How to win business and influence people: write in plain language - Deepstash
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Write to be read, not ignored

  • We write to share a message. To sell a product. A service. An idea.
  • Unclear messages mean you lose the opportunity to connect
  • It means you exclude people. You piss them off. And you lose out. It could mean a lost follower. A lost sale. A lost event participant.
  • Research shows that readers only grasp about 20 percent of words on average.
  • Words are often not a priority within design and development.

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The importance of plain language

  • US federal agencies must write plainly according to the Plain Writing Act of 2010 — so the public can easily understand and use the information.
  • England’s Parliament passed a Clearer Timeshare Act in 1993 to encourage plain language for the legal profession.

Plain language isn’t a trend. Plain language isn’t just for the government. It’s for businesses who want to sell. It’s for not-for-profits who want to raise funds. It’s for bloggers who want to be found on Google.

Plain language is for everyone. In every language.

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How plain language helps everyone

How plain language helps everyone

Writing in simple, clear language helps us whether we’re sighted, blind, or have a cognitive disability. When we:

  • Need to book a vaccination online.
  • Shop online late at night after a long day.
  • Want to buy a property and need to understand the conditions.
  • Walk around the streets looking for a new restaurant on our phones.
  • Read a video transcript or captions because the kids have the tv volume up loud.

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Why do we find it hard to write in plain language?

  • We’ve been conditioned to write with complex words and walls of text in school.
  • We were encouraged to learn bigger, harder words at school. Snazzy words and long paragraphs made our essays and exam answers sound impressive.
  • Perhaps we’ve scored interviews with swanky applications.
  • We think our reports, websites, and media releases sound better with flowy, 10 line sentences.

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Plain language is harder to craft than most people think

Plain language is harder to craft than most people think

You might be reading this on an iPhone. Apple products are so damn easy to use, aren’t they? But you might not realize the effort behind them.It takes more effort and time to write simply.

Yet we can all create a better experience for our readers by using plain language.

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A myth that holds us back from writing in plain language

The Myth most of us believe in:

‘My target readers are professionals with higher education.’

The Truth:

  • Writing simply isn’t about education or ego.
  • Our readers are bombarded with content from all directions, every day. They choose to spend mental energy on some tasks.
  • They can’t put 100% of their energies into everything that calls for their attention every day.
  • Complex writing slows them.
  • Usability experts, Nielsen Norman Group discovered even experts prefer plain language.

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4 great reasons to write in plain language from a lawyer

  • It is possible to express legal concepts in plain language
  • Plain language saves money
  • Judges prefer plain language
  • The public prefers plain language

Key takeaway: College-educated professionals and experts appreciate plain language.

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Tips For Writing In Plainspeak: Write at a lower secondary reading level

  • In Lower Literacy Users: Writing for a Broad Consumer Audience, Nielsen Norman Group recommends we write at a grade 6 level on homepages. And a grade 8 level on other web pages.
  • This is consistent with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) recommendation:
  • Write text for a lower secondary education level
  • A lower secondary level is defined by the W3C as more than 9 years of school. If the content isn’t at that level, then extra content needs to be shared at a lower reading level.

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Tips For Writing In Plainspeak: Use conversational language

Have you ever read a website’s terms and conditions? A privacy policy? Or a legal document? These documents are known for being ridiculously tedious and so damn hard to understand.

Don’t make me think!

Usability expert Norman Nielson Group ran research on how users read on the web. Participants complained about writing that was hard to understand.

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Tips For Writing In Plainspeak: Choose simple words over complex words

A great way to start writing plainly is to use simple words instead of complex words.

Example of simple word replacements

Instead of:

  • Prohibit: use ‘ban’
  • Communicate: use ‘tell us’, ‘let us know’
  • Demonstrate: use ‘show’
  • Diversity: use ‘range’
  • Facilitate: use ‘help’
  • Amendment: use ‘change’

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Tips For Writing In Plainspeak: Cut your sentences and paragraphs

Cutting long sentences is a simple way to improve readability. It’s easier to digest it on mobile too. Yet many people don’t bother.

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Tips For Writing In Plainspeak: Clarify acronyms

Usability expert Nielson Norman Group recommends we:

  • Spell out abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms.
  • Immediately include their abbreviation in the first instance.

This is helpful for all users including people who use a screen reader.

Exceptions:

  • It’s ok to use abbreviations for widely used words, such as DVD
  • Avoid using unexplained abbreviations in navigation links
  • Don’t confuse your reader. Don’t make your prospect think.

Key takeaway: Clarify acronyms that aren’t widely known.

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Writing In Plainspeak: The Bottomline

Your readers — your prospects — are busy. They read in a range of situations. On a range of devices.

They don’t have time for big words, walls of text, and acronyms they have to rack their brains to figure out.

You respect their time when you use plain language. You make it easy for them to quickly digest your message. To follow you. To download your trial product. To buy from you.

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38 reads

CURATED BY

erbrigh

Surveyor for building control

CURATOR'S NOTE

Write Simply!

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