Gobbledygook. That’s one word to describe language that is hard to understand and unapproachable.
Yet that word sums up the result when marketers and other communicators use convoluted language.
We know that content presented in clear, plain language benefits your organization in several ways, mostly by helping you connect with clients directly and personally. If your content is easily readable and understandable, your communication is better. You have taken an important step to gain your audience’s trust as a knowledgeable source of information.
With plain language marketing, your content clarifies issues. You tell your readers what they want to know, rather than leave them confused, forced to reread or search elsewhere for answers. By saying it right the first time, you save time and money.
Organizations of all sizes often deal with specialized information. Using simple words opens the door to a wider audience that appreciates your efforts and feels welcome. Plain language marketing keeps your audience coming back.
Steer clear of language that muddies your content.
Here are ways to simplify and strengthen your messages:
- Resist the urge to sound formal.
- Omit unnecessary detail.
- Be concise. Keep the average sentence below 25 words.
- Put only one main thought in most sentences.
- Use active voice.
- Avoid nominalizations – act, don’t take action; assume, don’t make assumptions; conclude, don’t draw conclusions.
- Use headings and topic sentences to summarize the main ideas of paragraphs.
- Use lists and bullet points.
Let’s look at an example of plain language.
Which of these sentences is clearer?
- After a long-term study of the driving habits of people, it has been found that most drivers refrain from stopping completely at stop signs, only slowing slightly before making a left or right turn.
- Studies show that most drivers don’t stop completely at stop signs. At best, they slow slightly before turning.
Sentence #2 is plainer and gives the same information.
Sentence #1 includes the unnecessary information of “long-term study of the driving habits of people” and “making a left or right turn.” It uses the more abstract “driving habits” instead of the more concrete “drivers” and the more formal and weak verb construction of “refrain from” rather than “don’t stop.”
Sentence #1 also uses the nominalization term of “slowing” rather than the stronger verb “slow” and prefers passive voice (“it has been found”) rather than active voice (“studies show”). All this information is shoved into one crowded sentence. Even after removing the clutter, two sentences are more effective.
Note that bullets organize the information far better than a paragraph form, and each starts with a verb (parallel form), as do the headings in this article.
Learn to spot other ways to help or hinder plain language.
Professional writers learn to use every literary device possible to create lively, engaging text. Here are a few to consider:
- Use “you” instead of the more formal “one.”
- Use contractions.
- Use simple words instead of fancy ones.
- Write information in a logical order.
- Don’t repeat information.
- Avoid strings of adjectives.
- Avoid overused expressions.
- Use analogies to give life to your text.
Here are two examples:
Example 1: Due to the nonfunctioning HVAC, the miserably stark cold house was anyone’s worst nightmare. One can only imagine the freezing temperatures that the family was enduring since the furnace went on the blink more than three months prior.
Example 2: The family lived in a house without heat for three months because the furnace broke. You can only imagine how uncomfortable they were, living like refugees in their own home.
The sentences in the first example illustrate violations that make this text hard to read. They use a “big” word (nonfunctioning) rather than a simple word (broke). Jargon (HVAC) is unnecessary, as are the adjectives before “house.” The writer used “one” instead of “you,” which is more informal and personal, and the overused expression “went on the blink.” Finally, the two sentences are repetitive and the information sequence is illogical. To add interest, the second sentence contains an analogy to help the reader sense how the family must have felt (like refugees).
Tackle your content with plain language marketing.
As you practice using clear language, you will develop a writing style. Don’t worry if you’re not an English major – using these techniques will improve your content.
Now that you’ve learned ways to write better, you can create and shape content that speaks clearly, vividly and concisely to your readers. Your content will speak to them. They will absorb it, remember it and act on it.
If you want to learn more about how plain language marketing can help your organization better communicate with your ideal clients, call us at 302.858.5055 or send us an email.