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What is Colloquial Writing and Why is it Good for Your Business Communication?

You’ve probably heard the advice to be colloquial in your business writing. What’s that mean? It means loosen up, bend the grammar rules a bit, throw in a bit of street slang if you must (but don’t get too crazy now).

You’ve probably noticed that over the years, web content has become a bit more casual than in the stuffy old days. It’s kind of like the way that Old English became modern English (not the band, the language). Things morph and evolve.

So in thinking about how to soften up your business communication, you may wonder how to strike that balance between crisp, starched image and easy breezy, more casual than corporate. One really good rule of thumb is to write it “straight facts”, and then inject a few relaxed mannerisms into your writing later. Here’s how.

Strike up a friendly dialogue with your reader. Talk to him or her the way you would if having a face-to-face conversation. Or, wait. Let’s call this an email conversation instead. The easiest way to find that balance between proper grammar and casual chatting is by pretending you’re writing instructions or relaying important information to a friend. You’re a bit formal in how you say things, but not too much.

Think about it: in natural conversation, nobody speaks in formal language. Not only do we ease up on the use of grammatical correctness, but we employ jargon and cliche as well as make use of contractions – or the abbreviated form of certain word combinations. Some examples follow…

Colloquial speech doesn’t always use perfect grammar — and it sometimes breaks the rules.

Let’s take the serial comma as a good example of bending the rules.

In English class, we learned that it’s proper to add a comma after each item in a series. For example, you’d write: “At the Home Pride Organic Farmer’s Market, we sell apples, bananas, oranges, and peaches.” However, the advertising world has made it okay to omit the last comma in the series because it saves a character. (In the old days when everything was typeset, you needed all the space you could get.)

Another example: the occasional use of fragments instead of complete sentences. In copywriting, particularly “Madison Avenue” copywriting, it is common (and often expected) to use phrases instead of sentences, as a dramatic buildup.

For example, for the same company that sells fruit, above, you might come across a fragment-laden message that reads: “Crisp, tangy apples. Velvety smooth bananas. Succulent oranges. This is just a small sampling of what you’ll find at the Home Pride Organic Farmer’s Market.”

Jargon makes your writing more colloquial.

When people mention jargon, you typically think of words or expressions that are either dated, or currently trendy but likely will fall out of fashion over time.

Current, overused phrases that you can probably get away with in your marketing communication include things like “Game changer,” “On point,” “at the end of the day,” and other phrases that we feel cool saying now, but will soon grow bored of until it’s on to the next colloquialism.

Jargon can also convey a sense of exclusivity within one social group or industry. In other words: if you are familiar with, or use the terminology, then you can consider yourself among those knowingly in the know.

For example, a technology expert might select the words “open source” to describe a product whose development is ongoing, evolutionary, and the result of collective input. But a regular person would be less likely to be familiar with, let alone use, this particular term.

Contractions make for colloquial writing.

Another feature of colloquial writing is the use of contractions. In everyday conversation, you would be far more likely to say, “It’s a pleasure to meet you” rather than “It is a pleasure to meet you” (unless of course, you wanted to emphasize the “IS” for whatever reason). Likewise, in your web copy or marketing communication, you’d say “it’s” instead of “it is” to convey a more relaxed and conversational tone.

If your website copy or marketing isn’t converting as much as you’d like, you may want to take a look at the tone and employ ways to be more colloquial in your writing. You’d be surprised at how much more attention you can get when you talk to people on the level, and that means borrowing their vernacular when appropriate.

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