Writing for your boss? Just begin with “Dear Doris and Bertie”

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[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy]

Occasionally I come up against resistance when I’m evangelising for plain English on one of the courses I teach. And the most common argument people give for refusing to change goes something like this: “But my boss wants me to use fancy words and jargon – it just sounds more professional and I’ll hold myself back if I don’t play the game.”

I’m not convinced that your boss really does like your bad corporatese, but if you believe this to be the case, perhaps you might like to direct your boss to a certain Warren Buffet.

Yep, the fabled Sage of Omaha and official richest person in the world is also an advocate of plain English. Here’s what he has to say on writing:

When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.

No siblings to write to? Borrow mine: Just begin with “Dear Doris and Bertie.”

If plain English is good enough for the most successful businessman in history, I think it might be good enough for your boss, don’t you?

p.s. The above quote comes from Buffet’s preface to A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents. I urge anyone in business to download and read it.

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