Marketers, especially those focused on developing content are churning out information in the form of white papers, blog posts, technical data, e-books, thought pieces, marketing collateral, etc.. for their readers on a daily basis.
So much content is being developed and pushed out, many companies do not take the time to test the readability of their content. Most marketers are just told that you need to develop content on a regular basis, you need the content to be evergreen (always useful), you need 2-3 posts a week. You need to have the length of the content match the offer and so on and so on.
While content development is good, organizations do not have a clearly defined way of how content should read. Most of the content that is written and developed comes from the viewpoint of the writer or journalist.
These marketers are actually to close to their material and often do not take the reader into account. In the study of neuroscience, there are lots of studies done on cognitive loads on the brain and how people mentally sift through the information presented (charts, data, written text, questions and so forth).
We do know that reading places a far greater cognitive stress on the brain due to the processing of words. There is an article in The Harvard Business Review written in 2016 by Josh Bernoff entitled: “Bad Writing Is Destroying Your Company’s Productivity“, and this is what he states in the article: “I surveyed 547 businesspeople in the first three months of this year. I looked specifically at people who write at least two hours per week in addition to email. They told me that they spend an average of 25.5 hours per week reading for work. (About a third of that is email.)
And 81% of them agree that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time. A majority say that what they read is frequently ineffective because it’s too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon, and imprecise”.
Yes, content development is fine but it defeats the purpose if it is poorly written, densely packed and filled with technical jargon, which is what I experience, even at the firm I work at. Many of the webinars, video, infographics and slide presentation that I see come across my desk are poorly developed and written not for the reader but from the point of the writer or presenter. I do not consider myself an excellent writer or presenter but I always work on improving my skill set and I use natural language apps to help me accomplish my goal of writing a clear and concise document and of course, I try not to write from my point of view.
So to sum it up, marketers need to write content that is readable, concise and clear, organizations should have a quality control system in place to ensure that all business content that is developed and distributed is clear, concise and makes complex topics easy to understand. A good example is when former President Barack Obama signed the Plain Language Act in 2010 to ensure that the U.S. government created content that was easily understood by its citizens. It states that federal agencies must use plain language to communicate more clearly with citizens.
Here are some tips to remember when developing content:
- Use an active voice rather than a passive voice makes clear what the reader must do.
- Limit long sentences to 5% or less of the total content.
- Remember that most people, even the most educated do not like to spend mental energy on dense, complicated material. Use natural language.
- Keep readability between a grade 5 – 7, the Australian federal government uses a grade 5 readability level. Link to their writing style.
- Test your content’s readability, analyze it, create metrics and formulate a standard writing guide for your organization.
This is just the start, I am no expert but there is a lot of work being done in technology that focuses on natural language processing, and the automating of content while improving its clarity. Many firms are dedicating resources to ensure that the content that comes from their organization is clear and beneficial to the reader. So just to let you know my writing app found 1 critical issue with this post and needed about 26 corrections in grammar and punctuation (as I said I am improving).
I first wrote this article for my Linkedin profile. Click on this link.