Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply enough, you don’t understand it.” It’s the same with our writing.
Clear communications can help us to:
- Increase conversions
- Increase audience engagement
- Improve readers’ understanding of our message
The best way to convert prospects to customers is through plain, simple and direct communications. People will only buy from you if they understand you. If your message is garbled, then they will be confused by your brand and your product.
The core principles of clear communication come from following plain language guidelines. Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Most business sectors now use plain language in their writing. Even the government has a special website for plain language. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner.
These principles and more are also part of an online course on plain language put out by NIH (National Institutes of Health). Joining and participating in this course is free. The Center for Plain Language also has workshops on plain language.
#1. Identify your goal and purpose at the beginning
Begin by identifying in your own mind what your goal is: What do I want my reader to do or understand after they finish reading? What action do I want them to take? Do I want them to buy this product or enroll in that program? Any copy that doesn’t support the realization of this goal can be cut. If you don’t have a clear cut goal, then the other tips in this post will not work.
After we identify our goal, we need to let our readers know the main benefits of this goal at the beginning, preferably with the headline and lead text.
#2. Write exactly as you would speak
Imagine that you are talking to your target customer. What would you say to him to convince him of the benefits of your product? Write as you would speak with that same informal tone. Imagine that you are directly talking to these customers and their reaction to your discussion. How can you speak so that your message comes out to them loud and clear.
#3. Write clearly and concisely: Fire words that are redundant
Wordiness endangers your meaning – precise words convey it. Keep your sentences short. And avoid redundant expressions. Get rid of every word that isn’t doing anything special or useful. Those are unhelpful, and a drain.
Extra words don’t just take up space. They suck the power from your writing. Compare these two sentences:
In the event of a fire, you will need to communicate with us and indicate to us that in view of the fact that you have lost your material, you cannot come.
So many extra words. Let’s try again…..
If there’s a fire, inform us that you have lost your material and cannot come. Much more understandable.
In consideration of the fact that
in view of the fact that
given the fact that
due to the fact that
on the grounds that
in as much as
Because is a better substitute for these words.
#4. Cut out big words – Use short words and short sentences
Don’t use a $10 word when a 5 cent word will do.
Derek Halpern just put out a blog (video) post talking about how using big, pompous words may make you sound stupid. He talks about a recent University of Princeton research study with 3 experiments. In one experiment, they tested different essays going from simple to very complex. The simplest essay was given the best rating. In another experiment, they asked people to rate translations of a text. The translations ranged from simple to very complex. Again, the simplest translation got the highest rating.
#5. Use the active voice
Try to write as far as possible in the active voice.
She was loved by her family (passive)
Her family loved her (active).
#6. Use bullets, subheads and white space to help readers quickly scan the main points
Help your readers to quickly scan your content. When you break up your content with subheads and bullet points you organize and separate each point. This helps a reader quickly grasp the important points.
#7. Avoid jargon
I came across this piece of jargon:
My organization believes in three-dimensional third-generation projections.
The consultants recommend remote transitional flexibility. Huh? Whazzat???
Jargon and acronyms confuse the reader. If you must have an acronym, then be sure to spell it out as well.
#8. Use pronouns
“You” is the most important word in marketing. Use it often. This will automatically make you think from your customers point of view. Use of the pronoun “we” eliminates confusion. Customers know that you are referring to you or your business and not some third party.
#9. Use parallel construction
Parallel structure means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. Bulleted lists need to be parallel.
Dr. McAfee lectured, was shouting, and waved his arms.
Here is the same information in parallel construction:
Dr. McAfee lectured, shouted, and waved his arms.
#10. Write to an eight grade reading level
Writing to a lower grade level doesn’t mean you are dumbing down, contrary to what many people believe. It’s smart business to do so.
How do you find out what grade level your writing is? Use the Flesch-Kincaid index. The index is a tool available in MS Word 10 (and above)
If your document is easy to read, you get a higher readability score (which is a score from 1-100). Shoot for a score between 60-100. You can also see the grade level of your document.
It’s easy to use the index. After you write and edit your document, simply go into Review – Spelling and Grammar. Word will proofread your document and at the end will give you a score that looks like this:
Microsoft Word shows you how readable your document is and it also shows you the grade level your content is optimized for
What are you doing to make sure your writing is crystal clear? Do you have other tips to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks.