Short and Simple

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Ann Wylie, a guru of PR writing, offers a great newsletter. In a recent issue she advised using shorter words and simpler statements and quoted Pulitzer price-winning humorist Dave Barry in support of her recommendation.

Dave Barry told Time Magazine:

“I’d lecture a bunch of chemists or engineers about the importance of not saying, ‘it would be appreciated if you would contact the undersigned by telephone at your earliest possible convenience’ and instead saying, ‘please call me as soon as your can.’ That was revealed wisdom to these people”

I see it frequently in technical types: particularly professionals of a certain level whose jobs require them to pay attention to details, and whose professional training may not have included people/communication skills.

I have one client who when I talk to him, expresses himself in a simple, creative, enthusiastic, conversational and connected manner. But once he starts typing, for example an email, his tone becomes formal, dull and impersonal, and his messages are confusing. When we first discussed the issue, he explained that he believes this kind of is “professional.” But does it serve him?

The complicated constructions lead to misunderstandings. The long words are perceived as pompous and off-putting. The formal, impersonal tone precludes any personal connection with the recipient of the email.

Maybe you have the same problem. If so, there’s a simple fix. Once you’ve written your communication, read it out loud. Ask yourself if this is honestly how you would say it if you were talking to someone.

If not, first reread your writing. Then, one paragraph at a time, say what your were writing out loud, spontaneously, in your own words. But say it as though your audience is a bunch of 14-year-olds – a group not known for tolerating nonsense. Quickly write down what you just said. Then read the new version out loud as if to the 14-year olds. Is that how you would really talk to them? Would they understand what you are trying to communicate? Would they tune you out or listen?

That’s what you need to think about when you’re writing – whether a report, a blog or an email. Okay, so you aren’t writing for 14-year-olds, but do remember to keep it user-friendly: simple, uncomplicated, direct and conversational. You don’t want your readers to have to struggle to take in your message, or worse yet to give up because it’s too much hard work.

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