Clear writing is sadly lacking in both marketing and business content these days. Here’s why…

No matter how many decades I spend working with words, I continue to be shocked by the lack of writing for clarity all around me. I see cluttered and clunky writing everywhere, in marketing content and in business writing.

Sometimes I wonder if people are getting paid by the word, for goodness sake! But, no, I realize that’s not the case.

So what is? Why this propensity for clutter instead of clear writing? Not that I think people choose clutter over clarity, but many of them aren’t avoiding it at least.

Below are five examples from real life (with details changed to protect the perpetrators). For each one, I’ve first included the original cluttered version then below my rewrite below, with a word count at the end of each so you can see how many words were cut.

Read through each and see if you agree with me that the concise versions communicate clearly and directly, compared to the originals:

Cluttered: Virtual desktops make it easier for your IT team to manage and keep assets secure. (15 words)

 

Concise: Virtual desktops make asset management and security easier for your IT team. (12 words)

 

Cluttered: At ABC Company, we are committed to making ordering easy yet secure—and that is why we have recently implemented a software update. (23 words)

 

Concise: We updated our software because we are committed to easy yet secure ordering. (13 words)

 

Cluttered: We have experienced a substantial growth in requests for our products, which enabled hiring of additional staff to accommodate this growth. (21 words)

 

Concise: Demand for our products has grown substantially, leading to the hiring of more employees. (14 words)

 

Cluttered: When it comes to running a business online, it is absolutely essential that your data, and the data of your customers, remain safe and available. But what safe means can have many different interpretations. (34 words)

 

Concise: When running an online business, you must keep your data and that of your customers safe. But “safe” can have different meanings. (22 words)

 

Cluttered: With 30 years of experience in the such-and-such industry and robust cutting-edge systems, XYZ Company delivers the most innovative enterprise-class software available for such-and-such processing and is the transformational foundation for our revolutionary industry-leading offering for healthcare companies, third-party vendors, employers, providers and organizations. (44 words)

 

Concise: Our robust processing software is the result of 30 years of industry experience and innovation, making it the right choice for healthcare companies, vendors, employers, providers and organizations. (28 words)

Do you agree? Do the concise versions communicate more clearly? I mean, that last one, what the heck! And yes, I found that on a company’s website, it’s real except for my generic-izing it. How is anyone supposed to understand what that says?

Anyway… We agree the clear writing does a better job of communicating, right? And communication is the reason we write, right?

Then why is there so much cluttered and convoluted writing that does not communicate? I’ll take it a step farther and say most of the writing generated for marketing and business purposes lacks clarity—at least in my experience.

And why? I think we have five reasons:

One, lack of clear thinking

Clear writing is clear thinking. Period. When a writer lacks clear thinking, it shows. I’d argue whoever wrote that last clunky paragraph about XYZ Company wasn’t thinking clearly. They didn’t know what they wanted to say. They had a vague idea, but that was it. Clear writing is clear thinking. If your writing is cluttered, your thinking is too. The solution? Figure out what you think you want to communicate.

Two, lack of time

If someone doesn’t take the time to think clearly, then clear writing won’t happen, can’t happen. The solution? Slooooooow down. Take the time necessary to communicate. (Oh, and put away your smart phone.)

Three, lack of confidence

Sometimes people write in a convoluted way because they lack confidence as a writer. They’ll use big words or extra words (or both) and write in a roundabout way to hide behind their words. But they don’t communicate by doing so. The solution? Write and write and write. The more you write, the better you write, the more confident you become.

Four, lack of concern for the reader

This gets back to Josh Bernoff’s Iron Imperative, about treating the reader’s time as more important than your own. If everyone wrote with concern for the reader and the reader’s time, we’d see much more writing for clarity. The solution? The Iron Imperative: Treat the reader’s time as more important than your own.

Five, lack of skill

Of course I must address lack of skill because I’m building a business on helping people make their writing their superpower. But it’s also true that few of us know how to self edit, to go back and re-read what we wrote and see obvious ways to change our cluttered writing to concise. The solution? Stick with me. Right now I’m working on a class called Cut the Clutter to teach self-editing skills. And you can learn by editing other’s work, as I did with the five examples at the start of this blog post.

But Let’s not Get Curt

Our goal is clear writing, meaning writing that is concise and direct, not cluttered. But we don’t want to go so far as to be curt. This isn’t the Newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984 that’s dumbed down to keep people from thinking. We don’t need to go that far. But we do need to find the balance between cluttered, clunky confusion and direct clear writing.

Are you with me?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Sharon Ernst is a retired freelance copywriter now on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes.