When you’re creating content for traditional or more complex industries, it’s rather easy to slip into jargon-heavy, academic writing. People often mistakenly think using big words or formal language makes them sound “smarter.”
But, using jargon creates distance from your audience and makes it harder for you to build relationships with them.
If you’re trying to promote your company and to build brand awareness, the last thing you want is to confuse, disengage, or mislead customers or clients.
What’s the Difference Between Basic & Plain English?
Many people worry that using simpler language without jargon will ‘dumb-down’ their content.
However, there’s a big difference between basic English, often used by those just starting to learn the language, and plain English.
Many industries, like financial services, are legally required to explain their products and services using plain English. Plain English allows you to gracefully and intelligently talk with your customers and clients in a way they understand.
Plain English typically:
Avoids long words, as George Orwell once said: “never use a long-word when a short one will do.”
Breaks down terms so readers can follow you and understand what you’re bloody talking about.
Doesn’t use long, confusing sentences and breaks run-on sentences into multiple, shorter ones.
Right, Okay. How Do I Stop Using Jargon and Create Killer Content?
As a copywriter who often works with traditional industries, like legal, financial, and technology, I’ve got lots of great jargon-busting tips. Here are some of my favourite.
1) Write for the average reading age
Did you know that the average reading age is only 9 years old?
It’s essential to keep the average reading age in mind when creating digital content.
Yes, I hear your protests ‘but, our ideal customer has a better education or is more intelligent.’
While this type of thinking raises many issues, it also assumes that your customers are well-versed in your industry.
Sure, a customer or client may have an above-average literacy level, but this doesn’t mean they understand legal services or the latest tech terms.
You don’t want to alienate your customers or clients with fancy terms and complex language. Instead, you want to use plain English to simply and clearly communicate your message in a way everyone can understand.
Think about it, the more customers or clients you engage with, the more potential revenue for your company.
2) Get another opinion
When you’ve worked in an industry for a long time, it can be hard to identify the words or phrases a non-specialist might not understand. Or, in other words, it’s difficult to see the trees from the woods.
After you’ve spent years studying corporate law or complex financial systems, you forget that not everyone knows the subject as well as you do. After all, you spend most of your day talking to people on the same wavelengths.
When creating digital content, this often translates into confusing content as you forget to explain terms, make logical leaps, and essentially loose perspective.
Before you hit publish, hire an outsider to get a fresh perspective or pair of eyes on your content.
Someone without the same industry experience, like your Mom, can give you some much-needed perspective. They can help you understand the confusing areas, whether you’ve used any jargon and where you might lose your audience.
3) Consider a simpler alternative
Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. ~Albert Einstein
So, so many great writers and thinkers embraced and celebrated the art of simplicity.
Communicating your ideas and thoughts in a simple, clear manner allows you to convey your message better and showcase your skills.
Most people fall back on jargon and confusing language when they don't actually understand the subject well enough to explain it in simple terms.
Being able to break down your message and get rid of the jargon requires a better understanding of the subject. After all, you can’t teach someone about your industry without a solid background and a good comprehension of the topic.
So, go through your text and look for any long or complicated words. Consider whether they’re essential and how you could better explain your point.
If you feel you need to use jargon, for example, it’s the name of a specific product or service, make sure to explain its meaning.
4) Speak directly to your audience
Most of us learn how to write at university or secondary school. But, academia often teaches us to write in 3rd person and we carry this writing style into our professional lives.
But, creating digital content in 3rd person detaches you from your audience and puts up unnecessary boundaries.
You want your brand to come across as approachable and understanding -- traits that are almost impossible to convey using 3rd person.
Instead, try putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and speaking directly to them by writing in 2nd person. 2nd person allows you to develop a more personal connection with your audience and create a conversation.
Think about it. If you were talking to a client or customer on the phone, you wouldn’t refer to them as ‘her’ or ‘him.’
When you write in 2nd person, you use words like ‘you,’ ‘your’ or ‘yours,’ just like you would in a natural conversation. So, when speaking to a client or customer face-to-face, you might say something like, ‘how’s your day going?’
5) Use an active tone-of-voice
Many professionals within traditional industries fall into the trap of using a passive tone of voice, which can make your writing confusing and more complicated than it needs to be.
Wait, what is the passive voice?
With passive voice, the subject undertakes the action of the verb. Passive voice emphasises the action rather than the subject and can make your sentences somewhat muddled.
Passive voice might look like:
Divorce proceedings were legalised in 1857.
While a customer was applying for a bank loan, he was helped by a customer service agent.
With the active voice, the subject directly undertakes the action. So, the active voice might look like:
The British government legalised divorce proceedings in 1857.
A customer service agent helped a customer apply for a bank loan.
See the difference?
6) Think about structure
As you probably already know, your customers and clients lead busy, active lives. They don’t have time to scroll through your content to determine whether it’s relevant and helpful.
You want to make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they’re looking for. How you structure your content goes a long way towards achieving this aim.
Rather than long chunks of text, you should:
Use sub-headers that capture the essence of each section (bonus SEO points for including keywords here).
Keep paragraphs short. You can get away with one-sentence paragraphs and should never go over 4 lines of text (on Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or something similar).
Keep sentences even shorter. Most editors recommend a maximum of 15 words per sentence.
Using these tips to structure your content will help you create content that’s easier to read and navigate.
Discover Jargon-Free Copywriting
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