From the Daily Mirror to the Wall Street Journal, pretty much every widely-read newspaper uses clear language for their readers.
This can present an issue for business schools and universities as, while not the case for all academics, some faculty members opt for a style of writing that is often considered to be only accessible to others within their field due to the type of language they use.
You could call it writing by an academic for an academic.
For those faculty members who want media coverage for their work but struggle to produce research in an accessible and inclusive way, a PR professional can offer expert advice on how to communicate even the most complex of ideas into clear, accessible language.
Why swap complex words for easily-understood ones?
It’s simple really – people won’t read articles that are overtly difficult to understand, which means journalists won’t choose them.
If you want to achieve media attention for your client’s academic work, you have to make that research as inclusive as possible. You need to convince the journalist, and subsequently the reader, to read it.
This is done in two ways; make it interesting, and make it easy to grasp.
PRs and universities alike should live by a simple rule when it comes to seeking media attention – language is meant to connect people, not alienate or intimidate them. When we, as the PR professionals with our wider array of contacts in the world of media, look to achieve coverage for our client, we are doing so to share their ground-breaking work with the world. How would this be achievable if the language used was so complex that journalists either struggle to understand it, or just lose all interest in the article?
A few useful tips on how to make complex work a little more accessible:
- Explain anything technical you wouldn’t expect the average person to have heard of or understand. This includes terms, acronyms, and generally anything specialist.
- As laid out by George Orwell his essay “Politics and the English Language”, jargon should never be used if there a viable alternative.
- Do not treat the reader like an expert. There is absolutely no reason why a journalist or an average newspaper reader should have any understanding of macroeconomics nor efficient road-pricing (those are two every specific examples, but you get the point).
- If you have to Google it, the reader will have to do the same; work on the basis that the reader’s grasp of the English language matches your own. This is especially true when it comes to headlines, as this is the only thing a journalist will see when sifting through their emails.
A case study
Here is an example that demonstrates how you can go about making a complex research title more accessible without devaluing the work:
“Management Deception, Big-Bath Accounting, and Information Asymmetry: Evidence from Linguistic Analysis”
BlueSky’s press release:
“Being too positive about bad results only makes it worse for managers”
What did we do?
Put simply, we took out the unnecessary jargon and complex language, swapping them for clear and easily-understood terms that would resonate with journalists and readers alike. The fundamental information is still there, just in a clear and concise format which is more appropriate for a media headline.
It is important to remember that journalists receive hundreds, if not thousands, of emails a day – don’t make it difficult for them to work out what the press release is about, as they’ll simply move on.
The example headline from the BlueSky education team has the ideal formula – a simple, informative title, which is either interesting or questions the reader’s knowledge.
Nailing the headline is vital to a successful press release!
Gaining those precious ‘column inches’ is about writing in a way that everyone can understand. The more accessible and interesting the work, the more media attention you will achieve.