Five ways to avoid baffling your readers

by Adrian Monti

As a journalist and content writer, I find myself writing about anything and everything. This year I’ve already written about, among many other things, futuristic healthcare,  trail running shoes and testing your own sperm (yes, really).

Part of the fun and challenge of my job is to learn very quickly and become an expert in any given subject within a few hours. But I can’t do this on my own.

Last week, I was researching an article about air purifiers for a national newspaper health page. An extremely helpful company communications manager came to my aid and was happy to guide me through what was what.

She clearly knew her stuff. She was very enthusiastic but also extremely knowledgeable about her niche field.

But before I was confident enough to write about the different types of air purifiers, there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing while we went through what the different models actually did. It meant having to break down a fair few industry terms and unpick some acronyms that only those in the know would understand. On the plus side, I now know what an HEPA filtration system is if ever I’m asked.

Here at The Sentence Works, Judy and I work with PRs from many specialist fields. One of the things we do is help them get their message across to people with no knowledge of that sector. It’s about putting that expert knowledge into a succinct written form that the layman (if that who it's intended for) can easily understand.

With that thought in mind, ask yourself if you’re ever guilty of making what you write inaccessible to people who aren’t in your line of business. If this is often the case, here are our top five ways to avoid this.

 <1> If we take the example of air purifiers once again, the key to writing something about it for the general public is to keep it fairly simple. Your customers probably only need to know very basically how it works, how easy it is to operate and why it might appeal to them. For instance, is it quiet, does it use bladeless technology? Don’t try to over-complicate things merely to sound impressive even if you know lots about your subject.

<2> Don’t fill your copy with industry phrases and jargon that wouldn’t make sense to someone not in that world. A good rule is to ask yourself whether your parents or partner would understand what you have written. If they wouldn’t, re-write it.

<3> Go easy on the acronyms. Too many abbreviations can confuse the reader, possibly slowing down their understanding of what you’re saying. It can also make a page of writing look off-putting.

<4>   If you’re quoting someone, consider using direct quotes (inside speech marks) from them to illustrate significant points. It breaks up the copy and adds a different voice to your piece. It can also give a greater sense of authority, especially if they are clearly a well-known expert on the subject.

<5> Make your copy interesting by using a varied vocabulary. Try to avoid too many tired lines associated with the subject you’re writing about.

These easy tricks can often make even the dullest subject appear actually quite exciting. As I’m sure they would say in the world of purifiers, strive to make your copy come across as a breath of fresh air.