Guidelines for Adopting the 'You Attitude' in Professional Writing

Why Good Business Writing Should Be All About You (Not Me)

Curly haired girl pointing you out.
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In professional emails, letters, and reports, emphasizing what readers want or need to know is likely to generate goodwill and lead to positive results. In professional writing, the "you attitude" means looking at a topic from the reader's point of view ("you") instead of our own ("me"):

  • Me Attitude: I have requested that your order is sent out today.
  • You Attitude: You will receive your order by Wednesday.

The "you attitude" is more than a matter of playing with pronouns or even of playing nice. It's good business.

What's In It for Me?

Put yourself in the reader's place and think about the kinds of emails and letters that you like to receive. As a client or customer, most of us care about our own interests—that is, "what's in it for me?" This perspective is so prevalent that it's often shortened to WIIFM, and it's the topic of many articles and lectures for sales representatives and marketers.

When business writers address their clients' or customers' self-interest first, there's a greater likelihood that:

  • The message will actually be read
  • The reader will feel cared for as a result of reading the message
  • The message will help to forge a stronger business/customer relationship

Conversely, a message that is crafted from the perspective of "me" (the business) neglects the customer's self-interest. As a result, it is likely to create more distance between business and customer.

Five Guidelines for Writing With the "You Attitude"

  • Establish a good, respectful relationship with your readers by addressing them directly, writing in the active voice and using the second person (you, your, and yours), not just the first (I, me, mine, we, us, and ours).
  • Try to empathize with your readers. Ask yourself: what do they want, what do they need to know, and what's in it for them?
  • Rather than focus on your product, your service, or yourself, stress how your readers will benefit from complying with your message.
  • Earn the respect of your readers by being courteous, tactful, and gracious.
  • And finally, if you're ever tempted to write "it should go without saying," stifle the impulse.

Comparing "Me Attitude" to "You Attitude" Writing

"Me attitude" writing starts with the needs of the business rather than the needs of the customer. For example compare these two descriptions of the same situation:

  • In order to complete our inventory on time, we will be closing early on December 14th. Please plan to shop early on that day.
  • We invite you to shop early on December 14th so we can meet your needs before our early closing.

In the first case, the writer is asking customers to help out the business by shopping early. In the second case, the writer is inviting customers to get the products and customer support they need by shopping early. While the information communicated is the same in both cases (we are closing early), the message is completely different.