Internal business writing is very different today than it was some decade ago. Gone are the days of memos and faxes, and while electronic communications have been dominant for quite some time now, how we use them is changing in terms of format, terminology and tonality.
Business writing is shifting into a more “conversational” tone, perhaps because of how frequently we now use texting. Human, relatable, simple language is becoming a norm, and this is making informal business writing pretty formal.
But here are some important questions we should be asking; is this right? Does it work? And how far can one go with it?
THE “DEAR” ERA
Of course, emails are a big part of how employees communicate internally. How often did you cringe when you read words like “I hope this email finds you well” and “Your prompt response will be highly appreciated”? How personalized did you feel an email was when it began with “Dear Sir/Madam”?
It’s also a little odd when you think of it this way; you just met your colleague by the watercooler and you two had a chat about the meeting you attended together or the project you're working on, or even about your kids. Later the same day, you get an email from that same person that says “Dear, I hope you are well.”. Doesn’t it feel like those are two different people? Doesn't that make you feel like two different people to them?
When it comes to emails, it’s pretty safe to say that starting with a more friendly “Hello” followed by the recipient’s name is more relatable and dissolves the imaginary barrier one would experience with a more formal, impersonal tone of voice. Personalizing emails with “It’s great to be working with you on this” and asking about the recipient’s kids or health is even better. The “Dear” era is dying, and for good reason. Writing emails with a natural, human-to-human tone in no way dilutes the professional context. If anything, it makes parties more keen on getting things done.
ABBREVIATIONS, EMOJIS AND GIFS
One step further down the chatting-style path is the use of emojis, GIFs and abbreviations, whether that’s in emails, internal newsletters, announcements or the intranet. Sure, they are fun and very expressive, but how “proper” is it to use them?
A core pillar of communication is comprehension; what you are writing needs to be understandable by the receiving party. If an emoji will get your message across, great, use it. But does that apply to abbreviations like IDK, RN and IMO? Those may be common among a group that avidly uses them on social media, but not among many others. It is important to keep the pillar of comprehension in mind at all times.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is how accepting the receiving party will be of a meme, for example. Does the culture at work allow for such jokes, or will some people find them impolite? Does it serve the purpose of the communication or hinder it?
MORE THAN WORDS
Besides writing for the purpose of reading, a lot of business writing occurs for channels like videos, recorded voice or video messages and speeches or public talks. Though a lot of companies still keep these very scripted and formal, many others have discovered that one of the secrets to engaging an audience is relatability. There’s nothing more relatable than speaking from the heart.
Organic, natural speech with its “umms” and stutters are a sure way to capture a bigger chunk of the viewer’s attention and interest. Instead of memorizing a fully scripted speech or video, memorizing the key messages and improvising around them is definitely worth considering. You can also consider losing the podium or desk that acts as a visual barrier between the speaker and the listener. A pro tip would be to always rehearse amply beforehand.
WE’RE ONLY HUMAN AFTER ALL
Whatever the form of business writing; whatever the channel or context, the best way to go about it is to remember that we are all humans at the end of the day. More often than not, it’s perfectly ok to be informal, more casual and at ease with the language being used.
How far one goes with the informality will always depend on other factors, but can be guided by asking yourself questions like, “Will the recipient understand?”, “Will the communication deliver on its objective?” and “Will the recipient find any offence in this kind of communication?”.
It’s ok to be informal and casual with business communications on more occasions than one would think. Yes, it works, and yes, it’s fine. Just be mindful to not take it too far.