Plainly Speaking

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 20th, 2008 at 12:40 PM

“People think I can teach them style. What stuff it is. Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.”
Matthew Arnold – 1822-1888. English poet and cultural critic.

A lot of business communications – letters, press releases, brochures and even websites, read like the written equivalent of the ‘telephone voice’. You know, when we put on an accent and use words we wouldn’t normally in every day conversation.

It’s a mistake to think that using big, slightly old fashioned words add importance. They don’t: they just create stodgy copy; your point gets lost and you achieve the opposite of communication.

This doesn’t mean the style should be over friendly and peppered with colloquialisms. Nor doesn’t it have to be ‘Janet and John’ simple.

A few tips

Avoid excessive use of adjectives & adverbs especially those that do nothing and definitely avoid superlatives such as:

Avoid mixing tenses.

Banish clichés.

Keep punctuation simple. If you find yourself with too many commas – re-write the sentence.

Keep it short

Avoid excessively long sentences.

Go for 20 words max. The longer the sentence, the more complicated and confusing it can be to write as well as to read.

Keep paragraphs short. Long tracts of script and slabs of text are off-putting before your reader even begins.

How readable is your copy?

There are several ways to find out how easy it is to read your copy. Flesch Reading Ease, or the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score, is probably the best known.

Without going into the ‘science’ it bases its calculations on the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word.

The score ranges from 100 to 0: 100 is easy to read and 0 isn’t. 65 is generally considered to be a good score.

Sound complicated? MS Word has a tool that will calculate it for you.

When the spelling and grammar check has finished the reading level of the document will be displayed.

Bull Fighting

Also have a look at www.bullfighter.com. It’s fun but really useful too. Download their free Bullfighter software to help make sure your documents are ‘bull free’. It sits in the icon tray in Word: simply click on it to find out how readable your document is.

Finally, also take a look at www.plainenglish.co.uk. Its examples of bad writing show you why it’s worthwhile trying to get it right.

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. And speaking of useful - scroll down and take a look at the Oxford Dictionaries tool.

Click here to find out a bit more about me.

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