There is a quote in the movie, The River Runs Through It that occurs as a father is teaching his son how to fish. He says, "Very good. Do it again. Shorter." It got me thinking about the process of editing. As an English teacher, I would instruct my students to edit and edit and edit again. I would try to get what they had to say into one brilliant paragraph, sometimes even one sentence, and at the very most one sheet of paper. My point at the time was that it is the quality of words and clarity of voice that convey trustworthiness to the reader.
If it doesn't fit on one sheet of paper, I don't trust it.
During a conversation, someone mentioned to me the struggle they had with a packet they received from John Hancock regarding annuities. It is a large packet printed with colorful graphs and charts containing booklets within folders of what he called, "filler." He said, "They didn't answer the only two questions I have. How much does it cost...and how much money will it make me?" So how can you, as a small business or established company, do what I suggested to my English students?
Here are three ways to keep it simple.
- Know your audience. This is true for most things that are created, written, marketed, or advertised. Think about it. The majority of your audience will determine the format of your documentation. Is your information headed to the baby-boomers? Then target them with paper but make it one sheet; bold, simple, and clear. This is also where transparency comes into play. Many people don't trust organizations that cover up facts with loads of fine print. Research your market. Find out what they want before designing what you think is the best packet ever.
- Answer the most basic questions and then stop there. What is it? How much does it cost? What benefit will the consumer/user/member receive? Other answers to questions like, Where do they get help? How did the company come up with this? What's the fine print? can all be static information on a website. Trust me, if the product is good enough people will go to the website.
- Use an editor. Take the long version of what you've created, or the original, and edit it down into its most concise form. This means working with an editor; not a writer. Writers typically make things longer. Editors make things shorter. Look for an editor who has worked in a similar background and/or who follows the idea that less really is more. Listen to them. Tell them your goal of keeping it simple and they'll move your message to make that happen.
More isn't always better. Sometimes, more is just more. Keep it simple for your audience and they'll thank you for it and probably tell others about how streamlined your message is. Then completions happen through sharing and the most valuable message medium of all, word of mouth.