On the importance of having a commercial focus

Having a commercial focus requires that you write in plain language. Plain language is not ‘dumbed down’; quite the contrary. Writing in plain language has proven to increase reader trust and strengthen perceptions of intelligence on the part of the writer. Given that an investment house only sells expertise, which the investor hopes will translate into future investment gain, it is in your best interests to learn what plain language does and how to use it.

Simple, concise and direct writing also gets read more often because readers are bombarded by so much information that they have to filter out. Only by first getting read can you hope to make an impression.

Plain language does not always mean using small words. It actually means applying some principals of grammar, structure and vocabulary choice that make it quicker and easier for busy and harried clients to get to your point. Research has completely discredited the belief that writing in a bloated, self-indulgent academic style will make you seem more intelligent—just the opposite turns out to be true.

Commercial, not academic, writing

Effective investment writing, whether it’s marketing, advertising, placed trade-press articles or fund reporting, always applies the generic principles of ‘plain language’. Don’t confuse a focus on plain language with the Plain English Campaign[1], which is a consumer advocacy group. While not disagreeing with its objectives, we’re mainly interested in the commercial benefits of the generic use of plain language.

Having a commercial focus means using every linguistic technique in the book to make it fast and easy for your client or prospect to read and digest your message.

If you think your role in life is to defend the Queen’s English from linguistic and intellectual degradation, run along and become an English lecturer. You don’t belong in a commercial organisation – all you will do is get in the way.

Why use plain language?

Research proves that using plain language increases trust and respect—crucial aspects of any effective investment brand.

Plain language also helps to meet the FCA’s Treating Customers Fairly guidelines.[1]

Many people in highly technical professions such as investments believe that writing in a traditional academic style makes them sound more intelligent. They also believe that this style marks out the writer as more professional. But research on the topic proves that the exact opposite occurs.[2]

A pioneering study undertaken in 1982,[3] along with many studies since, shows that highly technical or challenging subjects, written in plain language have several positive effects on readers’ beliefs about the writer, compared to those who write in the formal academic style. Readers feel that plain language writers:

  • Are more intelligent.
  • Have a greater command of their subject matter.
  • Have a more organised mind.
  • Are more honest and open.

But what is ‘Plain English’ really? It might not be what you think …


[1] See: “Treating customers fairly: measuring outcomes”, Financial Services Authority, February, 2007.

[2] See for example: “Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly”, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 2, pages 139–156, March 2006.

[3] “Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical and Business Communication”, Turk and Kirkman, London 1982.

[1] See: Plainenglish.co.uk.

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