In previous posts (1, 2, 3)* I’ve described puerile writing as narcissistic, histrionic and bloated. Today I describe puerile writing with one more adjective: palsy-walsy: “friendly in a way that is not proper or sincere.” Here are three examples, with my reactions:
Recently when I tried to sign in to my LinkedIn account, I received this message:
Hmm, that’s not the right password. Please try again or request a new one.I assume “Hmm” is intended to make me think that this automated response was typed, in real time, by a real human being – a human being who is my pal and writes to me in a conversational style, even using conversational interjections like “Hmm.” This is an insult to my intelligence.
Recently I changed my password on Twitter. I received this email:
Woo hoo! Your password has been changed!What is “Woo hoo!” doing in a business email? I have never seen a grown-up use this expression in writing, and the only people I’ve heard say it aloud were ditzy teenage girls. And why are there two exclamation points in this routine message?
Almost every new vendor who writes to me – via email, post card, or letter – tells me that he/she/it is “excited” to have me as a new client. I’m glad to know they’re pleased, but I don’t want them excited. I don’t want their hands to be trembling – especially surgeons and dentists.
The Takeaway: Whenever you write to clients, customers or prospects, show some respect. Use courteous, dignified language. You don’t have to be stuffy. You can be appropriately informal in most situations; for example, the contraction in “We’ve updated your password as you requested” is perfectly fine. Just don’t slobber all over the reader. For more on palsy-walsy offenses, see Ken Smith’s incisive book Junk English.
Summary of the characteristics of
puerile writing and grown-up writing
Puerile writing is:
Narcissistic: Entertains the author and indulges his whims.
Histrionic: Injects false excitement into routine transactions.
Bloated: Indulges in redundancy, circumlocution and tangents.
Palsy-Walsy: Insinuates a depth of friendship that does not exist.
Grown-up writing is:
Empathic: Informs, assists and pleases the reader.
Sober: Maintains an appropriate tone for each message.
Streamlined: Includes only the essentials and important details.
Courteous: Shows respect for the reader.
*I apologize for taking more than three years to complete the series.
Update, Thursday, October 10, 2013: When I changed my Netflix plan today, the company’s automated response was, “You have successfully changed your plan to 2 DVDs out at-a-time.” See? No interjections, exclamation points or histrionics. This is how grown-up companies write; it takes no more energy or time than the childish drivel from Twitter.