Here’s Why Plain and Simple Writing Works Better

Posted on 28 August 2017

Yikes! I recently saw this cringe-inducing sentence in a tweet:
“Constant consumption of negative media stories can have a deleterious effect on our health.”

My translation, in plain English:
Constantly reading or watching negative media stories can be bad for your health.

Why did I make those changes?

  • “Deleterious” is a formal word that many people, even native speakers of English, might not know and would probably never use in everyday conversation.
  • “Deleterious” = 5 syllables = more difficult for the brain to process; “bad” = 1 syllable = easier for the brain to process.
  • The dictionary definition of “deleterious” is “injurious to health”. So technically, if you use the word “deleterious”, the phrase “on our health” is unnecessary.
  • The phrase “can have a deleterious effect on” (6 words) can be expressed more simply and clearly as “can be bad for” (4 words that people are more likely to understand instantly).
  • The word “consumption” is an abstract noun. Verbs are better. And in this context, I decided that the phrase “reading or watching” is better than the word “consuming”, because we actually read or watch media stories.
  • I changed “our health” to “your health” – it’s as if the writer is speaking directly to each individual reader. The word “your” is more likely to evoke an emotional response and prompt a change in each reader’s behaviour (or at least make the reader curious enough to click the link in a tweet). “Our” is vague – who exactly is the writer referring to?
  • The original version of the sentence has 91 characters (including spaces); my revised version has 81 characters – that’s better for a tweet.
  • Words work better when readers/watchers/listeners can quickly and easily create a picture in their head.
  • Simple, plain English works better, even in business communication – and that doesn’t mean insulting people’s intelligence.

More before-and-after examples

Here are some more examples of how I translate clunky text (real text that I’ve seen online) into more effective, user-friendly text:

Clunky: “Is Your CEO Supportive of Innovation?”
Simpler: Does Your CEO Support Innovation?

Clunky: “Many of those in-attendance on Friday found the comedian’s speech to be an interesting one.”
Simpler: Many people at the event on Friday said they thought the comedian’s speech was interesting.

Clunky: “7 Facts For Why Your Business Needs A Blog”
Simpler: 7 Reasons Your Business Needs A Blog

Clunky: “The main reason for this is that…”
Simpler: That’s because…

Clunky: “…there is a simple rule to follow that can be applied to the creation of an effective article title.”
Simpler: …there’s a simple rule for creating an effective article title.

Clunky: “Devising goals in this manner invokes a higher potential for success.”
Simpler: You’re more likely to succeed if you devise your goals this way.

Clunky: “If you have any comments or questions, please fill in the form below and you will be contacted via email within 3 business days of us having received your email.”
Simpler: If you have any comments or questions, please fill in the form below and we’ll reply within 3 business days.

 

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Do you or your colleagues write like that? Call me!

If you or your colleagues in your organisation write content like any of those examples, contact me! I’ll diagnose the problems and translate your text into plain-English words that work, from a user-friendliness and marketing point of view.

Image via Shuttlestock


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