Category Archives: Internal Comm.

What’s Wrong with Contractions in Business Writing?

The short answer is, absolutely nothing. But in my workshops, someone almost always asks, “Aren’t contractions forbidden in business writing?”

Recently, a client converted a print newsletter to online-only and banned contractions in all feature articles from the executive team and those by HQ on benefits and personnel matters.

Such pieces are typically dry even on a good day, so making their tone even stiffer and more formal — to be read on the easy, breezy Internet, no less — leaves me shaking my head.

Do you remember Data, the android on Star Trek: Next Generation? One of his biggest regrets was that he hadn’t been programmed for contractions, because he thought they’d make him sound more human.

When you eliminate all contractions from your writing, you sound like Data.

“We are happy to announce a new benefit that is most requested; you will be allowed to work from home on Fridays.”

“We are sorry for issues you have had with our website. It is our pleasure to make sure you receive service that is reliable.”

Simple contractions such as it’s and that’s definitely have a place in business writing. Just “listen” as you write and sprinkle contractions in where you would use them in conversation.

My only caution is to be careful if your readers speak English as a second language. In that case, you would want to keep the wording clean and simple to aid comprehension.

Coming up: Can you take contractions too far?

How to Make the Leap from “Good Enough” to “Great!”

In any business communication to customers, prospects, or employees, the difference between mediocre and memorable writing is enormous.

Mediocre writing can make readers dismiss your message as junk, but clear, incisive writing has the power to boost your credibility and make your organization a trusted expert and industry leader.

Which image would you prefer?

This is how many companies end up with communications that are just “good enough”:

  • Competent in-house writers are unaware there’s an important distinction between composition and copywriting, so they write marketing materials all about what you do and how great you are — and they fall flat.
  • Brilliant engineers write technical descriptions of great products, but without editing for the target audience, readers scratch their heads and ask, “So what?”
  •  Typos appear in expensive, glossy brochures, newsletters, and website text because nobody took time for proofreading. Simple mechanical mistakes aren’t just embarrassing — they erode credibility on every level.

Every waking moment, people are bombarded with meaningless words and tune them out.

That’s why your words must matter. Your message must be sharp enough to cut through information overload.

I have helped many businesses improve their:

  • Ad copy
  • Blogs
  • Brochures
  • Direct mail
  • Internal communications
  • Manuals & user guides
  • Marketing collateral
  • Newsletters
  • Website content

First, I help you pinpoint your target audience, then I learn about your products and services so we can figure out exactly what you want readers to know about them — in language they can understand — so they’ll remember and choose to do business with you.

If you plan any investment in graphic or Web design, printing, or postage, you owe it to yourself to get the most for your money with writing that’s not just good enough, but Great!

How to Kill Your Corporate Newsletter

One sure way to make a corporate newsletter thrive is to place its focus on employees. They will read it, they will contribute to it, and they will believe that management cares about communicating with them.

I once had a client with such a newsletter. It was a delight to edit because employees across the country submitted stories about their accomplishments and events, complete with photos. It was a great recruiting tool, truthfully portraying the company as a fun, participative workplace.

But then control of the newsletter shifted from marketing to human resources, where the HR head was a political animal who saw everything as an opportunity for personal career advancement. Under this person’s direction, the newsletter withered.

If you’ve got a pesky publication you’d like to kill, you can follow this company’s recipe for disaster:

  • When the submission deadline nears, send a vaguely threatening reminder to potential contributors, with wording like, “This is strictly a friendly reminder that we’re expecting your articles.” (The “or else” may be implied.)
  • Keep stories of employees winning awards and hosting successful events off the front page. Instead, lead every issue with a formal essay on some aspect of the company’s finances—a real wall of words with long paragraphs and no subheads to break things up. Attach a highly placed exec’s byline and headshot to give it credibility, whether he/she actually wrote the piece or not.
  • Forbid the professional editor you’ve hired to improve the front-page story’s readability or make it consistent with the publication’s more conversational style. The executive authors may come off looking long-winded, grammatically inept, and prone to redundancy, but their every word is golden.
  • Decree that any article mentioning the company president must appear no later than page 2, even if the article falls neatly into an established section for such news. The president should never be forced to mingle with the peons, even on paper.
  • As employees disengage and submissions dwindle, fill the void with boilerplate about safety, customer service, ethics, whatever top-down lectures you can cobble from the Internet. Nothing livens up a publication more than recycled generic content. And the longer it is, the deadlier.
  • If the publication is print, move it online, but maintain the print format so readers may have to scroll and jump around a lot to follow stories. Bonus points if the original format was an oversized page — they’ll have to zoom, too.

Before long, your newsletter will shrink like a contestant on Biggest Loser. But the biggest loser will be YOU. You will have stifled employee engagement and killed one of your most effective channels for communicating with employees in a painlessly entertaining way, while earning their goodwill.