how would you feel? Would you be pissed? Annoyed? Write things that you’d want to read.
12) Sign off like a person.
For the love of all things chocolate, please don’t say, “Sincerely,” “Regards,” “Best regards”, or the very worst on my shit list, “Best.” Try something friendly and more upbeat, like “Cheers,” “Thanks”, “Have an awesome day!”
And, on that note, peace out!
Want to get better at storytelling? Read this.