by Janis Ramey
We've been moving toward more casual writing at the
same time that we've been switching to more casual business attire. Is there a connection between these
two trends? I don't know. I DO know that casualness
in writing is something we need to manage competently.
This means we should use a personal approach, even
in most reports and proposals. Use the pronouns "we"
and "you" liberally. If you know the first name of the
reader, insert it in appropriate places in the text.
It also means contractions are not only acceptable but
also encouraged. Notice the contractions in the first paragraph of this article. Grammar checkers set for business writing have not caught up -- they still suggest that contractions be spelled out. Slang is also OK
(as here) if the readers understand it.
Casual does not mean careless. Words must still be correctly spelled; subjects and verbs must agree; and paragraphs must contain information relating directly to
the topic. The tone must be appropriate. In most
situations the tone should be friendly and professional rather than curt, arrogant, or childish as can easily
happen in careless writing. The reader should feel
pleased to have read your writing.
In casual writing, sentences must be short and direct. Complex sentences or sentences with verbs widely separated from the subject are fun to construct but a challenge to the short attention spans of our readers.
E-mail has encouraged us to be brief -- even to the
extent of using sentences fragments. Most of us have
no objection to sentence fragments or to using short lists, emoticons, and other techniques for making the messages brief. Misspellings and missing words, however, are not acceptable. And even less acceptable is the tendency to sound rushed, rude, or otherwise insensitive to the reader.
Although we may be more comfortable wearing business casual, it's considerably easier dressing in the morning if we're wearing a standard business suit. That may be because the suit offers fewer choices. The same can be said for the difference between the new business casual writing and the old standard business writing. Casual
writing is less formulaic and requires more planning
and consideration of the reader. And therefore more
work for the writer.
Copyright (c) 2001 by Janis Ramey
This article appeared in Blue Pencil, the newsletter
of the Pittsburgh Chapter, Society for Technical Communication in November 2001.
This article originally appeared in
Janis Ramey's newsletter, W O R D S ... from Janis Ramey,
in October 1999.