How to use humor successfully in your writing – 10 Quick Tips

Humor (or humour, if you use British English!) in your writing is an incredibly valuable tool for business communications, blogging, and a lot of other business content creation.

How to use humor successfully in your writing - 10 Quick Tips

The butt of many jokes and other humor is a person or group of people, so it’s hardly surprising that offence is caused.

At the same time, though, it’s incredibly difficult to get humor right.

So why is humor so good even though it’s hard to get right?

Here are 10 Quick Tips to help you understand how best to write and implement the right kind of humor in your blogs and other content.

1. Humor works to get people on your side

For generations people have been saying that funny jokes and laughter are good medicine. And now the scientists have taken an interest it turns out great-grandma was right. The boffins have discovered that laughter releases helpful goodies in the body which boost your immune system.

2. The business world has found out that humor works

In fact the therapeutic benefits of laughter are now being harnessed by academia and the business community into laughter workshops and other formalized chuckle sessions. Get the workers laughing and you raise productivity, so it seems.

3. The wrong business humor does not  work

As mentioned above it is extremely easy to get humor wrong. And a joke that’s sent to someone who doesn’t see the funny side will create more ill health through raised blood pressure than a few laughs could ever cure.

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So what’s the answer? How do we harness humor and make it work for us, not against us?

4. Don’t worry too much about international differences

People often say that the internet’s international nature makes it an unsuitable environment for humor for fear of it not translating across national boundaries – and inadvertently causing offence. But there are some simple rules which – although not universal panaceas that always work – can help you use humor in your writing without risk.

5. Why jokes about individuals and groups are in bad taste

If you think about it, the butt of many jokes and other humor is a person or group of people, so it’s hardly surprising that offence is caused. The more extreme types are obvious – mother-in-law jokes, blonde jokes, women jokes, men jokes – but there are many more subtle ones too.

6. Some jokes translate well but still cause offence

I remember in one year hearing exactly the same joke (in three different languages) told by an American about the Polish, by a Canadian about Newfoundlanders, by a French person about Belgians, by a French-speaking Belgian about the Flemish, and by a Flemish person about the Dutch.

In each case, the punchline was about denigrating the cultural group “below” the teller of the joke. That type of joke may give rise to mirth in some circles but nowadays such “humor” is considered to be in bad taste, no matter what language we’re looking at. Not something you want to hitch your business wagon to.

7. So how can you tell a joke about people that does not offend?

Obviously most humor is going to involve people in one way or another, and if you’re writing for business that could even include your staff, customers, suppliers and most importantly, yourself.

But as long as the butt of the joke is an issue or a set of circumstances, not the people (although of course they’re involved in the joke in a non-humorous context), you’re far less likely to upset anyone.

8. People may not identify with other people, but they will with circumstances

Whoever your readers are and wherever they come from, usually they will identify with a set of circumstances. Take this one for example…

Some people are driving along at night and are stopped by a police car. The officer goes to the driver and warns him that one of the rear lights on his SUV isn’t working. The driver jumps out and looks terribly upset. The officer reassures him that he won’t get a ticket, it’s just a warning, so there’s no problem. “Oh yes there is a problem,” says the man as he rushes towards the back of the car. “If you could see my rear lights, it means I’ve lost my trailer.”

As the butt of the joke is the broken rear light and the loss of the trailer, not the policeman or the driver, no-one can be offended. And most people can identify with how that would feel.

9. Unless your business audience is very local, forget the clever figurative stuff

The other key issue with humor is word-plays, puns, and anything else that’s based on figurative speech, slang, or jargon. The short answer is these don’t work internationally. However if the play or double entendre is in the concept rather than the words, it probably will work.

These may be funny to us, but would not be understood by anyone who is not a good English speaker because there is a play on the words:

* Déjà moo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bullsh*t before.

* The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

The following, however, probably would be understood because the humor is in the concept, not in the words themselves:

* You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.

* The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.

10. Above all, use business humor with discretion – that’s how you’ll make it work for you

When you’re writing for a specific audience, use “in-jokes” where you can. In a business context these will poke innocent fun at your industry and/or competitors, and will have a doubly useful effect as they will make your audience/readers laugh and also will help reinforce their loyalty to your business.

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What experiences have you had when using humor in your business writing? Please share!

 

Image credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracyhunter/5338836677/

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. Thanks Suzan for a topic that deserves discussion….from someone who was perennially the class clown.

    But times have changed, and along with it, the culture. Political correctness is now the order of the day – so we must use caution in what we say. Kinda puts a damper on things, but what can one do?

    Your point about the recipient of the joke cuts to the heart of the matter. It’s really about common courtesy and common sense. As long as you keep people out of embarrassment’s way, you’re OK. But another consideration is how the joke blends into the message being delivered. Let’s say I was writing for a nuclear arms dealer…..it would be tough to get a chuckler in anywhere in the text.

    “So this warhead has a 78GB megaton range of 40 square miles – hey, did you hear the one about the dyslexic Norad operator who…” lol on that one, but, writing for ‘Mad’ magazine, I’d be hard pressed not to build on the laughter the product is synonymous with.

    To play it safe, one can always use humor in a self-effacing way. No one gets offended, their smile emerges, and the writer shows (s)he’s human and vulnerable – just like the rest of us.

    • Hi Rick – such a shame about those nuclear arms dealers. No sense of humor…
      You’re absolutely right about the need to keep humor “appropriate” – so much more so now even than 20 years ago. But even within the confines of present-day political correctness there are still occasions when humor IS appropriate, helps engage an audience, and makes a refreshing change from tedium.
      If you’re on Facebook, do come and join us in my group The Joke Street Journal … not always that politically correct but we do have some chuckles.
      All good wishes
      Sz

Trackbacks

  1. […] How to use humor successfully in your writing – 10 Quick Tips Another in the 10 Quick Tips series – this time looking at the dos and don’ts of using humor so you get the right kinds of laugh at the right times, in the right places. Can be liking skipping in a minefield if you get it wrong, but here I try to prevent that from happening to you! […]

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