Events /11.09.2016

4 Necessary Edits When Writing for a Boomer

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It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
~ Ernest Hemingway

The last thing that any rising professional wants is to present a thoughtful correspondence or assignment to a senior professional in a writing style that distracts the recipient from appreciating the content. Boomers are, for the most part, better writers. They have more experience. In addition, they have developed their writing styles with traditional practices. So, if you want to write to appeal to a Boomer, whether a senior colleague or external decision-maker, consider the following before hitting send:

1. Highly Descriptive Adjectives. Boomers are very particular with their language, and rightly so. With over one million words in the English language, there is always an opportunity to find the perfect descriptor. I’ve heard Boomers gripe about adjectives that simply enhance or diminish, without differentiating. For example, describing a learning experience as “incredible” explains that it was extraordinary, but why? Perhaps you learned something you will never forget and that will influence your actions moving forward…in that case, a better word is “indelible.” In reviewing your writing, note your adjectives and consider whether they enhance or diminish in a specifc way.

2. The Traditional Man Standard. The reasonable man standard permeates many areas of law. I recommend using the “traditional man standard” in reviewing your writing. The test is to ask: Would a traditional man, under the circumstances of experience and profession, respond favorably to this writing? If you find this test difficult because you do not fully understand the workings of a traditional man’s mind, then ask your audience.  Ask a trusted advisor at your firm or in your network to review your writing, with direction to please analyze it from the perspective of a traditional man and provide suggestions accordingly. The directive is important for the intended outcome. For example, I recently had my work reviewed and was instructed to change “moving forward” to “going forward.” Apparently, that is the phrasing that Boomers employ. The reviewer wouldn’t have commented on such stylistic details without the request to review using this standard.

3. Three-Part Sentence Structure. Subject. Verb. Object. Boomers write in “plain speak.” They respect correspondences that are direct and easy to digest. Sentences structured as subject, verb, object achieve this objective. It takes time to break up your sentences and organize them in what I call the “logical chain.” But, it is an important practice in writing for a Boomer audience. You know those sentences that you believe sound professional and nuanced but, if you are being honest, you are not quite sure what they even mean? Boomers read through that and conclude that you do not have a grasp on the subject. Instead, give the sentence critical thought. Break it up. Make your point. Move on.

4. Salutations. Hey does not fly. Very truly yours is underused. Review your salutations and tailor them for your audience. The traditional man standard would encourage use of Dear and Very truly yours in a letter. These salutations could be too formal for an e-mail, where Good Afternoon and Best regards are better suited.

As the CEO of Accenture’s North American business emphasizes in this recent article, Boomers value communications that are concise with the salient points clearly articulated. These drafting techniques are aimed to achieve that end, with the added benefit of conforming the writing style. I hope you find them useful as you review your next big assignment.

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