How would you describe American business writing style?
In other words, how would you describe our style of business communication compared with that of other countries and cultures? How is it the same? How does it differ? In what ways is it unique?
If you've corresponded internationally or traveled outside the U.S., you know that American culture is more informal, relaxed and casual than that of many other countries. And as you know, cultural norms shape a society's communication patterns and expectations.
Given our relatively informal culture, American business writing style includes an element not always found in standard definitions of effective business communication. In this country, effective business writing can be characterized not by two Ps, but by three: It's not only precise and professional. It's also personal. To a great extent, your success in connecting with American readers depends on the third P.
So how do you ensure you're not only being precise and professional but also conveying a personal tone?
Open and close your e-mail messages with goodwill statements. Rather than "Your October 28, 2014, message is acknowledged" and rather than "In response to your October 28, 2014, message," write, "Thank you for your October 28, 2014, message." When you open with "thank you," you add a personal touch with no sacrifice in precision and professionalism.
Use wording that conveys an appropriate level of formality. Although more informal than some other countries' communication styles, American business writing shouldn't be too informal. Nor should it be too formal. Rather than responding to an unhappy customer by writing "Shipment of the incorrect part is most regrettable" or "We really screwed up," write "I'm sorry we shipped the wrong part."
In other words, write with an awareness of the impression you're creating. Adapt your level of formality to your purpose, your audience and the occasion. Of the five components of effective communication — topic, organization, support, expression and grammar — expression or tone is perhaps the most frequently overlooked, but in some ways it's the most important in connecting with your reader.
Even writers who understand the importance of adapting their tone to their reader sometimes fail to connect because of their fondness for certain phrases such as as per or their mistaken notion that a more formal tone makes them sound more competent.
Compare, for example, "As per your request, enclosed pleased find a brochure describing our services" with "Thanks for your interest in our business. The enclosed brochure describes how we can help you achieve your goals." Likewise, compare "I desire to be admitted to the Carlson School of Management" with "Please accept my application to the Carlson School of Management," and compare "It is my recommendation that you make an application at your earliest possible convenience" with "I recommend you apply as soon as possible."
So as you think about how you want to come across in your writing and things you can do to present yourself as precise and professional, don't forget the third P.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.