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

Long vs. Short

Mark Mars 19th February 2018 — 3 mins read
O

n the other side you have the bigger, older warrior, still looking to give readers a more rewarding, informative and educational experience.

And you would be forgiven for thinking this has increasingly become something of a one side battle, with more and more content dipping below the 1,000 word mark.

At Thirty Seven, we believe brands should act like a publishing house producing a mixture of long and short content.

But we also strongly believe that long-form content is greatly underrated, that its strengths are perhaps not as widely appreciated as they should be and that it is not ready to be backed into a corner or hit the canvas just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some great short-form content about. But it is ubiquitous and consequently it has become really tough for the good stuff to be seen and heard.

I passionately believe the quality has gone out of the industry and that too many agencies just churn out short content because it is the fashionable (and easier) thing to do.

This content almost always lacks depth and leaves the reader craving more detail. I’ve lost count of the times I have clicked on something with an interesting looking headline, only to be left disappointed as I find it consists of around 300 words and offers little or nothing I don’t already know.

In some cases the content is actually closer to the 280 characters of Twitter than anything really meaningful or educational.

And, I’m not alone. Studies have shown that the desire for long-form content has never gone away. More specifically, there has been a trend towards longer content in non-fiction long-form storytelling. From documentary form factors such as ‘The Journey’ from Amex, serial podcasts like Stories of the InterContinental Life, and through social media ‘story platforms’ or a well-worked blog series.

Creating compelling long-form storytelling content is not easy, nor should it be.

Investing in long-form content is sometimes perceived by sceptics as a gamble because of our supposed shrinking attention spans, the time pressures of modern life and a fear of giving away too much knowledge.

But it is a myth that we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. The statistic sounds great and gives agencies an easy 'out' but it’s just not true and it is damaging content marketing.

Our attention span is changing, becoming more intensive, more efficient and hungrier for information. Human attention spans are nowhere near satisfied with eight-seconds of ideas or content. They want more and according to a recent BBC report, we can all vary our attention spans according to the task at hand.

And actually longer content does not take as long to read as some people believe. It actually takes just seven minutes to read 1,600 words - a length considered by many to be the optimal blog length.

I would argue that this is actually the shortest form of long-form content and that really effective long-form content goes beyond the written word. It is also about video documentaries, podcasts and stories told across various content formats.

 

Long-form content enables brands to take a much deeper look at a subject and really showcase its expertise in an area increasing its credibility and positioning itself as a thought leader ahead of its competitors.

And because people like it, they tend to share it more. Research from Moz and BuzzSumo has shown that despite 85% of all content on the internet being less than 1,000 words, content over that threshold consistently receives more social media love.

As well as resonating with readers it is also rewarded by search engines.

Don’t get me wrong, short-form content certainly has its place, especially when it comes to driving traffic to a website. But it is the longer form which really builds relationships and turn readers into customers.

Of course, it’s harder to write and requires much more research, but get long-form content right and it can deliver a knockout blow for your brand.

 

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. 

Aimee Hudson
20th March 2018 - 4 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.