If you have something to say, a message you wish to pass to another, it is unwise to muddy your text with words that obscure their meaning. Words need to be chosen for the ease with which the reader understands them. Don't use words that are ambiguous or stilted, stiff or pompous — they will not be received sympathetically. A reader does not willingly read what lacks the simple facts that plain clarity contains.
A Clear Message Gives A Focused Image
Expressions that confirm clear diction or clear meaning are enthusiastic. They emphasise the positive: the wireless operator shouts enthusiastically that he hears you loud and clear; that there was no disturbance over the airwaves, that there was no interference in the signal. “Message received and understood.” - the procedure was a success because each aspect, every component was clear.
The same applies to the visual. A photograph is said to be picture-perfect if it depicts exactly what the viewer anticipates. The picture he visualised in his head is confirmed by the recorded image. True, a photograph may not represent reality – it may even deceive – but with perfect focus it exposes itself to scrutiny, and the deception may well be self-revealing.
An idea contained within an image must be as clear as daylight. The viewer is anxious to understand, to obtain meaning, inspiration and knowledge. He would like to say, “I see what you mean”. He wants to get it.
Familiarity Breeds Comprehension
On the page, an idea is contained in the written words. Each one of those words serves its individual purpose. Its role is to contribute to the totality of the idea. If any word is misused or is out of place, it clouds the intended meaning.
A sentence, a paragraph or a chapter can be misjudged or misinterpreted if the words chosen by the writer are not readily picked up by the reader. The words must be familiar. The reader must feel at home with them if he is to read on. The writer is therefore only a word or two, a sentence at most, from losing his reader’s willingness, his desire, to continue. Plain writing instills comprehension which, when you think about it, is what a reader expects before all else.
By either the voice or the written word, we rely on clarity to comprehend. Your website message, your newsletter, email or your brochure must be crafted so it is understood as you intended. Its structure, its content, its emphasis must all be apparent on first reading.
There is no room for doubt on the web. The reader rapidly scans your page, flicking through the text. What you give him to absorb must be unambiguous - in that way the written text will throw light on an empty space.
Craft Your Message With One Reader In Mind
Here is the most important thing to recognise – your words, carefully chosen for their precision, must also be written for your particular reader. He will usually be a layman, unfamiliar with the technical language of your profession or specialism. He or she will feel uncomfortable, intimidated even, by a writing style that contains jargon. Jargon is not user-friendly. It is the 'slang' of the specialist, and it is with the specialist that it should remain. Your reader needs to feel at home in your company; do not make him feel a stranger.
This can be difficult to accept, I know. The use of plain, common and ordinary words to convey your message can seem a poor relation to the language with which a professional is familiar. After all, you may argue, my business is not ordinary, in the sense that it is not understood widely and commonly. How can I persuade a prospective client that I am a skilled professional if I explain myself in words of common usage?
The answer is that unless you do speak to your prospective client on equal terms, very soon you will alienate him. He or she may imagine they are compelled to accept advice conveyed in language they do not fully understand. But as soon as they learn of a competitor of yours who does speak without technicalities or terms of art, you will find you have lost them. Your client will appreciate your professionalism when you demonstrate you know how plain words are the best communicators.
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