Do You Ever Grow Tired of Having To Write For The LCD?

36 replies
I was wondering, am I the only one who grows tired of having to write for the lowest common denominator all the time?

Now, I know that it's a good Copywriting practice to do so, and I always make it an effort to do so in my own Copy, but I naturally write using more complex language (not intentionally), and sometimes, I grow weary of having to write for the lowest common denominator of society.

I picture the idiot with a big smile on his face, proud that he can understand the words I've put onto the page, where he can't understand most normal written content, be it in books or articles.

This is just something which was grating on me a little bit, and so I decided to talk about it, just to see if I'm the only one who gets this.

But, the idiot may have money to spend (or, more likely, credit cards to max out) so, we might as well write so he/she can understand it too.

I assume they're the people you see walking around who can't speak English properly no matter how much they try. They think they're cool, but really they just look stupid.

We have to write so that even a 5-year old can understand it, of course, but really, we're writing for people who are much older than that, but who don't have a good grasp on what's likely the only language that they speak... English (for most of us).

Do you get tired of having to dumb your speech down every time you write a new piece, or am I alone in this?
#grow #lcd #tired #write
  • Profile picture of the author nmwf
    Idiot?? Yikes! LoL

    I think you have to think further than the sale with this issue. If you believe you'll have such an audience for a target market, are you prepared to coddle them through other parts of your setup (like with support, customer service, etc. etc.)? If not, I don't see anything wrong with purposefully excluding that group with your "prose."

    Weed them out and keep yourself sane. It'll make you a much nicer person to deal with in the end.
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  • Profile picture of the author TypingPandas
    Hi there,

    Even though I understand you perfectly, I'm not totally on the same page as you. I think it's perfectly normal to use common words when writing so that everyone can understand you. That's what content writing is about, after all - writing for the masses. And the masses include both PhD graduates and those who haven't managed to finish high-school.

    Also, I don't believe that everything we write has to be for the lowest common denominator. It all depends on the client you're working with and his target audience. There are companies / businesses that have a more intellectual audience and then it's OK to use "bigger" words. So, it mainly depends on the clients you have. Also, when it comes to e-books, I think writers have much more freedom in choosing their style and language.

    So, as a conclusion, I think we must respect our readers, whoever they are, because without them, there would be no copywriting. And we would have to reconsider our careers. )

    Best,
    Typing Pandas
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    • Profile picture of the author Cam Connor
      Originally Posted by TypingPandas View Post

      And the masses include both PhD graduates and those who haven't managed to finish high-school.

      I'm one of the people who hasn't managed to finish high school...

      The irony.
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  • Profile picture of the author JohnRussell
    I think you miss the point of simple writing. It's not writing for the lowest common denominator. Rather, it's writing to increase flow.

    As John Carlton says, your copy should be like a greased slide. You just don't get that affect with complex words or sentences. It's not that larger words won't be understood, it's that it slows the reading down.

    It works for Stephen King. And for Hemingway.
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    • Profile picture of the author Raydal
      Originally Posted by JohnRussell View Post

      I think you miss the point of simple writing. It's not writing for the lowest common denominator. Rather, it's writing to increase flow.

      As John Carlton says, your copy should be like a greased slide. You just don't get that affect with complex words or sentences. It's not that larger words won't be understood, it's that it slows the reading down.

      It works for Stephen King. And for Hemingway.
      For sure writing simple has nothing to do with writing for dumb people. It's a
      matter of making your language accessible to all--both educated and uneducated.
      Simple words. Simple sentences. Digestible ideas.

      On another note, I think that the "slippery slide" imagery belongs to Joe Sugarman,
      not Carlton. (Chapter 8 -Advertising Secret of The Written Word.). At least that's
      the first place I read the concept.

      -Ray Edwards
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      • Profile picture of the author JohnRussell
        Originally Posted by Raydal View Post


        On another note, I think that the "slippery slide" imagery belongs to Joe Sugarman,
        not Carlton. (Chapter 8 -Advertising Secret of The Written Word.). At least that's
        the first place I read the concept.

        -Ray Edwards
        Thanks...I first heard Carlton say it...he must 'ave swiped it
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    • Profile picture of the author John Lloyd
      Originally Posted by JohnRussell View Post

      I think you miss the point of simple writing. It's not writing for the lowest common denominator. Rather, it's writing to increase flow.

      As John Carlton says, your copy should be like a greased slide. You just don't get that affect with complex words or sentences. It's not that larger words won't be understood, it's that it slows the reading down.

      It works for Stephen King. And for Hemingway.
      Hemingway? I doubt most college grads could make it through "The Sun Also Rises" without dozing off. And they would need a bottle of Brandy at their side to understand it.

      Not the best literary example for good copy.

      I actually like Hemingway for the depressive alcoholic genius he was. But he wasn't a salesman.
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      • Profile picture of the author JohnRussell
        Originally Posted by John Lloyd View Post

        Hemingway? I doubt most college grads could make it through "The Sun Also Rises" without dozing off. And they would need a bottle of Brandy at their side to understand it.

        Not the best literary example for good copy.

        I actually like Hemingway for the depressive alcoholic genius he was. But he wasn't a salesman.
        Perhaps.

        You're deflecting from the real point which was that the purpose behind simple copy is not to write for the LCD, it's to write for flow.

        As an aside...

        Hemingway is a great tool to improve the flow in your copy - ironic that it's named after Hemingway, isn't it?
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      • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
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        Originally Posted by John Lloyd View Post

        Hemingway? I doubt most college grads could make it through "The Sun Also Rises" without dozing off. And they would need a bottle of Brandy at their side to understand it.

        Not the best literary example for good copy.

        I actually like Hemingway for the depressive alcoholic genius he was. But he wasn't a salesman.
        His last novel "The Old Man and the Sea" is a better read perhaps. Won him the Pulitzer prize and contributed to his Nobel Prize for Literature.

        Short words, straightforward sentence structures, vivid descriptions, and factual details combine to create an almost transparent medium for his engaging and realistic stories. Yet without calling attention to itself, the language also resonates with complex emotions and larger and larger meanings -- displaying the writer's skill in his use of such subtle techniques as sophisticated patterns; repeated images, allusions, and themes; repeated sounds, rhythms, words, and sentence structures; indirect revelation of historical fact; and blended narrative modes. In The Old Man and the Sea, nearly every word and phrase points to Hemingway's Santiago-like dedication to craft and devotion to precision. Hemingway himself claimed that he wrote on the "principle of the iceberg," meaning that "seven-eighths" of the story lay below the surface parts that show. While the writing in The Old Man and the Sea reflects Hemingway's efforts to pare down language and convey as much as possible in as few words as possible, the novella's meanings resonate on a larger and larger scale. The story's brevity, ostensibly simple plot, and distance from much of this period's political affairs all lend the novella a simplistic quality that is as deceptive as it is endearing.
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  • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
    If you view it as writing for idiots, no wonder you're irritated by it.

    For a long time, my personal tagline has been "Clear. Simple. Direct."

    There's nothing 1) dumb or 2) condescending about saying that.

    I'm not talking down to people or oversimplifying something they're too stupid to get. I'm putting what I do in the clearest, easiest to get way possible.

    A change in perspective is the only thing that'll solve this problem for you. If you see it as writing to dumbasses, you're always going to feel like it's beneath you.

    I see it as writing to people from all walks of life - people who know how to earn and spend money just as well as someone more formally educated. Their money isn't any less green to me.
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  • Profile picture of the author John Lloyd
    ^It looks like a great piece of kit. Shame about the name though.
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    • Profile picture of the author JohnRussell
      Originally Posted by John Lloyd View Post

      ^It looks like a great piece of kit. Shame about the name though.
      I'll take your word for it...I don't know much about him really. I'm no aspiring novelist - I'm a salesman.
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    • Profile picture of the author Raydal
      Originally Posted by John Lloyd View Post

      ^It looks like a great piece of kit. Shame about the name though.
      No, Hemingway is known for his simple, direct style. Of course he didn't write
      copy but his style is proverbial with simplicity.

      From almost the beginning of his writing career, Hemingway's distinctive style occasioned a great deal of comment and controversy. Basically, his style is simple, direct, and unadorned, probably as a result of his early newspaper training. He avoids the adjective whenever possible, but because he is a master at transmitting emotion without the flowery prose of his Victorian novelist predecessors, the effect is far more telling. In Observations on the Style of Ernest Hemingway, from "Contexts of Criticism" by Harry Levin (Harvard University Press, 1957), the critic says: "Hemingway puts his emphasis on nouns because, among other parts of speech, they come closest to things. Stringing them along by means of conjunctions, he approximates the actual flow of experience."
      (Hemingway's Writing Style)

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  • Profile picture of the author John Lloyd
    Simple, and direct does not a good copywriter make. Most of Hemingway's writing would bore the heck out of the average Joe.

    Matt Furey said the same thing about him by the way.
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    • Profile picture of the author Raydal
      Originally Posted by John Lloyd View Post

      Simple, and direct does not a good copywriter make. Most of Hemingway's writing would bore the heck out of the average Joe.

      Matt Furey said the same thing about him by the way.
      Agree. But the issue is not about Hemingway as a copywriter. He is known
      for his simple style of writing. That was the reason for referring to him.

      -Ray Edwards
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by angiecolee

      For a long time, my personal tagline has been "Clear. Simple. Direct."
      Originally Posted by John Lloyd View Post

      Simple, and direct does not a good copywriter make. Most of Hemingway's writing would bore the heck out of the average Joe.

      Matt Furey said the same thing about him by the way.
      I beg to differ.
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
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    • Profile picture of the author Kay King
      I think if you have that impression of yourself as superior and your audience as inferior...your writing will begin to reflect that and will become less effective.

      If you can't change the attitude - you can change the type of writing you do.

      Or you can leave the ivory tower and get to know some real people - the kind of people who READ what you write. It could be an eye opener for you.
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  • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
    Cam, here's an idea.

    Write for yourself first. Get the copy out of your head and onto paper. As quickly as possible. Write the way you talk.

    And feel frickn' good about it.

    It gives the piece personality. Integrity. Strength. Power. Authenticity. Style.

    Now, is it what the reader (i.e. the market) can easily grasp and take action on?

    Maybe, maybe not.

    But that's the second part of the copywriting equation, isn't it? Editing. The process (some would say art) of making things simple. Clear. Easy to consume. Actionable.

    Please appreciate, I'm not saying you're not editing and such. I don't know. I haven't seen your work.

    Just conjecture but what you "may" be trying to do is edit WHILE you're initially writing.

    I can only speak for myself, but when I do that? I feel like I'm pulling my punches. My words don't land with the same impact.

    - Rick Duris
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    • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
      Now, I know that it's a good Copywriting practice to do so, and I always make it an effort to do so in my own Copy, but I naturally write using more complex language (not intentionally), and sometimes, I grow weary of having to write for the lowest common denominator of society.
      Cam, I happen to have a Ph.D., and I try my best to write to be understood. This actually has very little to do with the level of vocabulary. You can use simple vocabulary and be unclear and you can use complex vocabulary and be extremely clear.

      It sounds to me like your frustration may stem from seeing "the reader" as pretty much the same for each assignment - the great unwashed and uneducated hordes. However, unless you have chosen one narrow niche, the audience is actually quite different for each assignment. See if you can find the challenge in identifying how they are different and then writing for a particular audience.

      When I taught magazine writing, I had an assignment where students would have to distinguish the expected writing style of closely related magazines by examining the ads, sentence length/tone/sentence types/leads of articles and more. Always, always there were significant differences between, say, Men's Fitness and Runner's World or Glamour and Mademoiselle.

      It's exactly the same in copywriting. The Apple app audience is not the same as the Wordpress audience, and on and on.

      You need to go deeper - or get out of the business if it's just not in you to enjoy finding and writing to such differences.

      Marcia Yudkin
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  • Profile picture of the author Jennifer Hutson
    Sounds like you need to identify what's causing you to have such a cynical perception of your readers or get out of the profession if you hate it that much.

    That is an awful, awful mentality to have. I can't imagine how it comes across in your writing.
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    • Profile picture of the author Cam Connor
      Just to make one thing clear: I'm not saying my entire audience are all idiots... but they say in Copywriting (we've heard it many, many times) "write so that a 5-year old can understand it". You dumb down your writing so that EVERYONE can understand it, INCLUDING the lowest common denominator.

      This is just frustrating to me, because it's not how I write, naturally. That's all.

      I'm not saying everyone I write for is an idiot. lol...

      -Cam
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      • Profile picture of the author StingGB
        Interesting thread. Perspective in writing.

        I've been critiquing everyone's response, technically rather then context.

        Druthers incline me towards Jennifer..

        Bri.
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      • Profile picture of the author nmwf
        Originally Posted by Cam Connor View Post

        This is just frustrating to me, because it's not how I write, naturally. That's all.
        And you don't have to, Cam!! That's the beauty of researching how business works. So it sounds like you might enjoy studying pre-qualifying tactics, which can certainly work in copywriting. A great place to start (in case you're not already familiar with it): Pre-Qualifying Works; Prejudging Your Prospects Doesn

        Your chosen vocabulary, sentence structure, and context speaks to the kind of people you want to work with/for. It pre-qualifies them for whatever is to come next. Don't skip out on that step, else you'll be stuck trying to please people who will literally drain you... as I suspect it's already doing.
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        • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
          "write so that a 5-year old can understand it". You dumb down your writing so that EVERYONE can understand it, INCLUDING the lowest common denominator.
          Here's the thing, though - writing so that a 5-year-old can understand is not necessarily dumbing down!

          I don't know if you have ever watched classic TV/movie cartoons as an adult. When I've done that (because my husband didn't grow up in America and never saw the cartoons as a kid), I was shocked at how sophisticated some of the jokes were - WAY beyond the comprehension of a 5-year old. Yet kids loved those cartoons and felt they understood them because the action and script worked together to make the story line easy to understand, even though there were levels of meaning that went completely over their heads.

          Can you see how that applies to copywriting?

          Marcia Yudkin
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          • Profile picture of the author Cam Connor
            Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

            Here's the thing, though - writing so that a 5-year-old can understand is not necessarily dumbing down!

            I don't know if you have ever watched classic TV/movie cartoons as an adult. When I've done that (because my husband didn't grow up in America and never saw the cartoons as a kid), I was shocked at how sophisticated some of the jokes were - WAY beyond the comprehension of a 5-year old. Yet kids loved those cartoons and felt they understood them because the action and script worked together to make the story line easy to understand, even though there were levels of meaning that went completely over their heads.

            Can you see how that applies to copywriting?

            Marcia Yudkin
            Yes.

            And that's an insightful post, Marcia, thanks.

            I guess I'm alone in feeling this way about Copywriting. I still enjoy it a great deal, though, This was just something which was grating on me, and I was wondering if anyone else was in the same boat.

            But I see what you mean Marcia.

            -Cam
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      • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
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        Originally Posted by Cam Connor View Post

        Just to make one thing clear: I'm not saying my entire audience are all idiots... but they say in Copywriting (we've heard it many, many times) "write so that a 5-year old can understand it". You dumb down your writing so that EVERYONE can understand it, INCLUDING the lowest common denominator.

        This is just frustrating to me, because it's not how I write, naturally. That's all.

        I'm not saying everyone I write for is an idiot. lol...

        -Cam
        Well that's not what you've written in your original post is it? -
        I was wondering, am I the only one who grows tired of having to write for the lowest common denominator all the time? ....



        Do you get tired of having to dumb your speech down every time you write a new piece, or am I alone in this?
        So what are we supposed to make of that?

        As Halbert said - "Being on-target is much more important than being facile with words"
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        • Profile picture of the author Cam Connor
          Originally Posted by The Copy Nazi View Post

          Well that's not what you've written in your original post is it? - So what are we supposed to make of that?

          As Halbert said - "Being on-target is much more important than being facile with words"
          You do write for the LCD in EVERY piece... that's not the same as saying everyone you're writing for is the LCD, just that you're always writing for them.


          Edit: That you're always catering to them.
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          • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
            Banned
            Originally Posted by Cam Connor View Post

            You do write for the LCD in EVERY piece... that's not the same as saying everyone you're writing for is the LCD, just that you're always writing for them.


            Edit: That you're always catering to them.
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            • Profile picture of the author Cam Connor
              Originally Posted by The Copy Nazi View Post

              LOL.

              Which part of that don't you understand?

              LCD = Lowest Common Denominator, if that's what's confusing you...
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              • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
                Originally Posted by Cam Connor View Post

                LOL.

                Which part of that don't you understand?

                LCD = Lowest Common Denominator, if that's what's confusing you...
                You said "Lowest Common Denominator of society." In my 39 years of life experience, one thing I've learned for sure is that 99% of society IS the Lowest Common Denominator.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    Here is a great article I ran into that touches on some of the issues we
    discussed in this thread:

    The 11 best resources for improving your writing | Conversion Rate Experts

    -Ray Edwards
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    • Profile picture of the author Kay King
      99% of society IS the Lowest Common Denominator
      And the other 1% is delusional?
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      • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
        Originally Posted by Kay King View Post

        And the other 1% is delusional?
        You mean, assuming I were to take my own hyper-cynical, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek "statistic" seriously for a moment?

        I'd say that other 1% are the snotty, elitist wordsmiths who assume that just because we marinate in this craft 40 or 50 hours a week, everyone else should be on the same level as us.

        I'd put myself at top of the most wanted list on that one.

        It's the biggest challenge for me, and based on my conversations with other writers, I don't think I'm alone. So I understand Cam's frustration on this.

        Writing is one of the only professions that challenges you to come down several skill levels, just so you can match the audiences reading and comprehension aptitude and you get the job done.

        That's NOT to say that "most" people are dumb or uneducated. They just don't spend OMG% of their waking hours reading, writing, or thinking about how to communicate something. Unless they're a writer themselves, they read and write only when they need to.

        Sometimes, it's easy to forget that and to assume, as snotty as it might sound, that people are simply dense to "get it." I drive my girl crazy sometimes the way I agonize over language, that's when I know I have to take a break. I've yet to meet a writer that doesn't have their own "moments" when it comes to that.

        Most of the time, I can keep this in check by getting either away from my computer and connecting with people one on one -- or by learning something that's hard for ME to learn. It helps to have a reminder of how easy it is to get a God complex about the thing you're most skilled at.

        But sometimes, ya' gotta blow off a little steam -- and we end up with threads like this one lol

        P.S. My dog agrees with your signature.
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        • Profile picture of the author EzraWinter
          I came in the business thinking this. Now, I'm amazed at how much better I write as a "sell-out" writing for the "LCD."

          I always thought my creative work would benefit my marketing work, but i'ts been 100% the other way around.

          By

          -Having a lower Flesch-Kincaid score
          -Avoiding obscure or timely references
          -Avoiding passive voice

          I'm reaching more people then ever before. In some ways it's scary because I can't hide spotty ideas behind a veneer of $10 words and dense sentences. I'm much happier (and more profitable) trying to start with good ideas and communicate them with clarity then I was just trying to prove how smart I was.
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  • Profile picture of the author MatthewRHallEsq
    I remember a student teacher once telling me how dumb she thought her students are.

    "I don't think that's a great attitude to have," I told her. "Besides, people can tell when you treat them like idiots."

    "Well, I'm really good at it, so they can't tell. I'm too smart."

    Do I need to say the only person she was fooling was herself? As someone who taught for a few years, students aren't stupid. My colleagues who treated their students without respect were pretty vocally hated by their students (and let the department heads know).

    There are exceptions, but people can usually tell if you don't respect their intelligence.
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    • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
      Originally Posted by MatthewRHallEsq View Post

      I remember a student teacher once telling me how dumb she thought her students are.

      "I don't think that's a great attitude to have," I told her. "Besides, people can tell when you treat them like idiots."

      "Well, I'm really good at it, so they can't tell. I'm too smart."

      Do I need to say the only person she was fooling was herself? As someone who taught for a few years, students aren't stupid. My colleagues who treated their students without respect were pretty vocally hated by their students (and let the department heads know).

      There are exceptions, but people can usually tell if you don't respect their intelligence.
      People can tell, even if they're not consciously aware of it. I know my writing sounds different when I'm frustrated.

      Can't remember where I read this, but it was a wake up call for me back in college. It was written by someone who worked for a publishing company and examined and approved/rejected manuscripts from potential authors. They said something like..

      "When I read a manuscript, the biggest question on my mind is whether the writer likes their readers. It's obvious when they don't, and such writers rarely sell books."
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