Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Author/Style
- 1 Guidelines for Creating Your Own Voice
- 1.1 Guideline 1: Find Out What is Expected
- 1.2 Guideline 2: Consider the Roles Your Voice Creates for Your Readers and Yourself
- 1.3 Guideline 3: Consider How Your Attitude Toward Your Subject Will Affect Your Readers
- 1.4 Guideline 4: Say Things in Your Own Words
- 1.5 Guideline 5: Global Guideline: Adapt Your Voice to Your Readers' Cultural Background
- 1.6 Guideline 6: Ethics Guideline: Avoid Stereotypes
- 1.7 Constructing Sentences
- 1.7.1 Guideline 1: Simplify Your Sentences
- 1.7.2 Guideline 2: Put the Action in Your Verbs
- 1.7.3 Guideline 3: Use the Active Voice Unless You Have a Good Reason To Use the Passive Voice
- 1.7.4 Guideline 4: Emphasize What's Most Important
- 1.7.5 Guideline 5: Vary Your Sentence Length and Structure
- 1.7.6 Guideline 6: Global Guideline: Adapt your Sentences for Readers Who Are Not Fluent in Your Language
- 1.8 Selecting Words
- 1.9 How to Explain Unfamiliar Terms If You Must Use Them
- 1.9.1 Guideline 3: Use Words Accurately
- 1.9.2 Guideline 4: Choose Plain Words Over Fancy Ones
- 1.9.3 Guideline 5: Choose Words with Appropriate Associations
- 1.9.4 Guideline 6: Global Guideline: Consider your Readers' Cultural Background when Choosing Words
- 1.9.5 Guideline 7: Ethics Guideline: Use Inclusive Language
- 1.10 What about Miss, Mrs., and Ms.?
- 2 Conclusion
Guidelines for Creating Your Own Voice
Writing style means many things. On one end of the spectrum are the features that make the author's type of writing unique. On the other end of same spectrum, there is a legal or scientific style of writing, referring to writing characteristics shared by certain groups of professionals, like lawyers or scientists. Style can also mean a communication's readability, if it is written in a clear, muddy, or inspiring manner.
At work, you observe the stylistic convention of your profession and your employer's organization, while simultaneously expressing your individuality, make reading easy for your audience and impacting them while they are reading. Consider your options in light of the way they will affect your readers' view of your communication's usability and persuasiveness. Based on what readers see, they draw conclusions about you and your attitudes that can enhance or distract from the persuasiveness of your communications. Your ability to craft and control your voice is essential to your success at writing.
Guideline 1: Find Out What is Expected
An effective voice is one that matches your reader's sense of what is appropriate. However, you have the option to choose who your audience is by topic, word choice, and formality. You have to have a tone and style that is pertinent to your readers. The voice needs to be clear as to who it is directed towards.
How formal do my readers think my writing should be?
- When you use contractions and colloquial words and phrases it starts to sound informal, like a conversation.
- Note: Short words do not indicate an informal style. In fact, many people prefer plain language to create an ease of reading of difficult ideas or concepts to comprehend. Also, longer words may confuse your readers, or make the writing sound arrogant. This is also the same for long sentences. Avoid these in either formal/informal writing.
- A formal style of writing uses correct word usage, sentence structure, formal phrasing, and appropriate language. Always be conscious of who your audience is when determining your writing style. There are many instances to use a formal language. Speeches, services, eulogy, and papers. These are good examples of how no matter the age of the audience, a formal document may suit any age. Some examples when one would use informal language would be writing letter to friends or in your journal. Sometimes informal writing may seem more sincere since it sends more emotions.
How subjective or objective do my readers believe my writing should be?
- In subjective style you word opinions by using "I", in which you introduce yourself to your writing. In objective style you hide your presence of opinion, simply stating your beliefs as facts and by reporting about your own actions in the third person or in a passive tone. Objective writing is more formal and is expected in professional and technical writing situations.
How much "distance" do my readers expect me to establish between them?
- In personal style, you appear close to your readers because you use personal pronouns and address readers directly. How conversational the piece is may also convey this message. In an impersonal style you distance yourself from your readers by avoiding personal pronouns and by talking about yourself and your readers in the third person. The style you choose depends on the purpose of the writing and the audience.
- Factors that influence the readers' expectations about style:
- Your professional relationship with the readers.
- Your purpose.
- Your subject.
- Your personality.
- Customs in your employers' organization.
- Customs in your field, profession, or discipline.
- Factors that influence the readers' expectations about style:
What if the expected style is ineffective?
- Note: Sometimes the expected style may be less effective than others.
- For example, in some organizations the expected style is a widely condemned style called bureaucratese. This type of style is characterized by wordiness that buries significant ideas and information, by weak verbs that disguise action, and by abstract vocabulary that detaches meaning from the practical world of people, activities and objects.
- Often this style of writing features an inflated vocabulary and a general pomposity that slows or completely blocks comprehension of what the writer is trying to get across.
Bureaucratese: According to optimal quality-control practices in manufacturing any product, it is important that every component part that is constituent of the product be examined and checked individually after being received from its supplier or other source but before the final, finished product is assembled. Plain English: Effective quality control requires that every component be checked individually before the final product is assembled.
Bureaucratese: Over the most recent monthly period, there has been a large increase in the number of complaints that customers have made about service that has been slow. Plain English: Last month, many more customers complained about slow service.
- Bureaucratese is such a serious barrier to understanding that many states in the United States have passed laws requiring plain English in government publications and other documents, such as insurance policies. The guidelines will help you avoid bureaucratese. However, some managers and organizations want employees to use that puffed-up style, thinking it sounds impressive. If you are asked to write in bureaucratese, try to explain why a straightforward style is more effective. If you fail to persuade, be prudent. Use the style that is required. Even within the confines of a generally bureaucratic style, you can probably make improvements. For instance, if your employer expects a wordy, abstract style, you may still be able to use a less inflated vocabulary.
Guideline 2: Consider the Roles Your Voice Creates for Your Readers and Yourself
When you choose the voice with which you will address your readers, you define a role for yourself. As a manager of a department, you could adopt the voice of a stern taskmaster or an open-minded leader. The voice you choose also implies a role for your readers. Their response to the role given to them can significantly influence your communication's overall effectiveness. If you choose the voice of a leader who respects your readers, they will probably accept their role as a valued colleague. If you choose the voice of a superior, unerring authority, they may resent their implied role as error-prone inferiors and resist the substance of your message.
By using the appropriate voice in your communication you can increase your ability to elicit the attitudes and actions you want to inspire.
Guideline 3: Consider How Your Attitude Toward Your Subject Will Affect Your Readers
In addition to communicating attitudes about yourself and your readers, your voice communicates an attitude toward your subject. Feelings are contagious. If you write about your subject enthusiastically, your readers may catch and exhibit your enthusiasm. If you seem indifferent, they may adopt the same attitude. Make sure you believe what you say or pretend like you believe it. If you talk down to people or belittle them, you will lose their loyalty and willingness to follow your lead. If you use a pretentious voice when writing to superiors you will probably make them angry because they may feel that you are undermining their authority.
E-mail presents a special temptation to be careless about voice because it encourages spontaneity. Your risk of regretting an e-mail you've written is increased by the ease with which e-mails can be forwarded or sent to readers you didn't intend to see the message. Never include anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't want a large audience to view, like a court room. E-mails and text messages can be the basis of a trial or lawsuit. Check carefully for statements that your readers might interpret as having a different tone than the one you intended. Never talk badly about someone in an E-mail, and make sure to keep this mail in a file for future reference. Keeping the e-mail in a file will help protect yourself as a writer from lost or altered material. As long as you keep personal problems and biases out of office emails you should be just fine.
Guideline 4: Say Things in Your Own Words
No matter what style of voice you choose, be sure to retain your own thoughts in your writing. This can be achieved even in formal writing. When you are using a formal style, the objective is not to silence your own voice; it's to let your style sound like you, writing in a formal situation.
To check whether you are using your own voice, try reading your drafts aloud. Where the phrasing seems awkward or the words are difficult for you to speak, you may have adopted someone else's voice-or slipped into bureaucratese, which reflects no one's voice. Reading your drafts aloud will also help you spot other problems with voice, such as sarcasm or condescension.
Although it will sometime be appropriate for you to suppress your own voice. Like when a report is written by multiple people in a group, you should strive to achieve a unified voice so the paper is cohesive and all parts of the paper fit together well. An example of when you should suppress your own voice is when writing something like a policy statement which is written in the employer's style, not the individual writer's style.
Guideline 5: Global Guideline: Adapt Your Voice to Your Readers' Cultural Background
From one culture to another, general expectations about the voice vary considerably. Understanding the differences between the expectations of your culture and those of your readers can be especially important because the voice you use tells your readers about the relationship you believe you have with them.
In the United States and Europe, employees often use an informal voice and address their readers by their first names. In Japan, writers commonly use a formal style and address their readers by their titles and last names. If a U.S. writer used a familiar, informal voice in a letter, memo, or e-mail, Japanese readers might feel that the writer has not properly respected them. On the other hand, Japanese writers may seem distant and difficult to relate to if they use the formality that is common in their own cultures when writing to U.S. readers. In either case, if the readers judge that the writer hasn't taken the trouble to learn about or doesn't care about their culture they may be offended.
Directness is another aspect of voice. When writing to people in other cultures, try to learn and use the voice that is customary there. You can also learn about the voice used in your reader's culture by studying communications they have written. If possible, ask for advice from people who are from your reader's culture or who are knowledgeable about it.
Guideline 6: Ethics Guideline: Avoid Stereotypes
What do stereotypes have to do with voice and ethics? Stereotypes are very deeply embedded in many cultures. Most of us are prone to use them occasionally especially when conversing informally. As a result, when we use more colloquial and conversational language to develop our distinctive voice for our workplace writing, we may inadvertently employ stereotypes. Unfortunately, even inadvertent uses of stereotypes have serious consequences for individuals and groups. People who are viewed in terms of stereotypes lose their ability to be treated as individual human beings. If they belong to a group that is unfavorably stereotyped, they may find it nearly impossible to get others to take their talents, ideas and feelings seriously. The range of groups disadvantaged by stereotyping is quite extensive. People can be stereotyped because of their race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, weight, physical handicap, occupation and ethnicity. In some workplaces, manual laborers, union members, clerical workers, and others are the victims of stereotyping by people in white-collar positions.
There is absolutely no tolerance for stereotypes in professional writing. Anything you write will be worthless to most audiences if you include any type of stereotypes. Using stereotypes, even accidentally, will seriously damage your reputation with your readers and may even cause your professional relationship to end. So be very aware of any stereotypes that may exist especially when writing cross-culturally.
Researchers who have studied the ways our minds process information have provided us with many valuable insights about ways to write reader-centered sentences. Based primarily on these research findings, the following six guidelines explain ways to construct highly usable, highly persuasive sentences.
Guideline 1: Simplify Your Sentences
The easiest way to increase usability is to simplify your sentences. Reading is work. Psychologists say that much of the work is done by short-term memory. It must figure out how the words in each sentence fit together to create a specific meaning. Fewer words means less work. In addition, research shows that when we express our message concisely, we make it more forceful, memorable, and persuasive.
1. Eliminate unnecessary words. Look for places where you can convey your meaning more directly.
Consider: The physical size of the workroom is too small to accommodate this equipment.
By removing unnecessary words, the sentence is just as clear and more emphatic: The workroom is too small for this equipment.
2. Place modifiers next to the words they modify.
Short-term memory relies on word order to indicate meaning. If you don't keep related words together, your sentence may say something different from what you mean.
Example: A large number of undeposited checks were found in the file cabinets, which were worth over $41,000.
3. Combine short sentences.
Often, combining two or more short sentences makes reading easier because doing so both reduces the total number of words and helps the reader see the relationships among the points presented.
Separate: Water quality in Hawk River declined in March. This decline occurred because of the heavy rainfall that month. all the extra water overloaded Tomlin County's water treatment plant.
Combined: Water quality in Hawk River declined in March because heavy rainfalls overloaded Tomlin County's water treatment plant.
Guideline 2: Put the Action in Your Verbs
Most sentences are about action. Sales rise, equipment fails, engineers design, managers approve. Yet, many people bury the action in nouns, adjectives, and other parts of speech. Consider the following sentence: Our department accomplished the conversion to the new machinery in two months. It could be energized by putting the action (converting) into the verb: Our department converted to the new machinery in two months.
Focusing Sentences on Action
• Avoid sentences that use the verb to be or its variation (is, was, will be, etc.).
The verb to be often tells what something is, not what it does.
Original: The sterilization procedure is a protection against reinfection.
Revised: The sterilization procedure protects against reinfection.
• Avoid sentences that begin with It is or There are
Original: It is because the cost of raw materials has soared that the price of finished goods is rising.
Revised: Because the cost of raw materials has soared, the price of finished goods is rising.
Original: There are several factors causing the engineers to question the dam's strength.
Revised: Several factors cause the engineers to questions the dam's strength.
• Avoid sentences where the action is frozen in a word that ends with one of the following suffixes: -tion, -ment, -ing, -ion, -ance These words petrify the action that should be in verbs by converting them into nouns.
Original: consequently, I would like to make a recommendation that the department hire two additional programmers.
Revised: Consequently, I recommend that the department hire two additional programmers.
Although most sentences are about action, some aren't. For example, topic and forecasting statements often introduce lists or describe the organization of the discussion that follows.
Topic sentence for which the verb to be is appropriate: There are three main reasons the company should invest money to improve communication between corporate headquarters and the out-of-state plants.
Guideline 3: Use the Active Voice Unless You Have a Good Reason To Use the Passive Voice
Another way to focus your sentences on action and actors is to use the active voice rather than the passive voice. To write the active voice, place the actor--the person or the thing performing the action--in the subject position. Your verb will then describe the actor's action.
Active Voice: The consultant recommended these changes.
In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence and the actor are different. The subject is acted upon by the actor.
Passive Voice: The changes were recommended by the consultant.
Passive Voice: The Korean ore was purchased by us.
Active Voice: We purchase the Korean ore.
Research shows that readers comprehend active sentences more rapidly than passive ones. Also, the active voice eliminates the vagueness and ambiguity that often characterize the passive voice. In the passive voice, a sentence can describe an action without telling who did it. For example, "The ball was hit" is a grammatically correct sentence but doesn't tell who or what hit the ball. With the active voice, the writer identifies the actor: "Linda hit the ball."
Although the passive voice generally reduces readability, it has some good uses. One occurs when you don't want to identify the actor. If the writer decided that it would be ethically acceptable to communicate this news to the reader without naming the person who made the report, then she has used the passive voice effectively. Also be careful, to avoid using the passive voice to hide an actor's identity when it is unethical to do so, like when trying to avoid accepting responsibility for your employer's actions.
Guideline 4: Emphasize What's Most Important
Another way to write clean, forceful sentences is to direct your readers' attention to the most important information you are conveying.
Emphasizing What's Most Important
1. Place the key information at the end of the sentence
To position the key information at the end of a sentence, you may sometimes need to rearrange your first draft.
Original: The department's performance has been superb in all areas.
Revised: In all areas, the department's performance has been superb.
Original: The bright exterior design is one of the product's most appealing features to college-age customers.
Revised: One of the product's most appealing features to college-age customers is its bright exterior design.
2. Place the key information in the main clause
If your sentence has more than one clause, use the main clause for the information you want to emphasize. Compare the following versions of the same statement:
Although our productivity was down, our profits were up.
Although our profits were up, our productivity was down.
In the first version, the emphasis is on profits because profits is the subject of the main clause. The second version emphasizes productivity because productivity is the subject of the main clause. (Notice that the emphasized information is the main clause and also at the end of the sentence.)
3. Emphasize key information typographically
Use boldface and italics. Be careful, however, to use typographical highlighting sparingly. When many things are emphasized, none stands out.
4. Tell readers explicitly what the key information is
You can also emphasize key information by announcing its importance to your readers.
Example: Economists pointed to three important causes of the stock market's declining: uncertainty about the outcome of last month's election, a rise in inventories of durable goods, and--most important--signs of rising inflation.
5. Avoid filler. While this is true in most writing situations, it is more important to do it in business writing than any other writing. In the business world, time is money. If your boss or your clients have to spend time reading your filler filled emails, they are wasting time. When rereading your documents, ask your self if what you write seems obvious.
Example: The time on the face of the clock showed that he was late getting to his job, where he would start his work.
Obviously, the time was on the clock and what else do people do at their jobs besides work. This is a crude example, but it shows that length of a document does not, necessarily, improve the quality of the document. In most business settings, shorter, simpler documents work better than wordy, drawn out documents.
Guideline 5: Vary Your Sentence Length and Structure
If all the sentences in a sentence group have the same structure, two problems arise: Monotony sets in, and (because all the sentences are basically alike) you lose the ability to emphasize major points and under emphasize minor ones
You avoid such monotony and loss of emphasis in two ways:
• Vary your sentence length - Longer sentences can be used to show the relationships among ideas. Shorter sentences provide emphasis in the context of longer sentences.
• Vary your sentence structure. - For example, the grammatical subject of the sentence does not have to be the sentence's first word. If it did, the English language would lose much of its power to emphasize more important information and to deemphasize less important information. One alternative to beginning a sentence with its grammatical subject is to begin with a clause that indicates a logical relationship.
Introductory clause: After we complete our survey, we will know for sure whether the proposed site for our new factory was once a Native American camping ground.
Introductory clause: Because we have thoroughly investigated all the alternatives, we feel confident that a pneumatic drive will work best and provide the most reliable service.
Guideline 6: Global Guideline: Adapt your Sentences for Readers Who Are Not Fluent in Your Language
The decision you make about the structure of your sentences can affect the ease with which people who are not fluent in English can understand your message. Companies in several industries, including oil and computers, have developed simplified versions of English for use in communications for readers in other cultures. In addition to limited vocabularies, simplified English has special grammar rules that guide writers in using sentences that will be easy for their readers to understand. Because readers may not need this degree of simplification, be sure to learn as much as possible about your specific readers. Remember that simplifying your sentence structure should not involve simplifying your thought.
Guidelines for Creating Sentences for Readers Who Are Not Fluent in English
• Use simple sentence structure- the more complex your sentences, the more difficult they will be for readers to understand.
• Keep sentences short- a long sentence can be hard to follow, even if its structure is simple. Set twenty words as a limit.
• Use the active voice- readers who are not fluent in English can understand the active voice much more easily than they can understand the passive.
When selecting words, your first goal should be to increase the usability of your writing by enabling your readers to grasp your meaning quickly and accurately. At the same time, keep in mind that your word choices affect your readers' attitudes toward you and your subject matter. Therefore you also need to choose words that will increase your communication's persuasiveness. Word choice could make a difference of how your voice is heard, like how formal it is.
Guideline 1: Use Concrete, Specific Words
Almost anything can be described either in relatively abstract, general words or in relatively concrete, specific ones. You may say that you are writing on a piece of electronic equipment or that your are writing on a laptop computer connected to a color laser printer. You may say that your employer produces consumer goods or that it makes cell phones.
When groups of words are ranked according to degree of abstraction, they form hierarchies. You can increase the clarity, and therefore the usability, of your writing by using concrete, specific words rather than abstract general ones. Concrete words help your readers understand precisely what you mean. If you say that your company produces television shows for a younger demographic segment, they won't know whether you mean teenagers or toddlers. If you say that you study natural phenomena, your readers won't know whether you mean volcanic eruptions or the migrations of monarch butterflies. Such vagueness can hinder readers from getting the information they need in order to make decisions and take action. Of course, abstract and general terms do have important uses. Like in scientific, technical and other specialized fields, writers often need to make general points, describe the general features of a situation, or provide general guidance for action. Your objective when choosing words is not to avoid abstract general words altogether, but rather to avoid using them when your readers will want more specific ones.
Guideline 2: Use specialized Terms When- And Only When- Your Readers Will Understand Them
You can increase the usability and persuasiveness of your writing by using wisely the specialized terms of your own profession. In some situations, specialized terms help you communicate effectively:
• They convey precise, technical meanings economically - Many terms have no exact equivalent in everyday speech.
• They help you establish credibility - By using the special terms of your field accurately, you show your fellow specialists that you are adept in it.
However, you should avoid using technical terms your readers won't understand.
Helpful Hints on Word Choice
To write concise sentences, use clear, concise words and phrases. Avoid using longer words when shorter ones will do just as well. (Write to express, not to impress.)
|communicate||write, talk, tell|
Eliminate dead phrases - words that add nothing to the meaning of the sentence.
|to the extent that||in view of|
|with your permission||inasmuch as|
|hence||as a matter of fact|
|with reference to||for the purpose of|
|in connection with||in order|
|with respect to||as already stated|
Avoid words that sound knowledgeable without being specific. Many are technical words that have been overused and poorly adapted to non-technical situations.
|parameters||warrants further investigation|
|time frame||resource utilization|
Avoid redundant phrases.
|absolutely complete||human volunteer|
|absolutely essential||insist and demand|
|agreeable and satisfactory||my personal opinion|
|anxious and eager||necessary essentially|
|basic fundamentals||past memories|
|complete absence||point in time|
|consensus of opinion||right and proper|
|each and every||sincere and earnest|
|exactly identical||small in size|
|example to illustrate||summarize briefly|
|few in number||thought and consideration|
|first and foremost||true facts|
|general consensus||very unique|
|green in color|
Avoid business jargon.
|consideration was given||I considered|
|prior to the||before|
|at the present writing||now|
|effect an improvement||improve|
|in the neighborhood of||about|
|beg to advise||tell|
|thanking you in advance||I would appreciate|
|in regard/reference to||about|
|send under separate cover||send separately|
|return same to the above||return to us|
|needless to say||[omit]|
|it goes without saying||[omit]|
|in the normal course of procedure||normally|
|in this day and age||today|
|in my opinion||I believe|
|it is our opinion||we think|
|on a daily basis||daily|
|on the grounds that||because|
|pursuant to our agreement||as we agreed|
|we are not in a position to||we cannot|
|without further delay||now|
|please be advised that||[omit]|
How to Explain Unfamiliar Terms If You Must Use Them
Sometimes you may need to use specialized terms even though some people in your audience may not understand them. For instance, you may be writing to a group of readers that includes people in your field and others outside of it, or you may be explaining an entirely new subject to your readers. In such cases, there are several ways to define the terms for readers who are not familiar with them.
Defining Terms Your Readers Don't Know
1. Give a synonym. Example: On a boat, a rope or cord is called a line.
2. Give a description. Example: The exit gate consists of tow arms that hold a jug while it is being painted and then allow it to proceed down the production line.
3. Make an analogy. Example: An atom is like a miniature solar system in which the nucleus is the sun and the electrons are the planets that revolve around it.
4. Give a classical definition. In a classical definition, you define the term by naming some familiar group of things to which it belongs and then identifying the key distinction between the object being defined and the other member of the group.
Word is bold, Group is italics, and distinguishing characteristic is underlined.
A crystal is a solid in which the atoms or molecules are arranged in a regularly repeated pattern.
A burrow is a hole in the ground dug by an animal for shelter or habitation.
Guideline 3: Use Words Accurately
Whether you use specialized terms or everyday ones and whether you use abstract, general or concrete, specific ones, you must use all your words accurately. This point may seen obvious, but inaccurate word choice is all too common in on-the-job writing. Errors can distract readers from your message by drawing their attention to your problems with word choice, and they may lead your readers to believe their attention to your problems with word choice, and they may lead your readers to believe that your are not skillful or precise in other areas, such as laboratory or analytical skills.
How can you ensure that you use words accurately? There is no easy way. Consult a dictionary when ever you are uncertain. Be especially careful when using words that are not yet part of your usual vocabulary. Pay attention as well to the way words are used by other people.
Guideline 4: Choose Plain Words Over Fancy Ones
You can also make your writing easy to understand by avoiding using fancy words where plain ones will do. At work, some writers do just the opposite, perhaps thinking that fancy words sound more official or make them sound more knowledgeable.
There are two important reasons for preferring plain words over fancy ones:
1. Plain words promote efficient reading
- Research has shown that even if your readers know both the plain word and its fancy version, they will still comprehend the plain word more rapidly.
2. Plain words reduce your risk of creating a bad impression
-If you use words that make for slow, inefficient reading, you may annoy your readers or cause them to conclude that you are behaving pompously, showing off, or trying to hide a lack of ideas and information behind a fog of fancy terms.
Pompous word choice: I am transmitting the enclosed resume to facilitate your efforts to determine the pertinence of my work experience to your opening.
Don't misunderstand this guideline. It doesn't suggest that you should use only simple language at work. When addressing people with vocabularies comparable to your own, use all the words at your command. Provided that you use them accurately and appropriately. This guideline merely cautions you against using needlessly inflated words that bloat your prose and open you to criticism from your readers.
Guideline 5: Choose Words with Appropriate Associations
The three previous guidelines for choosing words relate to the literal or dictionary meaning of words. At work, you must also consider the associates your words have for your readers. In particular, be especially sensitive to your words' connotation and register.
Connotation is the extended or suggested meaning that a words has beyond its literal meaning. For example, according to the dictionary, flatfoot and police detective are synonyms, but the connote very different things: flatfoot suggests a plodding, perhaps not very bright cop, while police detective suggests a trained professional.
Verbs, too, have connotations. For instance, to suggest that someone has overlooked a key fact is not the same as to insinuate that she has. To devote your time to working on a client's project is not the same as to spend your time on it.
The connotations of your words can shape your audience's perceptions of your subject matter.
First version: Our sales team is constantly trying to locate new markets for our various product lines.
In the second version of this sentence, the researchers replaced the flexible word by trying with the stiff word driving.
Second version: Our sales team is constantly driving to locate new markets for our various product lines.
The researchers found that people who read the flexible version believed that the company would actively commit itself to the welfare and concerns of its employees, voluntarily participate in affirmative action programs for women and minorities, receive relatively few labor grievances, and pay its employees well. People who read that version also said they would recommend the company to a friend as a place to work. People who read the stiff version reported opposite impressions of the company. That readers' impressions of the company could be affected so dramatically by just seven non substantive words highlights the great importance of paying attention to the connotations of the words you use.
Linguists use the term register to identify a second characteristic exhibited by words: their association with certain kinds of communication situations or context. For example, in an ad for a restaurant we might expect to see the claim that it offers amazingly delicious food. However, we would not expect to see a research company boast in a proposal for a government contract that it is capable of conducting amazingly good studies. The word amazingly is in the register of consumer advertising but not in the register of research proposals.
If you inadvertently choose words with the wrong register, your readers may infer that your don't fully grasp how business is conducted in your field, and your credibility can be lost.
Guideline 6: Global Guideline: Consider your Readers' Cultural Background when Choosing Words
Take special care in your choice of words when writing to readers in other cultures. Some words whose meaning is obvious in your own culture can be misunderstood or completely mystifying to readers from other cultures. This is true whether your communication will go to your readers in English or whether it will be translated for them. In fact, misunderstanding can even occur when you are writing to readers in other cultures where the native language is English. In the United States, people play football with an oblong object which they try to carry over a goal line or kick through uprights. In England, India, and many other parts of the world, football is played with a round object that people are forbidden to carry and attempt to kick into a net.
The following guidelines will help you choose words your readers will understand in the way you intend. Of course, different readers in other cultures have different levels of facility with English, so follow the guidelines only to the extent that your readers require.
Guidelines for Choosing Words for Intercultural Communications:
1.) Use simple words. The more complex your vocabulary, the more difficult it will be for readers not fluent in English to understand you.
2.) Use the same word each time you refer to the same thing. For instance, in instructions, don't use both "dial" and "control" for the part of a text instrument. In context, those two terms may be synonyms in your language, but they will each be translated into a different word in the other language, where the translated words may not be synonyms.
3.) Avoid acronyms your readers won't understand. Most acronyms that are familiar to you will be based on words in your language: AI for Artificial Intelligence; ACL for anterior Cruciate Ligament.
4.) Avoid slang words and idioms. Most will have not meaning for people in other cultures. Instead of "We want a level playing field," say "We want the decision to be made fairly." Instead of saying "We want to run an idea pat you," say "We'd like your opinion of our idea."
Even if you follow these guidelines, it's best always to ask someone familiar with that culture to review the words you've chosen. Doing so can also help you avoid another type of problem caused by words in your language that sound like words in another language but can have a completely different meaning.
Guideline 7: Ethics Guideline: Use Inclusive Language
When constructing your voice, use language that includes all persons instead of excluding some. For example, avoid sexist language because it supports negative stereotypes. Usually, these stereotypes are about women, but they can also adversely affect men in certain professions, such as nursing. By supporting negative stereotypes, sexist language can blind readers to the abilities, accomplishments, and potential of very capable people. The same is true of language that insensitively describes people with disabilities, illnesses, and other limitations.
Using Inclusive Language
1.)Use nouns and pronouns that are gender-neutral rather than ones containing the word man.
Instead of: businessman, workman, mailman, salesman
Use: businessperson, manager, or executive; worker, mail carrier; sales person
Instead of: man made, man hours, man-sized job
Use: synthetic, working hours, large job
2.) Use plural pronouns or he or she instead of sex-linked pronouns when referring to people in general.
Instead of: "Our home electronics cater to the affluent shopper. She looks for premium products and appreciates a stylish design."
Use: "Our home electronics cater to the affluent shopper. They look for premium products and appreciate a stylish design."
Instead of: "Before the owner of a new business files the first year's tax returns, he might be wise to seek advice from a certified public accountant."
Use: "Before the owner of a new business files the first year's tax returns, he or she might be wise to seek advice from a certified public accountant."
3.) refer to individual men and women in a parallel manner.
Instead of: "Mr. Sundquist and Anna represented us at the trade fair."
Use: "Mr. Sundquist and Ms. Tokagawa represented us at the trade fair" or "Christopher and Anna represented us at the trade fair."
4.) Revise salutations that imply the reader of a letter is a man.
Instead of: Dear Sir, Gentlemen
Use: The title of the department or company or the job title of the person you are addressing: Dear Personnel Department, Dear Switzer Plastics Corporation, Dear Director of Research
5.) When writing about people with disabilities, refer to the person first, then the disability.
Instead of: the disabled, mentally retarded people
Use: people with disabilities, people with mental retardation
What about Miss, Mrs., and Ms.?
People are unsure whether or not to use the more traditional terms of Miss or Mrs. or use the newer term Ms. On one hand, people believe that using the former terms suggests that a woman's marital status is somehow relevant to her ability to perform her job. After all, they point out, all men, whether married or single, are addressed as Mr. On the other hand, some women prefer to be addressed as either Mrs. or Miss. If you know an individual's preference, make sure to follow it. If you do not know the individual's preference, however, use the more modern term of Ms., which has now been accepted as the nonsexist term in the workplace.
Making sure you solidify your writing style matters a great deal in successful, technical and professional writing. The most pertinent aspects to be mindful of include the aforementioned: your voice, sentence structure and your word selection choices. The more you are attentive to these good practices of writing, the more you will connect with your readers and better persuade them to take your writing seriously.