The Hazards of Writing with a Conversational Style


Don’t get me wrong. I happen to think the conversational writing style is the greatest thing to hit business writing since the word processor. (Well, almost…)

But, there are some definite hazards associated with using a conversational style.

For one thing, there are some readers online who don’t understand what using a conversational style means. What you see as making your writing more accessible they see as making mistakes or as being sloppy. (That’s right–I said M.I.S.T.A.K.E.S.)

Secondly, there are some conversational practices that just should not make their way into your writing. Here are some of those:

  • Cuss words. Maybe you cuss in your day-to-day conversations, but not everyone does and many people find this offensive.
  • Derogatory language. I hope that you don’t use derogatory language on a regular basis, but if you do keep it out of your copy if you want to be perceived as a professional.
  • Misspellings. When you speak, people can’t tell whether you can spell or not. But, when you write spelling becomes important to conveying your message.
  • Regional Dialect. Unless you’re targeting readers in a specific location, keep regional dialect out of your writing if you want to be fully understood.
  • Slang. Like regional dialect, you should consider using slang only if the audience you are targeting will understand the terms. (Keep in mind slang words change, sometimes rapidly.)

I’ve seen many writers fall prey to these hazards. One trick to keep your writing accessible is to remember to use the conversational style that most of your target audience would be comfortable with. This may, or may not, match your own natural conversational style.

Do you use a conversational style in your writing?

  1. I use a more formal style when writing for most of my medical clients, but sometimes will use conversational style for those too, depending upon the audience and topic focus. For most of my other clients, I write in conversational style. I have come across one more hazard of conversational style: writing in conversational style (due to habit) when writing very formal copy. For example, I just finished writing and preparing a 12 page white paper on CMS reimbursement policy. The target audience consists of physicians and technical staff involved in medical IT. The paper needed a very formal tone. When I first began, I found myself having to go back and formalize my writing — something I’ve never had to do before.

  2. Thanks Samantha,

    Yes, it can be tricky to switch between styles. However, if you double-check your work (as I’m sure you do), you can catch any problems. Thanks for pointing out this additional hazard.

  3. I like the point made about it being difficult sometimes to switch between formal and conversational styles for business writing. I do it all the time and it does take a conscious decision most of the time.
    In much the same vein as spelling errors, I’ve found that people get their figures of speech wrong, eggcorns if you will (mute point? alterior motive?) and also tend to write as they speak. My all time most annoying one is when I see ‘should of’ when the writer actually means ‘should’ve’ as a contraction of ‘should have’. Makes my blood boil…

  4. Hi cmdweb,

    Good to see you here again.

    I think the important thing is to keep your audience in mind. If you’re using figures of speech that they won’t understand you’re not being an effective communicator.

  5. Useful tips, especially with regards to regional dialect. I think some people are in a bit of a bubble and can forget who their audience is at times!

  6. Umm, that’s interesting… It all depends on what I am writing: if it is an article, I usually write in 3rd person; when I am blogging, it’s always conversations; when it’s a press release, obviously it needs a different tone 🙂 Oh, and if I am writing for a client, I always ask them what is their preference.

  7. Hi NextGen Writer–You’re absolutely right, of course. 🙂 What you’re writing does make a difference. The conversational tone isn’t necessarily right for everything and ultimately the client’s preference should be considered.