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17 July 2017

Top 10 reasons for dumbing down.

Gareth Quinn

Some clients think that clear, concise writing and making stuff easy to understand is dumbing down. They’re wrong, and here’s ten reasons why.

1. No one will ever complain that writing’s too easy to read.
Not one person has ever said: “Gee, I wish I’d had to concentrate more when reading that”.

2. Readers have better things to do.
There’s lots of things that a reader would rather do than read your company profile, sales pitch or news update: day dream, make a cup of tea, play with the kids, sleep, look at pictures of naked people, get drunk, flirt with a colleague, text a mate, boast about their fabulous life on Facebook, gt pissed off about others boasting about their fabulous lives on Facebook, watch Breaking Bad, lose on online poker, read something they’ve actually paid for.

3. Even The Economist agrees.
Well, here’s how that magazine’s style guide opens:
“The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.”

4. Just because it’s simple doesn’t make it dumb.
The opposite, in fact.
As the late, great Steve Jobs 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.”

5. Steve Jobs wasn’t the only genius who “got” simplicity
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
Einstein: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Richard Feynman: “You can always recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.”
Winston Churchill: “A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life.”

6. Simplicity = truth = trust
Note how the last two geniuses in point 5 linked simplicity with truth? The connection doesn’t just apply to physics and politics, you know. After all, what modern business doesn’t bang on incessantly about “transparency”? If your client wants to build trust among investors/clients/employees/the general public, they have to keep their writing transparent (aka simple).

7. A copywriter’s job isn’t to make them think, it’s to make them buy.
Yeah, even if you’re in employee engagement or some other field you think is non-salesy, you’re in the business of persuasion. Everything you write should elicit some kind of action from your reader – whether it’s forking out a fiver or working in a different way. The harder they have to sweat it to read your stuff, the less chance you’ve got of getting them to do what you want.

8. You’re alienating 10 percent of your readers if you don’t make it easy.
If your employees/customers/investors are typical of the general population, 10% of them are dyslexic. Make your writing complex and you’re making something at least 10 percent of your readers struggle to do even harder. That’s not just not fair, it’s also a pretty stupid way to do business.

9. Use jargon and 74 percent of people will think you don’t even understand the words that are coming out of your own mouth.

10. Bad writing = bad manners
American philosopher Brand Blanshard once said: “Persistently obscure writers will usually be found to be defective human beings”. What he meant was that you can tell how a person treats other people by the way they treat their readers.
Bonus reason…
Don’t make the plea for “plain English”
“Plain” is not the same as “simple”. A plain outfit is frumpy. A simple outfit is elegant. And what would you rather eat? Plain food? Or simple food? (Overcooked cabbage? Or spaghetti vongole?).