The corporate yawn: the case for sharper business writing

By 27th September 2018Communications, Content

Full disclosure: I read. A lot. And I’m not even that discerning. A Metro someone’s left on the Tube. A free Thomas Hardy on the Kindle. Blogs. Twitter. Weekend colour supplements. Ads. The quality, style and subject matter are vastly diverse, as well they should be.

Push open the dark doors of business though, and the whole world feels like a completely different place. In some sectors, it’s practically a given that a personality vacuum goes with the territory. But at what point in time did someone decide that business writing could be so bad that, were it in any other location, it’d be roundly ridiculed?

Breaking bad

I’m about to generalise horribly, Truthfully, bad business writing knows no boundaries and this could be an encyclopaedic list that would bore us all to death. So I’ve kept it to three choice regular offenders that deserve to hear the splat of rotten tomatoes :

  • In the top spot, industrial manufacturing. Yup, you might make nuts and bolts. Stop talking about your product.They aren’t your story: what they are used for is. What does your product change? I’ve been tempted to start my own new business strategy targeting organisations that claim to offer ‘innovative solutions’. And, yes, we know you may be innovative – but as a word, ‘innovative’ has become so ubiquitous, so tired, it needs to go and have a lie down. The mere fact that you’ve used it to describe yourselves means, ironically, that you aren’t.
  • Scientific and research organisations. It may make sense to you – but does it make sense to your customers? Prospective patrons? Being blinded by science isn’t good for anyone’s ego. And the scientific world has been shaken quite wonderfully awake in recent times by the likes of Professor Brian Cox, who, whether you like or loathe him, expresses his conceptual craft in terms we mere mortals can easily grasp. The standard model of particle physics, in layman’s terms? Yes please.
  • Business to business services. From IT support to legal advice, do you have to sound quite so dull? What, did you just say you have innovative solutions, too? I love using services that actually feel as though they know me – and so do other companies. That’s precisely where the magic happens. Take online book-keeping tool Freeagent, who put everything into such simple terms that they feel like my friend and make me believe that even my ancient dog Steve could grasp it. Actually, I’m onto something.

So why does bad business writing happen?

 Unfortunately, all of these things are often perpetuated by organisational or sector led culture. Corporates are the spawning ground. My first-hand experience is this: you’re recruited for having imagination and ideas…then once on the inside, you’re told it all has to sound a certain way because that’s how ‘the industry’ speaks. And although people often believe it’s about reinforcing the organisation’s brand and sounding credible, it has nothing to do with that. Truthfully, it’s closer to that fear of being laughed at in the playground – companies seek refuge in the familiar and a set of industry jargon does just that. Better still, if the sector-speak throws some smoke and mirrors into place, you sound really clever. Don’t you?

I have two quick fix solutions for this.

#1. You’re inside an organisation and you’re writing tons of the above each day and there’s no way out. Do this course, or better still, get your boss to go on it. It’s magic. It hurts. It gets results. And no, I’m not even getting paid by them:

#2. You’re inside an organisation and you feel powerless to change it from the inside or you don’t have time to, or you just don’t know where to start. That’s where we come in. Come. Talk to us. From running internal business writing workshops to writing on your behalf, jolting the status quo could be easier than you think.


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