In George Orwell’s “1984,” the Party had several ways of ensuring conformity. The Party limited independent thinking and banished forbidden thoughts and actions. Deleted images and stories landed in the “memory hole.” And of course, Big Brother was watching you.
But “Newspeak” was the central initiative through which these original dystopians tried to accomplish these goals. As Orwell described it, “Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was … assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”
The concept of limiting vocabulary to limit thought brings to mind one of the challenges of writing effective marketing copy. The tricky part is making copy readable but not overly simplified.
The challenge of readability
Readability refers to how easy it is for people to read text. Algorithms analyze sentence length, word choices and other factors to score readability. Marketing content should be readable, of course. To do that:
- Avoid needless jargon
- Rewrite long sentences
- Use short words
While copy should be readable, it shouldn’t insult your readers’ intelligence. It can be a challenge to balance simplicity and quality.
I write a lot of content for lawyers, doctors, accountants and other experts. Their content often involves complex concepts. Need examples? Try explaining wire fraud and brachial plexus injuries in plain language.
Those who want to learn about these topics need more than rote statutes and medical terms. Meanwhile, lawyers, doctors and accountants want to convey that they know their stuff. They want to show they’re trained, educated subject experts.
Try using 'accessible expertise' as a solution
The sweet spot between these competing imperatives is what I call “accessible expertise.” You can achieve it by following these tips:
- Include essential but unfamiliar terms and define them in plain English
- Use metaphors, analogies or anecdotes to make foreign concepts familiar
- Frame a complicated issue with a simple premise
- Acknowledge subject complexity and encourage readers to seek your help
You can engage and educate readers without alienating them. How?
- Balance readability and complexity
- Reconcile nuance and simplicity
Heck, you may even be able to convince them that 2 + 2 = 5.