Adam Fisher
26th November 2018 - 5 mins read
W

e can probably all recall investing time to read something that grabbed our attention with an enticing headline, only to find it was convoluted and tricky to follow.

Perhaps it is the quest to create something original and valuable that drives organisations to inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and distractions from the main message.

Maybe it is a fear that they will not be seen as an expert in their field that leads them on a path to complicated language and clunky phrasing.

Whatever the reason, it is hugely frustrating for both the reader and the author. Ultimately, if people can’t understand what you are trying to say they also won’t know how you expect them to act.

But this situation is solvable.

Simplicity is the key to understanding and therefore should be the foundation of all written content.

Newspapers and journalists know this.

The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

The Sun has a reading age of eight, while the more highbrow Guardian has a reading age of 14. That doesn’t mean they think their readers lack intelligence, it means they know where to set their writing so that the vast majority of readers can understand it.

But how do you make your content simple to understand while still producing something valuable?


Lose the big words

The important thing to remember about your content is that you are not producing it to impress your colleagues with your vocabulary.

And very few of us have time to reach for the dictionary when we’re reading. Invariably if we can’t follow what is being said we quickly give up and disregard that content altogether.

This means that when producing content we should always think twice about the more decorative words we could use and consider if there are simpler alternatives. For example, use ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’ and ‘near’ instead of ‘close proximity’.


Short sentences and paragraphs

One of the first lessons drilled into any young journalist is the importance of using short sentences.

At the start of my career I was told to keep mine between 20 and 30 words long and it is something I try to stick to now, 20 years later.

The reason is that long sentences and those with multiple clauses invite unnecessary complexity.

Similarly, long paragraphs can be daunting for readers and cause them to switch-off and lose interest.

Again if you look at a newspaper or magazine, very rarely will you find paragraphs consisting of more than one sentence.


Avoid the jargon

A regular frustration with much written content is that organisations often fall back on jargon to explain what they do and the messages they are trying to get across.

The problem is that often these words and phrases mean little to people outside that industry or particular company – instantly turning off readers.

But use of jargon in content also suggests that you don’t know the subject perhaps as well as you should or think you do. Remember the famous Albert Einstein quote - “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

It also implies that you have nothing new to say to the reader (in which case why should they read on?).


Stick to everyday language

The key with written content, even with the more formal style used in whitepapers, is to use the language that you and your readers would use in everyday conversation.

When I’m writing content I try to use the language I would use if I was explaining the point to a friend or family member in a pub or café – just without the swearing.


Reading out loud

One of the tricks I use to test the simplicity of my own content is to read it aloud. Sure, it generates some funny looks in the office, but it’s a good way of identifying words, phrases and sentences which may be confusing.

If I stumble over parts of it, or find myself having to reread certain paragraphs, then it is fair to assume my content isn’t as straightforward as I intended.


Test the readability of your content

There are easy to use tools you can use to test the simplicity and readability of your content. Word offers two useful measurements.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.



As you can see, in the above image my reading ease is 60.3 and my grade level is 9.7, meaning a 14-15 year old should be able to understand it. It’s also worth highlighting that the average length of a sentence in this post is under 20 words.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

Simplicity is a very effective content marketing strategy. It is not about dumbing down or insulting the intelligence of your readers.

It is about ensuring your content is easy to understand for as many people as possible. And that takes skill. But, it is well worth it.

Steve Jobs famously once said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”



At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

Gold rush – the secrets of writing a winning awards submission

Adam Fisher 6th July 2018 — 3 mins read
W

e use the word ‘daunting’ because the entry process can seem time-consuming with no guarantee of a return.

So how can you ensure your awards submissions stand out and capture the judges’ interest?

Here are eight tips to help you ensure your award entry is a success:

 

Captivate the judges

If the award is worth winning, the judges will probably have hundreds of entries to read through.

So your submission needs to stand-out. This means you need a strong opening to draw them in and encourage them to keep reading.

The key is to get to the really strong part of your entry early on and not leave it until the end of your submission.

Some journalistic principles also apply here to ensure interest and focus is maintained. Ensure sentences are no longer than 30 words and start each sentence as a new paragraph so that judges don’t face daunting passages of text.

Also, think about what makes something ‘newsworthy’ to a journalist and apply the same principle. For example, what makes your entry unusual?  Is it because what you have achieved is a first, or the biggest, or the smallest? This will help you find that all-important ‘wow’ factor.

 

Storytelling

People love stories. They want to read and hear stories.

And your awards submission will be much more memorable if it includes a story.

Like all good stories, your tale will need a hero (you or your organisation) and a villain (the problem you have solved) and if it has an innocent victim (your customers) then it will be even stronger.

And it should have a beginning, middle, and end.

Get straight into your story in the submission - don’t feel compelled to introduce it by saying something like ‘here’s a story which shows that…’ or through a sub-heading called ‘our story’.

 

Put people in your story

People love stories that involve people, and including them directly in your award submission will help it stand-out.

Quotes from colleagues, customers, and stakeholders about the impact of what you have achieved will help bring the crucial human element into the entry.

 

Substantiate claims

It could be tempting to fill your submission with bold claims about your success.

But, unless you can back these up with facts, figures, and examples then they are just claims and ultimately are pretty meaningless.

Judges will be looking for evidence to ensure that claims are more than just rhetoric.

 

Show don’t tell

Do you always ‘put customers first’? Is your business ‘client-centred’, ‘visionary’ or ‘innovative’?

These tired adjectives are not only overused but they are also all rather hollow.

A much more effective approach in awards submissions is to show how you do these things, rather than telling us that you do them.

Show how you are putting your customers first and how you are being innovative. Examples, case studies, stories, quotes and testimonials will all help here.

 

Avoid the jargon

You may understand the technical language and acronyms used in your organisation and industry but there is a good chance it will not mean anything to the judges.

And that could cause them to lose interest.

Stick to everyday language that everyone can understand. Think about how you would explain what you have achieved to a friend or a colleague.

 

Paint a picture

A picture is a worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and that idiom is particularly true when it comes to awards submissions where there are often word limit constraints.

Images, tables and, infographics can bring entries to life and help make the complex easily understandable.  

 

Proof

You’ve told your organisation’s story. You’ve got facts and figures to support your points and some strong quotes from customers and colleagues.

What a shame it would be then if all that work was undermined by typos, spelling mistakes, and punctuation errors.

The simple fact is that these mistakes make award submissions memorable for the wrong reasons and can ruin otherwise strong entries. Details matter.

We love helping our clients with their award submissions. Our journalist-led approach ensures all our content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content, award submissions or a whitepaper.

 

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

 

Adam Fisher
20th July 2018 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.