Module: The Writing Craft
Time: 13 minutes

In a nutshell: What is dialogue?

Dialogue is written speech. It falls under the umbrella of characterisation and is a key writing tool in storytelling, because it holds so much power in presenting individuals – and making them multidimensional. In the context of business writing, dialogue will make your pieces more vivid, believable and interesting.

Examples

Direct dialogue:

I knocked on Martin’s door.

 

‘Come in.’ 

 

I walked in, performance review in hand. Martin closed his laptop. ‘Hi Ellie, what’s up?’

 

‘I wanted to talk to you about my review. I don’t understand it.’

 

‘OK. What is it you don’t understand?’

 

‘Well, you’ve given me a perfect score on my results.’

 

‘Yeah?’

 

‘But only a mediocre on development since last quarter. I don’t understand how that can be right, if my results are perfect.’

 

‘Do you remember last month when I said I thought we should go with Lisa’s idea instead of yours after you’d both presented?’

 

‘Yeah.’

 

‘Do you remember what you said?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘Well, you said that it was unfair that Lisa’s sloppy work should be rewarded when yours was clearly better. And when I told you that while Lisa’s presentation wasn’t as well-prepared as yours, her idea was better for the campaign goal – and so the success of the team – you said you thought that individual effort should still be rewarded higher. I gave you a mediocre because I don’t think you’ve put in the work we’ve previously discussed on thinking like a team member.’

Summary dialogue: 

When I asked Martin, my boss, how it could be that I had received a perfect score on my results, but only a mediocre one on my development, he reminded me of an incident the previous month. Lisa, a junior from marketing, had presented after me on how she thought we should approach a campaign goal. Martin reminded me that I had been outspoken about how sloppy Lisa’s presentation was, when her idea had actually been better than my own.

 

As I listened to him, it dawned on me: The score wasn’t about my results at all. It was about my effort. I thanked him and went back to my desk, passing Lisa on the way to let her know how much I’d appreciated her idea from our presentation meeting.

It’s still quite rare to use dialogue in business writing, which is a shame, considering how much it does for building character and drawing the reader into the scene you want to depict. When you can successfully represent an individual from your professional life through dialogue, the audience will feel like they know the person – and, most probably, you. This means they’ll be more likely to remember the message you’re trying to get across in your content.

In 13 minutes, you’ll be able to take conversations that have made a difference to you, and repurpose them for powerful pieces of business writing.

Workshop goal: You are able to identify meaningful dialogue from your professional life and include it as part of your content messaging.

Steps

  1. Pick a conversation you recently had with a colleague or in another professional capacity – one that taught you something. 1 min
  2. Write the conversation out the way you remember it. First, write it in direct dialogue, with quotation marks, as a summary of the interaction. Second, write a summary of the conversation. 6 mins
  3. Pick the dialogue type you feel makes the wisdom the conversation brought you most clear. 1 min
  4. Structure a piece of content around this dialogue. It can be a LinkedIn post, an article or a blog entry. Start with the message – the something you learnt from the conversation – then build out your text around the conversation piece you’ve chosen. 5 mins

Now you’ve identified a piece of meaningful dialogue and included is as part of a piece of content you’re writing. When you use dialogue in your business writing in this way, it becomes easier to relate to your story and underlying message. This, in turns, draws a more interested and engaged audience to your writing.