Business jargon sucks. It’s the crutch used by the hapless professional who:
- Doesn’t know what he’s talking about
- Is using it to BS you to the moon and back
- Just graduated from business school
And it’s everywhere: on my computer screen, in my meetings, conferences, networking events. Jargon is the lifeblood of middle management. We need to stop using business jargon (Note: My first draft had the headline “Avoid Using Business Jargon…” until I realized, “No, what I really want to say is ‘Stop.'”)
I have to analyze every word I write to avoid unconsciously falling into the jargon trap. When we built our new website we scrutinized every word before it went live by asking: “Is there a simpler way to say this?”
It’s not easy. Sometimes getting rid of jargon means multiple rounds of revisions. It means setting a draft aside, then coming back and realizing: “Jeez, this is the most trite, jargon-y BS ever.” I’ve done this.
Simple, concise writing is hard. It’s much easier to drone on writing words on top of words but saying nothing.
Unless you’re a bonafide, published author, write simply. Leave the complexity to the Faulkners, Pynchons, and McCarthys of the world. When you’re published, you can start getting away with sentences like:
The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.
-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian excerpt.
[My $0.02: This is the HARDEST book I have ever tried to read. I have challenged some of my brightest friends to finish it, none have. And those that say they have…they’re lying.]
If you’re not a published author, keep reading. If you are published or just can’t resist the smell of your own literary farts, I can’t save you.
Ok, you ready to stop using business jargon?
Plain English Campaign’s Free Guides
These saviors call their crusade the “Plain English Campaign.” Their motto: Fighting for crystal-clear communication since 1979.
You can view the entire collection of guides here. But I’d like to highlight a few must-reads here.
#1 Must Read: “How to Write in Plain English” (.pdf)
I want to make this required reading for everyone at Verblio (formerly BlogMutt). This guide is only ten pages. Every page gives fantastic advice on being a clearer writer.
Why is it important to write in plain English? Three reasons:
- It is faster to write
- It is faster to read
- You get your message across more often, more easily, and in a friendlier way
Other rules that everyone should abide by:
- Keep sentences short: 15-20 words should be an average
- Use active verbs: I judge writers on their active vs. passive voice usage. Strong writers use active voice.
- Use lists where appropriate: Lists are everywhere, thanks to the internet because people scan more than they read. Using lists makes your content more readable.
#2 Must Read: “The A to Z of Alternative Words” (.pdf)
I could add another 100 words to this guide. Nevertheless, it’s still a great start. If you just browse the suggestions, you quickly realize how jargon infiltrates everything we write.
Good alternative examples include:
- Instead of saying “accomplish” say “do” or “finish”
- Instead of saying “compile” say “make” or “collect”
- Instead of saying “factor” say “reason”
You get the idea.
I’m not advocating that you switch out every word with its alternative when writing. I’m just saying that you should review this guide and let it remind you that the simpler word choice is often the better one.
#3 Must Read: “Ten Tips for Proofreading”
Most people don’t proof. And it’s probably led to more job application rejections and misconstrued emails because we typically don’t value proofreading.
I like these ten tips as a starting point and foundation for your proofing. Know these proofreading tips and have more confidence proofing your work or someone else’s.
My favorite tip: “You need to concentrate on reading one word at a time.” Proofing should be very zen. You’re “in the moment.” Each word should have a purpose. Proofing is not reading. This guide helps remind you of that simple fact. When you proof, you are being methodical and going slowly. It’s like tasting a well-prepared entree. You won’t know what’s in it if you wolf the whole thing down.
There are more guides worth reading. They include:
- Writing business emails
- A to Z of legal phrases
- Using apostrophes
- And a lot more.
Check out the whole collection of guides here.