What the Beaufort scale can teach us about copywriting
Simple and effective, the Beaufort scale paints you a picture of the winds. As copywriters, it reminds us why — when it comes to communication — it’s good to show, not tell.
How can you describe something you can't see? And how can you make sure you're describing it in the same way as other people? That was the problem facing sailors before Sir Francis Beaufort came along in the 19th century.
Try to describe the wind itself and you'll quickly run into trouble. Your idea of a "light breeze" might not be the same as someone else's. To them, it could be a "stiff breeze" - or is it gusty? What Sir Francis realised was that it's far easier to describe the effects of the wind.
When you describe what the wind does, a storm becomes something where:
“Trees are broken off or uprooted, saplings bent and deformed. Poorly attached asphalt shingles and shingles in poor condition peel off roofs.”
Sir Francis's scale described the effect of the wind on the sails of a ship, and gave each stage a number. The result is the Beaufort scale - a universal way of describing wind that could be transmitted quickly from shore to ship.
Having lived by the sea, I know just how useful the Beaufort scale is. Using a single number, it puts a clear picture in your mind about the kind of weather that's coming your way. Rather than telling you, it shows you.
That's a great lesson in communicating clearly. Whenever I want to explain something with my writing, I think of Sir Francis and his scale.