(Issue 15: February, 2009)
Why is so much business writing inscrutable? After all, its function is to convey information to grow business, so surely we want to connect with our reader and present clear, easily understood documents that readers can readily act on.
This issue looks at clarity, the essential ingredient that links writing to your company's revenue.
Because bloated, overwritten business language is so common, there are many terms to describe it: balderdash, poppycock, claptrap, bunk, rubbish, waffle, drivel, fluff, deadwood, gobbledygook and jargon.
David Meerman Scott, author of the New Rules for Marketing and PR, working with Factiva, analyzed 388,000 news releases over a nine-month period. The results were astounding:
"Next generation" was used 9,895 times!
There were over 5,000 uses of these beaten-to-death terms: "flexible," "robust," "world class," and "scalable." Other notably overused phrases were: "cutting edge," "mission critical," "market leading," "industry standard," "turnkey," "groundbreaking," "interoperable," "best of breed," and "user friendly."
Humor columnist, Nancy Crochiere, just published a very funny column about returning to corporate work after working as a freelancer for ten years, encountering new jargon:
I've noticed that almost everything in the business world has to be "leveraged." If you're not busy leveraging something, you're not doing your job. Whenever I talk to my boss, I make sure to use the word "leverage" at least once in every conversation, and it seems to keep me employed.
In addition, whenever our department has something new to present, like a new procedure or policy, we say we're going to "roll it out," as if it were some kind of enormous pie crust. This is an image I like, especially right after lunch.
While in the process of rolling out and leveraging, however, it's important that we have "transparency" - meaning, I guess, that everyone knows what you're rolling and leveraging. It took me almost three years to learn all this.
Other terms ready for retirement are:
- Starting a dialog (can't we just talk?)
- Thinking outside the box
- Best practices
- Paradigm shift
How to Stop This Bloat
Most overwritten business documents are written to impress, rather than to communicate. Instead,
1. Envision your audience. Create a persona of them in your mind.
2. Shape your content based on what this audience wants or needs to know.
3. Use language that matches this audience.
Remember these five rules from George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language:"
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Do you recognize this company, from its corporate overview page?
[Company X] has remained faithful in its commitment to producing unparalleled entertainment experiences based on its rich legacy of quality creative content and exceptional storytelling. Today, [Company X] is divided into four major business segments...Each segment consists of integrated, well-connected businesses that operate in concert to maximize exposure and growth worldwide.
This is a lot of jargon to describe Disney!
Learn to Writing Clealy in this Course: Effective Business Writing