As seen in Part I of this series, Web Content Writing Part I – Basic Survival Skills, our readers’ brains are in survival mode—trying to forage through the streams of content coming at them to find what is valuable. We, as writers, can do a lot to help them by writing in clear, plain language. In other words, by Just Saying It.
Some Plain Language Principles:
Keep it simple – Use short words, short sentences, paragraphs and bullets. Keep sentences to one thought and paragraphs to one topic. “To be or not to be” is a gem with not one word over three letters.
Just [verb] it – Active verbs are shorter and make it clear who is doing what.
Get personal – Use “you” language; writing to one person, not a group.
Make it clear – Avoid acronyms, abbreviations and jargon.
Stay positive – It’s easier to understand positive statements than negative.
Get to the point – Be clear about what you want them to do.
Pull the weeds – Review your copy for redundant words, preambles or qualifiers.
Those are the rules. Now let’s break them.
Writing is part science and part art. While we need to apply the plain language principles wherever we can, there are cases when it’s better to stray.
When jargon’s not jargon:
Generally, writers are instructed to avoid unnecessary jargon. However, sometimes it’s an accepted industry term that your particular target audience knows and uses. How do you know? Listen in on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn groups specific to your subject and target audience and take note of the words they use.
When passive is powerful:
Often the most effective nanocontent (For an explanation of nanocontent, see Part I of this series) uses the passive voice in order to “front load” information-carrying words. For example:
- “Health equity addressed by WellCo CEO”
- “FinCo acquisition finalized by both parties”
Other ways to get back at your 6th grade grammar teacher
It’s okay to break an occasional rule it if makes the content simpler and more digestible:
- Sentence fragments
- One-sentence paragraphs
- Beginning with “and” or “or”
- Ending with prepositions
There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don’t. Never get between these people when drink has been taken.