Lots of people feel that financial writing is like singing – something you’re born to do, or something you should never dare to attempt in public. Yet in today’s information age, clear financial communications are vital. From emails and policies to presentations and letters, writing is an essential skill most of us need to master.
In the world of financial services, where you’re dealing with complex topics and are sometimes restrained by mandated wording, communications can prove challenging. But there are ways to ensure your writing is clearer and stronger across emails, presentations and blogs.
A formulaic art
So many aspects of creative writing are intangible. Why would you choose irate instead of furious when, technically, they’re synonyms? It’s hard to pin down what makes a brilliant piece of prose when context and connotation are so fluid.
Thankfully, it’s easier to define what makes financial communications good.
While AI has taken everyone by surprise, it makes sense that some types of writing can be replicated by software. Lots of financial services writing is formulaic and logical; there are grammatical rules to follow and a narrative flow that draws people in to give you their time, attention and/or money. It’s not particularly inspiring or beautiful, but it gets words down on paper in a sensible order.
And just as AI can learn patterns, so can people. Approaching writing as more of a science than an art may be particularly suited to people with an aptitude for pattern recognition. Learning key rules that apply to the forms you most commonly write in, even if you don’t feel you’ve got much of a creative flair.
Getting to the point
Society has shifted significantly over the last few decades. Many people have gone from wearing suits and ties daily to working from home in their leisurewear, and we’ve generally relaxed in every part of our lives – including how we communicate.
Historically, a formal, grandiose style of writing has been equated with financial expertise and authority. But as society as a whole has loosened its top button, the way we communicate financial information has dialled down in formality too. Big words and lengthy sentences no longer assert authority when so many emails and instant messages demand our attention.
Not convinced? Which of these two emails would you rather receive?
“Good day, Jane
I have attached for your convenience the agenda in advance of tomorrow’s budget meeting. I would request you inform me of your feedback at your earliest convenience by 3pm this afternoon so I can review and amend it if necessary. Regretfully I will not be able to include any correspondence received after this time as Mike has requested that the finalised agenda be sent to him by 5pm at the latest, so he can prepare for the meeting himself.
“Good morning, Jane
Please find the agenda for tomorrow’s budget meeting attached.
If you’d like me to make any updates, please can you send your comments over by 3pm? Mike has asked to receive the final version by 5pm.
Version one loses the action among big words, lengthy sentences and unnecessary information. The tone feels antiquated. Version two stays professional and puts the spotlight on the action, with a warmer tone that makes for a more pleasant read. I know which version I’d rather find in my inbox. Challenging some of the longstanding assumptions people have about professional writing is often the first step to improving their writing.
A clear plan of action
Lots of bad writing happens before a single word has reached the page. Failing to plan what you’ll say is like going to the supermarket without a list; you’ll come home with everything but the milk and bread you need. Writing without understanding what your content needs to do can also lead to waffling or you missing the point entirely. And in financial services, it’s essential that the reader understands clearly and quickly what they need to know. Composing an email about a promotion? If you haven’t mentioned the date, the discounts and how people can take advantage of it in the first paragraph, you’ve lost most readers. Need your colleague to attend a meeting about updated projections? Focus on the essentials, such as the time of the meeting or deadline and any resources they need to see. Whatever you’re writing, and whoever the audience is, they need to understand immediately why they should care.
Fixing your mistakes
To improve, it’s important to recognise where your writing is holding you back. It’s something us professional writers do regularly. Here are a few points to look out for:
– Have you picked a lofty word where a simple one would suffice – I mean, do? Financial writing doesn’t need to be stuffy.
– Does a sentence run on and on for what feels like hours and fails to get to the point so you, the reader, start to go blurry-eyed and wonder when it’s going to end so you can catch your breath (mentally or physically), before it loses you entirely? (And breathe!)
– Is it vague and confusing? This can make them confused about that. (Or: writing this way with too many empty demonstratives can make your audience (them) confused about the topic (that).)
– Have you overexplained your point? Have you used three sentences when one would do? Are you using ten words when five makes things crystal clear? Are you worried your reader won’t get it? Have you lost them in all the fretting?
Keep it simple. Look over what you’ve written and cut back anything that isn’t essential to your end goal.
It can be difficult to strike the right balance between informative and approachable financial writing, because it’s hard to be objective about something you do every day. You know it’s not quite there, but you’re lost on how to fix it up. Or maybe you have a team member whose writing just doesn’t hit the mark, but you can’t explain how in a way that will help them improve. It might be time to call for professional help.
If you’d like to improve your organisation’s financial writing skills, get in touch. We’d love to help you win with words too.