When I first began my career in PR nearly four years ago, I was still at university completing my final year. One thing I really struggled with when starting out was making my writing simple. My mindset – and my prose – were stuck in ‘academia mode’. If given the chance, I probably would have Harvard referenced a weblink in my first blog or two.
You might be sat there thinking, ‘what’s wrong with academic writing?’ The answer is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it… if that matches with the audience you are writing for.
Throughout education, we’re told that impressive vocabulary and complex sentences are the epitome of great writing. While, yes, in some cases it is, in others it’s simply not necessary and could be more problematic than helpful.
As a PR and communications specialist, it is my job to make content (news stories, blogs, columns, web copy and social media posts) engaging and informative. And to make this happen, I need to make what I am saying understandable and clear.
While it takes, on average, three and a half hours to write a blog, website users only spend around 37 seconds reading it. This number is going to drop dramatically if the words you have used require an Oxford English Dictionary to decipher.
Here’s a good example. When I say the words anas platyrhyncos domesticus, it probably sounds very impressive but if I asked you to describe it you might draw a blank, (if you know what I’m talking about, that’s some incredibly brilliant Latin knowledge you have).
However, if I just call it what everyone knows it by – a duck – your understanding of what I’m talking about becomes much clearer and you’ll be able to put everything I say into context.
Good communication is about clarity. Readers and listeners need to be able to visualise what you are talking about so they can follow the narrative you have created. As soon as they stop being able to do that, they’ll begin to switch off.
So, with this in mind, what’s the best way to create simple yet engaging content?
Keep your content short
There’s a reason Twitter only allows you to have 280 characters: it forces the author of the Tweets to be concise and stick to the point.
Writing content that is short and snappy is much harder than writing something that flows for pages and pages, but it’s usually far more effective. It cuts out the jargon and it ensures that you’re writing with precision and only sticking to the issues or topics that will really add value to your audience. 500 – 600 clear and concise words are ideal.
Get someone to read your content who has no idea about the subject
When you’re an expert in your field it can be hard to see when you’re overcomplicating matters simply because you understand what you’re talking about. Whether it’s a friend, a partner or even a colleague in a different department, ask someone else to read over your content to ensure that it is accessible.
Don’t be afraid of flair
Just because you’re simplifying your content doesn’t mean it has to be boring. All content should tell a story which is full of emotion, resonates and answers the burning questions its audience has of the tip of their tongues. Even in B2B content writing – traditionally known to be bland – there’s room for a bit of spice.
Make it funny, make it moving, make it joyful – just do so without an immoderate amount of too many words.