Writing plainly isn’t just a stylistic choice. If you sell multifaceted products or services, or if there’s too much to talk about and you don’t know where to begin, putting things in plain English – expressing them in simpler terms can actually be a necessity.
Likewise, if flowery, technical or twee styles aren’t working for you, paring back your words to their simplest and least ambiguous form can be a blessed relief for many businesses.
But what does ‘straight-talking’ or plain English really mean? Why bother using it?
In this post I’ll explain the key concepts, the genesis of my own signature copywriting style and why clients go for it, plus what difference it makes using it. This is of course all in the context of writing for marketing or sales materials.
It’s more than just a catchphrase
Straight-talking means being quite literal when it comes to describing something; a situation or a product. It means not dressing it up in language that’s overly descriptive. It means using active voice, with clear attribution of who’s doing what.
There’s room for creative language, of course, but less-so whimsy. Writing plainly means using the clearest terms possible and being mindful of economy – a straight-talking copywriter always believes there’s a shorter way of expressing the same sentiments.
The mentality behind straight-talking copywriting is quite moral too. It’s about furnishing the reader with an honest, factually-based account of what it’s like to work with your company or buy something. It creates an audience of what you might call informed customers; in possession of the complete facts, so they can make their own minds up.
What are the advantages?
Well there’s speed for one. Writing plainly gets to the heart of the matter, quicker. It tells it like it is and propels a reader to some sort of conclusion (usually a call-to-action).
That’s why some call it goal-orientated copy.
This means there’s some sort of objective in mind, and every word is geared towards a desirable outcome. This is where economy comes in; every sentence has to have some purpose or contribute something towards that journey.
Then there’s honesty. Plain-speaking means getting things out in the open, not dressing them up. There’s no time for making empty promises either – a reader’s time is precious.
With reference to my own style of plain-speaking copywriting, tone of voice tends to be earnest, and appeals to a person’s reason and humanity. That’s because if you want your claims to be accepted, I find there’s no other way than to let truths speak for themselves. It’s very difficult to achieve this by smuggling in elaborate falsehoods – they stand out like a sore comma.
I’ve been told my style is like having clear dialogue with a real human being. OK, technically it’s only one-way, but if you go out of your way to not patronise, be positive and use terms familiar and resonant with a reader, you’re already halfway to building a relationship with them.
A third advantage is just how refreshing a bit of straight-talking copywriting is. People appreciate being told something directly in an honest, open way. That’s actually a very persuasive way to build trust – because it gives hope: that you’ll probably treat them the same way your copy did.
It’s worth mentioning again…
People’s time is precious – their attention bombarded with irrelevant messages all day long. So better to make your point more quickly and succinctly than waste someone’s time talking about things that bore and distract.
That’s the magic in good copywriting. Done properly, a lot happens before words get anywhere near paper. Copywriters like me plan for our precious readers – we study what is and isn’t worth talking about, instead of writing about everything ‘just in case we miss something’.
I didn’t have a choice in writing this way
The reason I write plainly as a copywriter is because it reflects the way my mind works. Things have to be useful, functional and serve a purpose. Economy appeals, waste frustrates – and that mindset applies to ideas as much as it does to tangible objects (though thankfully not people).
I also believe that when you intrude on someone’s attention, the very least you can do is not abuse it. Share something useful, reward them for their time – whether that’s resolution on some issue or offering them a route to get there.
Responsibility is important to me too. I believe people shouldn’t hide behind meaningless jargon and legalese. If you want something understood or acted upon, present it in its clearest form to get the best results. Be explicit and unambiguous about who’s doing what.
I appreciate we’re verging on utilitarian copywriting here, but in the context of marketing – connecting people with limited time, for these reasons (and more), straight-talking copy is a perfect fit. Not just for me, but a growing number of businesses with complex propositions to make to the world.
What it doesn’t say on the tin
All this talk of straight-talking doesn’t mean you have to sound like the famous Ronseal advert – somewhat brutal and abrupt. There’s always creative space for freelance copywriters like me – flexibility in tone and the subjects you write about.
What’s unique about straight-talking copy though is its efficiency in getting a message across. It’s driven and focused in intent, yet treats a reader like a human being who deserves to have things explained clearly, in terms they understand.
So there’s clear benefits to choosing a copywriter whose natural style errs on the side of straight-talking. Copy written in this way engages your audience, it educates, informs and inspires, ultimately compelling them to take action that’s not only desirable, it’s plain helpful.