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David Price
freelance writer/web content developer
Newton, Massachusetts
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The Boundaries of KISS

How seriously can you take the "write for an unsophisticated crowd" advice?  I explain the boundaries, the restrictions, that you may have forgotten when you heard to write simple, clear, and concise content. 

Written Feb 06, 2008, read 761 times since then.
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Brian Clark, one of the more famous internet marketers and online copywriter experts, suggests that a necessary condition to writing good copy is to keep it simple, short, and concise

"Keep it simple. Good copy is written in clear, concise, simple words that get your point across. It’s conversational."

And later he cites a study showing that the average American fails to understand the implications of a study, or follow an argument in a news paper article.  He cites this as justification for keeping it simple, stupid.  After all, "No one will ever complain that your writing is too easy to understand."

But what is the exact scope of this advice?  I'm not sure, but I can find boundaries if I look hard enough. 

To trust the writer, or to trust the writer who writes (only) about writing?

When internet marketers refer to popular bloggers, they usually mean the most popular bloggers that satisfy both these conditions

  • they have the highest/higher incoming traffic with the highest/higher loyal subscriber list;
  • they share this commonality: their niche (blogging about blogging/blogging about copywriting) is inherently "non-technical" with respect to industry-specific rules for writing.  "Tips for writing good copy" is never coextenstive with "Tips for writing good copy for websites about Pontiac Fiero's"

But the success of their advice needs to be weighed against the actual use of niche-specific language in non-marketing niches.  Not all niches are created equal, after all.  Similarly, not all advice is, either.

Blogging about Bloggers vs. Blogging about World of Warcraft

But go ahead and say that to a blogger blogging about World of Warcraft PvP strategy.  How can you dumb down "How to increase Raid DPS by 40x Without Potions"?  What does it mean to make that sentence concise?  If they don't have a sense or grasp of the terminology you're using, they're either not going to come to your site in the first place, or they will learn the terminology in the best way: by seeing how it is used, and the context it is used in.

Now, reconsider the advice to keep your content simple, so that there is no technical jargon but think about that advice in your own niche.

Let's assume your niche is "blogging about Ludwig Wittgenstein".  Now there's a niche.  It also happens to be the niche that I write for and am genuinely interested in.

What does it mean for me to write simply so that anyone can understand?  I don't know, but I will say this: not all sentences are reducible to non-jargon sentences. 

In fact, to reduce your jargon could mean one of two things.  Either you're in a niche that doesn't really need or have technical jargon, in which case I'd guess you're an internet marketer, or you're not really in a niche.  Let's hope it's not the latter.

Good content > content that anyone can understand

The point I'm making is simply this: don't reduce otherwise eloquent and niche-specific content for the sake of adhering to writing tips that is not nearly as relevant as you might think. 

If you're writing about 20th century theories of motivation, or describing lawsuits in the high-tech/gadget market, the advice is meaningless to the extent that you won't get a use out of it by following it.

Another, final consideration: "good content" isn't synonymous with "content that anyone can understand".  The former presumes a niche market, while the latter fails to specify one. 

I don't mean to bash internet marketing tips the internet markets tell us, but hey, there's a huge difference between these:

  • advice on copywriting/effective blog writing from internet marketers or famous bloggers
  • actually writing good copy for your non-marketing, non-blogging-about-blogging niche. 

Knowing when the one trumps the other: now that's useful knowledge.

Learn more about the author, David Price.

Comment on this article

  • Cinematographer, Film, Digital, 3D 
Seattle, Washington 
Steven Bradford
    Posted by Steven Bradford, Seattle, Washington | Feb 09, 2008

    Although this seems obvious, I don't think many writers really grasp this-- or that the internet is more about niches than it is about mass communication. It's nice to fantasize about a milion hits a day, but that's beating your head against a wall to shoot for that, for most of us. Whereas writing to your niche can be very fruitful and productive.