Plain language sounds smart

communication is like the children's game of telephoneHave you ever tried persuading managers that using simple, active language is their best chance at communicating a message, and gotten a response like this?

“I don’t want to dumb it down.”

This response always flabbergasts me. They might as well say, “I don’t care if people understand me.”

Making language clear and understandable doesn’t mean you’re writing like the author of a “Dick and Jane” reader.

It means:

  • Keeping most sentences to 25 words or fewer.
  • Avoiding jargon, even when you’re writing for ‘your’ audience. Don’t assume that since most of the people on your annual report mailing list know about you, they’ll be as familiar with your jargon as you are.
  • Making sure quotations sound as if someone really said them. (Hint: Read the quotation out loud.)
  • Using words your readers use. People say, “Get your gas at Speedway stations and support AAA Foundation.” They don’t say, “Get your gasoline at Speedway stations.” (I had a CEO force this change on me once. Honest.)
  • Being direct, not passive. Rather than, “The issue was discussed,” say, “The board discussed the issue.”
  • Letting active verbs make your copy come alive.

Organizations that have been pushing out their messages from their own perspectives rather than those of their audiences are going to find themselves ignored, if they aren’t already.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.” – Albert Einstein


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