Use the words your reader uses

by Tom Albrighton 28 January 2019 Copywriting, Tone of voice

I was queuing at an ATM when a woman turned around to ask me what this meant:

Please enter the amount required in multiples of £10.

Clearly, words like ‘amount’, ‘require’ and ‘multiple’ didn’t mean that much to her. And that’s hardly surprising, because the reading age of this sentence is around 12, but the average reading age in the UK is nine.

Around a quarter of UK adults would fail GCSE English, so imagine how they’d struggle. Never mind non-native speakers, or people with learning difficulties, or people with dementia. Even highly competent readers may still be tired or distracted when they read.

On-screen cashpoint message reads ‘Please enter the amount required in multiples of £10’

While the right words clear a path for the reader, the wrong ones put obstacles in their way.

Since cashpoints are for everyone, the words they use should be clear to as many people as possible. A better version would be something like:

Type in how much money you want. This machine only has £10 and £20 notes in it.

Yes, it’s clunky, but it’s so simple that a child could understand it: the reading age is just seven. And that’s the right approach when you really need the reader to understand, but have no idea how well they read.

There’s loads more on engaging your reader in chapter 11 of Copywriting Made Simple.

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