09 Mar The Sound of Good Writing
Good writing sounds like the conversation you have with a friend over a drink. You’re relaxed, explaining what you’ve been working on and how your company’s new product will make a difference in people’s lives. Your friend, who doesn’t work in the same industry, understands what you’re saying and finds it interesting enough to tell their friends.
Yet a lot of writing on company blogs sounds nothing like this. It reads with the formality of a college term paper, filled with long sentences and insider jargon. Your friend won’t get past the first paragraph — and neither will the audience you’re trying to reach.
The gap between how we speak in real life and on the job will determine whether our writing sparks action or glazes eyes.
Avoid the Jargon Translator
If a reader needs a jargon translator for your writing, you aren’t effectively communicating. Technobabble became such a problem that Financial Times reporter Lucy Kellaway compiled a “worst of” collection called “Guffipedia.”
Here are some real-life examples and suggested translations:
“As we iterate on the logged-out experience and curate topics, events, moments that unfold on the platform, you should absolutely expect us to deliver those experiences across the total audience and that includes logged in users and users in syndication.”
Translation: We’re changing the way we engage with people when they’re using our service and when they’re not.
“He is a deep-dive, granular, research-oriented person who really understands the inner workings of companies and is just a very free-cash flow, hard-asset-based investor.”
Translation: Our investor is successful because he looks at every detail.
“You will also learn that brand assets worth talking about have the potential to become the focus of communication platforms, the multi-dimensional communication scaffolds which enable users to inform and enrich them.”
Translation: If you have a good-looking logo, people will share it on social media.
Is there ever a time when jargon is welcome? Only when talking shorthand to your internal team. If everyone understands the same insider language, then it can be efficient to speak in acronyms. But it’s a bad habit to let professional slang take over your public writing.
Start writing with a transcript
The next time you speak on a panel, record and transcribe your off-the-cuff remarks and extemporaneous answers. It will help you realize that you can speak with confidence as a subject expert without overthinking your responses the way you would if submitting them in writing.
The audience at a panel discussion will feel engaged when your answers are peppered with personal anecdotes and some humor — because you’re treating the audience to a story, not a mission statement.
Yet when writing about the panel, avoid crafting an article with a level of technical writing and run-on sentences that would have put the conference room audience to sleep.
Your written blog post will fall flat if it doesn’t sound like the compelling way you talked about your work in person. Don’t strip all the anecdotes and personality out of the article because you deem those elements too frivolous for a written document. The urge to make the piece sound important will drain the life from it.
The biggest writing mistake is forgetting that you — and the reader — are human. You might have a PhD in computer science and your audience might entirely be software architects. Yet you don’t have to write like a user manual to make an impression. Human beings will always remember a message that connects on an emotional level. Commiserate with the frustration your reader feels. Explain why your product will make their life easier. Give them a reason to care.
If you aren’t convinced, at least test the theory. Invite your friend to drinks and record yourself saying why your product matters. Post the transcript on the blog. Then write an article about the product in a voice you think sounds important. If the transcript gets more clicks, that’s the sound of readers enjoying good writing.