Business Jargon Be Gone! Tips to Improve Your Company Message and Reputation
Good writing invites and encourages everyone to participate in your business. Your words represent your brand and your personality. So, it’s important to understand what message you're sending. It’s also important that your future customers understand you and your business goals.
Who's going to buy something from someone who doesn't sound sincere or organized?
When you're writing for your business, clarity is essential. Even though it's easy to get caught up in using common words from your industry, jargon is confusing and it excludes people with a different business background. Wordy, jargon-filled writing can water down your company’s message and its appeal.
How do I know what jargon is or if I'm using it?
Jargon is when people use industry-specific terminology in their language. It's great for getting to the point when you're writing to others in the same industry. But the general public--- and the people who are going to buy your product or service-- don't want to struggle through words without an obvious meaning and take-away point. Jargon is really just a type of slang that becomes overused and loses its focus. It can also cause your company to lose out on customers.
Key reasons for getting rid of jargon:
• It excludes people who do not understand the jargon words. Essentially, it limits your audience.
• Writers often use it when they don't know what they're trying to say. For example, the sentence “The initiative will ensure that necessary services and supports are community-based,” is peppered with words that are supposed to impress an audience. But it's very difficult to find any meaning in the sentence and it seems as though the writer doesn't really have much to say.
• Words quickly become overused “buzz words” without any meaning.
• It confuses everyone, including the business that wrote it. The message becomes entangled in words the industry thinks of as “necessary,” so that it loses its significance completely.
• It discourages discussion and communication. Jargon can limit the feedback customers give to a company, because they aren't connected with the content. This takes away your business’s ability to innovate in profitable ways.
Common examples of jargon
Common nonsense you should avoid:
“The program seeks to assist seniors in accessing appropriate services.”
Access: What kind of “access” are seniors getting? The word is meaningless in this context.
Appropriate services: A more specific list of services would be a better use of space. This would give readers a clear idea of what the organization offers.
“...a couple of action items with
which to move forward”
Action item: Which items specifically? If a word or phrase conjures up a question that it does not answer, it should be revised. In this case, a list of ‘items’ should be provided.
“The Exceptional Performance team has identified a number of best practices for making web pages fast.”
A number: Giving a specific number is not difficult. It also provides the reader with a straight-forward number they can identify with and feel confident in.
Best practices: What makes them the best? What do I have to practice? The term “best practices” is overused and vague. In this context a more specific phrase to could be “helpful tips.”
How to get rid of jargon for good and write clearly
• Know what you’re trying to say. Think of three active verbs and three really clear outcomes your business is trying to give your audience. Write them down.
• If you were a stranger off the street, would you understand it? Remember that everyone needs to be able to understand what you’re writing. Recognize words that are used mainly in your industry and replace them with simple, straight-forward language. Make sure the words you use are specific and meaningful.
• Record yourself saying your message out loud like you’re having a conversation. Talking is more natural than writing. So, this will help you be more natural and authentic when you write your message. If you're having trouble using common language, listen to the words you used in your recording.
• Ask yourself what the purpose of each sentence is. Is this sentence saying something new? What action and outcome does it express?
• If clear writing is a challenge for you, break each idea down into a simple sentence, with a subject, verb, and object. For example: “Company X (subject) has donated (verb) money (object) to cancer research.” You can combine sentences and add adjectives later to make it flow better.
During the recent financial crisis, banks and credit agencies made up and flaunted terms such as “Credit Default Swaps” and “Collateralized Debt Obligations” to confuse consumers and avoid responsibility for bad investments. Indebted clients were assured that their investments were stable and risk-free by fancy-sounding jargon terms. The confusion did not end well. Millions of people lost their life savings in deals they still don’t understand. As a result, many banks failed and advisors were prosecuted.
How effective is your business's communication? Check in with us on our BRANDING FROM WITHIN program. For more information, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.