JS Tip 138: From the Writing Workshops: Bureaucratic versus Conversational Language

“Bureaucratic language” is the language of the bureaucracy: the stilted, official language meant to sound important and imposing. Its purpose is not to communicate but to impress.

“Conversational language” is the language of daily life. The language we use every day. The way we communicate.  

We suggest you use conversational language in your writing.

Here’s an example: “As follows.” Bureaucratic language.

When was the last time anyone—anyone in the world—used “as follows” or “the following” in conversation?



(“Sweetheart, what would you like to eat tonight?” “I would like the following: roast beef, mashed potatoes . . . .” No. That's goofy.)

Consider these examples:

      “Please take the following five steps:”

      “Please take five steps:”

Fewer words. More conversational.

      “Please submit three documents as follows:”

      “Please send us three documents:”

Again, fewer words. More conversational. (The colon serves the purpose of “as follows”; it introduces the list. You don’t need both.)

Justice Antonin Scalia—one of the better writers on the United States Supreme Court—counsels writers to “Treasure simplicity.” He says, “Just make it simple and tell us your point. Your job is to make a complex case simple, not a simple case complex.” (Speech to the State Bar of Texas, June 26th, 2009; also Making Your Case, The Art of Persuading Judges, Thomson/West Publishing).  

Keep it simple. Use conversational language in your writing.   

Next week: The integrity that comes with self-confidence. (A story.)