Blogmaster’s note: I met Don at the very start of my entrepreneurial career 19 years ago, and I admired him for his resolve as an entrepreneur–now over 30 years (!)– and his choice oral and written words.
In the pandemic I have reached out to old friends with whom I have drifted apart to rekindle relationships and this guest blog piece is the result of one of those contacts. I am glad to be back in touch with you again, Don, and thank you for you astute observations today.
Simple and Specific: The Key to Understanding in Your Writing
You might think that being too specific in your communications might confuse busy readers or distract audiences, but it’s quite the opposite. Using simple language and being appropriately specific in your descriptions have been proven to increase understanding and retention. Here are some examples:
- Memorable: “The man proceeded down the street.” “The tall man with wavy grey hair scurried down Park Avenue.” The second sentence is more memorable. Why? Because it paints a mental picture; you can “see” the man and the action.
- Believable: Two employees show up late to work and both make excuses. One says, “There was an accident, and I ran into some traffic.” The other one says, “There was an accident on Elm Street, near the Stop & Shop. Two lanes were blocked off – a black Mercedes flipped over.” The second story is more believable because it’s specific, not vague. And it’s more compelling because
people can “see” it.
- Precise: (Example 1) “Most people expect to own a home, but a lot of them can’t manage the financing.” (Example 2) “Eighty percent of adult Americans expect to own their own home, but only 45 percent can actually afford it.” The first sentence is mildly interesting but vague, the specificity in the second sentence makes the point clearly and precisely.
Being specific helps your reader understand and engage, but it’s more memorable and relatable with simple language. This is especially true when you want your LinkedIn profiles or social media self-branding posts to rise above the clutter. For example, you might want to avoid vague and overly used terms like “mission-driven,” “results-oriented” and even “passionate.” Aren’t we all? Instead focus on what you specifically bring to the table to benefit your target audience.
Some people also think using big, fancy words is a reflection of intelligence and erudition. But again, the opposite is more likely to be the case. Smart, insightful people try to connect, to achieve understanding and acceptance… through simple language.
So, strive to be a credible communicator – avoid clichés, fancy words and jargon, and choose simple language and specific examples to successfully convey even complex ideas.
As an active member of LinkedIn, I read hundreds of profiles and posts every week, and I see a broad range of writing quality – terrific, good and not-so-good. If you’re looking to attract a potential employer, new client or partner, how you write is as important as what you write.
With every LinkedIn post, you’re leaving an impression about who you are and how you think, because people naturally equate clear writing with clear thinking. It’s a fundamental attribute that will help you engage the people you want to reach.
For more than 30 years, Donald L. Heymann has been an independent writer and content strategist, working across many industries, including healthcare, science and technology, consumer products, finance, social services, public affairs and philanthropy.
Clients have included Pfizer, PepsiCo, J&J, GE, Merck, IBM, Anthem, Citibank and Unilever, as well as such leading non-profit and social service organizations as The Nature Conservancy, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Save the Children and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In addition, Don is an adjunct instructor in marketing and strategic communications writing at NYU’s School of Professional Studies, and he conducts effective writing workshops for business and non-profit groups.