A few years back, there was a fascinating article published by Press Release Rocket dealing with local government websites and their readability. A comprehensive readability report submitted by Visible Thread clearly showed that most government websites did not meet official Plain English guidelines. What if we were to apply those same guidelines to professional press release writing? How would your press releases do?
Technically speaking, the Plain English standards the above article talked about back in the day were developed for, and apply to, government websites only. Those standards were published in a 2014 guide put out by the Digital Service and distributed to local government website authors. The guide clearly stated:
Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK…Plain English is the whole ethos of GOV.UK: it’s a way of writing.
The whole point of writing according to Plain English standards is to make government websites as readable and accessible to as many UK citizens as possible. Government information is supposed to be freely offered and received, but that information can be very difficult to receive if recipients do not understand it. And according to Visible Thread’s analysis, some 82% of local government websites are failing in the following areas:
- Use of passive language
- Use of long sentences
- Word complexity and density.
Now, let us apply this to professional press release writing. Keep in mind that press releases are intended to communicate very specific information to a very specific audience.
If Plain English standards were applied to press releases, many professional writers would have to re-think how they write. A concerted effort would have to be made to tame vocabulary, shorten sentences, and simplify ideas into more manageable chunks.
Making Sure They Understand
Let’s say your company is distributing a press release announcing the introduction of a brand-new product. Your target audience consists of two primary groups: current customers who might be interested in your new product as an upgrade or a standalone offering, and potentially new customers who would benefit from buying your new product.
Aside from telling them that the new product is now available, what is the most important purpose of your press release? To explain your new product well enough that readers will instantly know whether they should look into purchasing it or not. They need to be made to understand what you want them to know in simple terms.
This means your press release needs to be written in the everyday language your customers use. If you choose to write in complicated industry jargon and long-winded sentences that don’t make sense, your readers will be left with a press release that is of little value. They don’t care how impressive you sound in your writing, they just care about whether your new product is something they need or not.
It’s not surprising that so many government websites don’t meet Plain English standards. It is disappointing that so many professionally written press releases do not meet the standards either. If a press release is to be effective, it needs to speak to people where they are, in language they understand.