I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Expand on measuring options

So you have a product and customers have to mix it in some way, and you want to make it easy for them to get good results. What are your options for doing this?

This is to follow on from my post on tile adhesive instructions being less than ideal, and I thought I’d explain some ways to make mixing instructions easier for your customers.

Why expand on instructions?

Pipette dripping into a test tube

You may not need scientific precision measurements, but clarity is critical in making the right mixture.

Yes, you could copy the tile adhesive company and give very basic instructions. And that would be fine for some of your customers.

Or you could aim to help the majority of your customers with more detailed, clear instructions as they will be happier and get better overall results. And happier customers will come back and/or recommend you to others.

Better instructions could also mean fewer calls to you asking for help, too.

How to give useful information

Depending on your product and audience, you may be able to use one or more of the following options.

  1. give specific measurements
  2. give a simple ratio for mixing
  3. give a range of measurements
  4. give instructions that allow for varied quantities

Give specific measurements

Obviously, the simplest approach is giving exact measurements like a cake mix packet – ‘add one egg and 1 cup of milk to the cake mix’.

Of course, it is best to avoid ambiguity and use clear measurements. For example, 250ml is safer than 1 cup as non-Australian cups are not 250ml.

Give a simple ratio for mixing

When you have a packet and people are likely to use part of it each time, a ratio can be a handy measurement tool.

For instance, ‘add two teaspoons of fertiliser per 3 litres of water’ can be used by someone wanting 3 or 30 litres of fertiliser. And ‘mix a 1:1 volume of powder and water’ is easy to convert to any quantity of the mixture.

Give a range of measurements

When you provide a large quantity of the product and people are probably going to use it in batches, it is important to give them realistic numbers to work with. For example, no one is going to use a whole box of washing powder in one go so why bother saying ‘tip the box into a 7,000 litre washing machine’?

Even if you do provide a ratio of components, some examples or a range can be very useful for a consumer.

A range could be in a table form:

powderwaterarea covered
1 cup2 litres1 m2
2 cups4 litres2 m2
5 cups10 litres5 m2

Or as text ‘To cover a large area, mix the entire bag with 6 litres of water; to cover 1m2 area, mix 1 cup with 2 litres of water.’

Give instructions that allow for varied quantities

Sometimes an exact measurement isn’t feasible, but this can be hard for a user to understand.

Instead of saying something like ‘use one to two cups of water’, it is clearer to write:

– add one cup of water and mix
– slowing add more water (up to 1 cup) until the mixture runs as slowly as honey

or maybe you can add notes like ‘Add 1 cup of water and mix. Note that in high humidity or days over 35°C, an additional 1/2 cup of water may be needed.’

Avoiding fluff keeps the message clear

Whatever message you are trying to convey, the clearer you can make it the easier it will be to understand and remember.

Generally, a shorter, simpler sentence will explain a message better than a long, complex sentence. Or paragraph.

Giving unnecessary options

I recently came across this sentence on a website form:  ‘credit card details only needed if posting this form’.Filling in f a form to mail in envelope

It seems simple enough – we don’t need your credit card details if you send us the form electronically or by courier pigeon. So if you’re not posting the form, save yourself the trouble of filling in half our form is the subtext.

One slight problem though – there was absolutely no way to submit their form except by posting it. The form was just a pdf to print off – there was no online submission nor was there an email address or fax number to be seen on the site.

So what they’re really saying is ‘fill in the credit card details’.

Check if it is needed

I think it’s pretty simple – if the information is meaningless (like credit card details for unavailable options) or useless, delete it.

Sometimes it’s a matter of reading through your words point by point and testing them out.

Sometimes it works better to list what is necessary then go to the text and assess everything not on the list – it may add value so you keep it but otherwise, delete it.

This is just as important when you change something as when you first write it.

In our example above, they may have had email details on the site but removed it to reduce spam and forgot to update the form reference.

When’s the last time you filled in a form on your site or followed your sales process to check it all makes sense and works? Did you read every word to be sure nothing pointless is in there?

Knowing the right terms improves clarity

Reviewing my newsletter from July 2010, I was reminded of the importance of getting your terminology right when writing – thanks to an example of poor writing from someone who considers herself to be a guru.

Clarity vs confusion

As a business, you have a message to get across to people which hopefully will lead to some action which helps your business.

A clear message will be more effective at engaging and inspiring action than a confusing message.

If someone doesn’t understand the message, they will give up and probably think little of your business. If someone misunderstands your message, you will waste time fixing misconceptions and possibly having to pay the price to rectify things.

Knowing the right terminology

Other than through dumb luck, it is next to impossible to give a clear message if you use terms you don’t understand yourself.

Instructions and manuals, vs directories and lists

Instructions and manuals, vs directories and lists

The poor example in my newsletter mixed directory and manual. I go to a directory to get details (such as a phone number of address) and a manual for instructions or procedures. The words are not interchangeable.Getting words right is important to communicating your business message. This is the basis of my Monday Meanings – to help people understand words (although it would never occur to me to define manual and directory to avoid them being confused!)

Your reaction

So how do you react when someone confuses a message through poor word usage?

Are you willing to spend time trying to figure out what a confusing message actually means, or do you give up and go elsewhere?

Scroll down and let us know what you think!

Train the child’s flesh

Clear writing is important for getting your message across, and often to help you make sales.

A poor message won’t attract as many sales nor earn respect or trust so it is worth getting help if you struggle writing clearly.

As a very clear example of this, I wanted to share the information on the back of a jigsaw puzzle box aimed at 3 year olds.

Give parents’ word:

In childhood there are per 80, the  growth of human’s brain. At period the learning and attraction is  most strongest in a life. So the parents pay attention to train your children.

Clever is not inborn, it’s gestated in the circumstance of growth. If the parents can choose more toys, that it can guide their hand and brain with together. Not only it trains their dexterity hands in the iteration, but also coordination function their brain, eyes and hands, It will breed a clever, health child.

Introduction of function:

Play the  number train, it can train acquaintance and memory to color, material and English word, and enhance recognition to sight and total concept.

Play the number train, Must according to the order of the number, Then patch a intact number train, So it can advance the growth of child’s flesh and raising the custom of hand.

child's toy trainOn the positive side, if it was web content, the word train was a good choice – it both represents the image on the jigsaw and the idea of training or teaching so is a great keyword for them.

Beyond that, I’m struggling to find much positive about this example of writing! Although to be fair everything is spelt correctly! I’m not going to list all the errors, either, as it would become a very long post if I tried, lol.

Obviously English is their second language but if you’re selling to English markets it is worth getting someone who truly knows English to check your work first.

Luckily, I didn’t need any instructions to do a jigsaw but imagine if I had needed their instructions…

Making legalese clear

Converting legalese into Plain English which is easier to understand, while keeping the legal message, is possible and doesn’t have to be that hard, either.

With the overall aim being to make the content shorter and to use simpler words, you can greatly improve a piece of legalese writing into something more readable.

Try swapping the phrases and words next time you are writing or editing any legal-based statements to see what a difference they make.

in respect of                                 about

due to                                             because

wherefore                                      why (or what)

herein                                             in (or within)

in the event                                   if

defaults in the payment             doesn’t pay

vendor                                             buyer or customer

three (3)                                         three

at this time                                     now

for the purpose of                         for (or to)

in order to                                      to

in point of fact                              in fact {or nothing is probably the best option!}

is required to                                 must

inasmuch as                                  because (or since)

making a determination             determining (or better, try ‘deciding’)

subsequent to the use of              after using

whether or not                               whether

with reference to                            regarding (or ‘about’ for real simplicity)

commence                                        start (or begin)

utilise                                                use

in light of the fact that                 because ( or the really short option ‘as’)

And remember that ‘include’ means ‘here is part of the full list’ so there is no reason to write ‘including but not limited to …’

Are there particular words or phrases in legalese (or other hard to read dialects) that stand out for you? What words would you use in stead, or do you need some suggestions of alternatives?

Legalese or clear English?

Legalese* is used a lot and is not what I call clear content or simple communication.

Legalese is usually both longer and more complicated than is necessary to communicate a message. Most people don’t read it in full because it is looks too boring and hard. And it isn’t truly necessary most of the time.

If you have terms or other important information to communicate with clients, by all means get a lawyer to review it for you to ensure you are saying the right things. However, make sure the information is presented clearly.

To help make it clear:

  • find a legal advisor who is happy to work with you for commercially sound content – at a minimum, get them to approve what is written meets the requirements (and no more) even if they would prefer to include a lot more
  • write a short and simple message and link off to a comprehensive list of legal terms elsewhere. The message alerts people that terms exist but keeps your main message clear – and most people really don’t need to know all those terms. I have used this strategy on product disclosure statements – we state the basic rules that apply to most people and list the finer terms elsewhere for unusual circumstances. The result is that people actually read those documents rather than letting them collect dust as they appear too hard.
  • use good formatting to make the content visually appealing – lots of small print, long sentences and numbered items in paragraph style is very off-putting

What do you think – do you read content that is obviously legalese? Do you find some of that small print information worth reading, if only presented in a clear way?

I can think of a few instances where a document has not answered a question so I have to skim through a lot of tiny terms to find the information. A shorter legal statement with important details or a well set out page of terms would be much easier to achieve the same goal.

* Legalese is the usually complex way lawyers write information to ensure all angles are covered and liabilities avoided.

Answer the question when replying

One simple way to improve your business communications is to ensure that every email you send in reply to anyone (staff, suppliers, customers and even friends and family) actually serves you both well.

So if someone has taken the time to ask you a question, make sure you answer it, and answer it clearly, when you reply. Sounds obvious but as it often doesn’t happen, it is worth checking before you hit send…

  1. read their email again – did you miss a second question? Are you sure you understood the real question being asked?
  2. does your answer stand alone? That is, did you give a full answer that anyone could understand – there is nothing worse than an email “Dear Fred, the answer is yes. Regards, Barney”. “Dear Fred, Yes we do deliver to Devonport. Regards, Barney” is much more effective as Fred doesn’t have to remember or think about what his question was.
  3. is your answer as simple and clear as possible? “Yes we do deliver to Devonport” is much better than “Yes, we deliver to all major cities in Australia” (is Devonport considered a major city?) or “Our delivery areas are all listed on our website and we cover most parts of Tasmania and Queensland” (how is Queensland relevant? Why couldn’t you give a direct answer?)
  4. if you can’t answer the question, say so rather than be obscure or ignore the question. I know I would prefer to hear “I’m not sure but will find out for you” or “we haven’t done that before so I’ll have to ask my manager to call you back” rather than having to ask again or risk making a guess.
Not only are clear replies to questions a good communication strategy, they can save you (and those you email) time and frustration.

Decluttering your blog

Last week I found a blog post I just have to share – Skelliewag gives 50 tips for decluttering your blog (yes he posted this list a while ago, but it still applies as far as I’m concerned!)

He raises some great points, such as not including stats (as you rather than your readers care about them) and irrelevant social media conversations in your side bar. And I love his suggestion of having a traditional links page if you really want to list a lot of blogs somewhere.

Comparing The Age newspaper in 1854 and 2011 - more white space and colour makes it easier on the eyes

Why declutter a blog?

Having less stuff around your writing gives more white space and less visual distraction – maybe I’m biassed, but I think that is better for highlighting your content. I do think about where to put things on my blog and avoid having too many plugins, but I hadn’t thought of decluttering like this before reading Skelliewag’s post.

One interesting point was to have a categories/tags cloud OR a categories/tags list – not both. I think that both is excess information, especially if you want to declutter and have more clear space around your blog. Personally, I would choose the list because it takes less space and is visually less cluttered than the cloud. On top of that, the cloud is based on bigger text on most popular words/phrases meaning that those words will give you a long list of posts to search through if trying to find something specific. Have you ever clicked on one of those clouds to find anything anyway? I know I haven’t (in fact I actively ignore them, but that’s just me!)

And I like the logic of getting rid of any advertising that doesn’t really pay well – it is nicer for readers to see fewer ads and does make the remaining ones more effective. I find a lot of ads in a blog distracting and prefer to see a clean page focussed on the content, so it makes sense to me to use fewer ads.

Most of his points already apply to my blog, phew! I will review the rest of his list and make decisions on whether to keep or lose some details. So if you think my blog is too cluttered or want something removed, now is the time to tell me!


* Images courtesy of Dysprosia and WikimediaCommons

Make it clear what you do

What does your business do? Would I be able to answer that question after reading your website or brochure?

You may be surprised that many businesses do not clearly state what they don on their website. Some just assume everyone knows, others try to be clever and use fancy words and others appear to like being mysterious and/or aloof. And that’s not counting those sites that try to tease and get your details before they really disclose anything – I just can’t trust that sort of site.

Why do I think it is important to be clear about what you do?

  • make life easy for your potential clients – clarity saves them guessing or searching for the information
  • using the appropriate words (i.e. keywords) will help search engines find and rank you
  • save yourself being contacted by people who are after something you don’t offer
  • it builds credibility – you are open and honest rather than trying to be impressive

Some people argue that effectively hiding information throughout the site means people have to read more pages to find their answers (for example the home page, about us page and services page to find out if you offer what hey want). My answer to that is that many people won’t  bother and will look elsewhere, and even if they do, is wasting a client’s time showing them much respect or valuing them at all?

So how can you make this clear?

  • add an informative tagline to every page of your site
  • make it the first sentence on your site for real clarity
  • use commonly accepted words to describe your services at least once – if you use unusual terms by choice, perhaps simplify it on your about us page
  • have a list of your services if there could be doubts. For instance, a beautician might list she offers waxing, facials and manicures but not pedicures and a legal firm might list they do contracts, employment agreements, family law and business advice (the implication being they don’t do criminal law)
  • note who you service. My tagline is ‘for all your business writing needs’ which clearly shows I write for businesses rather than writing fiction or being a journalist
  • be specific “we help people” doesn’t say much but “we help homeowners prepare for sale” and “we help families care for their elderly loved ones” are much more informative (to humans and search engines)

So maybe look at your materials again and think about whether you are clearly stating what you do.

Give options that make sense

I have written before about the need to use clear questions in surveys to get meaningful results, and given some tips on how to write such questions. Every time I do a survey with poor questions I cringe – do they really not care about getting good results or just don’t understand that not everyone knows what they are really asking?

One of the most common questions I have seen in online surveys is the following:

Are you …


Technically, the answer is yes  – I am male or female and so is every other human I know of! Fairly pointless question to ask unless you have a third group responding.

In this case, we can see what is really being asked (“which are you?”) and the available answers lead us to answering correctly, but it isn’t always so easy.

It was great recently to be asked to help a major research centre refine their questionnaire. They had determined the questions they wanted to ask but understood that how they asked was critical to the final result of their research.

So if you are preparing surveys or questionnaires, my two key tips are:

  • read the questions to make sure the options answer the question and suit your needs
  • get at least one other person to read the questions to ensure they make sense to a less involved pair of eyes

Use your words wisely!