As a technical communicator, I spend a lot of time studying proper document construction. There are rules and suggestions for just about everything from paragraph formation to punctuation choices. However, most writers and editors will admit that there is also an intangible art to crafting business-related content. And part of that art includes knowing when to use humor—and when humor is just not funny.
As with all creative endeavors, there is no concrete answer. For some organizations, humor may never be an option. However, other businesses can stitch lightheartedness into even the stodgiest documents.
The trick is to maintain a message with a consistent tone and never go over the top. I personally suggest always directing humor towards yourself (as a person or an organization), rather than toward customers, clients, or other outside entities. Self-deprecation is generally accepted as a positive sign of humbleness and openness, while making fun of others can easily be misinterpreted as malevolence.
Almost any writing can include a touch of fun, if handled deftly. The best example I can think of is a headstone I saw in Colorado. It read quite simply, “I told you I was sick.” Brilliant!
Erin Wright is a freelance writer and editor located in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in general business content, including marketing and instructional material for print and the web.