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Original post : 18 Apr 2012

Give your writing a KISS

Write for the readerJust a short blog this time, but one that if you take to heart will be worth its weight in gold. That's a big promise I know but really, this is important.

Working with people from a wide range of sectors with a wide variety of experience and backgrounds, there is one thing that we see time and time again. It's a problem that can cause them to waste money, time and energy and it can turn off prospective clients in a flash.

I'm talking about garlic breath.....No I'm not. I'm talking about linguistic gymnastics.

This is not a new event for London 2012 where supple pre-pubescent girls dance around rubber mats to an accompaniment of Brian Blessed reading the complete Shakespeare sonnets. No, this is that pastime that seems to be very popular these days of transmuting quite straight forward messages into gobbledygook.

I don't know why people do it. Perhaps it's because they lack the confidence to write straight forwardly. Maybe they think that if they use long sentences and words with lots of syllables it will make them sound incredibly intelligent. Often I think is because people don’t give themselves time to plan out their writing properly. This is always a mistake - you may have heard the quotation (attributed to Mark Twain) "I did not have time to write you a short letter so I wrote a long one instead."

The reality is that if you make your writing complex what happens? 

  1. Your reader loses the point you are trying to communicate
  2. Your reader has to concentrate on the individual words and phrases rather than the message
  3. Your reader starts to focus more on your verbal contortions than your message
  4. The reader gives up

Remember that you want to get your point across. The onus is therefore on you to make sure that the reader can easily understand it, not on the reader to figure it out. Don’t make him have to work at it – why should he?

Just because there are 1,013,913 words in the English language you shouldn't feel obliged to use all of them in your leaflet, brochure or website (unless you’re the Oxford English Dictionary of course in which case you probably feel that it might be quite appropriate).

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Jim (after reading impenetrable 6 line, 175 syllable sentence): “What are you trying to say here?”

Writer: “Well, I’m trying to say that our widget is faster.”

Jim: “And? So what?”

Writer: “Because our widget is faster it saves the user time and cost. They get out of their client’s office quicker, which means less disruption, and they can do more jobs in a day.”

Jim: “So why don’t you say that then?”

Writer: "Umm. Yes. Good point!"

Pause.

Jim: "What does hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian mean?"

My advice if you have to produce some written material would be:

  • Plan out what you want to say. Be clear about each point you want to make and think about how the argument will flow
  • Write so that a 12 year old could understand it. You may have to include technical terms but you don’t have to wrap them up in verbiage
  • Let someone who doesn’t know the subject read it and say whether it’s clear to them.

In short – give it a KISS.  Keep It Simple Stupid!

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