Sunday, May 07, 2006

Turn Legalize into an Easy Read

My understanding is that the average adult reader comprehends at a sixth grade level without regard for actual level of education. I am certain there are all sorts of variables in that bell curve but the center of the curve is what I worry about as a marketer. I would surmise that attorneys have a higher comprehension simply because their line of study and practice pushes them to the higher end of seeing inside the meaning and context of words. But my target audience is primarily not attorneys.

When an attorney writes an article meant for publication (blawg, advertorial, magazine or journal), at least in my firm, the words will be read by "not an attorney". Exactly the audience that will frustrate quickly if the words are over their head. If the average reader has to think too much about EVERY word to fit the sentence together their eyes glaze over and the page is turned. So what can a marketer do. Here are a few simple steps for helping an attorney written article become digestible to the average business/consumer reader:
  1. In your word processing program alter one margin of the document to at least 2" wide and print it.
  2. Read each paragraph and in the margin write a brief summary of what the paragraph stated. Try not to use any of the words already written though some must be used.
  3. Redline any words or phrases written by the attorney if they (in your opinion) are totally over the top for an average reader.
  4. Sit down with the attorney/author and read your summary. Discuss if you where on target in your summary, discuss changes, and find alternative ways of stating concepts in smaller words.
  5. Following the discussion rewrite a few of the paragraphs for the attorney so that he/she has a style guide.
  6. Markup the rest of the document where the attorney needs to simplify and pass the document back to him/her for revision.
  7. After the rewrite it becomes a simple process of reading, suggesting changes, and discussing final versions.
Not every attorney will want to play along. Considering how much effort it takes to pay attention to client needs, billable hours, and have a life outside the firm, finding time to write is an incredibly tough task. But, people love a good story, and they hate being bored by things they think they should know. It is worth the effort, in spades, to the personal brand of any attorney who desires to be published; And to the firm who's name rides along in the byline.