Writing intelligible copy should be so simple.
Yet people in marketing, the legal profession, in education, in medicine and in the military still seem hell-bent on inventing their own version of the English language.
From the verbose, gibberish, tautological and jargonistic, down to the downright patronising.
There’s just a tad of insecurity in this. And even financial gain.
Obscure language used to be actively encouraged by people in the legal profession who were paid by the word. They spoke in code and padded their pay with words like said, aforesaid, herein, hereof, hereinafter, hereunder, hereinbefore, wherein, whereon, whereas, therein, thereon, therefore and the like, ad nauseam.
Even now there seems to be a concern that if a document or contract is not long enough, clients will feel they didn’t get their money’s worth.
Surely using big words, complex phrases and jargon reflects a superior intellect? Someone who can sprinkle an avalanche of acronyms into a conversation without a second thought for the poor listener?
There’s plenty of evidence that suggests otherwise.
Almost 20 years ago in the US, Vice President Gore dictated that federal agencies write in plain English. The government then created a ‘No Gobbledygook Award.’ 1
A recent study compared plain English court forms to their traditional counterparts and concluded that the plain English versions were much easier for people to understand. 2
And in 2009, Siegel+Gale found that “84% [of customers] are more likely to trust a company that uses jargon-free language in its communications.” 3
Siegel+Gale also suggested that being clear required discipline, hard work and, in case we forget, a proposition that really motivates your audience.
Yet, despite the evidence to the contrary, it’s astonishing how many writers still talk gibberish.
Perhaps at the behest of their clients they suggest that a new event is “exciting” or that it’s “fantastic”—even “incredible.”
The fact is, that to most of their customers it’s about as exciting as a wet day in a cemetery.
The use of such inappropriate language is not just trite and lazy. It reduces the level of trust between the brand and its customer. You can only stretch a little exaggeration so far.
Together with using plain English, good copy sounds like a conversation between friends.
It’s clear and concise. Without fluff or ambivalence.
It can be read aloud and sound believable.
But crucially, it can be trusted.
In the 1940’s Rudolph Flesch, an American, spent years researching what made for easy reading. He created some very easy-to-follow rules.
Make your sentences short.
The easiest sentence to take in is only eight words long. A sensible average is 16 words. And anything over 30 words is pointless.
Like sentences, keep paragraphs short. Containing only one or two thoughts.
If you don’t the reader falls at the first hurdle.
If Flesch sounds familiar, it’s because Microsoft adopted some of his ideas for its readability tool—though its grammar suggestions are bizarre most of the time.
If you’re still not convinced of the importance of good copy, it’s worth checking out a survey made some years ago in the US:
Business leaders were asked what change they’d most like to see in business. They didn’t talk about accounting or strategy. The majority pleaded: “Teach people to write better.”
And as far as the consumer goes, good, convincing copy has even greater importance.
Especially since, in 26 markets around the world, only 18% out of 31,000 respondents felt they could trust business leaders to tell the truth. Just slightly ahead of government officials who were only believed by 13%.4
If you’re concerned that your marketing spend might be disappearing into the zero-attention space, call us now for an informal chat.
Rowan (Creative Marketing) Ltd.
Think. Design. Deliver.