Swearingen Communications Insights

Fresh ideas, seasoned perspectives, and solid marketing strategies to keep you grounded and growing.


Sharp, Focused Messages Reach Your Reader

If you’re like most smart, highly educated professionals, you may not be aware that the front page of the Wall Street Journal is written at the ninth-grade level.  That’s right — high school.

What do the editors of the WSJ and other professional communicators know that you don’t?  Are CEOs, investors, lawyers, investment bankers, financial executives, and others that unsophisticated?  Of course not.  But effective communicators understand that readability is a highly desirable attribute, especially in today’s message-saturated market. Copy that is easy to read is easy to digest.  It’s read more thoroughly. And it’s read more often.

What makes content more readable? There are numerous readability indexes and formulas that measure this.  The two major factors are sentence length and word length.  The shorter, the better.  Why say “utilize” when “use” makes the same point?

For search engine optimization purposes, Google News loves headlines that are written with fewer than 65 characters.  Characters, not words.  Yet the majority of press release headlines far exceed that number.  SEO value is a very practical reason to sharpen prose and cut fluff.

Back in the dark ages, before PCs, faxes, and the Internet, my writing teachers drilled one thought into my head: Respect your reader. Don’t waste their time. Be a considerate writer. Get to the point. Cut any filler.

Aristotle would agree.  More than 2000 years ago, writing in Poetics, he argued: “. . .the most persuasive individuals use simple  everyday language, known to the common man.”  This “father of rhetoric” understood that simplifying a message did not dumb it down.  It amplified and fortified it.