How to write proper Inglish like we does
February 28, 2012
I’m a relaxed, laid-back person except when it comes to writing. Improper writing is my kryptonite – it renders me incomprehensible with irrational anger and irritability. My house can be upside down, my five-year-old son can be wrecking his bedroom and the dishwasher can be waiting to be unpacked and unstacked but all of this will pale into insignificance if I come across a stray colloquialism in a business release.
However, like the best events in life, there are always exceptions and derogations. There are some occasions when proper or formal writing will hinder your release or get in the way of the message you are trying to convey. One example, is if you are writing a release for an audience of your peers.
An industry audience is familiar with jargon and acronyms so these can be used more liberally than they would otherwise. Similarly, if the audience is familiar with each other, and the release is going to be within one company say, then people’s titles and names can be shortened or dispensed with depending on the circumstance. For instance, if you are writing about the company’s soccer team winning an inter-department championship and the CEO Mr John Smith happened to score the winning goal then it would be quite proper to refer to him as John in this instance, regardless of his standing or qualifications. The relationship with other members of staff and team members has already been established.
While informality is one thing, total disregard for conventions of grammar, spelling and roles is quite another. For instance – the same story presented as “J-Dog skins the oppo and brings down the hammer on those IT bwoys” goes beyond most conventions and renders it unreadable and unintelligible. Always be aware of any rules or conventions you may have to bend.
Writers who work in design, entertainment or publishing have a reputation for being more creative and relaxed (although not when it comes to language for the latter!) whereas legal firms are most usually at the other end of the scale.
Here are some other ‘informal’ elements that you could safely use in your press releases without too much consternation.
Abbreviations – Words like DVD, copy, fax, phone, cell and hoover are not only acceptable but preferable – think how pretentious your writing would sound if spelled out. Conversely, txt speak should be limited to just that. There really shouldn’t be room in a release for BTW, FYI, LOL, BRB or ROFL.
Colloquialisms – The standard wisdom is that words like kids and guys or nail Jell-O to the wall should not be used in business writing or press releases but if you are writing for a younger audience then these will be fine. Generally a younger audience will be more forgiving of changes in writing conventions and style.
Contractions – Even formal legal statements and releases will contain contractions such as I’m, Won’t and They’re but if you are not confident about the correct use then feel free to spell them out, the audience won’t mind as long as they can understand.
Em dashes – these marks — used for expressing a thought within a thought — are now appropriate anywhere, in moderation of course. You wouldn’t want your release to resemble morse code!
Imperatives – generally the audience will prefer clarity over courtesy. ‘Remember to visit us at the trade show’ is better than ‘We hope you will remember…’. One important change to keep in mind is that active voice has replaced passive voice in every situation. It is fine to write ‘we approved it yesterday’ instead of ‘the decision was approved yesterday’.
Second-person Pronouns – the use of ‘one’ or ‘the reader’ instead of ‘you’ – as in ‘one can hardly remember a time before cellphones’ has really fallen out of favor and won’t be back for sometime.
Now, there are still some literary devices that are rarely if ever appropriate for press releases and other forms of professional writing:
Profanity – A bit of red-herring; why would anybody think that it is acceptable in a press release?
Slang – There is a thin and mutable line between colloquialism and slang. The first is an informal, relaxed use of language that can be used by anyone. Slang is more specific to a region or group – it is easier to misunderstand and misconstrue so is more likely to render your release provincial and inappropriate.
TMI – Too Much Information. Social Media is for personal details.
The final point to remember is that Informal writing does not mean incorrect writing. Casual language is less pretentious and more appealing and attractive but poor grammar and spelling still makes for a poor press release, which is the biggest writing sin of all.