Blog > In Charts: long sentences are crippling your Investment content
Data shows investment marketing has a full-stop problem
“Write with more flair and style” is absolutely useless advice. It doesn’t suggest any specific action and worse, it doesn’t even prove the benefit. Today, let’s do better:
Investment managers, you should write in shorter sentences.
This article doesn’t just show how this simple action transforms writing; it also offers the data proving clients prefer it.
In 2020 AWS mistakenly sent out an e-mail campaign with its blank e-mail template, prodding the company’s marketers to write just so:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.
And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
To investment marketers, this advice is about as useful as tapeworm. For, how would you apply it to typical market analysis provided by portfolio managers, which reads more like this:
Investors no longer have the benefit of policy-based shock absorbers – like quantitative easing or artificially low rates – to protect their portfolios and will need to find new buffers to cushion the impact of market and economic volatility. This essentially means a higher credit quality: companies with strong fundamentals, a healthy cash flow and lower leverage. It can also involve pivoting away from certain risks, including securities that are overexposed to the low end of consumer credit, to owning asset classes like municipal bonds and agency mortgage-backed securities. The broad repricing of bonds and the higher starting yields we now have can help insulate investors from further losses.Bullish on Bonds in 2023, Columbia Threadneedle
We’re not singling out Columbia Threadneedle. Quite the opposite, this example was chosen because it’s so typical of the industry’s writing.
We can all agree, though, the text is a chore. It’s tempting to shrug – “Ah! Jargon! Indulgent, excessive, redundant jargon” – but science shows otherwise.
In a recent analysis of seven investment managers’ editorial content over the second half of 2022, FinText compared their most oft-used complex words. Here are a few that made it to the top twenty.
You’d be hard-pressed to write investment content without using these words. Meaning, investment managers suffer from a complexity penalty. To make their stuff equally readable, they have to compensate by making other parts simpler.
To be sure, there’s work to be done there. But often, the big readability gains are in sentence lengths.
The truth emerges out of a radically different type of analysis – text analytics – which considers not just the one article here or there, but all of them together.
Here’s a readability analysis from our app, comparing a volume of business articles published by The Economist over Q4 2022 with the content published by a large European investment manager over the same period.
Readability is scored by the Flesh-Kincaid test, which measures text complexity by years of education needed to understand it. The chart shows the percentage of articles scoring in each band.
Two factors play into the score: sentence length and word complexity.
You can see to the left; complexity is not a major issue for this asset manager. Though about 8% of its articles use excessively complex language, on the whole, its choice of words is okay.
Sentence length is where things take a turn. On the right you can see, these are vastly different profiles. Over 27% of this company’s sentences – nearly one in three! – is over 35 words long.
Without knowing, this investment manager is pouring its budget into content their audience is very unlikely to read.
Curiously, short sentences alone can give the appearance of a style improvement.
Here’s the first sentence out of the example we’ve used earlier. Let’s see what happens when we use a couple of full stops.
See how much easier it is to read the text on the right? You could easily see it appearing in The Financial Times or The Economist.
When the sentence above gets cut into three shorter sentences, the result sounded assertive. And that’s often a challenge for the more cerebral writers:
They’ll start off with a statement and then immediately caveat; they’ll expand; they’ll specify. The problem isn’t the extra information, but the insistence of squeezing it all into one single statement.
The resulting sentences crumble under their own weight.
Anything you read regularly today was new at one point.
As your trust in it grew, you’ve become more willing to buy that source’s offering. It might be a book, or perhaps the services of a personal trainer. If it’s professional services, you might recommend internally, for a corporate purchase.
Let’s turn it around: what happens when a company becomes a go-to source?
The sales guy gets that meeting. The company’s strategies make it to the shortlist.
There’s real money at stake: not just on the costs side, running the risk of creating content nobody reads. There’s a revenue upside too, when content helps build trusting relationships.
Marketers are always looking for a way to set their manager apart. In our view, an investment house can win simply by being the one that tells it best.
Shorter sentences are the first step in that direction.