25th January 2017 Claire Hawes

Learn the secrets of plain English. Be read and understood

Could lack of plain English be why your audience isn’t reading your communications? Learn the secrets of getting your content read and understood.

Do you ever find yourself yawning when reading a written business communication? Do you ever find yourself skimming over the text?

There may be a reason for this. Most likely it is down to the language and jargon used within the text.

Whatever your communication. From reports, manuals, presentations, white papers through to marketing communications. It pays to get your message across in a clear and concise way.

Remember, business owners and senior executives are busy. More often than not they’ll read your copy on the go.

So don’t waste their time with surplus words. More importantly, don’t bore them with dull, uninspiring and clichéd waffle. Cut to the chase.

Do give them clarity. Do give them enough information to:

  • Answer a question… quickly
  • Make a decision on what you are recommending

But, I hear you say…

‘My audience is educated. It’s professional. It knows its stuff. It expects me to use professional language.’

There is a simple answer to this. Your readers are not going to think you are any less clever, or trustworthy… because they understand what you write.

Writing in plain English is not about dumbing down your text. It is not about patronising your reader. </>

It is about presenting your information… no matter how complex, in a straightforward way.

Too technical laden written communications:

  • Slow readers down
  • Confuse

In the worst-case scenario, they cause readers to lose interest and drift away

Of course, sometimes using specialised terminology is fitting. It is also necessary.

Yet, wherever possible always opt for straightforward language over complex words and jargon. Be aware they are harmful to getting your message across.

Indeed even the Government’s own website style guide says: “We lose trust from people if we write government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text.”

So what does writing in plain English mean?

Since 1979 The Plain English Campaign has been campaigning for the removal of gobbledygook, jargon and legalise from public communications. It recommends:

1. Keeping words and sentences short

Do aim for no nonsense copy that gets to the point… quickly. Don’t try too hard to sound intelligent. Never use a long word where a short one will do. When in doubt, edit it out!

See if you can get your message across in a faster, easier and friendlier way. More importantly, make sure your words are understood.

2. Talk to your customer… not about ‘the client’

Business people no matter how high up in the chain are still people. When writing, imagine you are talking to your reader face-to-face. Use the word ‘you’ wherever you can.

3.  Avoid business jargon, acronyms and legalise

Increase your chances of having your content read, understood and acted upon, rather than skimmed or binned. Use words that are appropriate for your readers. Words they will understand. Only use specialist jargon if your audience understands the terminology.

4. Guide your reader with instructions

Don’t be afraid of telling your reader what you want them to do. Avoid the word ‘should’. Be clear and concise and use the right tone of voice.

5. Use lists

Anyone who works with me knows I love my bullets. Short bulleted lists help readers skim text and remember important points.

And finally

If you would like help writing communications that in the Plain English Campaign’s own words are clear, helpful, human and polite, then do get in touch. You’ll be surprised at how straightforward writing can grab your audience’s attention.

Claire Hawes, copywriter and owner of The Content BoutiqueAbout Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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