Skilful business writing involves getting your message across simply and quickly. This often means writing in a style that is easily read and understood by a broad audience.
Yet, writing simply is often difficult for most of us.
Why? The answer lies in our school education. We learnt that if we used big words and complex sentences, we were more likely to get an ‘A’ by our English teacher or University lecturer. The education system taught us that people who use a broad range of vocabulary are more intelligent that the rest of us.
There is nothing wrong with writing beautifully pieces of prose that feature a stunning range of vocabulary knowledge. However, such writing is unsuitable for a business market.
No business manager has the time to wade through material that meanders and weaves before a point is made. They are even less likely to have time to grab a dictionary to work out what the writer is trying to say.
When I used to work as a market research consultant, I had the impossible task of trying to write market research reports that seemed interesting. My immediate response was to write a report that would make my University lecturer’s proud. Sadly, my colleagues all felt the same way.
It wasn’t until we had a business writing consultant come in to train us about how to write at the level of a Year 8 student that we realised the folly of our ways.
Using my newly found skills of writing a report using simple English, I proudly produced my ‘easy on the brain’ report to my manager (who missed the writing class). He told me ‘You write like you talk’. To this day, I still don’t know if he was criticising my talking or writing ability, but I gathered either way he wasn’t happy.
However, from a communication point of view, this style of writing is perfect for getting your message across quickly.
Later on in my career, I worked at a company that prided itself on its easy to read reports. While this was true (to some degree), one of the directors loved to throw in a difficult word in every report he wrote to make the marketing manager reach for his dictionary. He thought this was really clever and that his clients would be in awe of his knowledge. I’m guessing his clients thought he was a tosser (interestingly, I met an ex-client years later who told me that when their company received one of his reports they would quickly scan it to find the unusual word and then erupt into hysterical laughter).
Articles that are written to impress your audience about how clever you are, do nothing more than distance them. No matter how learned your market is, they still prefer to read information that is easy to digest.
A great way to test whether your writing is easy to comprehend is to read it out loud. If someone spoke to you, using those words, could you instantly understand what they were getting at or would you have to really concentrate?
Scripts for marketing videos are no different. In fact, they need to be extremely simple in order to quickly grab the attention of people walking past at a trade show, for example.
Writing that is heavy on technical terms and jargon can be a real turn off. The beauty of a marketing video is that it uses both pictures and words. The saying “A picture tells a thousand words” is a powerful concept with corporate movies. It means you can actually get away with saying less, but easily get your message across, because the pictures do all of the talking.
Surprisingly, clear writing can be quite a difficult writing style to master, but the effort is well rewarded. And look at the bright side, at least people won’t burst into fits of laughter when they read your masterpiece.
(c) Marie-Claire Ross 2005. All rights reserved.