Start Talking Like a Fifth Grader

There’s an approach that’s been around for quite some time when it comes to writing business messaging and marketing copy – write it at a fifth-grade level. A client of ours brought this up on a call the other day, and we were both a bit torn. On the one hand, we’d like to think we can set the bar a little higher than that when it comes to our audience expectations. But, on the other hand, there is a beauty in simplifying complex things so a fifth-grader can understand them.

Before you push back in the dumbing-down of society, walk with us for a moment…

In business, we often over-complicate things, especially when it comes to our brands. It starts with how we talk to our teams and stakeholders. We’ve walked into many organizations that have mission statements on their walls that use long strings of big words. In most of these cases, the statements are neither memorable nor inspiring. Instead, they are confusing, and their meaning gets lost in the complexity.

If they’d simplified their message so a fifth-grader could understand, they’d achieve more impact and engagement.

This also translates into how we talk to our customers. When someone lands on your website, you want them to feel at home and at ease as quickly as possible. You want them to think, “They get me.” The same goes for the conversations we share at networking events. Messages that quickly state who we are, what we do, and why people should care are solid gold. In-person or online, creating those instant connections is achieved much more quickly if we simplify the message we’re trying to deliver. Most often, less is more.

With our customers and clients, creating simplified in-person and digital exchanges that a fifth-grader could understand will lead to less confusion and more connection.

We’re not saying you need to remove the more technical elements from your story. If you’re in manufacturing, for example, there are very important details that need to stay at a higher level. There are “above-fifth-grade” details that your audience is looking for and needs to hear from you, and there are moments where including these details positions you as an expert in your industry.

Here’s the reality. Communicating at that fifth-grade level doesn’t mean having to remove all of the sophistication from your messages. It simply means that when you want to describe something as being smart or insightful, you use a word like “intelligent” rather than “perspicacious.” Choosing the right words can make all the difference – it will help your message land more quickly and directly as well.


Take some time to take inventory. Are you connecting at a fifth-grade level with simple and straightforward messages, or are you creating confusion for your teams and customers by talking over their heads? Simplify, simplify, simplify. Do that, and connections will come.

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