Edit: It has been pointed out to me that the Gobbledygook Grader I was linking to in the original post is no longer active. Try instead the “Jargon Grader” by the nice folks at Instructional Solutions.
A recent post by David Meerman Scott touched on a big pet peeve of mine… creating content that is easy to understand. Big organizations suffer from this problem more than others, but it also permeates small and medium businesses. Gobbledygook is spread everywhere, from press releases to website content, to the latest whitepaper or eBook. I think that in larger organizations it probably starts with someone trying to sound smarter than the rest, showing off his or her extensive vocabulary of arcane terms. Or, the person just doesn’t know what exactly to write about and decides to mask the lack of subject matter knowledge. Or a combination of both.
Smaller organizations sometimes fall into the trap of trying to appear bigger than they are and think that if they use the same terms the bigger guys are using, they will sound just like them and will be seen as another big player. Oh, boy. Big mistake.
Clear and Direct Content Wins All the time
When helping others with content, I usually start by asking what the goal is. What do you want the reader to know? What should they walk away with? How are you different? Often times the answers do not reflect what is actually written. Website copy is notorious for that… and you get excuses like “oh, we added all these words for SEO!”, or “that’s exactly what we said! Can’t you read”?
If you are reviewing or creating content, there’s a key component to making it effective. First, be clear. This means taking the content and understanding what it is actually trying to say. Then, just plainly saying it! It’s not rocket science, right?
Also, make it concise. The key to making it concise is to be direct. Instead of beating around the bush, just jump out and say it (or, write it). Here’s a quick example (actual text from a company’s website, I did not create it):
Original: ABC Company’s training services are created with the primary objective of making our customers successful in using our products.
Modified: With our training services you will become productive in no time.
So, this is my first pass and you could make it even better, but you get the idea.
What is your score?
Want to test how well you are doing in creating content that is actually effective? Try out the free Gobbledygook Grader for starters. Then, give your content to someone that is not even remotely associated with what you write about and ask them to tell you what they understand after reading it. You will find the results surprising.
Happy content creation!