Beware: “Writer’s Tunnel Vision” May Limit Your Messaging

by | Jun 15, 2020 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

Marketing buzzwords and jargon confuse it.

Deadline coming up.

You’ve crafted a piece that’ll knock the client’s socks off.

You know it inside and out.

It’s perfected in every way.

Then, when you submit it for approval to the same client, they pick it apart with a few comments.

If this sounds familiar, what I’ve just described might be the result of “writer’s tunnel vision.” You shouldn’t confuse “regular” tunnel vision with what you’re going to read about next.

Tunnel vision, as it’s defined by WebMD, is the “complete loss of peripheral vision.” In other words, you see straight ahead.

To illustrate, place your hands flat to the sides of each eye. Notice you’ve lost some vision. That’s your peripheral vision. And while you may not experience tunnel vision, as WebMD defined it, those that write copy and create content aren’t immune from it.

For example, writer’s tunnel vision usually happens when you have a goal in mind. It’s not a bad thing to have goals. What’s bad is when you’re so focused on meeting them, you overlook important considerations, such as the coherent nature of the message.

Consider this product description at BestBuy as an example of “writer’s tunnel vision”:

Source: BestBuy

The product description, which is located further below the page, reads:

“A 4.7-inch Retina HD Display with 3-D Touch. 7000 Series aluminum and stronger cover glass. An A9 chip with 64-bit desktop-class architecture. 12MP iSight camera with Live Photos. Touch ID. Faster LTE and Wi-Fi. Long battery life. And iOS 9 andiCloud. All in a smooth continuous unibody design.

That’s writer’s tunnel vision. It’s being so focused on what you want to say, it’s all you say. BestBuy learned that the hard way. In their case, they seem to forget that “desktop-class architecture” or a “continuous unibody design” wouldn’t mean much to most customers.

In BestBuy’s example, you can see just how writer’s tunnel vision would happen: it happens when you’re not clear in your messaging.

Writing Clear Messages

This is where one of the biggest problems in marketing is.

It’s not the fact that you edit for grammar and content. It’s that you develop a sense of writer’s tunnel vision when editing the content you created.

One of the many forms that writer’s tunnel vision takes is “Frankenspeak.”

Coined by content thought leader, Ann Handley, and C. C. Chapman, in Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business, Frankenspeak is writing in pieces, which results in content that doesn’t sound like a human wrote it.

The mission statements of many businesses are often loaded with Frankenspeak. For example, consider Barnes and Noble. Let’s look at what they currently have as their mission on their website:

“To operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.”

Omni-channel retail business?

I’m sure marketers would know what that means in a heartbeat. But do your customers know what an “omni-channel specialty retail business” is? This is a good example of Frankenspeak in action, and the result of writing in jargon.

But it’s not exactly the fault of anyone who crafts copy and content that’s laden with Frankenspeak. Writer’s tunnel vision is a hard thing to recognize. You can’t see that not everyone else knows what you know.

Josh Bernoff’s book, Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean, speaks perfectly to why jargon should be avoided:

The more jargon you use, the more you are alienating large groups of people who should be reading and understanding what you write. You make them feel ignorant because they are ignorant; they don’t know your secret code. Some of them will work hard to figure it out, but most will just give up on you and whatever you’re trying to get across.

As I mentioned earlier, jargon isn’t intentional–sometimes you write not knowing it’s jargon. For example, if your customers need to use a marketing glossary to understand your content, there’s a good chance that there’s jargon in it. It can look like the following words/phrases:

  • Over-the wall: When the client receives something you sent
  • Lots of moving parts: Complex and rapidly changing
  • Bleeding Edge: A term that basically means how sophisticated something is.

Instead, if you approach writing like teaching, you’ll have an easier time conveying what your messaging means.

Techniques to Make Your Messaging Comprehensible

If you’re ever unsure whether the content you wrote is clear enough for the reader, ask yourself if a kid would understand what you’re writing about if they read your stuff.

That’s “the little kid test,” according to Andy Maslen, author of Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Engage and Sell.

And it’s not about hurling insults at anybody—the majority of adults read at a 9th grade reading level. This isn’t to say that they can’t understand more complicated text, but your readers’ brain will not have to work as hard when they consider your content.

So how do you write for kids? Use concrete language and schemas. According to Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, there are ways to make your content more easily recalled:

Concrete ideas are easier to remember. Take individual words, for instance. Experiments in human memory have shown that people are better at remembering concrete, easily visualized nouns (“bicycle” or “avocado”) than abstract ones (“justice” or “personality”).

And, as a marketer, these ideas come in handy when communicating your messaging. For instance, Everyone In, a movement devoted to ending L.A.’s housing crisis, teamed up with These Streets Magazine, a visual publication that gives voice to cultures, people, and places.

More specifically, these two organizations released a digestible docu-series that uses concrete words and schemas to tell the tales of the homeless of LA County. Let’s take a closer look at how they did this:

This specific video clip tells the story of a former homeless man named Eric Montoya, who is now the Outreach Supervisor for L.A. Family Housing. Before Eric appears in the piece, they prime the viewer for Eric’s story by showing a few things:

An Overcast Sky

While the weather is not in of itself an indicator of a person’s socioeconomic status, it does get the viewer in a sad/somber mindset. This is a common technique. Powerade ran an ad campaign on a similar topic called, “Just a Kid,” using the weather to establish the mood.

Single Shots of the Neighborhood

Together with the overcast sky, Everyone In and These Streets Magazine’s ad campaign highlights the urban nature of the living conditions of L.A. County. In particular, they show makeshift porch railings fashioned from plywood, heavy traffic, telephone poles, and cramped parking to achieve this. Powerade’s ad campaign did the same thing with a rolling shot of the neighborhood.

In both of the examples above, they first get the viewer in a frame of mind with concrete images: the telephone poles, traffic, weather, plywood porch railings. Those are the images you see first; they’re concrete and they hit home.

At the same time, those images signal to your brain and activate the schema in your mind that what you’re viewing is an urban living arrangement in the grips of poverty.

A schema is psychological shorthand for your understanding of something.

For example, a schema of modern poverty would look like the images I described earlier: the telephone poles, traffic, and makeshift porch railings. More precisely, a schema is your understanding of something based on a generic image.

You see these images, and your mind goes to a certain place–the first place that comes to mind. That’s a schema.

You can use concrete words and schemas to help you get into the mind of the “kids” you’re writing for in your content. To recap, the difference between concrete images and psychological schemas is:

If you use psychological schemas and concrete words in your job as a marketer, your audience won’t have to use as much brainpower to figure out your messaging. The upshot is that your customers are more likely to remember it–the Heath brothers illustrated this fact.

That’s a result that doesn’t exclude anybody, like jargon and Frankenspeak does. Everybody can get on board with that advice, not just a select few.

Writing jargon-less copy and content is easy, but you need to be careful, as BestBuy’s example shows us. Jargon has the tendency to creep into messaging because it would seem “obvious” that anyone would understand.

For example, as a marketer, you’re told that jargon’s bad.

Then why would you deliberately write a message in jargon knowing full well it would hinder the comprehensibility of your messaging?


It would be counterproductive and irresponsible. The reason why many marketers write in jargon is because they are unaware of the fact.

So if you find jargon in your copy or content, exchange it for concrete words and psychological schemas. Together, those two ideas make complex ones easier for customers to understand.

And that’s how you make your messaging comprehensible.


What techniques do you use to eliminate writer’s tunnel vision? Send us a message in the chat below to share your tips with us.

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