Sunday, 1 June 2014

Avoiding the word "should" in corporate communications

It's a debate among corporate communicators. Should we abandon the word "should" in our corporate copy? The mere inference of obligation casts an inflexible tone to our content that's not necessarily welcomed or appreciated by our audience. In fact, my employer rightly admonishes our use of the word. If we are looking to make a connection with the reader, we don't gain credibility by imposing our will. If the goal is to encourage audiences to accept our recommendations and buy our products, we are far more likely to succeed when we speak in a friendly, helpful manner. I was reminded of this by my supervisor who asked me to think about replacing should with "might consider."

It makes sense. I put myself in the reader's place. Do I want someone to implore me to take some required action? No, I'd rather be shown the options, how I might benefit or learn from the message, and possible suggestions for how I may improve my situation. I think I'm smart enough to make an educated decision. When a readers see the word "should" the predominant image they receive is that either they aren't doing what's right, or the writer by implication knows more than them. It turns out I'm not alone. Check out a similar post by Gwen Chynoweth, a vice president at a Minneapolis-based PR firm.

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