- On June 27, 2015
“You Really Look Smart,” read a recent Wall Street Journal headline. The article it headed described behaviors that make people look smart. Using clear language, the article said, is one such behavior. This is welcome advice for business communicators everywhere. One of the biggest traps businesspeople fall into is using big words and complex sentences to convey intellect.
Often the big word is wrong, and the sentence structure is jumbled.
Pity the PR executive who sent an email cautioning everyone on her long distribution list to be cognoscente of a certain issue. Even had she written cognizant, I would have thought aware.
And what about the gym that wrote, “Creating change in your life is not as elusive as you think.” Elusive is what the police say of suspects who remain at large. The gym would have had me with hard to do.
The best way to avoid wonky sentence structure is to write in short sentences. They give you more control. Many long sentences trip over themselves and end up in places far removed from where they started. They get clumsily pasted together and sloppily lengthened with words like with, as, and while. (Verlyn Klinkenborg, author and newspaper editor, said this in his great book about writing, Several Short Sentences About Writing.)
After Healthcare.gov got off to its rocky start, the former secretary of Health and Human Services issued a convoluted press release about her plan to fix it. Here’s a sentence describing the plan:
It will include a focus on increasing system stability, redundancy and capacity, and building on improvements to the user interface, while continuing to prioritize security and privacy issues in line with industry best practices.
She could have written:
We will focus on ensuring the system is stable and streamlined and can accommodate high volumes of users. We will make it easy for everyone to use. And we will ensure the site complies with industry standards of privacy and security.
And have a look at the second sentence in this two-part question:
What method do you recommend for encouraging professional communication and etiquette? What strategies are best received by employees and foster the smoothest adoption?
In other words, What works best?