How to win business and influence people: write in plain language | by Cynthia Marinakos | Dec, 2021

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The myth I hear often as a writer is:
‘My target readers are professionals with higher education.’

In the story about my plumber client, it was tempting to ignore his feedback. I could have argued that his clients are likely to have a higher level of education. He hadn’t gone to college but they may have.

I could have dismissed his feedback because he wasn’t the writer. I was.

But that would have been a mistake.

You see, 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 .

Peter Butt is a founding Director of the Law and Justice Foundation in New South Wales, Australia.

In a , he shared 4 great reasons to write in plain language:

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

If legal professionals realize the value of plain language, we need to take notice.

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

Next, we’ll look at 5 ways to write plainly so we can help our readers glide through our content.

Writing plainly takes more effort than it seems. These 5 tips will give you a kickstart:

  1. Write at a lower secondary reading level
  2. Write conversationally
  3. Choose simple words over complex ones
  4. Cut sentences
  5. Clarify acronyms

In , 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 recommendation:

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 .

What reading level is your writing?

A helpful tool to help you write in plain language

Plain language is subjective.

The tool is a quick way to find out the reading level of your content.

It also shares tips to help you cut down the reading level if it’s too high.

A plain language writing example

Cut and paste the paragraph below into the Hemingway Editor — you’ll see it’s at a postgraduate reading level. It’s a portion from a research paper summary:

If the major reviews in this area are correct, people seeking to maximize happiness should forego the pursuit of money, beauty, and material possessions, and instead devote their lives to developing and maintaining close personal relationships. However, close examination of these reviews reveals that authors rarely address the link between the existence of social relationships and greater well-being. Instead, they focus on whether people are satisfied with their relationships or whether they value relationships over and above other life goals.

TO DO

Before you keep reading, have a go at rewriting the paragraph in plain language. Aim for a level 8 readability level.

Rewrite

This rewrite brought the content to a grade 6 level:

If the major reviews in this area are correct, people who want to be happy should stop pursuing money, beauty, or material things. They should devote their lives to close relationships.

However, the authors rarely look at the link between relationships and well-being. They focus on whether:

1. people are happy with their relationships

2. they value relationships more than other life goals

Key takeaway: Write at a lower secondary reading level.



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