Complicated Writing: What Is It/How to Avoid It

Suppose you enter a store to check out a product you’re interested in, and two salespeople approach you.

One says, “The state-of-the-art functionality of this superior, innovative product is enhanced by the unique proactive multi-tasking bidirectional aspect of the user interface element, our company’s proprietary MTBDUI.”

The other says, “Would you like me to show you the on switch?”

Which salesperson would you buy from?

Yet many websites, blogs and brochures mimic the first sales person when, face-to-face, no one would approach a customer that way. Multi-syllable words (3 syllables or more) in long sentences (over 24 words) are at the heart of complicated writing. Add to that the latest jargon and acronyms with a tendency to drop prepositions and even the most educated readers struggle to understand a company’s message.

Customers are interested in your company, but first they want to know how you will solve their immediate problem. Complicated writing embraces adjectives like “state-of-the-art” and “precisely engineered” without ever giving specifics. It goes on and on about the company’s unique products and features, its outstanding customer services and innovative founders, without ever answering the universal customer question, “What’s in it for me?”

Complicated writing is mired in jargon and acronyms. How could anyone participate in “a proactive customer engagement communication activation process (CECAP)”? But it is definitely possible for customers to understand that you “appreciate their comments”–if that’s what you mean–in direct, everyday language.

Complicated writing leaves a company with nothing to boast about except its vocabulary and its ability to generate jargon and acronyms at a moment’s notice. Clear writing, on the other hand, builds relationships with customers.

For clear writing that is accurate, concise and passionate–for writing that makes even the most complicated content approachable–please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Clear Writing for Difficult Technology

One of my recurring jobs is to proofread the School of Science newsletter for a major university, which is sent to the university’s many alumni, friends, and donors. I am constantly awed by the clear, straightforward way in which the university’s postdocs and professors describe their research and its potential impact for individuals who may have worked in an entirely different area of science, never majored in science or never conducted research at that level.

If they can do it, you can do it. If you are ready to market a new or difficult technology, clear writing is essential and has these six major characteristics:

  1. Accuracy. It’s no good hedging your bets with “we think” or “approximately in the range of” or “is capable of.” Either the technology does what you say it does, or you need to rethink your marketing.
  2. Analogies. An analogy describes a difficult concept by using a simpler concept. Writer and editor Peter De Vries once described the universe this way: “The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.” By using analogies, you describe new or difficult technology in terms already familiar to your audience.
  3. Graphics. When you can’t say it clearly, show it. Manufacturers of consumer products have long ago discovered that pictures and photos are clearer than written instructions, allowing customers to build and use products with more confidence and fewer calls to the help desk. Embrace graphics when writing about difficult technology.
  4. Simplified language. You may need to use multi-syllable words like environmentalism or computational microscopy, but you can help your reader by (a) surrounding those multi-syllable words with shorter words (for example, “use” instead of “utilize”); (b) breaking up long sentences (over 25 words) into shorter sentences; and (c) breaking up solid text into shorter paragraphs or sections.
  5. Defined terms. Always define acronyms the first time they are used, especially if the acronym has more than one meaning (and most of them do) or is unique to your field. The acronym ZIP has wildly different meanings depending on whether you are talking about chemistry, medicine, computers, finances–or mailing a letter. If you are using a term for the first time, explain what it means. In one sentence, you will bring your audience up to speed.
  6. Consistency. Even if many authors have helped to write about a difficult technology, the content should be reviewed by one person who makes sure that it is consistent and meets all the previous characteristics of clear writing.

TWP Marketing & Technical Writing has over a decade of experience in using clear writing to market difficult technologies. Contact us today.