So, you’re creating content and want to start a meaningful conversation with your audiences. While a variety of language tools can help you reach them — such as first-person voice and humor— another key feature to embrace is clarity. Clear writing and communications are essential, because you remove complexity, encourage transparency, and speak directly to your audience’s needs.
And you can achieve this clarity with plain language — audience-focused content that people can understand on their first reading.
Creating strategic plain-language content requires various writing and design best practices (I could write a novel-length blog about it!). But, when you want to share content that is useful and conversational, start with these two plain language tips.
1. Choose language your audiences use (yep, even slang).
Writing is a conversation with your readers, but it differs from spoken conversations in one very important way: You can’t rely on body language.
When you’re talking to someone, the language you use is only a small part of communication. Each person’s body language — from eye contact to posture — shares far more about what they’re really thinking and feeling. In fact, research shows that nonverbal cues account for 93% of communication effectiveness.
Sadly, we don’t yet have a way to incorporate emphatic arm waving or eyebrow raises into text. So, when you’re writing, your words have to work much harder. They need to keep your audience’s attention, share a clear point, and drive specific action.
Knowing what language to use begins with defining who your audience is and how they communicate.
Plain Language Solution
Analyze your audiences’ language needs and preferences — and push beyond typical corporate speak. If your audiences wouldn’t use words like holistic, ideation, or paradigm shift to describe your work, then don’t use them, either. Instead, get to the point and clearly state your message, in language that your audiences truly can and will read.
2. Speak to your readers’ needs, not yours.
When people begin writing, they often start by thinking, “What do I want to say?” While that’s an important question to consider, an even more important one is, “What do my readers want to hear?”
Reframing your writing process in this way transforms your message from talking at your audiences to talking with them. This change can also help avoid a challenge most of us face: In conversations, many people misjudge how long the person they’re speaking to actually wants to talk. Why? Because they assume the other person desires the same conversation length that they do.
A similar scenario can happen when you’re writing. The amount of content you want to share may be different than what your audiences careto read. But, this isn’t a simple case of “shorter is better.” Sometimes, a plain-language approach will make content even longer. And research shows that readers prefer the longer copy, if it’s clear and helps them understand details better.
In fact, a recent global study revealed that if you have to use technical language, people would rather you explain them — even if the content ends up being longer.
Plain Language Solution
To engage your audiences, don’t just talk at your readers and hope for the best. Consider their literacy level, distractions, interest in your topic, and more — so you can invite them into the discussion.
The best conversations happen when people understand each other, care about the other’s perspectives, and share information they want to hear. By using language and messaging that your audiences connect with, you’ll invite them to listen and engage — and embrace what you have to say.