Michael Gove was in this week’s Sunday papers. No surprises there. After a controversial career at the Ministry of Education, he’s now at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). But he just can’t help himself from laying down the educational law. The new Lord Chancellor has posted on the MoJ Intranet a grammar style guide for all departmental correspondence.
1) Do not write, “I am sorry to hear”, but “I am sorry to read”.
2) Never have “however” at the beginning of a sentence (or any words such as “therefore”, “yet”, “also”, “although”), but put it after the verb: “There are, however, many options”.
3) Do not use contractions such as “doesn’t”, “don’t”, “aren’t”.
4) Take a warm tone and be very gracious in thanking people for their letters.
5) Use the active voice and the present tense as much as possible: eg, “We are doing this”; “My department provides guidance”; “The evidence shows that…”.
6) Even if the view is an opposing one, acknowledge the arguments while not yielding on the substance.
7) Avoid “this” and “it” on their own. Try to write exactly what they are referring to in correspondence.
8) Never be repetitive.
9) Do not use anything that is too pompous.
10) Never write that you “met with” someone (just “met”).
We agree with at least the intent behind Gove’s guide, if not all of the rules (trust us, it’s fine to start a sentence with however). Good grammar is important – even in advertising. And it’s even more so for financial and business services firms, who are often investing or advising on millions of pounds for their customers. If a company can’t sweat the detail with its communications, why should it be expected to invest money with any degree of professionalism?
It’s the same with tone of voice. For companies selling intangible products and services, a clear, consistent and differentiating tone of voice is one of their most tangible assets. That’s why it’s a vital element in all our work for financial and business organisations.
For example, our award-winning ‘Home Truths’ campaign for The Family Building Society uses warm and witty language to bring to life the problem of young people unable to get on the housing ladder. Compare this to our global advertising for Dutch asset manager, Robeco. Here, clear and authoritative language helps to communicate big themes and new ideas to an international and sophisticated audience.
With our help, these brands know their target audience and how to talk to them. And whilst Gove hasn’t passed a law about grammar and tone of voice – yet – maybe now is a good time to review yours.