Ever felt like you're drowning in an ocean of complex words while reading? Wish you could break through the walls of jargon and make sense of that technical documentation? Us, too!
In this episode, some of our team our expertise and experience on simplifying writing for everyone's benefit. We dive into the heart of the SIMPL editorial code, a tool that advocates for readers and ensures technical concepts are explained with clarity and simplicity.
This episode isn’t just about simple language, though. We also discuss the nuances of writing for international audiences, the importance of understanding your audience, and how to pitch your writing just right. We share practical tips on making writing more accessible—like avoiding jargon, spelling out acronyms, and choosing culturally neutral words. We highlight the importance of having multiple eyes review your work—because everyone knows, two (or three) heads are better than one!
Whether you're a technical agency, a product company, or a b2b technical business, join us as we unravel the power of simple language and clear communication.
Welcome to the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At Open Strategy Partners, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.
To get in touch with us, follow what we’re doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, you can:
Hi, i'm Carl from OSP and this is Communicate, connect Grow, the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about making writing easy to understand with the editorial code SIMPLE. If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clearer strategic thinking or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues, that's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes Communicate, connect and Grow. This is a Communicate episode and we're talking about using clear language with our editorial code SIMPLE. The SIMPLE editing code falls into the style and phrasing phase of the editing process and it's about being mindful of who you're writing for. In our documentation about this code, it says use SIMPLE language where possible. This is especially important for international audiences.Felicity Brand:
Hi, i'm Felicity Brand. I'm a communications consultant at OSP. The SIMPLE code is about using SIMPLE language to get your message across. It's about being mindful of your audience and writing in a way that helps them reach understanding. No one will ever complain that you've made things too simple to understand. I wish that quote was from me, but that's from Anne Handley, one of her 13 writing rules. We'll put that in the show notes. The SIMPLE code falls in our accessibility category of our editing codes. It's about making sure that the writing can be understood by as broad an audience as possible. You might have heard of things like the fleshkin-cade readability test and that measures how easily written language is to understand. It looks at sentence length, word length and number of syllables. That's what this SIMPLE code is about, hi.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
Jeffrey McGuire. Here. Most people call me Jam because my middle initial is an A. I am a co-founder and partner at Open Strategy Partners. These helpful editing and writing codes that we're talking about came originally from people trying to decode and share my editing brain with our team, and I'm really, really pleased with the results after a few years of doing this together. The sort of writing that we do mostly at Open Strategy Partners when we're helping technical agencies, product companies, b2b technical businesses. We're helping them communicate the value of the things that they build and giving people on the outside the opportunity to try it or download it or join a community or make a purchase. One of the founding ideas about Open Strategy Partners was developers and marketers don't always know how to talk with each other. These are both communities of people that tend to use jargon. There's lots of business jargon. There's lots of certainly lots of technical jargon. It can be pretty easy to explain things to your peers in ways that make sense to you, because you do it every day And you might forget that not everybody's up to speed on your language. So I really feel it helps everyone if you make things as simple as possible and as complex as it needs Right. So there's an idea for my taste in this writing of keeping things fairly plain and fairly clear. The other side of that coin is in my life story and I am multilingual And by the time I was in graduate school in New York City, i was living in a building with 700 people from probably 100 countries around the world And I learned very, very quickly that I had to speak very clearly and choose my words very carefully. And doing that helped me make friends and have terrific experiences, and I really think there's value in being mindful about how we're communicating And in this technology world where we're helping people, i am just as glad to help my client make a sale in an English-speaking country as in a non-English-speaking country or whatever language we're working in, because we know work in multiple languages. But essentially, to make the content as accessible as possible, we should write as well as possible and we should be as simple and as clear as we possibly can.Christine Buehler:
I am Christine Bueller and I work for Open Strategy Partners as a communications consultant, where I work on blog posts, newsletters, emails, case studies all sorts of communications materials. So simple is about comprehension and clarity. It just means using simple language where it's possible to do so, which is especially important for international audiences, of which, i would probably argue, most businesses have an international audience nowadays, so important.Chris Fenwick:
Hi, my name is Chris. I work at OSB as a copyright editor. I think simple is as it says is very simple Don't use too complicated language. I mean, i think there's a couple of ways you can interpret that. I think on the one hand it can be vocabulary choice and the other it can be sentence structure. If your sentences are getting too long and unwieldy and difficult to follow, you can simplify them and chop them up into three separate sentences. That would be one way of simplifying and the other would be not using too much technical domain specific vocabulary if the piece is for a general audience.Carl Richards:
Let's explore how this code is used in the editing process.Felicity Brand:
As an editor, when we're looking at the simple code, we're advocating for the reader, So we're thinking about all the folks out there who may be coming to this writing And remember this code is in our accessibility category, So we're being mindful of translation, a global audience, language crossing not only borders but levels of knowledge. In practical terms, this might mean avoiding jargon, spelling out acronyms, explaining technical concepts when needed, software or hardware concepts, swapping out cultural or geographically specific words. writing about tech, which is what we do a lot at OSP, can get pretty dense, pretty technical, pretty involved. So this code is about helping bring technical information to as many readers as possible by helping them understand by using simple language.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
As an editor. We have the chance to help each other at Open Strategy Partners. Just about everybody who writes also edits and anyone who edits also writes. So we have the chance to help each other. And a second and third pair of eyes always improves our communications And, honestly, if something is a jumble or I have to read it two and a half times to get my head around it, that's a giant signal for me to stop and figure out what's going on, If it's not an error or some other problem. I often end up finding a way to clarify things and make them simpler. Maybe make one longer sentence into two, maybe make a list of items into a bulleted list in the formatting, and open things up and keep things moving, keep things consumable.Christine Buehler:
As an editor. Simple is helpful because I mean, for one thing, you don't want to be pausing to look up words all the time if you're editing something, even though you know if you are an editor, you probably have a pretty big vocabulary Not true for everyone. It's also just a kindness to your fellow editors At OSP. We definitely have writers and editors from all over the world, keeping in mind that you may have an international team of editors as well as an international audience, and you just want to make it easier for your fellow editors to read your work.Chris Fenwick:
I think as an editor, there's always kind of two ways you use the codes. There's like the positive reinforcement way, where if you see somebody has done something particularly elegantly in this case they've provided a particularly nice explanation of some technical concept then you would sort of say you would give them the code with a plus sign to indicate that they've done a good job there. The other way to use it is obviously where somebody needs to correct something, and in that case I think it would be the case that you know if they're trying to explain some some bit of technology, like how blockchain works or whatever, whatever it might be or how some form of encryption works, if they are doing it in a manner that is still a bit too technical, you might have to use the code to tell me to break it down.Carl Richards:
When writing.Felicity Brand:
There are many different ways you can approach this code when it comes to the code simple, it can be a little bit counterintuitive. I think it's harder than you might think to write simply. It's a real skill to distill something down to its bare essentials, and you really need to understand the subject matter you're writing about to be able to do it. You can't get hand wavy if you're. If you're trying to write simply, you really need to be able to understand a thing so that you can craft your message Using simple words to best explain your point. The biggest influence here is going to be your audience. When you know who you're writing for, that will help you pitch your writing at the best level. So what am I trying to say? it's hard to write simply. Do your best, i would say, probably throw more words at it than you might need to, and on a second or third pass, try to whittle it down, tighten it up, being mindful of your audience, to kind of remove words that may muddy the message, and a friendly editor is also going to help you keep your writing simple. So, yeah, i guess there's no shortcuts with simple.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
If I've been spending a lot of time with educated native English speakers, if I've been going to cultural events, if I've been reading a lot of a certain kind of book, my fingers want to produce all sorts of wonderful and interesting and obscure words that are fun to know and fun to use. That is not the right thing to do in my professional context, which is to help people explain What the value of their, of their products and services are. So I need to remember to Wake my inner Hemingway. I am not claiming to have anything like that quality, but the idea of simple, strong Words certainly is important in how we work at OSP and we have some other codes that talk about using active verbs and they're all around getting things kind of chunky and good, yeah.Christine Buehler:
As a writer, i'm making an effort to be cognizant of simple. That's probably a word I wouldn't use. There's a good example If I was writing this, because, for one thing, if you are writing to a technical audience, some words might just might not always translate. I think the main goal of any writer is to be understood, and so you don't want to be getting in your own way by using overly complicated words. Someone might not know what, for million, is which is a shade of red, but I'm sure they know red. So it's just part of being inclusive while you're writing.Chris Fenwick:
I don't think this is one of the things that is at the front of the minds when writing. I think it's more something that you adapt to and you kind of learn over the years of doing the job. At certain times it's appropriate to Simplify things and try to make things like really obvious for a general audience, but it's more of a thing that I think you intuitively learn as a writer and then you would maybe apply it more reflectively as an editor.Carl Richards:
Why is this editing code important to readers? how do they benefit from it?Felicity Brand:
As a reader, don't make me feel stupid. Simple is about helping me understand, but don't talk down to me. It's a fine line. I'm reading an article because I'm interested and motivated to know what it has to say, so I'm seeking understanding. Help me achieve that by taking care of me by using simple language. Don't assume my knowledge. As a reader, i'm more likely to act on a CTA, a call to action, when I feel respected, and so I'm going to feel respected when the writing is simple to understand but it's not making me feel stupid.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
So we've done our work right and we've channeled the knowledge and expertise of our clients into content. I am hoping that people who could benefit from knowing about it are going to have the easiest time possible to find it and to consume it. So in other podcast episodes we talk about structuring into production, helping people decide whether to read things or not, but once they actually make that decision we've all got very limited time in our day. We've all got so many things going on at any time. I want you to be able to read what we've done, understand it and make a decision to read more, make a decision to make a purchase, make a decision to go on and look at the next thing as smoothly as you can. So that's the experience that I'm hoping that readers and consumers get when we're doing our job, like we say we want to at OSP.Christine Buehler:
So, as a reader, simple is important because if I'm reading very long, complex jargony words then, depending what those words are, I might not feel like this paper is intended for me to read. If you're not using simple language, it kind of kicks more people out of the audience category more quickly, which is usually not what you want.Chris Fenwick:
I think for a reader I mean again, the reader is not necessarily conscious of what's going on when they're reading the piece. it's more about the effect that it has on them. So if sentence is getting too long and unwieldy, then they'll just get lost and then they might jump to another piece. And likewise, if you're trying to give some sort of explanation and then it sounds more like it's angel developers than a general audience, then they might also just stop reading and close the tab and then you've fail to engage the people you want to engage.Carl Richards:
I hope you, dear listener, can apply some of the principles we've covered in this episode. Next time you start creating a piece of content, think about your audience and choose simple language to get your message across. Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter, at open underscore strategy, or email hello at openstrategypartnerscom. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. We'll be sharing more of them as we go. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come over to openstrategypartnerscom, have a look at our writer enablement, workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast All the P's at OSP. Thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Gommal for our high energy maple syrup flavored theme music And to Mike Snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing About our three themes on the podcast You'll hear from different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time. Communicate All things communication We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes and more. Connect In-depth conversations with interesting, smart people about who they are, what they do and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders Grow. We cover strategic approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful, positive, human first culture at work. That's bound to pop up from time to time too. This podcast is us figuring out communication, connection and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, apple Podcast or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us, suggest guests and topics, ask us questions. On social media, we are at Open Underscore Strategy on Twitter. Until next time. Thanks for listening to Communicate, connect, grow, the OSP Podcast.Felicity Brand:
So, yeah, I guess there's no shortcuts with simple. It is difficult, but try. Yeah, I got nothing. Give it your best shot.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
Keep it simple, stoney. Keep it simple Super. Keep it simple Sarah.