Keep it simple, stupid

As a writer, one of my pet hates is when a company tells me that they have employed me to ‘flower up’ their website or brochure copy. They usually say that it is because “you marketers make everything sound pretty / better / more flowery / more complex, don’t you?”

Perhaps some marketers do this and think it works, but I beg to differ.

In my world, copy needs to appeal to the reader and be easy to read, digest and understand. It shouldn’t be flowery or complicated, it should be sharp and straight to the point. We are all time poor – so who has the time to decode and wade through loads of flowery prose?

One of the problems is that the English language is so wonderfully rich and varied, which means that it equips us with a huge variety of words that all roughly mean the same thing. This makes the language (and what we do with it) very interesting, but it also means that a writer may be tempted to use a complex word rather than a simple one.

People often make the mistake of thinking that this makes the writer look more intelligent, but it can also alienate the reader. You run the risk that they never quite get the point you are trying to make; maybe you even force them to decipher a word or look it up in a dictionary.

If you find that you have a choice of words to use, my advice is always to use the one that is shorter, more straightforward, intelligible, unambiguous...parsable? English even has complicated words that mean ‘simple’!

My favourite overly complex word is ‘utilise’ – don’t you just mean ‘use’? But I’m sure some people love to ‘utilise’ it to make their copy sound more business-like, or to make themselves sound clever or more important. In my head, it does the opposite. It complicates the message, makes the writer (or client) sound pompous and even detracts from their audience.

Using short and clear words that everyone knows will ensure that the reader understands what you are saying quickly and clearly. It is a great skill to be able to take a complex issue and explain it in language that everyone can understand.

There is, after all, such a thing as too much choice.