Conversational is always better

By Erik Arvidson

When I was learning the journalism ropes for a small town newspaper years ago, one of my editors gave me this bit of advice: If it’s a word that people don’t use in normal conversation, don’t use it in a news article.

It was great advice then because I was learning how to describe complex government issues at a 6th grade reading level, and it’s still advice I try to follow today.

Of course, I didn’t always follow it. I’m sure while I was writing articles or creating headlines to exactly fit the column width, I used a few of those non-conversational words you see all the time in journalism.

Here’s an example headline: “Council decries mayor’s use of parking revenues.” Have you ever heard anybody use the word “decry” in a conversation? Or how about, “President mulls jobless aid measures.” I don’t think I’ve ever mulled anything in my life, though I have thought about plenty of things.

In PR, just as in journalism, we’re always challenged with using more plain-speaking, conversational words, whether it be in announcements or byline articles.

David Meerman Scott’s “The Gobbledygook Manifesto” is a good resource for tired and overused marketing/PR business jargon that nobody uses in common language.

Here’s a good exercise:  Your car is making a horrifying grinding sound and you take it to the mechanic. Wouldn’t you be frustrated if he/she threw confusing mechanical jargon at you? Would you think he/she was not being straightforward, or possibly condescending?

Imagining that auto mechanic conversation sometimes help in writing and editing. Too much jargon and recycled terminology will bore and sometimes frustrate the reader. Simpler and more conversational is always better.

What do you do to keep your writing more conversational?