Increasing Readability: Language
MYM Tip #60
You need to do this and you need to do it now. Your writing may be an English professor’s dream, but, if it doesn’t help you sell…
Remember, in your marketing, you’re not writing for you or your professor. You’re writing for your prospects, clients, and customers.
When it comes to simplifying your writing (and yes your writing does need to be simplified), the first suggestion is always to use SHORT SENTENCES. Avoid the tendency to go on and on and on in a single sentence.
It makes it difficult for the reader to keep up with you. It makes them work harder to capture your message. Instead of putting two ideas into one long sentence, try using two short sentences. You’ll find it breaks it up and makes it easier to read. If you want some help with this, go pick up a copy of USA Today. It’s a well-known fact that USA Today is written on a low reading level, which is good. That increases the overall readability. Go read any article out of that paper and you’ll quickly see what I mean about using short sentences.
So the first suggestion is use short sentences. The second suggestion is just use SIMPLER LANGUAGE. Here are a few rules of thumb that I employ. Use familiar words instead far-fetched ones. Use a concrete word instead of an abstract one. Choose short words instead of long ones. I think the best way to illustrate this is with a list of complicated words and their more simplified equivalents:
Instead of… Use…
Continue Keep up
Supplement Add to
Acquire Get or gain
Along the lines of Like
As to About
For the reason that Since
In order to To
In the event of If
In accordance with By, under
Prior to Before
With regard to About
Likewise And, also
Nevertheless But, however
See how that will lighten up your writing and make it more conversational? I know that an English professor would be delighted if you used the phrase “in accordance with.” Your attorney might like that too. Your writing is as complex or as simple as you choose. I once heard about a doctor who would lean back in his chair when he was finished with dinner, put his hands behind his head, and proclaim…“My gastronomical satiety admonishes me to such an extent that I am no longer able to indulge myself beyond the limits of dietary integrity.” Translation: “I’m full.” Now that’s complicating it. Make sure that you always remember the rules of thumb I just gave you – use short sentences and simple words – and they will help your prospect immensely, and ultimately, it will make you more money.
The third suggestion for increasing readability is use ACTION VERBS. Before you get scared off thinking I’m about to make you go to the chalkboard and diagram a sentence, relax. This isn’t about being a wonderful student of grammar. It’s just about using certain kinds of words that will wake up your writing and your readers and make them more likely to take action.
Back in elementary school when you first started learning grammar, they described verbs as action words. That’s what you want in your writing, lots of action words. You’re probably thinking, come on, every sentence has a verb in it; you can hardly write a sentence without a verb. But understand this, most writing contains nothing more than nouns and adjectives, glued together with what’s called the “be” verbs: am, is, was, are, and were. To help drive home your story, you’ve got to think like the Chinese. Simplify and get rid of all the “filler” words. That’s all those like “am, is, was, are and were” are…they’re just filler words. They don’t signify any action. That’s why they’re called “be” verbs because they just indicate a state of being – not action.
So what do I mean by action words? Words like blow, break, bring, call, carry, cast, catch, come, cut, do, draw, drive, drop, fall, get, give, go, hang, hold, keep, lay, let, look, make, pick, pull, push, put, run, set, shake, show, skip, slip, split, stand, stay, stick, strike, take, talk, tear, throw, tie, touch, turn, walk, wear, and work.
Using action verbs takes some practice, patience, and persistence. You’ll find if you look at what you or your copywriter has written in the past, it’s probably full of am, is, are, were, and was. It takes discipline to make yourself go back and rewrite the sentence or the paragraph or the page to incorporate live words. But like the writing tips in past newsletters, if you do it, your bottom-line results can be greatly improved. And that’s the name of the game, right?
So the first three suggestions for using language to increase readability were to use 1) short sentences, 2) simpler language, and 3) lots of action verbs. The fourth suggestion then is to use more PERSONAL REFERENCES. What’s a personal reference? It’s simple a word or a sentence that references the reader or listener – primarily with the word “you.” In Dale Carnegie’s classic work, How To Win Friends And Influence People, Mr. Carnegie states that people’s number one motivating force in their lives – for good or for bad – is the need to feel important. He goes on to state that people’s favorite subject to talk about is themselves. If that’s true, and I believe that it is, then you’d be well off to address your writing directly to the reader and make as many references to them as possible.