Writing for the Silent Generation (Part 1)

In an article from November 5, 1951, Time magazine used the term “Silent Generation” for the first time. It described the generation of people born before 1946. Older than Baby Boomers, this audience is often labelled as “aging” or “elderly.” But you have only to look at actress Jane Fonda, rocker Neil Young or the former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin to know people in this age group are not at all ready for the rocking chair.

Yes, they may have literacy challenges, as literacy tends to decline with age. They may have visual or physical disabilities that can make reading difficult in some formats. Others, however, a living vibrant, healthy lives. So what advice can the clear writing world offer on how to communicate effectively with this diverse generation?

It’s essential to use a range of methods if you want to reach people across this segment. In Part 1 of this blog, I’ll give you some general tips to apply when writing for the Silent Generation. In Part 2, we’ll look at tips specific to digital media.

  • Research shows they may prefer print material, but give them other options. They may choose large print or braille, audio- or videotape or CD/DVD formats if you make them available. And yes, they do use the Internet, especially for information.
  • Keep your design elements consistent. Fancy can be confusing. Use a standard page template and the same symbols and icons throughout your document or web site.
  • Write simply and concisely. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Use short, familiar words. If you must use technical language, include a glossary. Even if some of your readers don’t need the help, it will make your message accessible to the greatest number of readers.
  • Start with the most important ideas first. Use headings, bullet lists and bold face type to highlight your main ideas. Don’t assume your older readers want to get down into the weeds with you.
  • Use a tone that is slightly more formal. Don’t use slang, sloppy grammar and buzz words. Many in the Silent Generation learned their grammar lessons and may prefer a more formal style.
  • Think visually. Use concrete examples, illustrations or photos if it makes them easier to understand the text.

You can apply these tips any time you want to write clearly for the Silent Generation. In part 2 of this blog, we’ll look at specific tips when writing for this audience online.

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