I’m often asked to write about financial topics in a style summarized as “knowledgeable, yet approachable.” With this style, I’m typically targeting smart readers who want to glean a few bite-size takeaways. They’re turned off by dry, academic work, and habitually click away from dumbed-down articles.
If this were a sartorial style, I would think of it as “business casual.” Certainly, not black tie – but also a far cry from jeans and a T-shirt. The business casual sweet spot is polished enough for a professional discussion and approachable enough to ensure everyone feels comfortable.
If you would like to take this popular style for a spin, here are a few tricks I’ve learned for hitting the mark:
- Be clear: Clarity is particularly important when you’re trying to address a complex financial topic in an approachable manner. The less simplicity and precision in your writing, the more your reader must labor – steering your style down a path of inaccessibility.
Take a hint from style expert William Zinsser, who believes clutter is the disease of American writing: “Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish?” If so, “prune it ruthlessly.” (“On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction”).
- Get familiar with the complexities of your topic: If writing about a topic in a “knowledgeable” style requires a reasonable amount of research, then writing in a “knowledgeable, yet approachable” style requires a massive amount of research. To distill a concept into succinct, friendly language, you need to know it inside and out.
- Mind the structure: Think about each sentence and the piece altogether. Strive for small, palatable bits. Beware dense sections, which can sink your efforts to convey modern approachability.
- Use modifiers cautiously: When I worry that I’ve taken my piece past “approachable” and into “kindergarten” territory, I find modifiers creeping into my work. I’ll try to give the reader credit with phrases like, “As you may already know.” But these modifiers only create clutter. If the concept is important enough to include, it can stand alone without a modifier. Otherwise, it can be cut.
- Write with a person in mind: Say, for example, I’m covering the latest Federal Reserve interest rate hike in a newsletter sent to clients of a wealth management firm. I picture a particular recipient: My lawyer friend Kate, who is an expert in her own field, but relatively new to the investment universe. As I write, I constantly ask myself, “Would this be clear and accessible to Kate? Am I delivering substantive ideas to her?” When I can answer “Yes,” I know my piece has the right style.
What type of writing style is most effective for your work? Let us know in the comments below.