Most technical writing and business writing these days requires us to come across in the most professional, concise, and informative manner possible. However, there are certain types of writing that call for a bit of humour and a more relaxed tone to help engage the audience and make the writing more enjoyable. While we’re not going to tell you how to become a comedian, this article will take a brief look at when humour should be applied, as well as a few writing tools that you can use when implementing humour.
The first and most important tip is to know the audience and the medium through which the article or document will be presented. Obviously things like technical manuals, business proposals, and online software documentation are not good candidates for humour. However, things like blogs, marketing materials, and tweets can be great candidates for a little tongue and cheek which can help to add some “voice” to an otherwise “cold” article.
The main goal in introducing voice of course is to soften the tone and be less formal, while at the same time coming across as lively, engaging, and even cool. In fact the right level of humour may be an essential part of your product’s branding, so be sure to work with your marketing department if you have one, to ensure that the humour fits with your branding’s tone.
The best approach to introducing humour is to do it consistently throughout the article. Don’t start off funny and then get stone cold because this leaves the reader wondering where your voice went. Conversely don’t all of a sudden introduce humour later in the document, as the reader will have already picked up on the voice (or lack thereof), and will find it odd that all of a sudden your voice has become humorous. Likewise, keep the level of humour the same throughout. Like all writing, the voice (or lack thereof) needs to be applied consistently throughout, and even across other articles. Think about it, when you’re talking with somebody in person in a given setting, chances are you use the same tone throughout, and one that is appropriate in that setting. The same applies to humorous articles.
Some great writing tools for humour include cliché’s, metaphors, and associations between otherwise unrelated subjects or objects. A cliché as you know is an overused term, so tacking it on to the description of something about your product for example can help to soften the tone. Similarly, metaphors including figures of speech or symbolisms can also be effective, while drawing connections between normally unrelated subjects can really tie the humorous tone into your subject matter.
For example, we recently wrote a blog article for a client about their web SDK that developers could use to build a smart online food ordering business. We introduced humour and promoted the product by stating that implementing such services normally involved expensive, time consuming, and “calorie burning” development processes. While not downright hilarious, the mention of calorie consumption in relation to the development of a web service for food, did introduce some tongue and cheek humour.
If you’ve come up with a humorous phrase but want to add some “color” to it, be sure to consult your thesaurus. This will let you quickly identify words that carry the same general meaning but might pack a little more punch. It may also lead you to other words and even subject ideas that can tie in nicely with your chosen level of humour.
One final tip is to just have fun with it. Relaxing the tone and introducing humour is a chance to apply some voice in the writing and to engage the audience in a less formal manner. In most business and technical writing today, we seldom get a chance to have some fun with our writing, so take advantage of the opportunity when presented.