Thought Starters

Have you discovered the methods to keep your writing real?

A while back we posted a piece on what makes a good Project Manager under the guise of instilling the attitude of F.E.A.R. in their team’s work thinking it would be a great way to make a point and hey, maybe add a little comic relief. Whether it was a big hit or not remains to be seen but it was published elsewhere as well so that’s a positive sign that there may have been some value in it. The piece was a little tongue-in-cheek but in no way were we trying to make a joke out of a typically serious subject.

We were just trying to lighten the mood.

We are making this point because our writing here is generally conversational and we like it that way. Instead of a highly technical, completely sober and staunch industry best practices approach we attempt to bring some levity to the writing in order to maintain a style that is a little less serious than the average trade publication.

It is a blog after all.

If you want to read a business book then you would do so and should. Our intent is to generate feedback by keeping the work here short and to the point while weaving in some cultural (usually pop) aspect in order to maintain interest. It’s likely interesting just to us in some cases but alas a little quirky and self-deprecating humour seems goes a long way. Now, you may think we have nothing to say here today and we are just rambling but that’s simply not the case. Please be patient and read the piece.

Do you write for business?

In the world of architecture and design we write constantly and in all cases we have to communicate our message succinctly and clearly just like any business. So what do we do? We use graphics, images, charts and graphs to punctuate a point of view or articulate an idea but amidst all the eye-candy we still have to write. Now most designers, architects or engineers are not born copywriters and nor should they be but they do need to be effective communicators. There is a big difference between writing correspondence between yourself, your consultant group or a client answering a question or dealing with an issue and writing an opinion on a style of work or responding to the fact based questions you may encounter in a strategic RFP. Regardless, with either, it is challenging to be succinct and clear.

Are you with me so far?

The former requires you to be quick and able to think on your feet. It also requires proof reading and editing which is not a realistic task or is even able to be considered on a day to day basis. There’s nothing wrong with discussing an intended response to a client with a colleague if it is a difficult situation. I am basing THAT statement on some of the schlock I get on occasion. Briefly discussing a response gives you a bit of perspective and may help you fine tune your thoughts. Generally speaking most of us are pretty good at day to day correspondence because we do it often enough considering how easy it is to email your thoughts instead of actually picking up the phone.

The latter is a different story.

Writing for business takes some considerable skill. Too often architects and designers tend to write in flowery complicated and overly verbose language. I, for one, have been guilty of that in the past especially when I didn’t know what I was talking about. It has to stop. The funny thing is I don’t do that in the pieces I write for this blog yet when answering strategic questions on an RFP why did I attempt to make the language more complex? It’s like people think that if it sounds flowery and complicated they will appear more intelligent.

Au contraire, mon frere.

For example, the word juxtaposition should not be used in place of adjacent or to describe something that sits beside something else.

See what I mean?

I understand that most white papers, medical journals, thesis papers and the like need to demonstrate the intelligence of the writer in context of the topic’s complex themes. In these case ideas sometimes need to be expressed using complex language, however, when you don’t understand your audience then you are in big, big trouble. If you’re a doctor writing to other doctor’s then go nuts. Make it as complex as you need to because you understand your audience. As designers and architects we write for end users and clients who understand their business not ours. They usually aren’t professors, other designers or architects nor are they grading us on the complexity of our responses.

If they can’t understand the language then how are they going to trust us to help them?

There will be some eye rolling here. There will also be some elitism and that’s fine. Go ahead and think that without the “complex iteration and intricate delineation of access to the sequence of engagement” the world will never know that you mean business and that you are the best in your field.

If you don’t agree then please go read the Harvard Business Review. The HBR is an excellent example of a group of highly intelligent contributors who understand that writing in clear concise language is not only acceptable but essential to communicating complex ideas. It doesn’t degrade the value of the content. Quite the opposite, in fact. The HBR’s contributors write in a manner that most business leaders, knowledge workers or interested individuals regardless of their position in the business world can read and assimilate.

If the HBR can do it so can we.

Now the question remains, do you make your writing conversational? In this forum, the blog, in my mind and in the example of the HBR it is certainly ok. Preferred even or so I am inclined to think. But what about the business world? When we are writing to respond to an EOI or RFP conversational language is likely not appropriate but that doesn’t mean we need to communicate our ideas in flowery designer speak that we know and love even if we are writing to other designers and architects. There’s no point. Bullshit is bullshit no matter who is reading it and if you don’t know what you are talking about then don’t waste your time writing some ethereal crap that no one understands least of all you.

So, what do we do to “keep it real”?

Well, provided there is some time here’s a few ways that we have used to avoid the bullshit piling up too high.

Do some focussed research. If you don’t know the answers please don’t make them up. Figure out the answers and write them down how you would want them explained to you. Make sure a 6 year old can understand them. Seriously. If a kid can’t understand it, change it.

Ask for unbiased feedback. It’s always good to ask someone else who is not remotely involved in your project to read the questions and answers. Like your spouse! Hey, there’s a thought but if that’s impossible then another colleague is just fine. Do they understand it? If not, change it.

Let it rest. You can also sleep on your work (not literally but hey, you never know, you may be able to absorb the answers better that way). Go back to it the next day and see what you wrote. Does it still make sense? If not, change it.

Listen, I am not a copywriter (clearly), author (duh) or journalist (no kidding) but I do love to write (obviously). Writing for pleasure and writing for business are two very different things but no matter which you tackle they both need to be clear otherwise what’s the point of writing at all?

Ok, grammar and punctuation police. Come get me!


About rdopping

interior design guy who loves other stuff; social media, photography, film, food and anything that is good for the growth of the self


8 thoughts on “Have you discovered the methods to keep your writing real?

  1. Writing for business and writing for pleasure are definitely two different things and a lot of it depends on who you want your audience to be. All I know is, I was a Risk Management/Insurance major in college and there was not one single text book I read that was interesting or fun to read. And I’m in the business, so how can I write about something I find painful at times? By making it human, readable, and what the average Joe can understand and appreciate.

    Posted by billdorman | May 25, 2012, 11:17
    • Yeah but that’s what makes it a challenge though doesn’t it? Finding an interesting and fun way to write about insurance. I bet if you could figure that out you would get billions of people reading and maybe even buying your product or you might just show us another side of your creative ability.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Posted by rdopping | May 26, 2012, 08:43
  2. You cad! You quite intentionally omitted a whole hornet’s nest worth of comma’s at the tail end there, now didn’t you?

    Quite the devil you are, young man, quite the devil…

    Awesome post though =]

    Posted by t | May 25, 2012, 20:52
  3. It makes me kind of sad that professionals have to “dumb down” their writing, but that’s an extremely negative way to look at it. Simplicity is often necessary to establish credibility in a field! In my opinion, it takes massive skill to pare down complicated steps into easily-accessible ones, because doing so demonstrates a solid grasp on the material. When we’re experts on a subject, it’s easier for us to explain it to newbies in “common terms,” and people come to us because they know we’ll give them detailed answers without talking down to them.

    In college, I knew people who would intentionally use three-syllable words to fill space and make themselves sound smarter, and it sometimes conveyed the opposite when I proofread their papers. The joke was on them!

    I’m guilty of being a grammar/spelling freak at times, but I don’t judge people too harshly. We all have to start somewhere, right? Knowledge is power, and all of that good stuff. 🙂

    Posted by Jill Tooley (@JillTooley) | May 29, 2012, 17:59
    • So Jill? How did i do? Hmmm……;-) Thanks so much for your comments. I totally see your point of view and I totally agree. If you know what you’re talking about it should be straight forward to explain and the is never a need for words with more than two syllables. Those complicated long words were made up by elitists at the dawn of time. Kidding but I just can’t see the need to bring the vocabulary, in a business setting, to the level of Salmon Rushdie.

      Have you read The Enchantress of Florence? Now there is some beautful writing.

      Posted by rdopping | May 29, 2012, 20:14
  4. Hi Ralph,

    Taking complex information and then whittling it down, so the audience doesn’t have to decipher the message, well that’s part of my job. This is always a fun part of any project (explaining it’s about more than design) and the client always wants to include every last detail regarding their knowledge and accomplishments which usually means some pretty dry copy, almost painful to read.

    It does of course depend on your audience, as you mentioned, but creating something a bit more human is always a goal, especially with a blog. Writing in a conversational manner is always a solid approach and I do like the HBR mention … Sure, it’s Haa-vaad, but they get it! 😉

    Posted by Craig McBreen | May 29, 2012, 19:45
  5. Yeah, that’s right! It is Haaa-vaaad but choo gotta love it but not while you’re in the caaaa because that would be wrong. In all seriousness (’cause that’s me – Johnny Serious) I agree about the conversational appraoch especially in social. The thing is with web presence you never know who is going to be reading your stuff. You have to write for your niche but also be careful not to alientate anyone. The human approach – that’s the biscuit.

    And I always find talking in cliches works well too…..;-0

    Thanks a ton for dropping by. Always a pleasure, Mr. McBreen.

    Posted by rdopping | May 29, 2012, 20:24

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