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A copywriter’s view of the key 2017 political manifestos

Political manifestos are analysed from all sorts of perspectives.

Each document is scrutinised after publication for its potential social and economic impact, its financial sense and its sense of purpose. But political views and future goals aside, it’s interesting to consider the style and tone of each party’s propositions.

Are they authoritarian, or friendly? Do they sound like they’ve been written by someone who borrowed a thesaurus, or do they use broadly understandable choice of language? How are they laid out?

We’ve taken a look at the key political manifestos for the 2017 election from a copywriting perspective, to get a better feel for the voice of each party without a focus on the pledges they’ve offered.

For additional comparison, we have added in the reading age of each manifesto using the Gunning Fog Index. The average reading age of the UK population is only 9, meaning many adults have the reading ability expected of a 9-year-old and may not easily understand text with a higher reading age. For examples of what this means in real terms, The Guardian has a reading age of 14, The Financial Times has a reading age of 17, and The Sun has a reading age of 8.

Conservative Party – “Strong and stable”  reading age 17

 

The manifesto with the highest reading age is also visually the least readable. The obvious difference between the Conservative manifesto and those of the other key parties is the lack of styling and imagery. Whoever your audience, breaking up blocks of text with interesting visuals is an important way to keep people’s attention – skipping this leaves us with hard-to-tackle walls of text, with no focus on which are the most important sections. The font choice is also interesting – many people avoid fonts from the Times New Roman family for fear of appearing old-fashioned, and this is the only of the four manifestos to choose an older font with which to present their copy.

In terms of language, a reading age of 17 makes this the least accessible of the four manifestos we’re looking at. The tone remains very formal and business-like throughout, and while some sections are easy to understand, much of the document requires re-reading in order to cut through unnecessary extra wording. Lengthy words and sentences could have been adjusted to be more succinct, which would leave the content less open to misinterpretation.

Over the course of the manifesto, the party slogan is used 13 times, the word ‘society’ features 22 times and the word ‘economy’ appears 74 times. ‘Strong’ comes up a record 86 times.

Labour – “For the many, not the few” reading age 14

 

There’s more emotive language in this offering than in the first sample, and clearer wording. The tone is still formal, but is less business-like and more matter-of-fact. The reading age isn’t much lower, but overall this manifesto is considerably more readable than the Conservative offering – possibly in part because it has been well laid out, with very simple design elements like occasional header images, bullet points and bold introductory paragraphs for each section, as well as a more modern font choice.

Both Labour and the Conservatives use the words ‘We will’ regularly when speaking about their plans, implying a certainty and confidence that each manifesto clearly hopes to pass on to its readers.

The party slogan appears as the footer on every page, the word ‘society’ features 27 times and the word ‘economy’ appears 56 times. ‘Strong’ occurs 14 times.

Liberal Democrats – “Change Britain’s future” reading age 14

 

Like the Labour manifesto, there’s regular use of emotive language in the Lib Dem’s writing. With a matching estimated reading age of 14, and good use of text structuring and styling, you can see that care has been taken to try and get every point across clearly. There are some wordy sentences that could have been adjusted to be more succinct, but overall it would be hard to misinterpret what is being said.

There’s a good balance between positive and negative language here, too. Much of the emotive language is contained in the opening text of each section, with copy toned down into statements of fact and intent when it comes to outlining policy. While it isn’t on the same level of formality as the Conservative manifesto, there’s a good balance between business-like tone and appealing to the readers’ emotions.

The party slogan appears above the header of each section, the word ‘society’ features 9 times and the word ‘economy’ appears 52 times. ‘Strong’ appears 15 times.

Scottish National Party – “Stronger for Scotland” reading age 15

 

In terms of presentation, this manifesto stands head and shoulders above the rest. Text is split into manageable chunks, there’s use of images and graphic design throughout and the key points and focus of each section is apparent to anyone who may be skim-reading.

There’s plenty of use of ‘we will’, ‘we have’ and ‘we are’ alongside other words and phrases chosen to exude confidence, and while the digitally analysed reading age of this one comes up as 15, one could argue that the layout and structure make this the most readable of the lot. Efforts have been made to ensure that the more complex points are explained in a way that makes them easy to understand, which means no time wasted re-reading.

The party slogan only appears 3 times. The word ‘society’ is featured 12 times, ‘economy’ 26 times and ‘strong’ 25 times.

And the winner is…

While all four manifestos have made an effort to come across as authoritative and to appeal to the nation’s feelings, the Scottish National Party manifesto is the best of the bunch. Copywriting isn’t just about the words, it’s also about how you organise them on the page to help convey their meaning, and on that front the SNP is the stand-out choice.

Without looking into the political side of any parties content, the clear loser here is the Conservative manifesto. With almost no styling, an outdated choice of font and hard-to-tackle blocks of particularly advanced text, their copy is the least comprehensible of the lot and is the most open to misinterpretation.

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