Why You Need to Change Your Writing Style

By Mike Elgan Print this article Print
Writing style

If you're using a writing style that worked a few years ago, it's probably obsolete. Here's how to write in a way that will make an impact now and in the future.

There's also a lot more cultural and racial integration now, as well as globalization. So cultural references now tend to confuse, rather than clarify.

The same goes for idioms. Ordinary language is peppered with them. You might ask others to "pitch in," "cut to the chase," "get over it" or to be "on the ball." But these American idioms mean nothing to global readers.

The global audience is evolving new expectations for the tone of verbal communications. Live-streaming video, vlogging, reality TV and podcasting are killing off formality in verbal content. The public demands authenticity in both what you say and how you say it.

The old, professional broadcasting tone of voice repels many young people. An amateurish, colloquial tone of voice attracts them.

Media are evolving in a Darwinian contest. Content that grabs attention survives and reproduces. Content that's boring, wordy, stilted, circuitous, arcane or cryptic dies off and becomes extinct.

Reading burnout is causing everyone in media to re-evaluate—even the venerable mainstays.

The Wall Street Journal's management recently sent a message to writers and editors to embrace concise language. Then a journalism professor on Twitter cut that memo, making it 40 percent shorter.

Here's your choice: Change how you write and become influential. Or don't change and be part of the ignored background noise.

That's my case for why you need to evolve with the new norms for writing email, messages and social networking posts. Here's how to do it.

Ten Rules for Writing Right, Right Now

Different kinds of writing demand different styles. For email, messaging and social media, here are the new rules that will set your writing apart and make it more compelling.

1. Short words are best. For example, always say "use." Never say "utilize."

2. Short sentences are best. One-word sentences are acceptable and powerful. See?

3. Short paragraphs are best. One-sentence paragraphs are the best of all, but you still need to group sentences addressing the same idea into a paragraph.

4. Repeat words for emphasis. (You'll remember this rule because I repeat words.)

5. Don't use greetings or sign-offs in email. Type a short summary in the subject line. Get to the point. Then send.

6. Make every email, message or post an island. All information needed to understand what you're saying must be contained within your message. Never raise unanswered questions. Assume contextual ignorance.

7. Know that email, Twitter and social network posts are "writing," but texting and messaging are not. Texting and messaging are communications, but they include sentence fragments, emoji, emoticons, pictures or any combination thereof. As with love letters, there are no rules. Punctuation is optional when texting.

8. Rewrite. Think you've got the perfect email? Great! Now delete it and write it again. Your second one will almost certainly be clearer, shorter and better because you'll know what you'll say before you write—and because you're growing impatient. Impatience is good when you're aiming to be concise.

9. Never send email on more than one topic. If you need to discuss five topics with someone, send five emails.

10. Write like you talk.

Look, somebody is going to be persuasive, influential and memorable. It might as well be you.

So use these 10 rules and get your voice heard!

This article was originally published on 2016-11-09

Mike Elgan, a Baseline contributor, is a Silicon Valley-based columnist, writer, speaker and blogger. http://elgan.com/

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