Conveying Urgency Through Style

Depending on the situation, my writing style can be terse or exceptionally “fluffy” (full of extra pleasantries). Today I’m in a terse mood because I have work to do, so I’ll keep this short and to the point.

If you’re known for being a “fluffy” writer, an email without pleasantries will get someone’s attention. A typical message from me might run something like this: “Good morning! When you get a minute, could you drop by my cube? No rush. Thanks! /b” On the other hand, if I sent blunt request such as “Please visit my cubicle as soon as possible” without any extra explanations or greetings, the reader might interpret the message as threatening or ominous. I’d probably get a phone call or reply message asking if everything is okay.

Other individuals might have a different style. If they’re usually on the blunt side and suddenly add a lot of pleasantries and extra words they normally wouldn’t use in an email, you’d wonder, again, whether something unusual was going on. (“Why are they being extra nice all of a sudden? Do they want something from me or are they trying to soothe me before giving me bad news?”)

Writing styles are as individualistic as manners of speaking or dressing. We might think we’re communicating clearly or dispassionately with simple text, but human beings are emotional, imaginative creatures–sometimes too imaginative. The text of a message can be less than 5% of what a person typically receives in a normal conversation, the other parts being tone of voice or body language. Lacking both of those in an email or text exchange, the other person will likely use their imagination to “fill in the blanks,” which can be socially dangerous.

For example, the blunt message referenced above might have someone worried about their job or the state of their relationship with the sender when, in fact, the sender was simply in a hurry.

As a former NASA customer of mine liked to remind his team, “Emailing isn’t communicating.” While writers might find it heresy, people do not live by text alone.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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