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

How to keep coming up with ideas for content

Adam Fisher 23rd May 2018 — 6 mins read
I

’ve written three blogs a week for three years now for our sister company Media First.

During that time I have often wondered where the next post is going to come from, yet I haven’t missed one yet. Of course, it helps to have a great team of inspiring people around me – including an amazing editor who is not only uber talented but exceptionally good looking (Ed – is this getting obvious now?)

Anyhow, here’s how I get my ideas for regular content: 

 

The news and trending topics

News sites are a great source of material and inspiration for the content I produce.

Whether it is news from your own sector or industry, or national or international news, current affairs and events are a source that cannot be ignored.

Sometimes the content I produce will be a direct commentary of these stories, but on other occasions, it will just help me find a way into writing about a wider issue I want to discuss.

I once used a news story about stoned sheep as a hook for a blog about media training, which, to prove one of my points you will read about shortly, was written in an A&E waiting room while waiting for my wife to be seen by doctors (ever the supporting husband).

When you are sourcing stories through social media sites, it is always worth looking at how people have reacted. This will give you a ‘voice of the people’ perspective and these thoughts can trigger an equally strong source of creativity. Via: @37agency

The other great thing about using this source as inspiration is that your content will be timely – often a key factor in motivating people to read.

 

Ideas come when you least expect them

One of the things I have found is that content ideas often come to me when I’m not really expecting or looking for them.

Some of the better ideas I have had have come to me on the commute, while playing with my children, in the middle of the night and even while sat on the loo (possibly too much information, but it is true).

Whereas it can often be a fruitless, smash-my-head into-the-desk kind of frustrating experience if I’m sat in the office trying to forcefully generate ideas.

The key for me is to make sure I make a note of these ideas when they pop into my head, even if it is just on my phone, because they can often quickly be forgotten.

 

Interview people

Carrying out interviews can be a great source of content and they can breathe fresh life into your blogs.

Not only can they be written up in a variety of ways, from a straight Q&A style to quotes throughout an article, but they also often generate additional content ideas.

People in your organisation, key influencers in your sector and people you have recently worked with could all make good interviewees and help you produce something a bit different for your readers.

My one word of advice would be to avoid the word ‘interview’ – it tends to make people nervous and cautious – not what you need for producing interesting content.

Make it sound informal by referring to it as a ‘quick chat’.

 

Recycling

This may sound unintentionally arrogant, but I find combing through the archives of content I have produced before a good source of material.

By that, I mean I find ways of repurposing that content into something new.

It could, for example, be as simple as updating an old blog. For our sister company Media First, I once wrote a blog that looked back on the best interviews of the year. Now I do that every year.

It may be that the topic has moved on and developed and that I’m now in a position to write to follow-up post capturing that new thinking.

Or perhaps I might now focus in on a specific part of a previous post and take a look at it in more depth.

I’ll also look back at the blogs that have been particularly successful in the past and think about how that content could be freshened up.

 

Your colleagues

The people you work with can be a great source of content ideas.

And they are often better placed to know the issues and problem your customers are experiencing and want answering.

The challenge, however, particularly for larger organisations, can be to get wider team members to buy into the content strategy.

There are two approaches here. One way is to hold formal brainstorming (I hate that word) meetings with a few people from different parts of the organisation. This can be a good method, but some people may feel reticent about coming forward with ideas which are not fully formed, particularly if there are more senior colleagues in the room.

The other approach, and one I generally find more productive is to speak to colleagues informally and more regularly and remind them that I am always after ideas for blogs. With this method, I tend to find people regularly send me an email or a text when a content idea comes to mind.  

 

The competition

Chances are some of your competitors are producing a lot of their own content, which could provide an inspiration.

I will do this very occasionally, but it is not something I’m a big fan of.

This isn’t because I think my content is better, but because I fear it can be too easy to fall into the trap of producing something similar.

Originality is a key factor for me in content that stands out so I prefer to find my inspiration in other sources.

 

Ask the audience

What better way to find out what your readers want to read about than by directly asking them?

If you feel you are approaching the end of your content supply, ask your readers what issues they would like you to address in future posts.

Or put the question out there through your social media channels.

Even if you only get a handful of responses, it could generate some fresh ideas.

Whilst I’m on this point – why not let me know what you’d like to see me write about next by emailing hello@thirtyseven.agency.

 

Turn to the tech

If all else fails, you can always turn to the tech.

There are plenty of blog topic generators available on the internet where you simply need to type in a few phrases and the algorithms do their magic. Hubspot has a pretty decent one for example and I used it to type in the words ‘content’, ‘marketing’ and ‘writing’. It came back with the following:

15 best blogs to follow about content

Think you’re cut out for doing marketing? Take this quiz

7 things about writing your boss wants to know

20 myths about content

What will marketing be like in 100 years?

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always relevant or unique, but they are free and they may just come up with something you can work with and develop.

 

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.

Adam Fisher
26th June 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.