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Writing 101: Thanks (?), I Think

When you're starting out doing freelance work, you tend to take jobs from pretty much anywhere. So, while my preference is for working with fiction and memoir, I work on a certain amount of book-length non-fiction, as well as short pieces (such as postcards, or two-page brochures, or annual reports, etc.).

This means that I see all sorts of styles and text - some better than others. And, when I look at them, I have to not only try to make them make sense, but I also need to match the brand style.

What is "brand style"? It can refer to the logo of a company, the colors that they use in their materials, or the music played in their ads or in their stores. For my purposes in editing and proofreading and copywriting, it is both the mechanics of style (what words do they capitalize? how do they format headlines? do they use the Oxford comma?), but also the tone of voice in what is written.

My personal brand style, for instance, uses the Oxford comma, and uses a modified Chicago style for more mechanics. It also includes a conversational, yet teaching, tone with a touch of wit (hopefully) and just a little snark.

This week, I saw something that kind of made me cringe, because I wasn't really sure how to interpret what was being said in a form letter that I was looking at.

Of course, form letters are hard. They have to cover a multitude of issues all in one, while still sounding at least slightly personal. This is even more difficult in a form letter being crafted to be sent out as a rejection letter after someone has applied for a position with the company. I totally understand that.

In prior positions I've had, I have needed to write friendly, "wishing you well in your endeavors" messages to a number of people, and it's always hard to find the right words to say what you want to say - in your brand style - without going too far one way or the other.

Even so, I think this one may have gone a bit awry along the way. I suspect it was written "by committee" and a bunch of people all wanted a say in what the final takeaway from the letter was. In my mind, this was a whole group of people saying:

  • "We want it to be friendly, but firm."

  • "We want them to know we support all artists, in any field."

  • "We definitely want them to know we care about them."

  • "We want to keep the door open for them to donate to us in the future, even if they don't work here."

And (again in my imagination) they then looked to an unpaid intern and said "You can do that, right?" Which resulted in this:

"While we are no longer considering you for this specific position, your interest in exploring what’s next for you within our company is important to us."

So... Okay... We've got the rejection in the first part. That's clear.

In the second part ("your interest in exploring what's next for you") seems nice - warm and fuzzy, and all that.

But when you add on that third part about the "what's next for you" being "within our company" it gets a little odd. I mean... If they're so interested in what's next for an applicant within their company, wouldn't it make more sense for them to be suggesting other open positions, or something? Or maybe rephrasing it to something like "We hope you'll consider applying again in future"? (Of course, they may not want some candidates to do that - which, again, goes back to the difficulty of using form letters.)

Still, when you go back to brand style, this sentence does give us a good feeling about the overall level of "caring" of the company - but the slightly convoluted nature of the phrasing makes me wonder what their personnel handbook is like.

My vote? Next time hire a copywriter before you hire an editor. After all, it's not overkill if it gets the job done right the first time.

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