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Your brain likes simple business writing

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

This is part of our series on biases in the workplace. A full list of bias blog posts can be found here: If you're biased and you know it clap your hands.


We've trained so many people over the past 20 years to write effectively. So it was great to see an article in the July-August 2021 Harvard Business Review confirming some of the fundamental elements we believe in.

Bill Birchard, author of The Science of Strong Business Writing: Lessons from Neurobiology, tells us that good writing sets off our flow of dopamine. It gives us pleasure. And simple writing works best; it helps the brain's processing fluency. Readers don't have to work too hard.

The passive voice and sentences with clauses nested in the middle are two culprits. Also, our brains like simple explanations, using everyday words and the active voice.

Our brains process specific words and explanations better. We taste, feel and see the real thing. Can you give your readers a memorable phrase that you repeat? This is the stuff of comedians, poets and fiction writers, and it works. Our new approach to business ability is The Agility Powerpack. The team of five million, be kind, and stay home are all simple phrases we've adopted.

To my delight Birchard adds the element I hoped he would: emotion. Our brains process emotional words and meanings within 200 milliseconds of reading them - much faster than just meaning. We don't miss the emotional words. Too right.

Two final points: be human and tell stories. We're social beings who crave human connection. Use personal pronouns: you, our, I, we. Tell stories about the people you're writing about or yourself. You'll have more credibility.


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