Can You Write Shorter and Simpler?
As shocking as it might be to some writers, not everybody reads regularly.
In fact, most stop reading books after they’ve left school. It’s questionable whether some even started.
Many would suggest that TV and other modern distractions are causing literacy levels to drop.
If reading levels are falling, will writing standards have to as well?
Last week it was announced that the reading age of the UK’s school children hadn’t improved since the 1950s.
With manufacturing and other industries uprooting and heading East, it’s hardly surprising that the government has desperately poured Ã‚Â£500 million into trying to create a more literate future workforce.
However, the failure to get more children hooked on books is an entrenched problem that’s going to be difficult to shift.
Ã‚Â£6 billion is already being spent on a similar scheme aimed at the UK’s adult workforce. It’s believed that half (16 million) have a reading age that’s little better than that of an 11 year old upon leaving primary school, worrying indeed if your future lies in trying to build a nationwide high-tech service industry to rival China.
The US might also be facing a similar problem because last week Bob Bly questioned ‘Is Reading Dead?’ in response to the suggestion that the average 15 to 19 year old reads for less than ten minutes at weekends.
But it’s not just teenagers that are struggling to find the time or inclination to bury their nose in a novel.
Brian Clark’s ‘Teaching Sells’ course is geared around converting educational literature into easily digestible chunks.
People are getting so book shy that they’re prepared to pay to be spoon fed knowledge, rather than brave their local library.
If the collapse of reading skills becomes a pandemic then internet writing is the form most likely to survive.
Web surfers scan words and have the attention spans of goldfish, so writing for the web already has to be concise, and you have to keep it short and simple, if you want to get your message across.
Long words and sentences the size of paragraphs are a literary species best suited to the offline world, and could become endangered if adequate reading levels can’t be sustained.
If people aren’t reading and getting less adept at processing words with their brains, will writers eventually have to start simplifying their language?
Are you going to have to start eliminating four syllable words from your vocabulary altogether? And wielding an axe to every sentence that can survive the trauma of being split in two?
I think such an apocalyptic vision for western writers is still a long way off.
But it might be a good idea to start learning Chinese just in case.
[If you’ve found this post of interest then I hope you might consider nominating The Copywriter’s Crucible for Michael Stelzner’s shortlist for this year’s best blogs for writers. I somehow smuggled my way into the shortlist last year, but didn’t quite have enough momentum to break into the final ten. Hopefully, with your support, this year I can go all the way]