To communicate effectively with your clients, use correct grammar and punctuation, avoid jargon, follow a clear structure, keep it concise, and employ a little wit.
That was the advice offered by two writing-skills trainers, Fiona Rintoul, a journalist (above, left), and Felicity Parsons, a business writer, at an hour-long educational event on investment writing organized by the CFA Society of the U.K. yesterday in London.
Does the advice seem obvious? Perhaps. But according to the presenters, investment writing is often “grammatically sloppy, overly formal, verbose, and infested with jargon and management-speak.”
Worst of all, they say, “it’s just boring.”
The topic of investment writing is clearly of interest to members of the CFA Society of the U.K.: Nearly a hundred investment professionals registered for this hour-long event hosted at an ultra modern venue provided by the event sponsor, State Street, at Canary Wharf.
During the interactive session, Ms. Rintoul and Ms. Parsons provided a number of examples of incorrect usage and asked the audience to point out what was wrong. To the credit of all attending, someone present managed to spot all the flaws mentioned.
Here are a couple of examples of investment writing — both good and bad — from the presenters’ slides:
- “Beating its benchmark every quarter since its launch in April 2009, the performance of Sundial AMs Global Green Energy Fund is unparalleled.” (poor grammar)
- “Beating its benchmark every quarter since its launch in April 2009, Sundial AMs Global Green Energy Fund boasts an unparalleled performance.” (proper grammar)
- “The fund offers exposure to a combination of U.S. equities, bonds, and property.” (jargon)
- “The fund invests in U.S. equities, bonds, and property.” (concise)
Ms. Rintoul and Ms. Parsons pointed out that sometimes financial jargon is also incorrectly applied outside of the context of finance, in phrases such as “leveraging the pioneering spirit.” This use of “leveraging,” said Ms. Rintoul, is “a crime against language.”
Not everybody is getting it wrong in the investment industry, however. The presenters cited famed value investor Warren Buffett and Bill Gross, the founder and co-CIO of Pimco, as examples of successful communicators who are as skilled at the art of writing as they are at the art of investing.
For those looking for useful resources that can help improve writing skills, the speakers recommended the Penguin Guide to Punctuation and free online style guides provided by The Economist and The Guardian.
“Clients don’t want to wade through long, boring reports,” the speakers counseled attendees. “Investment writing should be interesting. At the very least, it should be concise.”