No matter what your opinion of the importance of English in your world, there’s one dread all who use the language share. Any language for that matter, but I can only speak with the greatest experience about English. Why? Because like most of us who acquired the language well before electronic text accelerated its mutation and now its global use has flooded us with the many localized versions of the language, there were rules.
These rules pertained to grammar. Look up the definition of grammar and you’ll find words used like, order, structural relationships, and meaning, pronunciation, systems and standard rules.
Despite our fondness for freedom, and the illusion that we have entirely individual modes of expression, humans are programmed to create systems. Even babies, left to their own devices for a long time (hypothetically) on an island, would create an order to their noises and their unique language and system of grammar.
“Aye, and there’s the rub” as Shakespeare wrote. The glitch in the grammar gears is that language evolves (whether we like its direction or not). It changes with the economy, immigration and now with technology, it is changing incredibly fast. Outside any particular region that same language is influenced by new concepts and cultures who reformulate it as their own and so for all these reasons, it can be confusing and frightening for even native speakers to master
At any level of expertise, it can be agreed that we are now more in need of the written word than ever. Think text messages, tweets, posts, websites and downloads. To meet its mark it must now be shorter, faster and therefore, simpler. Your words and phrases do double duty. They must catch the interests of people with short attention spans so they can both work and wow.
These guidelines might help you, especially if you are looking for a response from your reader:
1. Today’s reader does not read every line from top to bottom. They scan the first and last lines, maybe. Wherever their eye lands they must find something appealing enough to keep reading.
2. Consider that people report spending 4-6 hours in front of a TV each day. Add that to computer, mobile phone and personal digital assistants and that is a lot of screen time. Compared to less ‘techy’ times and cultures with more in person interaction and conversation, people now tend to believe what they read more than what they hear. You have 2 seconds or less to catch their attention and lure them into reading more, so come out with the juiciest part of your message right at the start. (Juicy or compelling)
3. As ‘fashions’ change for word usage and even the way we transmit communication, it is wise to update your dictionary every 4-5 years. And, while you are at it, pick a style guide to call your own, or follow the one in your workplace as ‘authorities’ on language often have diverging opinions. Consistency is key. Grammar geekdom has never been such a hot domain. Move with the times so that you will be understood and your message will be powerful and current.
4. Let your personal style evolve too. Why be left out? Know your audience so that you can make the best choice of formal or informal, clear or cluttered. Why stick with legalese’s heavy language, when you can simply shift to a logical style to get your message through with clarity and ease?
V.I.P. Your very important point is to remember to make it about your readers. I could for example write that I love words, and I am passionate about communication topics and I have a need to share all that I know to better the world, so please listen up. Or, I could say: “I want you to be the first to know about the most recent trends in writing so that you will not be confused if it conflicts with what you have learned before, and you will be able to communicate effectively and with confidence, whether it is in print, online or in person.
Helena is an award winning writer, columnist and consultant who helps Canadian and international managers, entrepreneurs and service providers with the skills and practice to advance to the next level in their social network or business arena. http://helenakaufman.com Invite her on LinkedIn.com