Using plain language in your financial writing

If you write content for the financial services industry, you likely write for a variety of audiences.

Some of the people who read your content may be advisors. Others may be new investors who are still learning the basic concepts of investing.

You can make your content more accessible to everyone by following a few plain language principles.

The truth about plain language

Some people think that plain language is about “dumbing things down.” It’s not. Plain language is about expressing yourself clearly and concisely without being condescending or making anyone feel dumb.

What might make someone feel that way? Having to look up every fifth word they read in the dictionary or giving up on an article because it’s too dense and exhausting.

Plain language is about expressing yourself clearly and concisely without being condescending or making anyone feel dumb.

Imagine a doctor who speaks like a medical textbook. Every other word they say is over your head and, despite asking good questions, you give up on having a meaningful conversation.

You know you’re an intelligent person. But you’re going to feel much less intelligent if your doctor insists on saying “Choledocholithiasis” instead of “gallbladder stones” and sighs when you ask them what that means. Especially since there’s no reason for a doctor to avoid using a common and easily understood term like “gallbladder stones.”

Three elements of plain language

Without “dumbing” anything down, you can get your message across to a broader audience by focusing on these three things.

1. Organization

Break your article into chunks so readers can scan it quickly and easily. This means using heads and subheads relevant to what you’re about to say.

Make sure each paragraph focuses on a single topic. If you move onto a new topic, move onto a new paragraph, too. Readers find it easier to digest one main thought at a time.

2. Sentence and paragraph length

Try to keep your sentences under 30 words and limit each paragraph to three to five sentences. If you have a long sentence that can’t be broken up, try putting it into bullet points.

3. Word choice and style

Write in a conversational tone and use active voice as much as you can. Avoid industry jargon that most people outside of your industry won’t understand, and delete unnecessary words.

Avoid industry jargon that most people outside of your industry won’t understand.

Choose familiar words over more obscure words, but don’t avoid long words that would be easily understood by your audience just because they’re long.

Take a look back through this post and you’ll see that we’ve used some long words, but we’re confident our audience will be fine with this.

A word on design

There’s a strong design element to plain language, which might be something you don’t have much control over. However, using a readable font and including lots of white space will make your content easier to read.

Plain language in action

Here’s a short before-and-after example of the three elements of plain language in action.

Before

“Despite a year filled with market and operational headwinds, much positive feedback was given to us by clients in recognition of the merit of our customer service, superior attention to detail and unyieldingly honest marketing campaigns.”

After

“Despite a challenging year, our clients told us they appreciated our commitment to customer service, attention to detail and honest marketing campaigns.”

What we did

  • Kept the sentence under 30 words
  • Used active voice
  • Deleted industry jargon
  • Deleted unnecessary words

Looking for plain language expertise? Contact us at 416.925.1700, 1.844.243.1830 or info@ext-marketing.com.

Read more:

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