Clear and Concise: Content’s Golden Rules

Language is funny: it evolves and devolves, but it never stays the same. External factors, such as technology advancements (texting and Twitter, anyone?), cultural overlap, and generational change influence the development of language. Regardless of the factor, change happens. And what has happened in the past 25 years has been a sea change in language development worldwide.

Changes in a language might be good or bad—it depends on your point of view and how you choose to express yourself. For someone like me—with a degree in English Lit and a strong desire for all communication to be clear, concise, and consistent—I frequently sit at my desk, wincing, shaking my head, or muttering in dismay as I find numerous typos, poor word choices, and a lack of sentence structure. I want to shout, “What’s happened to the English language?”

Perhaps I need to lighten up. Perhaps my expectations are too high. But are they, really? Say you’re 15 years old, thumbs dancing through text messages at a lightning clip on the bus ride home—and those messages are filled with BTW, TTFN, NP, and L8R—you still want your BFFs to understand you, right? Of course!

The key to effective communication is being clear—even in a text message or a 140-character tweet. This is important particularly when you’re developing marketing, training, or informational content designed to generate awareness or transact business. Naturally, you want your content to be exciting, fresh, and captivating; this can be achieved even more effectively if your content is also clear and concise. Of course, concise content usually requires slightly more time investment—who was it that said “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter”? (Answer: Blaise Pascal.)

Here are my top 5 suggestions for clearly written online communications:

  1. Proofread for typos—A “typo” is more than just a misspelled word. It’s a term used freely to describe many kinds of errors, including incorrect spelling, the wrong word (e.g., they’re, their, and there), inconsistent spelling from one page to the next (website or Web site; on-line or online), or an obvious error of fact (e.g., Seattle is located on the Oregon coast).
  2. Ensure you use a consistent tone and style from web page to web page—It’s important that your website be a cohesive unit. Even if various web pages are written by different people on your staff, the reader wants to “hear” one voice. Using consistent terms, following correct grammar and punctuation rules, and knowing your audience will help you to achieve “one voice” in your writing.
  3. Test all links for connectivity—To avoid customer frustration, ensure that none of your links results in a dead end. Develop a link-checking process to go hand-in-hand with your proofreading process.
  4. Be brief—Get to the point and stop. Let the facts speak for themselves. Never use a long word when a short one will do. If it’s possible to cut a word out, do so. Eliminate jargon and fluff.
  5. Proofread for typos—AGAIN! If possible, engage a professional editor or proofreader to review all of your copy and links. If you’ve written and rewritten content, chances are you won’t see an error—even if it’s obvious.

Here are some resources you might find helpful in developing clear, concise copy: