Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why is So Much Business Writing So Bad?

Why is so much business writing so bad, irritating customers and wasting workers' time?

It begins with box checking.

In the race to "get it done"—and check yet another box—marketers and product managers flout good-writing fundamentals.

Foremost, as journalist Shane Snow points up, is simple diction.

Readers are impatient drivers. Simple diction lets them speed. They want writers to keep the highways open. And they prefer the ones who do.

To prove the point, Snow entered passages from a variety of popular writersincluding Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwellinto five proven calculators of "reading ease."

The resulting scores showed:

  • McCarthy, King and Rowling write for people with fifth-grade reading skills; and
  • Godin and Gladwell, for people with eighth-grade skills.
Snow asks: Do readers love only these writers' story-telling abilities? Or do they also love their approachability—in other words, their simple diction?

With half the US population reading at no better than an eighth-grade level, the answer's obvious. 

Yet most business communications are written as if we all could read like grad students, who don't slow down for Latinate words, jargon, run-on sentences, and page-long paragraphs.

But unapproachable diction isn't the only problem.

Good writing takes time
Time and the determination to inform, research facts, and think critically.

It takes more than the urge to check another box.
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