Are your emails, presentations and other work documents a little lifeless?

It’s understandable. Most of us have learned in our careers to think of a well-written document as stilted, formal, humorless. And we’ve learned to write that way.

What a shame. Who says we should equate being professional with being boring?

Writing with a little humor reminds your readers that there’s a real person on the other end of the document. That can make a huge difference in how your readers judge both your written work and you.

As a young copywriter looking for clients, I often sent out a short pitch letter that ended with this message: “Want samples of my writing? Let me know. I can send you a few, a bunch, or enough to prop open your office door.”

Not the funniest thing you’ve ever read. Not even laugh-out-loud funny. But it served an important purpose: It humanized me for prospective clients. Many hired me from this pitch letter alone. And many made a point of telling me that they enjoyed this last line. People don’t expect to find anything even remotely amusing in a document they read at work. It’s a nice surprise.

Of course, when adding humor to a professional document of any type (email, report, etc.), you need to keep in mind some important rules:

– No profanity.

– No offensive or off-color humor.

– No humor that makes the reader or anyone else (except yourself) the butt of the joke.

– Use humor sparingly. You’re writing a professional document, not a comedian’s monologue.

– Start serious. You earn the right to be amusing only after you’ve demonstrated your document’s seriousness.

Not sure whether a line you want to use is actually funny enough, or even appropriate, for the document you’re writing? Ask a friend or colleague. Then use your own best judgment.

And remember: You can be professional… and funny. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Would you prefer to read a document at work that nearly put you to sleep, or one that gave you the same information but also made you smile a few times?