A plea for plain language


Complex language is everywhere. Not just in places you’d expect, like scientific papers and legal decisions, but also on government forms, corporate websites, and even those blocks of copy explanatory painted on the walls of art galleries. Have you ever tried to read the fine print on the back of a ski resort day ticket?  

The fact is, the more you know about any given subject, the easier it is to explain it in an extremely complicated way. I beg of you, resist that urge!

Believe me, this approach is not helping you look like the brilliant expert you are, it’s just making you an expert whose work is either inaccessible or confusing or frustrating to read.

In today’s world, where researchers tell us that thanks to smartphones our attention spans have shrunk to eight seconds, that means most of us will turn to something easier to digest faster than you can say, “squirrel.” 

So, if you really want people to listen to what you have to say, present your ideas in a way those of us outside of your sphere of expertise will be able to understand.

 At Combo, we believe that one of the most difficult things to do is to turn difficult concepts into plain, accessible language that most people can understand.

We love the Hemmingway App because it helps us do just that. Paste a block of text into the online program and it spits out a grade-level ranking. The app also gives you suggestions to simplify your copy. These might include removing extraneous adverbs, or switching to the active voice. This particular paragraph, for example, reads at a Grade 6 level. That’s just about perfect in the Combo world. We like to land anywhere between Grade 6 and 8 for almost everything we write, from web copy to brochures to blog posts.

Does that make us or our clients look dumb? Not at all. Most people appreciate that you have to have a great grasp of a concept to be able to explain it in a way that people can clearly comprehend.

Writing in plain language welcomes in and engages your audience. It helps them understand what you’re all about – whether that’s reporting on groundbreaking research, attracting new clients or trying to raise money for a worthy cause. Whatever your purpose, unless you’re writing or speaking to a group of true insiders (maybe you’re a rocket scientist writing a grant proposal to NASA?), plain language will never let you down.