Do You Write Like a 7th Grader? (If not, you should)
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After helping more than 150 financial advisors write their marketing materials, I keep seeing a common mistake.
They write in “financialese.”
It’s a language not meant for humans. I’m not sure who it’s meant for – possibly another advisor? Maybe robots?
Either way, it’s easy to spot because it uses too many financial terms, big SAT words and long, complex sentences. The biggest problem is that no one reads it.
I saw the results firsthand.
Testing doesn't lie
Recently, I wrote online marketing and website copy for a large financial institution. I was brought on to rewrite much of the language on their website. I would literally translate the copy into human speak. My client had more than 10 million prospects and investors a month visiting the site. Page-by-page, we rewrote it and made the language less elevated.
Everything I wrote was tracked so we could gather data. In fact, we knew whether or not people read the copy by tracking clicks on the pages. We could even see if someone opened an account after viewing a page.
I found complicated financial speak does not do well. In fact, it fails miserably.
Conversely, a conversational tone gets a lot of engagement. The more conversational and plainly spoken, the more clicks we’d get.
We also found that less is more. Don’t use 14 words when you can write a headline in eight. This was crucial. Far too many headlines (and articles for that matter) are too long.
Write for a 7th grader
It comes down to this – what grade-level is your copy clocking in at?
This is something that every best-selling author knows. In fact, if you look at the best-seller lists, according to a great study by the co-founder of the vendor Contently, they average 7-8th grade reading levels.
Even Ernest Hemingway may have known this back in his day. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Old Man and the Sea, clocks in at a 4th grade reading level.
How do you know the grade level?
You can test the reading level with some handy websites like this one.
It doesn’t look like much, but one major financial firm I worked with would have their writers run copy through this very app. If their copy didn’t come in at a 7th grade level or less, it had to be rewritten.
What does my article clock in at?
In fact, this article you are reading right now tested at a 4th grade reading level. Why? Because it has all the ingredients of easy-to-read copy:
- Short sentences
- No big SAT words
- Active sentences – not passive ones
How to avoid financialese:
You can do it too. You don’t need to be a handsome writer with an incredible writing background like me (just kidding). Here’s how:
- Be careful about the length of your words and how many syllables they contain
- Use simple descriptions without too many adjectives
- Write shorter sentences. Use periods to chop up lengthy sentences into smaller, easily digestible chunks. Look for red flags such as commas, semicolons and the word “and.”
Avoiding financialese is the first step. However, beyond language, you can’t be self-centered. Having worked with financial advisors, I'm surprised at how easy it is to correct their marketing materials. They always talk about themselves. For example, they’ll write: "I have 18 years of experience, I have my CFP designation..." It's always, "me, me, me."
Studies have shown that talking about "you" (the client) is more appealing. For example, "When it comes to managing your wealth, you need clear and straightforward guidance..." The language should be more focused on, "you, you, you."
Just a few simple tweaks will help your marketing materials, LinkedIn profile and your website get more engagement. Don’t worry, you won't lose credibility with simpler writing. Testing has shown that you'll keep more people interested and have a higher likelihood of reaching a larger audience.
Embrace your inner 7th grader. Set them free! It’ll be better for everybody.
Captains of Content founder Matt Ledoux has nearly 20 years of experience writing national advertising campaigns and marketing financial advisors for Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, US Trust, and Fidelity. He’s been nominated for an Emmy, shortlisted at Cannes and yelled at by Coach Bobby Knight. He’s worked with more than 150 financial advisors. Email him at email@example.com