Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We professionals should display more self-respect than this

As I discussed before, clear writing needs good readability. Good readability needs short words and short sentences.

Here's an example of what not to do. It's the first paragraph of an invitation from the PRSA. That’s the Public Relations Society of America, a professional group.

“The definition and scope of a crisis can be as unique as the organization it affects but the ability to quickly and effectively respond and communicate in a crisis situation is a must for every business or organization. The Public Relations Society of America Yankee Chapter and Plymouth State University presents a panel discussion on the changing landscape of crisis communication designed specifically for communication professionals. You will learn about crisis communication success stories and challenges from a panel of communication veterans representing a variety of areas including education, health care, and non-profit. The panelists will draw on personal experiences as communicators in crisis situations—successes, lessons learned, and best practices—to help attendees be better prepared for future situations. The Q & A format will make for an interactive experience ensuring that the discussion will be relevant to all participants.”

That paragraph gets a Flesch Reading Ease score of 10.4 (much more difficult to read than an IRS form).

Notice also that the PRSA, which fancies itself an expert on handling crises, uses the grating redundancy “crisis situation” twice.

This is disgraceful.

The Takeaway: Always try for a readability score above 50. Settle for 30 to 50 if the topic requires it. But never go below 30. Never. If you are a professional writer, this is a matter of self-respect.

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