craft

Make Greater Impact With the Same Words

There’s a very simple way to make your writing connect better with your audience with very little work. Just make your message more readable and watch the results improve dramatically. And how to be more “readable”? Short, powerful sentences will always resonate with an audience better than long, drawn-out ones. Who wants to slog through this?

However generous you might decide to be, please let me hear back from you quickly so I can assure our staff that you remain ready, willing, and eager to fight for your parks’ legacy to future generations.

This sentence is ineffective for one simple reason:

It’s too long!

37 words.

By the time I get to the end, I’ve completely forgotten how it started! Do you want me to remember something? Do something? Read something? Tell somebody? Oh, right, I have to “be generous”. And then what will happen? You’ll “fight for [my] parks’ legacy”.

Okay. I have no idea what you want me to do.

But maybe it’s just me, and it’s my problem. For a little more objectivity, I put that sentence through a Flesch-Kincaid readability software (here) to gauge the level of readability.

It got a grade of E, which means it’s rather poor on the readability scale. It also earned a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 16.1. This means you’d have to have about 16 years’ education to fully comprehend it.

Do you think direct mail readers are willing to sit through pages and pages of that stuff?

NOPE.

This sentence is way above the prospect’s head. The target should be much lower – like a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level below 8. That means someone in 8th grade would have no trouble understanding what’s going on.

Sports Illustrated is around 9. Even The Wall Street Journal doesn’t generally go above 10. (Tom Sant, Persuasive Business Proposals, Third Edition, page 215). Think these are great literature? Perhaps not, but they still kill a lot of trees.

So how would I correct it? Remember, the title of this post is “Make Greater Impact with the Same Words”. I might fudge on this a bit (I’ve highlighted my changes in bold). But I’ll keep most of it there, to show the impact of shorter sentences (not re-writing). Here goes:

However generous you might decide to be, please let me hear back from you quickly. That way I can assure our staff that you remain ready, willing, and eager to fight for your parks’ legacy. A legacy that will last for generations.

Is this any better? It sure seems to be more readable at first look. Why? Because each thought is self-contained and my brain gets more chances to process.

42 words in 3 sentences, for an average of 14 words / sentence. Much easier to understand in smaller chunks like this.

And how does it stand objectively?

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.1

And a readability score of A.

Did you see that? I added 2 periods, took out a “so” and replaced it with “That way”, and replaced “to” with “A legacy that will last for”. 3 small changes that dramatically reduced the perceived intellectualism of the writing and vastly improved the readability.

I call that a success. But the only way to know whether it really works on your direct mail would be to test. My hunch (and a lot of research [this, this, and more]) suggest that easier-to-read translates into easier-to-understand, which leads to greater engagement and donations (for non-profits) or sales.

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