We market researchers need to distil oceans of data and make them easily digestible. Clear and actionable reports are our goal.
The trouble is, we don’t often have the time to write short reports so we write long ones instead! We are all guilty of this.
We are in awe of McKinsey. They charge a fortune and employ people with the brains the size of water melons. However, they can easily fall into the communications trap of trying to be too clever by half.
Take for example an opening paragraph in their report entitled “Perspectives on digital business“.
Today, technology has become more of a game changer that can spur top-line growth, and create new business models. As result, it is critical that CEOs and management teams develop a new approach that involves delegating technology management issues to others, and instead focusing their time on a single strategic question: “How can technology change or threaten my business and how can we turn this to our advantage?” Rather than engage in a tactical debate over the management of IT, CEOs should stake out a high ground by focusing on strategic threats and opportunities driven by technology.
Did you find yourself drifting off as you read that? What we think they were trying to say is:
It is widely recognised that technology drives business growth. As a result, it is important that CEOs build IT into their strategic plans.
We think there are 4 important rules for clear written communications:
- Keep it short. People haven’t time nor the inclination to read long sentences and paragraphs.
- Stay on subject. It is easy to pad things out and go off on a tangent.
- Use simple words. The audience you are addressing may be capable of understanding long and complicated words but they will appreciate something more readily digestible.
- Make it interesting. Write in the present, tell anecdotes, and build a story.
A good test for written communications is to put them through the Fog index. This is a tool for checking the readability of your writing that was developed by Robert Gunning, an American businessman, in 1952. It takes into consideration the length of sentences and the number of complex words (those with 3 or more syllables). By way of example, the McKinsey paragraph referred to above had a Gunning Fog index of 16.7. The ideal score for readability is a Fog index of 7 or 8. A score of 12 should be regarded as a maximum.
The next time you write a marketing communication, check your Fog index http://gunning-fog-index.com/