If there is one thing that has kept me employed in corporate communications these past 10+ years, it is the unwillingness of many to master plain English. How hard can it be, right? Say what you want to say and get out of the way.
The major obstacle to achieving a simple message in an uncomplicated sentence seems to be the writer’s desire to show everyone what a clever clogs they are. Use big words and elaborate sentence structures, and everyone will be in awe of my knowledge of electrical engineering/conservative social policy/the mating habits of Fijian house pigs.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, if you let it, will change the way you write forever. Are you ready? Lean in a little closer; I don’t want you to miss this.
Your reader isn’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves.
There, now the cat’s out of the bag.
Once you accept and embrace this fact, writing becomes much easier. How can I convey this important message in the simplest possible terms, requiring little-to-no hard work from my reader?
I guarantee, if you send your reader off having learned something they didn’t know before without taxing their brain too much, they will think highly of you. They will recommend your work to their friends and colleagues and they will talk about what they have read.
If they have to read each sentence three times before they can even work out where the verb is, they may pretend to be impressed, but they won’t have learned a thing. And they won’t be able to quote your work to anyone else because when they think of your article there will be a cymbal-playing monkey in their head a la Homer Simpson.
How do you know if you’re guilty? As a general rule, if you use ‘utilise’, ‘facilitate’, ‘matrix’, or ‘stakeholder engagement’, you suck.
Of course, if you need a hand with turning your great ideas into simple messages, you could hire a professional. I think I might know someone.
Check out Plain English Campaign for some great before and after examples to point and laugh at.
And if you’d like to see some examples of English so convoluted, nobody could be bothered translating them into plain English, check out the UK’s Golden Bull Awards and prepare to be truly baffled.