Journalism students are taught an important saying that was first used in the U.S. Navy. “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or KISS is a design principle that assumes most systems will work better if they are designed simply. The principle applies to journalism in regards to writing–students are encouraged to use conversational language and explain complex concepts in the simplest terms possible to make sure the viewers, listeners, or readers understand what is being said. This is also an important principle for library marketers!
Library brochures, posters, and websites often contain convoluted and confusing language that makes it difficult for cardholders to understand how services work.
The source of the problem is actually one of the selling points of a library–librarians are intelligent and sophisticated people with a deep understanding and appreciation of complex concepts. They’re driven by accuracy and information. It’s hard to write clearly when you’re an expert in your field!
Your job as a library marketer is to translate those complex thoughts and concepts into a concise and clear language your audience can understand and appreciate. Your loyalty lies with your audience. So you must weed through the information and present it in a way that the cardholder can understand and use properly.
It’s easier said than done, but here are some guidance you can put into practice any time you’re asked to write a piece of library marketing.
Narrow your focus and outline first. Before you even write your first draft, pinpoint your audience as precisely as possible. Are you writing for teens ages 13-15? Are you writing for women, ages 25-54, who loves to read eBooks and think print books are antiquated? Are you aiming your message at parents of preschoolers who need help finding educational books to read to their children?
At the top of a page, write your audience description. Underneath that, write a sentence that describes the point of your marketing material. Are you trying to persuade someone to try a new service? Do you want to increase participation in preschool storytime? Are you trying to get teens to enter an art contest?
Once you know precisely who your audience is and what you want them to do once they’re read your marketing material, you’ll have an easier job of writing clearly.
Define unfamiliar or difficult words, titles, or services. Go through the draft of your material and highlight words or terms that may confuse your audience. Then, find a better way to say or explain those words.
Never take it for granted that your reader has been a lifelong user or follower of the library. Words used by librarians to describe services, programs, catalogs, and databases, which may seem common and everyday to you and your staff, may not be so to your reader. Always explain.
Shorten your sentences and paragraphs. Shorter sentences will make it easier for your reader to understand and absorb what you are saying. The same is true with paragraphs. A piece of material with lots of long paragraphs looks thick and off-putting, and readers will skip lengthy paragraphs, according to British grammarian H. W. Fowler. In addition, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack Study shows people are more likely to read an entire webpage when the paragraphs are short.
Ask a non-library employee to read your work. I often take my stuff home and ask my husband or my teenage daughter to read it. If they find anything to be confusing or convoluted, I know I need to change it.
Do you have tips for writing more clearly or examples where you have taken a complex library concept and simplified it for an audience? Share your experience or questions in the comments.
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