Does your writing pass the "mum" test?
Write for your mum: that's a piece of advice we at Doris and Bertie often give our clients. So in our third post on readability, we thought we'd actually put some business writing to the "mum" test. In our previous posts on readability and the parts of speech and what readability scores can and can't tell you, we looked at two pieces of writing.
The first extract appeared in a report published by a well-known management consultancy. The second says the same thing, but in a much more readable way. Here they are again:
Leverage analytics to drive prediction Use predictive analytics as a decision support tool to drive a forward-looking analysis of scenarios, response effectiveness, and critical correlations that can complicate or escalate events. Better understanding of the drivers of extreme events, whether external developments or internal process interactions, can help build a robust, flexible and dynamic crisis management program. The objective for enhanced analytics is not to predict events, but to help companies develop more meaningful warning indicators, and an increased awareness of their leverage in preventing or managing ‘runaway’ crises.
Learn from the past If you know what causes crises, you can prepare for them. So analyse what’s happened in the past to help you predict what might happen in the future. It will let you spot the warning signs that a crisis is unfolding, so you can stop it escalating or even happening at all.
To test our view that the second version is more readable than the first, we sent both texts to a real-life mum. A retired nurse, our guinea pig is not an expert in business, but is intelligent and articulate.
We asked her to circle any phrases in either piece she didn't understand. She did so, and exceeded the brief by providing her own commentary. Here's what we received back:
For those of you who can't decipher our mum's scrawl, here's what it says:
Note in margin of version 1
"all sounds like tosh"
Commentary on version 1
"I know all of these words individually but in this piece it all sounds like gobbledygook."
Commentary on version 2
"So that's what it was supposed to be saying. No. 1 might just as well have been written in ancient Aramaic for all the sense it made."
Our rewrite passed the mum test, where the original failed spectacularly.
Are you confident your writing would pass the same test?