Bernadette Schwerdt
Bernadette Schwerdt As the founder of the Australian School Of Copywriting, Bernadette has helped over 5,000 individuals and businesses use words to engage, promote, inspire and sell. As the former Guest Marketing Reporter on Channel 9’s The Small Business Show, and the Executive Producer of Fairfax Digital’s online business chat show “Secrets of Aussie Online Entrepreneurs”, Bernadette is a recognised expert at coaching and guiding businesses on how to deliver exceptional marketing results on a limited budget. In today’s tough economic climate, this has never been more important. Visit http://www.copyschool.com.

Bernadette Schwerdt has written 62 article(s) for us.

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How to Write Simply and Clearly – It Does Matter.

January 11, 2012 | Bernadette Schwerdt

Writing clearly for your business

Why do we feel the need to use long, complicated words when short, simple ones will do? Is it to make us look intelligent? To impress our customer or boss? Or is it because we haven’t got the time to work out what we want to say?

Mark Twain once said: “I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.”

He could have said the same about shorter words too. Unfortunately, it takes time to write clearly and simply, but it’s time well spent.  As an author and speaker on the art of writing words that sell, I’m not the first to see a disturbing trend in the way our politicians and business leaders use complex language to hide their real intention.

How many times do you hear?:
Implementation instead of do‘.
Evaluation instead of decide‘.
Remuneration instead of pay‘.

I see it in recruitment advertisements especially:

“Financial Controller – Deliver Commercially Focussed Outcomes”
“Procurement Manager – Maximise Value and Negate Risk”

I played mix n’ match with a few of these words and it didn’t change the sense or intention of these job descriptions one little bit:

Procurement Controller – Deliver Value and Focussed Outcomes.
Financial Manager – Maximise Outcomes And Deliver Focus.

Jargon and misleading language is everywhere.

I caught a flight to Sydney last week.  As I took my seat, the captain’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker. “Errr, good morning ladies and gentlemen.  This is your captain, Alistair McDonald speaking.  Just a brief update to let you know we’re third on the apron, ready for pushback and just holding.”

Third on the what? Ready for who?  I decoded that to mean, “We’re third in line and leaving soon.”

It gets worse. I needed some paper to jot down a few notes on exactly this topic but didn’t have any, so I did what any paperless writer would do – I used the sick bag as note paper. Gross maybe? Convenient, yes. Imagine my surprise when I read the fine print at the bottom of the bag:

“If Affected By Motion Sickness, Please Use This. ” Now, considering most people about to barf in a bag aren’t up for reading the small print, I wondered why they couldn’t have just used two simple words in big print to describe the bag’s purpose: SICK BAG!

Considering the state of the person who’s about to use it, I think they’d appreciate that simplicity.

Customers appreciate clear and simple language. Don’t use complex words to dilute your real meaning or create impressions that aren’t accurate or relevant. Everyone can see through it so why use them in the first place?

The next time you have cause to say:  “I’m going to evaluate your remuneration documentation today” replace it with: “I’m going to look at your pay forms today.”

It’s much simpler and so much easier to understand. Mark Twain would be impressed.

  • Lea Carswell

    Great advice Bernadette. Switching ‘weasel words’ around in marketing copy is a fun pastime – just like dropping words and seeing what difference, if any, it makes to the meaning of the sentence.

    In 2010 I went to a brilliant session of the Sydney Writers Festival that considered how using Plain English (in banking and finance documents) might have averted the Global Financial Crisis!

  • Couldn’t agree more Bernadette. It is a cultural shift isn’t it from the formal to plain english.