Whether you are composing an email to a customer, writing a blog post or copywriting fresh content for your website, it's easy to fall into the trap of forgetting who you are writing for. It's important to remember that your audience don't necessarily speak the same language – or dialect – as you. This can be difficult. The language we use within our own business or industry often becomes so second nature that we use it without thought.
As I browse the web and read various email newsletters, I see examples of 'inward-looking' writing that fall into three broad (and overlapping) categories. Avoiding all of these will make your writing more engaging and accessible.
1. Using internal terms when referring to the reader
This is very common. Most businesses refer internally to their 'clients' or 'customers' (or similar). However it needs to be remembered that these people – your clients or customers – don't necessarily think of themselves in those terms.
Instead of writing, "Clients should contact us if they have any questions", it is often better to address the 'client' directly: "Contact us if you have any questions". This is probably how you would address your client if were talking to them face-to-face – so why not do the same in writing?
2. Jargon, acronyms and other 'in' language
No one likes to feel stupid ... and there is no quicker way to make your reader feel that way than by using industry jargon on the assumption that it will be understood.
Use of jargon is rife in real estate (have you ever had to learn what a BIR, an OFP or an ROW is?) but it exists in every industry to some degree. Don't forget: even though many of your readers might understand a lot of your jargon, there will always be some newcomers who won't. At the very least, make it easier for them by providing a glossary – don't expect them to have to do the googling on their own.
3. Weasel words
It's difficult to decide whether public bureaucrats or corporate spin doctors are the worst at this, but it happens across the board. It's the use of pat words and phrases, aka 'weasel words' or management speak: "Going forward, we are committed to enhanced outcomes that lead to a positive experience for all our partners".
You know what I mean – you've seen and heard this stuff everywhere.
This language isn't strictly 'inward-looking'. It's worse: it pretends to be. It tries to say, "Just trust us – we know what we're talking about". All it is really saying to the reader is that the writer was too lazy to actually think about what they were trying to say. Or that they actually have nothing to say but needed to fill up space. This language dulls the senses and says precisely nothing. It should be avoided at all costs.
A parting thought
Perhaps one way to look at business writing is to imagine you are trying to describe what you do to a young child. In this situation you would intuitively trim away the internal terms, the jargon and the weasel words because you would know that they would not be understood. Now, do your writing again for your adult audience – without putting back all those nasties.