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#610: Simplifying Your Writing to Better Communicate

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 15, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011
It is sometimes a little tricky deciding how complex to make my client briefings and analysis reports. Clients generally want precise and explicit language but reports that may be made public or for various audiences are best simpler. Are there any rules or advice about what level of reading difficulty is best?

First, take Albert Einstein's advice to "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." It is hard to go wrong writing as simply as possible, as if you were trying to explain your findings and recommendations to a 10th grader. Some consultants will bristle at this suggestion, claiming that their sophisticated analysis must mirror the complexity of the client's situation or market or strategy and all their communication demands complex language. This defies both logic and experience. Any consultant leaning on complex language probably lacks sufficient understanding of the basic principles and processes about which he or she is speaking.

Second, drifting into consultant-speak is a sure way to lose touch with your audience. You may have a vigorous discussion with your technical counterpart or the CEO using technical language, but it is the customers, staff, and other stakeholders who must eventually accept and act on your recommendations, If you want your findings and recommendations to live past the first reading of you report, put them in plain English.

You can use any of several automated tools to train you to streamline your words. These tools analyze your text for length and complexity of sentences and number of syllables per word. One document readability tool I like lets you enter text and gives Flesh Kincaid and other readability indices. This tool is really useful by telling you which sentences most violate simple language rules. Readability is stated as a grade level (i.e., number of years of education needed to understand the text). For example, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is at grade 13.4 (one year of college) while Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" is at grade 2.9.

Tip: Analyze your website, client reports, engagement letters, press releases and client communication. You will likely be shocked at how many of these communications are at college level. Use these analyses to simplify your writing. I suspect you will lose nothing of the meaning by streamlining the language.

P.S. This tip has a readability score of 11.2. A rewrite could simplify and clarify sentences without reduucing quality.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  information management  interpretation  presentations  publishing  recommendations  speaking  website 

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