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Choice Words from Schneider the Writer


A recent issue of BUSINESS WEEK offers examples of incomprehensible language in user manuals for a VCR, a clock radio, word processing software and a stereo receiver. While such language is frustrating enough for users, the fact remains that they have bought the equipment.

Many prospective buyers of sophisticated equipment encounter the same kind of incomprehensible language in the pieces of literature designed to entice them to buy it. While designers may be impressed with the design, and engineers may be impressed with the engineering, typical users may be thwarted by the complexity. Even if the equipment is easy to operate, that fact -- and the sale -- may get lost in the translation.

First and foremost, sales literature has to focus on user-oriented benefits. Users need to be told exactly what the equipment will do for them and how easy it is to do. Once the user knows that the product is fast, accurate, safe, cost-effective, easy to program and easy to maintain, he or she may go on to read about the fine points of megabytes, kilohertz or horsepower.

Secondly, sales literature has to be relevant to the market the company is trying to reach. In the case of highly technical products that serve several different markets, a generic piece of literature may not do the job. The equipment may incorporate benefits for many categories of users, but the prospective buyer is not especially interested in the needs of another prospective buyer.

Sales literature needs to be concise and readable. It is far more difficult to make your point in 16 words than in 3,000, but how much time does the buyer have to read a brochure or a data sheet? Clear and concise language, interesting headlines, bullet points, good typography and interesting but not overwhelming graphics will encourage readership.

While cleverness wins points in some industries, it may not be appropriate in others. What does capture the reader's attention is a perception of value. The seller wants the buyer to see and understand that value. It is up to the seller to simplify the process of getting the buyer to understand what's in it for him or her.


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Copyright 1998 Schneider the Writer
Last modified: July 25, 1998

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