Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Like You’re Smarter Than a 5th Grader

I recently read a new training procedure that was so jargon-filled and convoluted as to be completely unreadable.  I actually could not believe that the person writing it knew, himself, what it meant. 

Part of the beauty of good writing is simplicity. Some of the best journals -  The New York Times, Harvard Business Review and The Economist, for example -  write about very complicated subjects, yet simplify the content in order that you understand the true issues. 

Here are 2 statements that could be used to describe your company’s service:  

  • We build CRM client interfaces for receiving verticals that contract our web-based ship-to platforms.  

Instead, try this:

  • We write software that helps small companies deliver products that actually arrive on time so the owners can sleep at night.

Early in my marketing career, I learned that when writing for package or advertising, never use words that could not be understood by a 5th grader. We would agonize over wording to simplify everything to make it clear and easy to understand. I soon found that this had nothing to do with the education level of the American consumer, as much as it had to do with the fact that complicated wording is very often misunderstood and therefore loses all impact of its message.   This is not good in advertising.  This is also not good in training manuals. 

Complicated writing does not sound smart.  It is actually the symptom of cluttered thinking and/or a disregard for the person who must read it. 

So, even if you are smarter than a 5th grader, don’t write like you are.

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