Woolly words won’t beat coronavirus

We’ll keep this brief. Firstly because other writers, Tweeters and politicians have already noted it, and secondly because we’ve covered this topic before. (It’s kind of our thing.) But one last time: if you want someone to do something, please make it clear. This is as true in a time of crisis as it is in everyday business.

Beware the curse of knowledge

 

Virologists and epidemiologists might talk about ‘social distancing measures’ at work every day. But the average person won’t have heard those terms until March 2020. To my grandma, the advice from senior politicans to ‘practise social distancing’ will have been next to useless. She didn’t understand it, so she kept going to church as usual. That was, until my mam told her, ‘Stay inside.’

Specialist insight and advice is obviously invaluable. We’d be lost without it. But sometimes, that deep knowledge can be a curse, as it stops experts getting through to normal people. When there’s something complex to communicate, it can help to call a good writer.  

Use words your reader will understand

 

For my grandma, ‘stay inside’ was exactly the simple and useful information she needed to hear. They’re short, everyday words, and the verb makes the sentence imperative so she knows there’s something she needs to do.

We’ve been thinking back to the ‘Catch it, bin it, kill it’ line that Dave Trott created and the UK government used in the 2009 swine flu outbreak. It’s simple, memorable and effective.

Lately, government spokespeople have appeared next to the slogan ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’. This is better than some of the earlier advice. It starts by focusing on the most important action we can all take, before explaining its powerful knock-on effects. In my opinion, it needs an edit to be snappier. Stay home, save lives. We should have started saying it sooner.

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