Priorities II


As promised, here is the continuation of last week’s post about the many writing goals that start with “P.” We have already noted that we want our writing to be precise in language choices and pointed in organization. We benefit from a patient approach because just a bit of planning before we start writing yields many pluses, such as bullseye subject lines and effective organization of otherwise unwieldy content. And we want to aim for documents that are both professional and personable.

Now let’s consider a few more “P” objectives.

Practicing politeness. Because so much information today is exchanged via email, we need to keep in mind that many of our emails should emulate the courtesy of letters. The stark difference between the two should be that one is delivered by the post office while the other is delivered electronically. The difference should not be cordiality vs. curtness.

Readers often react more to who is writing than what is being conveyed.

Projecting partnership. Our tone is always enhanced when we write with a we’re-in-this-together air. For example, instead of using “ASAP,” which can sound demanding (and isn’t specific), we’re wise to write something like “I hope you can get me those figures by 3 so I can include them in the handout for the meeting. Thanks very much.”

Projecting personality. Just because we are aiming for efficiency whenever we write, that doesn’t mean we should denude our messages of any humor, irony, clever asides or other color that comes to us naturally.

Many of us operate under the misapprehension that we shouldn’t “write the way we talk,” but that approach cheats our readers. Sure, our writing should should be more graceful and contain fewer errors than our speech, but our readers should hear our personality.


Two more “Ps” to be aware of – as traits to avoid – are pessimism and perfectionism. You know the old saw: “It’s not a problem; it’s an opportunity.” We never want to mislead, but if we can emphasize the positive, we should. No one looks forward to emails from Debbie Downer.

And striving for perfection is too high a standard – a goal that often leads to procrastination. We all make mistakes, so the goals should be (1) proofreading carefully enough to avoid errors that will distract the reader and rob of us credibility and (2) continually expanding our awareness of common mistakes. That’s a practical approach that pays off for us and our readers.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at

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