When a well-known fast food restaurant chain subverted its own well-established ‘you got it!’ slogan for a television advertising campaign, morphing it into ‘you don’t got it!’, there was a howl of anguish from grammatically-concerned viewers. The slogan was not a mistake. It was, arguably, a clever subversion. This is how advertising agencies earn their corn. In this case, that cleverness rather backfired. This amusing Fox News article demonstrates that the fast food industry sloganeers have often failed to meet acceptable standards of English.
Poor writing is anything but invisible. The jarring effect it can have on readers often wipes out the intent behind it. Good writing, however, should be invisible. It should not obscure the ideas and messages it conveys. This is particularly true for business writing. So how can you make sure your prose is having the effect you desire?
One of the key characteristics of poor copy is that it is over-written. We are conditioned from school onwards to write to word limits – two sides of homework, a 2,000-word essay … From this foundation, we are programmed to fill space instead of being concise. As screen space becomes smaller and as attention spans decline, mastering writing concisely can only pay dividends.
The second great enemy of clarity is jargon. Organisations, like all enclosed worlds, evolve their own ways of saying things that often make no sense to anyone else. This jargon can leak outside unwittingly or, in the case of legal documents and Terms and Conditions, deliberately. Jargon, big words and ‘gobbledygook’ all detract from clarity, as these ‘before and after’ examples from the Plain English Campaign website demonstrate.
Using plain English has serious business benefits. Customers can work out easily what you are offering, you will spend less customer service time on explaining things and you will give the impression that there is nothing to hide and are therefore trustworthy. For web copy too, straightforward language helps search engines assess the integrity of your website and can lead to improved search engine results rankings.
There are two sure-fire ways to avoid the pitfalls of poor copy. The first is to have a clear idea about the audience that you are writing for. By having your idealised reader sitting at your metaphorical shoulder, you can ask yourself that crucial question: ‘am I writing this in a way that can be understood?’.
The second method? Engage content specialists. Want to know more? Get in touch with us.