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Using approachable language helps connect with readers
Using approachable language helps connect with readers

Don’t forget to KISS: The value of keeping it simple

Writing for the web is all about using accessible language. GRAHAM JONES warns retailers not to get bogged down in business speak when creating their digital content, even if they think it sounds impressive to readers.

If Little Red Riding Hood were reading much of the material on the web these days, she’d say, “My goodness Grandma, what big words you’re using!”

Wherever you look, the internet contains massive words. Why? Business writing makes up the bulk of content marketing and the language of corporations is formal, stuffy and full of long words.

There exists a belief that corporate writing appears more professional and that anything else could make a business seem low-key and less important.

The problem is that readers slow down when they see big words. This can lead to misunderstanding or failure to absorb the content and messages – even if readers make it through to the end of the article.

Mostly, people just give up when they see long words; they can’t be bothered to waste their time.

It’s not just big words that dominate the internet but long sentences too. Again, businesses seem to think that long sentences with plenty of sub-clauses will make them appear more professional. This is also true of poor writers.

Inevitably, the opposite perception is formed whereby readers might think that people who use long words are distant and not very clever – just trying to impress.

A study completed more than ten years ago at Princeton University showed us that the unnecessary use of long words created more problems than it solved.

The researchers found that readers believed a writer was smarter if the writing was simple than when the words were unnecessarily long and complicated.

Kiss your readers

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ (KISS) is one of the most popular acronyms in marketing. It is the idea that if something is simple and straightforward, it is easier to follow. That’s the same with writing.

Evidence shows that short sentences are easier to grasp than long sentences. Short paragraphs make a piece flow better and short words are easier to understand than long ones.

However, businesses still believe that being formal is an important brand value as it shows how serious they are. In fact, it has the opposite effect; it can cause people to abandon what they are reading, sometimes because they find the author showy.

Here are five things you can do to make sure your content grabs readers and keeps them believing in your business:

1. Write as you speak – Forget those clunky rules about grammar. When we talk, we tend to use simpler words, shorter sentences and we regularly break grammar rules.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore correct grammar but it means you can bend the rules without worrying too much. If you use a service like Grammarly, be sure to set the style to ‘informal’ and the domain to ‘casual’. This helps you connect with your readers.

"Short paragraphs make a piece flow better and short words are easier to understand than long ones"

2. Read your content out loud – When you’ve finished writing your content, reading it aloud will help you to concentrate and spot mistakes more easily. If you struggle to read it aloud or stumble, then it’s clear that the writing is too complicated. Change it!

3. Check the reading age of your content – Use your computer’s grammar-checking tool to calculate the reading score of your writing. Alternatively, go to the Readability Test Tool online and paste in your text. Look for the figure shown as the Flesch-Kincaid score.

Add five to that score – this is the age at which a child can read what you have written. Aim for a Flesch-Kincaid score of between five and seven, which means your writing is suitable for readers aged 10 to 12 and higher.

Research shows this is the score most suitable for quick reading, which everyone does on online. You are not dumbing it down – you’re making your writing more accessible.

4. Just go with it – Set aside the notion that verbose writing is more professional. Use short words and engage more readers. You’ll communicate your messages more clearly and encourage more interaction, such as extra sharing on social media. Eventually, you’ll realise that you are achieving more by being ‘less professional’ in your writing.

5. Read more – Read the most popular blogs in your sector, then read the online version of a popular newspaper. These top publications all use simple language. If you read them regularly, you’ll start to write like them.

The best content on the web uses simple, approachable language consisting of short words and sentences. If you insist that you must use ‘business speak’, you risk making your content inaccessible and also risk readers switching off, which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do online.

Graham Jones

Contributor •

Graham Jones studies online behaviour and consumer psychology to help businesses improve website success. Visit:


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