We know jargon and buzzwords are a turn off for our readers but could cluttering your posts with these words be bad for your writing too?
We’re looking at simplicity in this the second in our series on flexing your writing muscles.
Learning The Art Of Blogging Simplicity
This week is week 2 of the series on flexing your writing muscles. Last week I challenged you to use Morning Pages. How have you gotten on?
I’ve gone from being a sceptic to an advocate. At first I thought it was just some hippy way of relieving anxiety but I’ve begun to see value beyond that.
I’m using it to:
- Release anxiety (well yes it does work for that too)
- Plan my day
- Remember the good things from the previous day
- Plan out content ideas
- Write faster without self-editing during work
An interesting side effect is that it’s banished a lot of procrastination. Because I’ve got my thoughts out and straight I’m less likely to tackle anything but what I’m supposed to.
The downside is that it takes 1/2 an hour a day and 1/2 an hour out of a working day can hurt small business owners like me.
Some members of the Small Business Bloggers Facebook group joined the challenge too. It’s interesting to see how they are using it differently. One person is documenting childhood memories, another found it a useful way to write down her anxieties. One long-term user of pages found it sometimes works as therapy and sometimes works as a way to capture inspiration.
If you’d like to share your experiences join the group: spiderworking.com/group.
Failing at simplicity
Today’s challenge is about simplicity. Simplicity in writing makes your content more accessible and is a gift to time starved readers.
Before I get into that lets look at how we fail at it:
Back in 1990 a woman named Elizabeth Newton conducted an experiment which you could easily replicate at home.
The ‘Tappers and Listeners’ test split participants into two groups.
Tappers would be asked to tap out a well-known tune (Happy Birthday To You or the like) on a table. The listeners were asked to identify the tune.
Tappers were asked in advance what percentage of listeners they thought would guess what tune they were tapping. Their guess was 50%.
At the end of the experiment the actual percentage who guessed correctly was just 2.5%
Why was this?
According to Chip & Dan Heath who reported on the study for the Harvard Review (and their book Made To Stick):
“When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune.
The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”
When we know a topic and write about it frequently it’s easy to slip into the Tapper mindset. Because we know something we make the assumption that others do too. The use of Jargon and Buzzwords are typical Tapper mistakes.
That’s why this week’s challenge is about simplicity. I’ll get onto the specifics of the challenge shortly but first lets look at the benefits and enemies of simplicity.
1. It’s accessible to your audience
Sometimes I’ll sit down to read a challenging book but that’s a decision. I know it will take time and I make time for it. If I was reading a blog post written in the style of James Joyce I’d surely give up before the end of the first sentence.
As business bloggers, we need to use language that keeps the reader interested. This doesn’t mean dumbing down it just means clarity. Our readers will grasp our concepts and understand our message quickly if we write with simplicity in mind.
Simplicity is important in all writing but more so on the internet. Web readers scan text you need to ensure that wherever their eyes rest there is something concise and easy to read.
2. It forces you to be concise
Have you ever met someone who has tried to explain their business to you, has taken a long time to do it and when they finished you’ve been none the wiser? Not only has this happened to me but I’m pretty sure it was me at one stage in my career.
When we strip away the jargon and long phrases it’s easier to understand what we’re trying to communicate. Oddly composing simple wording can take longer but the message will always be stronger as a result.
3. Avoid being condescending and stuffy
Yes, we’re experts in our field but if we add too many flowery words, jargon or buzzwords to our text that aren’t common in our audiences vocabulary it can look like we’re looking down on our readers. No one wants to do business with someone who they find patronising, you need to avoid this at all costs.
Jargon and Buzzwords, the enemies of simplicity
‘action it’ ‘move it forward’
Just two terms I used and cringed at in the last episode of this podcast. How do we come up with and why do we use these terrible buzzwords?
It’s not just buzzwords that are the problem. Jargon gets in the way too. Jargon turns us into Tappers.
For example. At a recent training event, a member of the audience raised their hand and asked me what I meant by ‘curated content’.
I’d been talking away unaware that some of the language I was using wasn’t accessible to my audience. If the participant hadn’t raised their hand my use of jargon would have affected their learning. Instead of absorbing the lesson they would have been distracted trying to fathom what I meant.
It’s the same when we’re writing. When someone reads a word they don’t understand they have two options.
- They can ignore it and read on (perhaps not fully understanding the next paragraph).
- They can give up. We don’t’ want our readers to give up.
We have to ensure we banish the buzzwords and jargon. How?
George Orwell’s rules of simplicity
Gerorge Orwell was an advocate of simplicity. In his essay ‘Politics In The English Language‘ he outlines his rules:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I have no clue what number 5 means but the rest or the rules make a good set of guidelines to follow
Simple isn’t easy
This all sounds good, but being simple isn’t necessarily easy. We fall into bad habits over time and it’s hard to break them.
To help I’ve got a two-part challenge for you
Start by writing a blog post or text of at least 300 words long. Try and avoid jargon, buzzwords and complex words.
Part 1-Top Ten Hundred Words
It’s not as easy as it looks. I’m not going to lie, it’s nearly impossible.
I found it much easier to write type straight into the box than cutting and pasting my original text. This way I could see if I was making errors as I wrote instead of trying to fix it after. It will force you to think harder about your writing.
So your first step is to either write your post straight into the text editor or cut, paste and edit what you’ve already written. You probably won’t get a perfect score, real names and specific industry terms will always fall outside the 1000 words.
Once you’ve simplified your language as much as you can it’s on to part 2.
Part 2 – Hemingway App
I mentioned George Orwell earlier but another writer famous for his simplicity is Ernest Hemingway. So much so that there is an editing tool named after him.
Hemingway App is designed to help you write simply, just like Hemingway. It also follows some of the principles Orwell outlined.
Cut and paste your text (or type it straight in) to Hemingway and it will highlight problematic sections. It will tell you if your sentences are hard to read, if you are using the passive voice too frequently, if you are using too many adverbs and if your phrases are too complex.
I use this tool a lot and after a while, I find that I don’t need to use it anymore. The style sinks in and I’m automatically writing in a clearer manner.
Step two of the challenge is to take your post, simplified with ten hundred words and edit it in Hemingway. Look at your original text. Is the new version better? Easier to digest?
Let me know how you get on with the challenge. You can join the Facebook group to and chat about the tools and how they helped (or didn’t help).
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