Brave new world: How technology has changed language forever
The advent of buzzwords, acronyms, emoji’s and other technology changed language forever, but companies should remember that clear writing is the key to winning customers.
Technology has transformed language. The change has been a long time coming, but accelerated around the turn of the millennium. The catalyst for change was the widespread adoption of broadband in the developed world, making high-speed internet relatively ubiquitous.
How did the change take place?
Articles on this topic go back years, but we can trace the change to the advent of email. At that time, short, snappy messages gradually replaced written letters. Then came text messages, social media channels, and messaging apps. Each one chipped away at our traditionally formal way of writing messages to each other. Plain language changed.
Consider how we use language to communicate in writing today. Acronyms, buzzwords and even emojis are common. Messages are rarely longer than a few lines. Plenty of people have bemoaned our increasingly shorter attention spans. But with that has come language that is more easily digestible. Is it plain English?
Yes and no. At VisibleThread, we extoll the virtues of writing in plain language. Plain English is the cornerstone of successful corporate communications. It is essential that you structure your message in a readable and concise way, using clear language. However, short and snappy does not necessarily mean clear and concise. Short and snappy can still mean bad English. Short sentences can still ramble.
So, how do you fix your content?
For our analysis, we used VisibleThread Readability. It’s a lightweight readability tool for Doc, Web and Text analysis. The nice thing is that it flags issues at paragraph level and it’s free. There is also a paid version which generates some nice reports. But we were fine with just the free version.
Take a look at this example of writing from a piece about annoying business jargon in Forbes. This piece seeks to identify bad writing, but falls into its own trap.
The sentence is too long, resulting in poor readability and a reading level of Grade 17. That’s third-level education. Let’s see what we can do here.
With this simple fix, we have reduced the reading level by ten grades. The readability is far better. The message is clear: if there’s an easier way to write or say something, then do it. That is true across the board.
Corporate messaging is about personality
You want your language to be palatable to customers. Instead of saying “we’ll take this offline and think outside the box”, say, “we’ll identify a creative solution a little later”. If you use too many buzzwords or ramble when your customers and clients want clear English, your company’s image won’t stay positive.
Here’s another example of a blog that could have been written better, published on Fast Company.
This sentence is too long, and uses the passive voice. With a little bit of craft, we can reduce the reading level by seven grades. We can also improve readability by a significant degree.
Acronyms and emojis take things to another level, whereby some people cannot even understand what they mean in the first place.
Take this press release from Chevy. In 2015, the company made headlines by releasing a press release written entirely in emojis. It was original – the company made headlines all around the world. As such, many people saw it as a PR success. But let’s take a closer look at it.
Even with a translation attached, this is the epitome of being too clever for your own good. It is simply bad communication. Customers and clients should never be unclear on what it is you are providing, or bored with your message. Communication can be entertaining, but never confusing.
Innovation is good, but the art of communicating a message will never change. It’s about plain language, clear English, and originality. Steer clear of using too many buzzwords or acronyms. Limit your usage of emojis. Don’t be clever for the sake of it. Your customers will thank you for it.
- The internet has revolutionized language. We digest language in smaller chunks.
- However, shorter does not necessarily mean better.
- We analyzed two examples of blogs that were poorly written, and offered fixes.
- We also gave an example of a press release written entirely in emojis. This emphasized how badly a “clever” communication idea can be.
- You can easily score content for plain language by using tools like VisibleThread Readability. These tools provide instant reports on problematic content and suggest fixes.
- You can use tools like this for any subject matter, scoring product brochures, blog posts etc.