Have you ever received a letter and just gone, ‘You what!’ and thrown it in the bin? Me too. I’ve written about it here.
I can’t abide words written in officialese. It never helps anyone when you can’t understand a word.
Here are five tips to help you write in plain English and see your business grow…
1. Stop and think
Pause before you write anything and decide what points you want to make. Then create a plan in a logical order. This way you’ll be able to get flow in your writing so your reader can follow it.
2. Who’s your audience?
There’s no point writing something your reader won’t be interested in or find useful. If you write sincerely, personally, in a style that’s suitable for your audience and with the right tone of voice, you’ll be off to a great start.
Use ‘you’ and ‘we’: Although your reader may be one of many, it’s more personal and engaging to call them ‘you’ as if there were no-one else. If you were chatting face-to-face, would you call them ‘the client’ or ‘the customer?’
‘We can help you deal with anxiety’ vs. ‘We help our clients deal with anxiety’
You’ll see I’ve also called the organisation ‘we’ because it’s more personal:
‘We can help you deal with anxiety’ vs. ‘The Hypnotherapy Hub can help you deal with anxiety’
It’s ok to use contractions: When you’re talking business with your client face-to-face, over coffee perhaps, it’s likely you’ll shorten words as you speak:
E.g. ‘You will’ becomes ‘You’ll’ ‘ and ‘I have’ becomes ‘I’ve’
It’s easier. And your reader will feel more like they’re having a conversation with you – a very human need.
3. Keep things simple
You must make things as easy as possible for your reader if you want them to actually read, so…
Be concise: Prefer short words and sentences. Be punchy. When you get to the point quickly your writing will have more impact. Sentences with 15-20 words work well, but do vary the length and mix up short and long ones. And try to keep to one main idea per sentence. While longer sentences can be helpful at times, they can mostly be broken up.
Use everyday English: Choose text suitable for your reader using the simplest words that work for them. Meaning words your reader will understand, not just simple ones. So remove in-house jargon and explain technical terms where possible. Don’t bamboozle your reader with specialist terms or they’ll probably run a mile!
‘Tetraxylopteris reposana – a new species of progymnosperm from the Devonian of Venezuela’
‘Tetraxylopteris reposana – a new fossil plant from Venezuela that’s 365 million years old’
The first is great if your audience are palaeobotanists (experts on fossil plants). The general public, not so much.
4. Engage your reader
If your reader is bored they won’t keep reading so can’t know what you’re offering. And won’t buy from you. To keep their interest…
Choose the active voice: This sounds crisp and professional unlike the passive voice which is often stuffy and bureaucratic.
‘We will only deliver between 9.30am and 3.30pm’
‘Delivery procedures will be adhered to between 9.30am and 3.30pm’
But the passive voice is appropriate at times:
‘This bill has not been paid’
‘You have not paid this bill’
The first sounds less hostile and you may get a better response. Very important if you’re trying to empathise with your reader as it helps you connect and build relationships. But do try to make 80-90% of your verbs active.
Avoid nominalisations: These are abstract nouns, or the names of things that aren’t physical objects – like processes, techniques or emotions.
E.g. ‘complete’ becomes ‘completion’ and ‘calm’ becomes ‘calmness’
It’s much clearer and more concise to omit nominalisations:
‘The last project is finished to completion’
‘The last project is complete’
Nominalisations can also make it sound like nothing’s happening which is dull and heavy-going.
‘There will be a stoppage of trains by drivers’
‘Drivers will stop trains’
The first sentence suggests trains may be stopped… at some point… perhaps. While the second indicates they certainly will.
5. Format your writing properly
Well-formatted text is pleasant and easy to read. No-one wants to be confronted with the cliff of doom (a huge wall of top-to-bottom text). So…
- use short paragraphs
- highlight words and phrases (e.g. bold, italic, coloured)
- indent text (e.g. quotes)
- use lists where appropriate
Lists are excellent to split information up. And you don’t always need to use perfect grammar and punctuation. You can start each point without a capital letter, you don’t have to end each with a full stop and your list doesn’t have to read as a full sentence for it to make sense. Breaking the so-called ‘rules’ often makes lists less cumbersome and easier to read.
Where you can, use bullet points to list your items – numbers and letters create extra information to take in.
Compare this list with the one above:
- The numbers are not necessary;
- The semi-colons complicate things; and
- While capital letters are fine, they’re not important.
Remember, writing in officialese will put people off. To see your business grow learn how to write in plain English and use it where possible. It’s clear, helpful and above all, human.
Looking for a copywriter who’ll weave your words with wisdom? Contact me here and I’ll be in touch. Meanwhile, here are 15 awesome business-blogging ideas, totally free. The perfect way to practice your plain English writing.