When I sit down to write, I always start with a list of objectives.
For this blog, for example, I want to provide you with value that will make you a better fundraiser.
For a campaign page, I want to inspire donors to donate.
For an ad, I want to entice potential clients to book a demo.
To accomplish the stated objective, I try to follow a list of best practices. I’m looking for engaging copy, memorable text, a sticky message. I want my words to be clear and my call-to-action straight-forward.
But there is one best practice that proves more challenging than the rest: Writing simply.
Mentors have told me to write at a 6th-grade level, even for
erudite professional audiences. They are, after all, most likely the busiest people. So it’s important that they can grasp the message at first skim.
Unfortunately, my first drafts are generally at a high-school level or higher. It takes work for me to simplify the message. To shorten sentences. To cut out adjectives and extra words.
If I struggle to write at an elementary-school level, I don’t know why I was surprised to find inspiration from reading to my elementary-school-age children.
But as I started my night-time routine with my kids last night, I opened up their favorite book, The One and Only Ivan, a book about a gorilla.
“I’m mightier than any human, four hundred pounds of pure power. My body looks made for battle. My arms, outstretched, span taller than the tallest human.
I live in a human habitat called the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. We are conveniently located off I-95, with shows at two, four, and seven, 365 days a year.
Mack says that when he answers the trilling telephone.
Mack works here at the mall. He is the boss.
I work here too. I am the gorilla.”
So simple. So straightforward. So easy to understand.
The next time you sit down to write, run your copy through a grade-checker. Make sure it’s at a 6th-grade level or lower. If it’s not, spend 10 extra minutes simplifying it. (ChatGPT can be a great help.)
And if, like me, you want to train yourself to write more simply on your first try, pick up a children’s book. Pay attention to the cadence and short sentences. Pay attention to the rhythm. Doing so will empower you to simplify your message so that even the busiest of readers will grasp your message before their attention is pulled away with the power of a hundred gorillas.