5 ways to write like a human being in business

For nearly 25 years, I fought “groaners” in the broadcast journalism business. Groaners are those words that people don’t actually use in conversation. 

Words like: 

  • Altercation
  • Allegation
  • Motorist
  • Pedestrians

They also include phrases like:

  • Up in arms
  • Fled on foot
  • Opened fire

I would spend most of my editing time turning this:

The altercation broke out between two motorists after the fender bender, until law enforcement appeared and the motorists fled on foot.

Into this:

The drivers started fighting after the car crash. When police showed up, the drivers ran off.

Not only is this how human beings talk, but it’s much, much shorter and easier to understand.

The same is true for business writing.

I know it can be tempting to use big words and phrases in order to showcase how smart you are. But you run the risk of turning off your intended customers.

Here are five ways to write like a human

  1. Be yourself. If you would never say the word “signage” in a conversation, why would you add it to an email or your website? It’s a “sign”!
  2. Know your audience. When you are a professional (lawyer, doctor, physical therapist) there are certain words you use in sentences like: motorist, myocardial infarction and myofascial release. Unfortunately, your client doesn’t use those words. In order to connect with them, use the words they do: driver, heart attack, hands-on therapy or massage. 
  3. Go on a “that” diet. People LOVE to add the word “that” into sentences a LOT! My advice, if you can remove it from the sentence and it still makes sense, leave it out.
  4. Clear, not clever. Don’t try to be clever or cutesy in your writing for emails or websites. It doesn’t work in text messages either, because the “tone” could be misunderstood. Just be clear and to the point. In an email, I’m a huge fan of starting with a synopsis and then going to “here’s what it means to you”. 
  5. Never assume. Don’t assume your audience knows something that seems simple or second nature to you. Social media audiences and platforms are second nature to me, but that’s part of my job. When training people on social media storytelling, I start off with the baselines or definitions of what I’ll be talking about. That way, everyone is on the same page and no one is sitting there confused when I get into the heart of the program.

As for my favorite groaner? Up in arms always cracks me up.

When I hear it, I put my arms in the air… now I’m up in arms!

Dawn Dugle is an author and keynote speaker. She spent more than two decades as an award-winning journalist.