Keep It Simple, Stupid: Eliminating Unnecessary Business Jargon

16 Feb
by editor abbagold39

Contrary to a popular belief among novice writers and high school English students, big words, long sentences, flowery adjectives, and lots of commas do not a good sentence make. They may make the writer feel intelligent or help him or her reach that five-page minimum, but they will fail to impress a good teacher or editor.

Each has its place in writing, to be certain, but in business communications, overuse of any of these is sure to make your reader, well, stop reading. One way to lose readers is an overuse of business (or discipline-related) jargon in a publication distributed to customers or members of the general public.

Now, if you are writing a proposal to share at a board meeting or sending out an office memo, jargon can be useful and appropriate. After all, that’s why it was created – to be used among a group of people who share the same knowledge. In fact, you might be considered ignorant in your field or profession if you don’t use a certain amount of jargon. However, a good communicator can discern between times when jargon is relevant and when it simply hinders the message from being understood.

Your typical reader, no matter how intelligent or educated, will appreciate candid and concise writing. Yes, he or she wants to understand upcoming changes in your company. The reader wants to know about new services or products being offered. But no one wants a headache trying to figure out terms that are not clearly defined or an overabundance of legal language.

However, when you are immersed in the language of your business on a daily basis, knowing how much jargon is appropriate can be difficult to determine. Here are a few tips to help you keep your customer (or stockholder or future customer) on your side.

First, learn to think like a reader. Today’s readers are busy. They want to receive the maximum benefit in minimal time. Assume that you have no more than 30 seconds to convey your message before your readers move on to the next e-mail, letter or magazine. If you are successful in those 30 seconds, you may get five minutes. But don’t count on any more than that. Readers do not have time to look up or ask about words or concepts they don’t understand. Many individuals, even if time is available, simply won’t. So you must develop your message in a way that gives them the most vital information first, knowing they might not have time to read everything (or won’t if they are overwhelmed).

Second, grab their attention by giving them the good stuff up front. Don’t begin your report or letter with a general statement such as this: “ABC Corporation’s financial prospects for 2009 are looking bright.” You might as well begin with a yawn. Who wants to hear from a company whose prospects for a new year are poor? One effective way to begin your message is with a story or analogy. Find a customer or stockholder who has fared well, and begin the piece with a story about how he or she has benefited from the products, services or dividends received from ABC Corp. People want to and will read success stories. They are not just looking for numbers and figures. Save the figures for a chart or other easily understood graphic.

At the same time, make sure to refrain from beginning with a negative statement. If you can’t start with a positive, maybe you should rethink sending the message at all. If your message must contain some negative information (falling stock prices, price increases, employee layoffs), first give readers something about which they can feel good. You can always begin by thanking customers for their loyalty. Remind them of your company’s history, commitment to customer satisfaction, and strong leadership. There’s a reason a SWOT analysis puts strengths before weaknesses and opportunities before threats. Readers want the positive before the negative. It lightens the effect.

Third, write as though a sixth-grader is reading the message. Yes, that’s right, an 11-year-old. This is a generally accepted practice among many publications. You must choose your words and structure carefully. That is not saying to “dumb down the message,” but rather not to assume all your readers are college graduates with knowledge of your industry’s particular jargon. Also, consider the length of your sentences, and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Nothing gets a reader’s attention like a short, powerful sentence in the midst of longer ones with multiple clauses and phrases. Many times an imperative sentence reinforces a point and encourages the reader to take action. It can’t hurt. Think of some of the most effective sentences out there: “Just do it.” “Just say no” “Stop, drop, and roll.”

Finally, use a thesaurus. Whether you pull out Roget’s, employ the one in your word processing program, or bookmark an online thesaurus, use one. You will be surprised at the variety of words out there that share a similar or even the same meaning. Often changing to a shorter word or one that more clearly reflects the meaning of what you are trying to say only strengthens your message. This can be particularly useful with verbs and adjectives, allowing you to find more powerful verbs and helping you eliminate flowery or unnecessary modifiers. Also, many words have an automatic negative connotation, and the thesaurus function can help you keep your message positive and, ultimately, more effective.

Ultimately, remember to respect your readers’ intelligence and time. Honesty, accuracy, and graciousness in your communication will only improve your standing with customers, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. And maintaining those positive relationships is key to your professional success.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: