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Consistency matters in business writing: developing an Individual Style Guide

Consistency is one of the most important principles in business writing.

As I said in another blog, not Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘foolish consistency … the hobgoblin of little minds’, but sensible, pragmatic consistency which avoids upsetting sticklers and distracting non-sticklers among your audience.

Consistency of structure (format) is essential to the impact and effectiveness of business writing; yet is often overlooked. You need to find a way to remind you what formatting elements to use for different types of content, delivering flawless consistency along the way.

Not to mention traditional elements of style, word choices, or problems of any description where you need help remembering the solution.

One of the best ways to achieve these things – and embed a consistent approach to style and formatting in all your business writing – is to develop an Individual Style Guide.

Bank of England Writing Week: What Is Good Writing?

The Bank of England’s approach to communicating with the outside world is receiving a lot of scrutiny, both internally and externally. Only last month former Deputy Governor Howard Davies wrote in the Guardian that central bankers must learn to speak in plain language.

This article cited a speech given by Chief Economist Andy Haldane in March, which revealed some of the Bank’s internal thinking about how to re-energise its approach to communicating with the outside world, especially wider audiences.

So it was a privilege to be invited to join an internal Bank panel, ‘What Is Good Writing’, arranged last month as part of the Bank’s Writing Week. This was a series of internal events designed to elicit ideas and discussion on writing best practice; and on the Bank’s plans to broaden and diversify its communications with both professional intermediaries and the wider public. The panel was chaired by Andy Haldane, reflecting his prominent role in the Bank’s ongoing communications initiative.

Three panellists – Sarah O’Connor from the FT, Anushka Asthana from the Guardian, and I – were asked to share our perceptions on the Bank’s communications, our experiences as writers and editors, and tips on drafting, language and accessibility; followed by a short Q&A session.

The rest of this blog summarises some of the themes covered at the panel, without attributing topics or views to individual panellists.

Shakespeare to Seuss: literary connections at the Bank

The Bank of England’s literary connections run deep. Shakespeare, Dickens, George Eliot, TS Eliot and Grahame – and most recently, of course, Austen – are among the names who have either featured on Bank notes, or been inspired in their writing by the Bank’s awesome facade and interiors.

The TS Eliot connection I wasn’t aware of until recently. But it says on the Bank Museum website that he wrote much of The Wasteland while working across the road at the former Lloyds Bank office on Cornhill. I have worked in that building myself. So I can only assume that the view across to the Bank inspired him more than his Lloyds Bank surroundings, which are at best mundane.

Either way it was a nice surprise to chance on another, slightly unexpected, literary connection. This one was courtesy of The Independent’s reporting of remarks made by former deputy governor Minouche Shafik at the Hay Festival last May.

Those remarks highlighted that the Bank had been consciously taking a leaf out of the book of another writer famous for his humour, clarity, simplicity and common touch. And no, I don’t mean Andy Haldane, although he is (famous for those things).

I mean Dr Seuss.

Clear Business English for Financial Services Professionals: Structure, Content and Story

Many people in financial services and other professions would like to be able to write clear business English in their day-to-day working lives.

Especially – but not only – non-native English writers.

English is a complicated language. It’s hard to know how to achieve a balance between being clear and fulfilling the rules.

But it’s possible to rise above the rules, even while paying attention to the ones that matter. Some principles – like consistency – matter more.

Any piece of business writing, however long and whatever the format, has three essential elements: structure, content and story.

Keeping these elements explicitly in mind will help you write more confident, more effective business English.