‘We need a more contemporary reimagining of our knowledge-based administrative flexibility.’
‘This is no time to bite the bullet with our global third-generation innovation.’
Do you understand the above? No, me neither. The texts were generated by the wonderful Plain English Campaign’s ‘gobbley gook machine’.
One of my favourite resources as a public relations professional is the Plain English Campaign website. An ex-employee recommended the website to me over 15 years ago – most likely because I was a perpetrator of gobbley gookness. And, I have never looked back.
The Plain English Campaigners are big fans of clear and concise communications that have just the right tone and the all important reader in mind. They champion for straightforward language and have many supporters, one of which states that plain English “is much more effective than complicated jargon, pompous words, long sentences and endless paragraphs.”
You will find a wealth of fantastic resources on their website about the benefits of writing in plain English. They claim that the main advantages of writing in plain English are: a) it is faster to write; b) it is faster to read; and c) you get your message across more often, more easily and in a friendlier way.
You can find tips like the following on their website:
- Stop and think before you start writing. Make a note of the points you want to make in a logical order.
- Prefer short words. Long words will not impress your customers or help your writing style.
- Use everyday English whenever possible. Avoid jargon and legalistic words, and always explain any technical terms you have to use.
- Keep your sentence length down to an average of 15 to 20 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a sentence.
- Use active verbs as much as possible. Say ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done by us’.
- Be concise.
- Imagine you are talking to your reader. Write sincerely, personally, in a style that is suitable and with the right tone of voice.
- And always check that your writing is clear, helpful, human and polite
You will find also find a wealth of fantastic resources including the following free guides:
Remember nobody, especially these days, has time to wade through copy that could be explained in just a few simple sentences.
If you are in the field of public relations, what are your thoughts on writing in plain English? Do you know of an equivalent guide in other languages such as Cantonese?
Thanks for reading. We have many other articles about public relations for you to read. Have you read our blog post on ’99+ reasons to do Public Relations’ yet?
The Quick Word Company (client) explains why limitless data of digital doesn’t mean vast quantities of online content. Web writing is a discipline that many businesses still haven’t committed to.
In today’s digital landscape, engagement is important. Despite what you may think, we’re actually reading more than ever – blog posts, tweets, an article or website copy. Businesses are now self-publishers, and on many different platforms, and some just aren’t grasping how big a responsibility that is. Our words have lifespans beyond the moment, they’re our emissaries. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me – well, actually, yes they will. They’re out there working for or against us all the time.
We see a lot of websites with pages and pages of content – far too much! It’s important to remember that good web content has utility; it should serve a purpose. So before you click publish ask yourself: How does this piece of communication support our goals? How does it align with our mission and vision? Is this the best place to publish this information or would it be suited elsewhere, on social media or as a blog post? To ensure consistency, establish a content or editorial team and think of them as your word wizards. They’ll reinforce the house style guide and will have final say on what’s allowed to be included – no editing by committee here!
Good web content is also empathetic – which means it needs to care about who’s reading it. Many businesses fall by the wayside when it comes to actually being nice in their written communication. Don’t be one of them. Even if you are a big, grunty business, you can still have a warm, clear voice that helps readers navigate effortlessly through your website to find what they’re looking for. Yes, you may write in long form in your formal communications, but when it comes to web copy you need to scale back. Long-winded sentences and over-the-top formality can get in the way of your message. Think about your reader and put yourself in their shoes. They may be reading on a small screen on their morning commute or they may be time-poor and exhibiting what we refer to as ‘natural scanning reading behaviour’ – seen both in the wild and in captivity. Use a series of headers so your readers can locate themselves and summarise your key messages.
A great example of good web content is publishing empire, Conde Nast. Considering the exceptional repertoire of their titles and publications, users are really encouraged to act and seek out more. They don’t over sell anything, keeping content accessible – relevant and purposeful. They never write more than they need to in order to get their message across. Even better – is they find a way to create their own tone of voice when discussing their very distinct brands, which include Glamour, WIRED and of course, Vogue. They format their content to make it easy for readers to find their interests while maintaining their professionalism as the corporate face of these brands.
The limitless options and ‘space’ to write web content can often translate to overwriting. Remember, quality over quantity, be purposeful – if done well, good content can earn you the trust and engagement you need.