Write better business content with Grice’s Maxims

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Herbert Paul Grice1 was one of the most highly renowned philosophers in the realm of linguistics. Among his greatest achievements were the set of pithy commands or rules that are popularly known as Grice’s Maxims. While these are used and studied mainly in the fields of social science and linguistics, we believe they can be used as a great guideline for writing good business content.

What are Grice’s Maxims?

Simply put, these are a set of 4 maxims that govern effective communication in social situations. (A ‘maxim’ is a statement that expresses a general truth or rule of conduct.) Also known as the ‘Cooperative principle’2, Grice himself introduced it like this:

“Make your contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.”

How is this useful in business content?

We’ve already written several times about why good content is important for any business operating today. But how to write effective content is one of the common questions we get from our clients.

As content writing experts, we are often called in because the company or brand is not satisfied with existing content. This can be due to various reasons, but it all boils down to one simple thing: the content is not working the way it should.

However, if you follow Grice’s Maxims, we guarantee that you’ll be able to produce good-quality, effective content that provides tangible value to your customers. Let’s look at how to do this.

Grice’s Four Maxims

1. The maxim of quantity

This rule governs how much information you provide. As you can see, it is crucial in business content. It has two parts.

  • Make your contribution as informative as required.
  • Do not make your contribution more informative than required.

The two sound similar but they’re really not. If you’ve said what you need to say, STOP. Don’t go on and on.

2. The maxim of quality

In a world where ‘fake news’ is a term bandied about regularly, this maxim proves useful. Grice is very to-the-point here:

  • Do not say what you believe is false.
  • Do not say anything for which you lack sufficient evidence.

Need we say more?

3. The maxim of relation

This is probably the pithiest of the lot.

  • Be relevant. You may want to plug anything and everything into every brand communication. Don’t. Use only what is relevant to your customer in that exchange.

4. The maxim of manner

This governs how clear, brief and structured your communication is. There are four parts here.

  • Avoid obscurity. Don’t use complex jargon or obscure terms.
  • Avoid ambiguity. Be very clear in what you say. No one should get confused about what they are reading.
  • Be brief. Stick to the point.
  • Be orderly. Have a proper structure to your communication.

And that’s it! With 4 simple rules, Grice has taught us all the perfect way to communicate to anyone in any situation. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

If you liked this article, head over to our blog where you can find many more like it!

  1. Herbert Paul Grice’s Wikipedia page
  2. The Wiki page for the Cooperative principle
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