Some fifty years ago, business writing was characterized by formality and absolute seriousness. One could not write anyhow because sloppiness was an indication to your business associates that you were not ready to be treated with seriousness. The attitude of attaching a high level of seriousness to one’s writing is what is known as gravitas. Gravitas is a noun which means “high seriousness, as in a person’s bearing or the treatment of a subject; seriousness of conduct, bearing, speech, temperament,” etc.
In recent times, gravitas in business writing has witnessed a drastic change. As columnist Rob Walker states, the best way to show potential employers, associates, and clients that you mean business is to show them that you do not take yourself too seriously. People want to see the cool side of you; they do not want a prissy, uptight employee.
This shift in corporate writing should excite a lot of people, shouldn’t it? Who wants to write like a 20th-century British gentleman, after all? But hold on to your excitement. While TV shows, social media, and TV commercials may make fun of gravitas, jobseekers, young entrepreneurs, and public speakers who wish to go get ahead in the business world will master a form of Standard English and know when to use it. Some employers, as well as other business associates, believe that a poor grasp of grammar can translate to carelessness in other areas.
The key is to strike a careful balance between gravitas and flexibility. While our next post takes a closer look at ways to strike this balance, remember this:
You want to connect with your reader; you don’t want to sound serious just for the sake of sounding serious. Effective writing is all about putting your readers first. Think about their interests and use language that they are more likely to connect with.