Word Choice

Keeping the Audience in Mind

The most important concept to keep in mind when writing for business is who your target audience is.

Learning Objectives

List the best practices for writing for business audiences

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • You need to tailor your writing to fit different audiences in different situations. If you address the document’s specific target audience in terms they understand, your document will have a better chance of achieving its goal.
  • 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 the attitudes your readers have toward you and your subject matter.
  • Generally, keeping it simple is a good policy. By not over-elaborating and not using unnecessarily complex words, you make the message easy to understand and accessible to all. There may be situations in which more complex writing is needed, however.

Key Terms

  • target audience: The primary group of people that something, usually an advertising campaign, is aimed at appealing to.

The most important concept to keep in mind when writing for business is who your target audience is. You need to tailor your writing to fit different audiences in different situations. If you address the document’s specific target audience in terms they understand, your document will have a better chance of achieving its goal.

Every business document has a purpose. You could be trying to persuade your boss that you are due a raise in one instance, and trying to persuade the HR Department that the company picnic would have more participation if it were held at a lake in another instance. In both instances, the language and way you would approach each topic is going to differ.

image

Know Your Audience: It is important to know your target audience for any piece that you write.

When selecting your 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 the attitudes your readers have toward you and your subject matter. You also need to choose words that will increase your communication ‘s persuasiveness. Word choice could make a difference in how your voice is heard and your writing is perceived. A formal tone and more official word selection leads to a very different type of piece than an informal tone and simpler word selection. It is almost always advisable to let a trusted colleague read your writing, and offer suggestions, if needed, before you finalize it to make sure that it accurately and effectively conveys the message that you want it to for your intended audience.

In general, you are keeping the audience in mind when you:

  1. Use concrete, specific words.
  2. Use specialized terms only when your readers will understand them.
  3. Use words accurately.
  4. Choose plain words over fancy ones.
  5. Choose words with appropriate associations and connotations.
  6. Consider the cultural background of your readers when choosing words.
  7. Use inclusive language.

Avoiding Slang and Jargon

When writing business documents, only use jargon when necessary with appropriate audiences, and completely avoid the use of slang words.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between jargon and slang

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Jargon refers to the common vocabulary used by specific professions or groups of people, whereas slang includes expressions and types of speech used informally.
  • You can increase the usability and persuasiveness of your writing by wisely using the specialized terms of your own profession.
  • Jargon should be avoided when it is only used for the sake of looking knowledgeable in a particular subject as it can make it difficult to understand what is being said. Generally, slang should always be avoided.

Key Terms

  • slang: Language outside of conventional usage.
  • jargon: A technical terminology unique to a particular subject.

Jargon Defined

Jargon is the common vocabulary used by specific professions or groups of people within those professions. It can be similar to slang or it can be highly technical. Legal jargon, medical jargon, and police jargon are all examples of different types of jargon that exist in very different professions.

image

Police Jargon: Police have their own specific jargon which may not be understood by those outside the profession.

Much like slang, jargon can develop as a kind of short-hand to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, though it can also be developed deliberately using chosen terms. A standard term may be given a more precise or unique usage among practitioners of a field. In many cases, this causes a barrier to communication with those not familiar with the language of the field. As an example, the words RAM, bit, byte, CPU, HDD, and hexadecimal are jargon terms related to computing.

When writing business documents, it is recommended that authors avoid using technical jargon for the sake of looking smart. Instead, they should use it only when necessary with appropriate audiences who understand their significance. Using simple verbiage instead ensures understanding by a broad spectrum of users.

When to Use Jargon

You can increase the usability and persuasiveness of your writing by wisely using the specialized terms of your own profession. You should use jargon to convey precise, technical meanings efficiently, as many terms have no exact equivalent in everyday speech.

In addition, you should use jargon to help you establish credibility. By using the specialized 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 will not understand.

Slang

The term slang includes words, expressions, or the special use of language, used in informal speech.

Slang is especially common in pop, rock, jazz, and rap music, as well as in films, all of which tend to have international audiences. As a result, many foreign speakers who have learned more formal registers are sometimes surprised when they hear expressions like: “I gotta go! ” (I have to go now), or “What’s up bro? ” (How are you my friend). In certain regions, certain dialects may have this non-standard language incorporated into “normal” speech.

Writers of official documents or papers should avoid using slang, whatever the context. While jargon may be acceptable in certain types of documents, one should avoid using slang words, even in documents like memos that always have a conversational style.

Using Impartial Language

In business writing, it is important to communicate the message using impartial or unbiased language.

Learning Objectives

Explain why it is important to use impartial language in business writing

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Not only does biased language have the potential to offend readers, but it also negatively affects the writer’s credibility and distracts from the message being conveyed.
  • Choosing unbiased language avoids offensive language and ensures that the message is effectively communicated.
  • Writers should write in a way that is free from gender and group stereotypes including race, age, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • When writing business correspondence use respectful language.

Key Terms

  • unbiased: Impartial or without bias or prejudice.

Impartial Language

In business writing, it is important to communicate the message using impartial or unbiased language. Choosing unbiased language avoids offensive language and ensures that the message is effectively communicated. Not only does biased language have the potential to offend readers, but it also negatively affects the writer’s credibility and distracts from the message being conveyed.

image

Impartial Language: In business writing, it is important to communicate the message using impartial or unbiased language.

Using Unbiased Language

Writers should write in a way that is free from gender and group stereotypes including race, age, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation. Here are a few examples that illustrate the use of unbiased language:

Disability

Language that labels individuals by their disability and use of emotionally impartial expressions should be avoided.

Before editing: The facility should be reconstructed because it is not accessible for individuals confined to wheelchairs.

After editing: The facility should be reconstructed because it is not accessible for individuals who use wheelchairs.

Gender

Gender language that could be considered sexist or stereotypical should be avoided. Gender should only be specified if necessary for clarity.

Before editing: The instructor should consider the needs of his students when developing the syllabus.

After editing: Instructors should consider the needs of their students when developing the syllabus.

Racial or Ethnic Identity

Always use the preferred designations for ethnic and racial groups. Descriptors used to identify a group should be precise.

Before editing: In clinical studies, the drug was less effective in Oriental and other Non-White women.

After editing: In clinical studies, the drug was less effective in Asian, Hispanic, and African American women.

Avoiding Passive Voice

A way to focus your sentences on action and actors is to use the active voice rather than the passive voice.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of situations where it is appropriate to use passive voice in business writing

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • To write the active voice, place the actor, which is the person or the thing performing the action, in the subject position. Your verb will then describe the actor’s action.
  • Research shows that readers comprehend active sentences more rapidly than passive ones. The active voice also eliminates the vagueness and ambiguity that often characterizes the passive voice.
  • Although the passive voice generally reduces readability, it has some good uses, such as when you don’t want to identify the actor.

Key Terms

  • active: Having the power or quality of acting; causing change; communicating action or motion; acting.
  • passive: Being subjected to an action without producing a reaction.

The Passive Voice Defined

In writing, the passive voice is when the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb. For example, “the changes were recommended by the consultant” is an example of the passive voice.

Reasons to Avoid the Passive Voice

Research shows that readers comprehend active sentences more rapidly than passive ones. The active voice also 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. ” Keep in mind, the passive voice is not a grammatical error, it is a stylistic choice.

The active voice keeps the focus of the sentence on the action. To write the active voice, place the actor, which is the person or the thing performing the action, in the subject position. The verb will then describe the actor’s action.

In business writing, the use of the active voice is important to get people to answer a call to action. A memo written in the active voice will have a greater impact than one written in the passive voice. Using the active instead of passive voice in writing technical documents and instructions helps readers understand everything immediately without having to read anything twice.

Appropriate Uses of the Passive Voice

Although the passive voice generally reduces readability, it has some good uses, such as when you don’t want to identify the actor. If the writer decides it would be ethically acceptable to communicate news to the reader without naming the person who made the report, the passive voice is okay. Be careful to avoid using the passive voice to hide an actor’s identity when it is unethical to do so, such as when trying to avoid accepting responsibility for your employer’s actions.

image

Passive Voice: Using the passive voice in your writing can obscure the meaning of your message.