It’s not just about grammar. It’s about finding the right style in your writing to engage with people – something leaders and managers can’t afford to leave to others.
What do you think is the single, biggest challenge facing successful organisations today? According to my clients, engagement is the one thing leaders and managers want to improve most in their organisations.
But what is engagement? And how do you measure how much the people in your community are engaged with the message you’re trying to communicate? We forget that engagement emerges from targeted communication and that most of our targeted communication is language-based.
Being able to use language precisely and effectively can increase your chances of engaging with your community and achieving the results you want to see – whether that’s writing to inspire your volunteers; delivering speeches to change people’s minds; or editing other people’s writing to secure funds.
Everything you write at work contributes to how you represent your organisation to others. Knowing how to use the structure of language is essential to getting your message across in writing. But it’s not just about knowing the grammar of English. It’s about knowing the right kind of style to engage with the people you want to influence most.
Here are five top tips that will make your writing more engaging and dynamic without taking more effort.
Five: Avoid separating the Subject and the Main Verb of your sentence
Don’t write: Our team, which consists of various specialists, has a wide range of experience.
Write: Our team has various specialists who have a wide range of experience.
The Subject of a sentence is the person or thing doing the action and the Main Verb is what happens and when. They are the focal point of your message, so put them at the start of your sentence, and keep them together. Don’t bury them in the middle or the end, and don’t separate them with extra information.
Four: Avoid delaying the main action in your sentence
Don’t write: Our service users appear to be happier with our results.
Write: Our service users are happier with our results (and then explain how).
The Main Verb should represent the main action you want your reader to focus on. Don’t put an additional Verb into the Main Verb position because your reader expects your Main Verb to be the most important one. If you put in an additional Verb, your reader will focus on the wrong action.
Three: Avoid using non-personal Subjects
Don’t write: Funding has increased this year.
Write: We have raised more funds this year.
The Subject of your sentence is the person doing the action. Avoid putting things or concepts in the Subject position. They will make your writing seem impersonal and abstract.
Two: Avoid using the Passive Voice
Don’t write: Our volunteers have been trained to the highest standard.
Write: We have trained our volunteers to the highest standard.
You can use your word order to say someone did something at some point in time, which is the Active Voice. You can also say that someone had something done to her at some point, which is the Passive Voice. A Passive structure puts the Subject at the end of the sentence, so your reader focusses on the wrong part of your message – and so do you.
One: Avoid the Empty Subject
Don’t write: It is known that … Or there are three reasons why.
Write: We know that … Or you have three reasons for.
When you put a Pronoun like “it” or “there” in the Subject position, you create an Empty Subject, which will make your writing seem vague and unfocussed. Use an identifiable Subject instead, and always choose a personal Subject over an object or an idea.
Did you discover that you’re breaking some of the most simple but powerful guidelines for making your writing more engaging? Don’t worry. No matter how experienced you are, you still have to go back and edit your writing to weed out all the old habits that make your style seem formal or distant. These habits switch your readers off and make them disengage.
So don’t rely on other people to get the language right in the documents that represent you and your organisation to the world.