Why cutting out words will help your business communicate
Shorter sentences are easier to read.
They let you get your message across quicker. That’s obvious.
What’s more surprising is that writing simpler and briefer copy is proven to make you seem more trustworthy – and even more intelligent.
Write well, and you really can have the best of everything.
Read on to find out how your business can communicate better.
Break up sentences to help comprehension
Studies have shown that understanding quickly drops off when you have sentences over 20 words long.
For many people, sentences over 40 words long can be virtually impossible to read.
So to set a clear line, the Government’s GOV.UK site advises a 25 word limit, helping to make sure readers don’t miss the important point. You can use this as a guide for any customer message – whether that’s your website, email, brochures or documents.
But this isn’t just so you remain accessible to people with a cognitive disability like dyslexia. Whatever our reading ability or experience, many of us scan text. We’re often pushed for time, and are simply looking for a specific answer.
If any of your sentences are too long then try editing them to lose any spare words. You could rewrite them so they are more to the point. Or you could break up a complex statement into several shorter sentences.
Mind information overload
This can be a challenge. Insurance is not a straightforward business, and we sometimes have to explain to customers where ‘terms and conditions apply’. It’s not unusual for some documents to include sentences which are over 50 words long.
But it’s often a mistake to think that playing safe and giving more info helps. Regulators talk about ‘information overload’ when firms bombard readers with too many words. Customers will likely miss the important things they need to know when they’re buried under a linguistic landslide.
Many people are so put off by this approach they simply don’t bother reading documents – a situation which benefits no-one.
The Financial Conduct Authority says that how we communicate information is at least as important was what we say. It’s not good enough to take a ‘tick box’ approach and hide what customers need to know in dense paragraphs of text.
We need to be smarter in the way we communicate, the watchdog says.
Check your documents
The good news is that there are lots of tools out there to help us whittle down those extra words.
Applications like Microsoft Word can show you readability statistics for your documents. These will give you an idea of how easy it is for someone to read your writing.
Word gives two scores:
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: This refers to US school grades. 8th grade is a good level to aim at, the reading age of a 13- to 14-year-old.
- Flesch Reading Ease test: A higher score is better, and easier to read. Aim for at least 70 on the 100-point scale.
These are calculated by tallying up syllables, words and sentences in your text. Break up your sentences or make them shorter to improve your scores. Using shorter words will help, too.
See the Microsoft Office website for the steps to see these scores.
Use tools to get ahead
There are lots of sites out there which include automated readability checkers. One of the best is Hemingway.
Simply paste your text in and the site will let you know if you’ve written something as clear to read as a BBC news story.
If it says your text is more like the Harvard Law Review then it will need more work (even if you’re a law firm).
Hemingway is very visual too. It highlights long sentences in your text which will be hard to read, and shows you complex phrases which you could replace or leave out.
Put it all into practice
Forward thinking businesses have made these checks part of their everyday communications.
Meanwhile, the Government routinely uses Hemingway when preparing copy for the GOV.UK website.
So, from the first thing your customer reads on your homepage, to your most technical documents, it pays to take stock of how you write.
The good news is that whatever your sector, communicating a clear, consistent message will bring a customer along for the ride.
And they’ll thank you for it, too.