“It's too complicated to explain…”

"No subject is too difficult to communicate to an ordinary well-educated person. They will follow your argument as long as they were never told it is too difficult.” Attributed to academic and TV presenter Professor Jacob Bronowski

Professor Bronowski was not only clever (after all he was an Oxford academic), but also wise. As a teacher he was required to impart complex ideas and theories to students who were indeed well educated. But they were also highly receptive to novel and complicated concepts.

When he presented his famous television series, “The Ascent of Man,” he was not addressing well-educated people, he was reaching out to the man and woman in the street, ordinary people, “the man on the Clapham omnibus”. But they were people who, if their attention could be seized, may be hugely interested in what he was broadcasting.

Which is why, coming from a background in journalism financial writers at FinanceWriter take his dictum a step further: no subject is too difficult to communicate to the ordinarily-interested person.

Clarity and Brevity

Working at leading financial publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times or the Banker journalists are tutored: as they write they must remember readers who may be encountering terms like equity, bond, index, derivative, risk management and so on for the first time.

It is an example of why financial writing should always be accessible to the newcomer. On the other hand, the explanations or language should not patronise the professionals and specialists who are steeped in the subject of the article. It’s a careful balance between clarity and brevity.

When specialists in banking, wealth management, capital markets or commodities and senior executives in corporations communicate, it is not always with their peers – people at their level of education, experience or knowledge of financial markets.

In drafting marketing material or thought leadership paper on, say, derivatives, specialists inevitably lapse into jargon – their speciality is derivatives, not financial writing. Some can’t and some simply won’t use language and tone of voice that will ensure their thoughts are communicated beyond the circle of those “in the know”.

It’s Greek to Me

Of course the professions have for centuries obscured what they are saying with Latin, Greek or complicated words in order to sustain the “mystery” that helped maintain their elevated exclusivity.

But the world has changed with ordinary seeking exposure to and participating in the markets for futures, options, hedge funds, contracts for difference and so on.

Private bank clients requiring wealth management services may have made their money in shipping, semiconductors or software. They may not have a clue about arcane and obscure financial derivatives, but nevertheless want to understand and participate in their wealth management process and the risks inherent in different financial strategies.

Corporations publishing annual reports often produce an “annual review” so information simpler than the flagship document. The question has to be asked whether two documents are necessary and whether the review is a “dumbed down” version of the report.

No concept should be too difficult to explain and there are added costs and stresses maintaining accuracy and consistency not just of information but also of messaging and branding in two documents.

If FinanceWriter’s variation on Professor Bronowski’s dictum is applied, then writing an annual report clearly and consistently should ensure its content is not too complicated to be communicated to the ordinarily-interested person.

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