Appropriate Language

Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

One of the most important things you can do as an employee and colleague is to use appropriate language in the workplace. In the business world, making a good impression and projecting yourself as mature, intelligent, confident, and professional is critical to long-term success. Inappropriate language, whether spoken or written, can negatively affect your credibility and put off or even offend those you work with. Both in speech and in writing, take the time and make the effort to use appropriate language.

Using Appropriate Language at Work: 8 Tips

1. Use standard English and follow established rules of grammar
No matter who your audience is, in the workplace you should always use standard English (the form of English taught in schools and used in most texts, government documents, media publications, and the like) in your speech and writing. If you are from an area where nonstandard English is common and you use nonstandard English yourself, make a conscious effort to speak standard, grammatical English. Pay attention to the way other professionals speak and write at work, and you will begin to notice ways that you can improve your own speech and writing.

2. Use a level of formality appropriate for your audience.
When conversing in less formal situations or when writing less formal correspondence, you can use less formal English, but still remain respectful and professional at all times.

3. Do not use profanity.
Swearing is never acceptable in the workplace.

4. Avoid biased or derogatory comments
Do not use sexist language or language that is biased against any racial, ethnic, religious, age, or other group. Avoid comments, generalizations, examples, or jokes that affirm or perpetuate negative stereotypes. (For more information on avoiding biased language, see the article "Writing without Bias.")

5. Avoid slang.
You should generally avoid slang in the workplace—even words or expressions that are commonly accepted in other settings. Be judicious in your use of idiomatic expressions, and particularly regionalisms, as well.

6. Be cautious when using jargon.
Jargon should be used sparingly, and only when speaking or writing to an audience that will be familiar with the terms used. If you feel it is appropriate to use jargon for a more general audience, make sure you define the terms used.

7. Be polite.
Your mother's instructions about using please and thank you are just as important in the business world as they were at the dinner table. You will be able to accomplish more and will undoubtedly have better relationships with co-workers and colleagues if you treat them respectfully and show sincere appreciation by using courtesy words.

8. Take a class.
To learn even more about using appropriate language and about writing and speaking well in the workplace, you can take a class or attend a workshop or seminar on communicating effectively in the business world.

The suggestions above will help you to use appropriate language in the workplace. By following these principles, you'll make a good impression and you will be known as a professional, courteous employee and colleague.