Write like a human being

Write like a human being

In an online writing-support group, we started discussing how good writing helps people explain exactly what they do. I offered a rule of thumb: “Specific and tangible GOOD, abstracts BAD”. I could equally have said, “Write like a human being.”

write-like-a-humanYou want your writing to be easily understood, to speak to people who don’t have your expertise, and to be clear and friendly. This isn’t just a style issue for your editor to clean up when you finish: at this level, your style shapes and changes your content. Writing like a human being is so much more than good style: it helps you clarify your ideas, discover new content, and offer clear, powerful help. One of my clients tapped a whole new seam of coaching, when we worked on her writing style. Another developed two new all-day workshops. There’s gold in them thar hills.

In Month 2 of the Springboard programme, we work on GREAT WRITING, GREAT CONTENT. The exact topics we cover vary from client to client: it’s one-to-one coaching, and each person’s needs are slightly different. We may work on sharing the how, writing great coaching questions, models and metaphors… but when it comes to the texture of the writing, problems usually fall into one of three categories: too much jargon, too formal, or too chatty. The jargon or formality are where writing becomes inhuman.

Business language tends towards abstracts: “leverage” a situation, “empower our client base”, and so on. The person reading it can think, “What does that even mean? How are you doing that? In the real world of human beings, what does that even look like?” The actual meaning hides behind the words. To keep it real, use human words for tangible things: things we can see, touch.

Are you writing like a human being or like an assimilated corporate drone?

I have a whole document of examples, but here are just a few: “He successfully tuned the group entities to operate synergistically while competing with one another”, “strategic business goals” (as opposed to the non-strategic kind…?), “positive interpersonal relationship”, “spearheaded transformational initiatives”… These are not the words of a human being. They’re the words of an assimilated corporate drone. What’s more, they all seem to mean something, but when you put them in ordinary human language, what are they actually saying?  Several years ago, I edited a series of business profiles for a website, working to turn their descriptions of what they did back into human language. One sentence, by the time I’d finished translating it, read, “We sell things to people.” Yup. Another came out as “We have staff.”

Many of the standard go-to business words invite this kind of corporate meaninglessness, where entire sentences can actually say nothing. Here’s a list of words that are on my shoot-to-kill list:

  • solutions (just so vague)
  • utilise (humans say “use”)
  • synergistically
  • optimise
  • commercialise
  • retooling (unless you are remaking tools)
  • leverage (unless there is a lever)
  • driving (unless there is a car)
  • drilling down (unless there are drills)
  • monetize

Shifting from vague, inhuman language back to how real humans speak to each other will transform your content.

It’s so easy to get caught up in this kind of language and forget that we are humans, talking to other humans. But you’d be amazed at how much fresher writing becomes without those! Shifting from vague, inhuman language back to how real humans speak to each other will also transform your content.

I explore each of the key style issues in separate articles: jargon, formality, and chattiness. As general practice, the best thing you can do is write your blog. The practice of writing regular short pieces, for real human beings who’ll read them, helps you resolve a lot of those issues. (If you’re working on your book, keeping your readers in mind helps too.) If you’d like help with your style, let’s look at a month or two of coaching.

3 thoughts on “Write like a human being

  1. Pingback: Is your writing too formal? | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

  2. Pingback: Does your reader feel left out? | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

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