Why is clear writing so hard?

I just read an article in an academic journal that was about a topic I care about: clear communication. This matters to fundraisers because when you write in a clear and easy-to-understand way, you raise more money.

It’s very clear.

The article I’m talking about isn’t about fundraising, but it made an even wider and more important argument for clear writing: “… complex language can be intimidating and unwelcoming and thus can operate as a gatekeeping measure.”

That is, unclear writing is discriminatory. It keeps people out.

Then it called for change:

Communication can be clear and accessible regardless of the register or genre. It should be intelligible, relevant, and usable without requiring specialized knowledge or training. In this sense, plain language is a civil right.

You might have already noticed the problem from the samples I’ve shown you.

Th article calling for plain language that’s widely accessible is not accessible. The Hemingway Editor (my go-to-reading ease checker), was unable to assign a number. It called the writing “Post-graduate” and labeled it as “poor.” More than 80% of the sentences were flagged as “very hard to read.”

It was packed with silly long words that have much shorter and clearer synonyms, like obfuscate and operationalize.

The article on plain language and clarity was virtually unreadable.

For a few moments, I wondered if it were a prank. But it isn’t. Not even The Onion would go that far for a laugh.

My guess is that if we checked in with the author and editors of the article, they’d defend it. They’d say it’s professional discourse, using language that’s normal for academic publications.

But come on! The article claims writing can be clear in any register or genre. Wouldn’t you think that the author, so strongly believing their thesis, would want to model it?

Clear writing is slightly more difficult to write than complex writing. Most writers last got training as writers in academia, where complex writing is considered normal.

On top of that, many nonprofits are lead by technical experts in fields that have standard ways of writing, usually complex.

So it’s an uphill climb to create plain, clear, simple fundraising. Fundraising that welcomes donors in. Gives them reasons to become part of our causes.

But it’s the right, ethical thing to do. And it is a proven way to raise more.

What are we waiting for?

(I haven’t linked to the article here because I don’t want to cause anyone pain or public embarrassment. If you’re really curious, email me and I’ll send you the link.)

(This post is written at a Flesch-Kincaid reading ease grade level of 6.)


Comments

5 responses to “Why is clear writing so hard?”

  1. Easy to find the article. It lost me half way in.

  2. Easy to find the article. It lost me half way in.

  3. andy Miller Avatar
    andy Miller

    Yes I want to read the article – to validate the persepctive in the blog post.
    Not sure how to email you, hence my comment here.
    Pls forward me the link TY.

  4. andy Miller Avatar
    andy Miller

    Yes I want to read the article – to validate the persepctive in the blog post.
    Not sure how to email you, hence my comment here.
    Pls forward me the link TY.

  5. I knew from the first example that you had to be going there! Good heavens! It seems amazing to me that someone making such good points would then use language like that.
    But I think many find it harder to write simply.
    Thank you, thank you, for sharing the writer’s good point… and then showing it.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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