Adam Fisher
26th November 2018 - 5 mins read
W

e can probably all recall investing time to read something that grabbed our attention with an enticing headline, only to find it was convoluted and tricky to follow.

Perhaps it is the quest to create something original and valuable that drives organisations to inadvertently opt for content which creates barriers to comprehension and distractions from the main message.

Maybe it is a fear that they will not be seen as an expert in their field that leads them on a path to complicated language and clunky phrasing.

Whatever the reason, it is hugely frustrating for both the reader and the author. Ultimately, if people can’t understand what you are trying to say they also won’t know how you expect them to act.

But this situation is solvable.

Simplicity is the key to understanding and therefore should be the foundation of all written content.

Newspapers and journalists know this.

The average reading age of the UK population is generally considered to be around nine years.

The Sun has a reading age of eight, while the more highbrow Guardian has a reading age of 14. That doesn’t mean they think their readers lack intelligence, it means they know where to set their writing so that the vast majority of readers can understand it.

But how do you make your content simple to understand while still producing something valuable?


Lose the big words

The important thing to remember about your content is that you are not producing it to impress your colleagues with your vocabulary.

And very few of us have time to reach for the dictionary when we’re reading. Invariably if we can’t follow what is being said we quickly give up and disregard that content altogether.

This means that when producing content we should always think twice about the more decorative words we could use and consider if there are simpler alternatives. For example, use ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’ and ‘near’ instead of ‘close proximity’.


Short sentences and paragraphs

One of the first lessons drilled into any young journalist is the importance of using short sentences.

At the start of my career I was told to keep mine between 20 and 30 words long and it is something I try to stick to now, 20 years later.

The reason is that long sentences and those with multiple clauses invite unnecessary complexity.

Similarly, long paragraphs can be daunting for readers and cause them to switch-off and lose interest.

Again if you look at a newspaper or magazine, very rarely will you find paragraphs consisting of more than one sentence.


Avoid the jargon

A regular frustration with much written content is that organisations often fall back on jargon to explain what they do and the messages they are trying to get across.

The problem is that often these words and phrases mean little to people outside that industry or particular company – instantly turning off readers.

But use of jargon in content also suggests that you don’t know the subject perhaps as well as you should or think you do. Remember the famous Albert Einstein quote - “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

It also implies that you have nothing new to say to the reader (in which case why should they read on?).


Stick to everyday language

The key with written content, even with the more formal style used in whitepapers, is to use the language that you and your readers would use in everyday conversation.

When I’m writing content I try to use the language I would use if I was explaining the point to a friend or family member in a pub or café – just without the swearing.


Reading out loud

One of the tricks I use to test the simplicity of my own content is to read it aloud. Sure, it generates some funny looks in the office, but it’s a good way of identifying words, phrases and sentences which may be confusing.

If I stumble over parts of it, or find myself having to reread certain paragraphs, then it is fair to assume my content isn’t as straightforward as I intended.


Test the readability of your content

There are easy to use tools you can use to test the simplicity and readability of your content. Word offers two useful measurements.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.



As you can see, in the above image my reading ease is 60.3 and my grade level is 9.7, meaning a 14-15 year old should be able to understand it. It’s also worth highlighting that the average length of a sentence in this post is under 20 words.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

Simplicity is a very effective content marketing strategy. It is not about dumbing down or insulting the intelligence of your readers.

It is about ensuring your content is easy to understand for as many people as possible. And that takes skill. But, it is well worth it.

Steve Jobs famously 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.”



At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

Will GDPR prove a catalyst for improving content quality?

Adam Fisher 29th January 2018 — 3 mins read
O

f course, the regulations, which are supposed to improve data protection for EU citizens, residents and businesses, do have significant implications for brands and the way they communicate with their customers.

But is there another side to the doom, gloom and scaremongering?

Well, at Thirty Seven we believe the changes, which come into force on May 25, present an opportunity for marketers and could be a catalyst for good.

Before the rise of the internet it was very hard for brands to produce content, at least cost effectively.

But as the World Wide Web has gone from strength to strength it has become ever easier for organisations to reach customers.

However, this has come at a cost, because while content marketing has been enjoying a boom, there is little doubt it has been at the expense of quality. There’s now less craft and more churn in the majority of content and all too often what customers receive offers little in the way of value.

Of course what exactly constitutes ‘quality’ content is subjective, vague and elusive. However, Google uses a definition which I believe works as well as any.

Its evaluators use the EAT acronym when ranking website pages. It stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness and we believe it is a good model to adopt to ensure content stays ahead of the pack.

So how will GDPR impact the quality of content? Well, by giving people more control of their data they will also have more control of what information they receive.

Brands need to be able to show that consent to receive their information has been “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous” – ideally this should be achieved through a double opt-in procedure involving a signup process, such as clicking a box, and a confirmation of that instruction by clicking a link in a follow-up email.

Businesses will also have to make it easy for that consent to be withdrawn at any time.

This means that, particularly in the days after the May deadline, many brands will have fewer people on their mailing lists. While there will still be those who argue that size matters, it is surely better to have a more concise list of people who look forward to receiving your content than a larger list of people who are indifferent and don’t really know how or why your emails end up in their inbox.

More importantly, it also means brands will have to work harder than ever to get people to subscribe and sign-up and continue to be happy to receive their content.

And that in turn means content needs to be better quality, targeted, personalised, niche and valuable. In short, content that turns recipients into fans.

Of course, it is possible that some email marketeers will try to duck these regulations or convince themselves that only the really big players will be targeted by GDPR enforcers in the early days, but the risks of non-compliance are eye-watering; a fine which is either four per cent of turnover or €20 million - whichever is the larger.

Another possibility is that organisations may simply reduce their email marketing activity as they struggle to comply with the GDPR May deadline and turn to social media more instead to fill the vacuum.

But to make that approach work they will still need to place greater emphasis on the quality of their social media output, because if customers are going to engage with that content they will again need to feel it has value and is worth sharing.

We are not suggesting that GDPR is going to improve the quality of the internet, but it will give the content you receive in your mailbox a much needed shot in the arm.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Graham Jones
19th February 2018 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.