Archives for posts with tag: how to avoid jargon

A recent post of mine offered clear, simple and powerful words to substitute for jargon. Some of the comments and people who shared the post on Twitter and other social media sites questioned whether replacing jargon with shorter, more straightforward words would dilute meaning or even undercut the credibility of a company’s message.

I disagreed. But, I figured I should back up that assertion with examples drawn from real life.

So I trawled real corporate press releases sent out last week. Quickly, I found several examples that crossed my eyes and muddled my brain. (And I spent more than a decade as a financial journalist.)

Below, I’ve reprinted snippets from eight of those media releases. In each case, I rewrote the wordy phrases and trimmed the jargon and extra stuff. I used active verbs and shorter sentences. Each example is different, but the concept is the same.

The idea is to show how to strip away unneeded or fuzzy words and distill meaning. And this isn’t relevant for just PR professionals. This habit is essential for bloggers or others who want people to share their posts, buy their services or products or do something else they urge. In today’s economy, that’s pretty much all of us.

If our audience has to spend much time figuring out what we mean, they will move on and we will lose out. Why make it hard for them? And that’s what the eight press releases had in common: it was harder than it should have been to get the message. Great content is easy to read.

Sentences from real press releases

In these eight examples, the original phrasing from the release appears first, in gray italics. Then my rewrite appears below that, in black.

I kept each rewrite to just one phrase or sentence. For some of the rewrites, adding another short sentence might have helped convey the meaning more precisely. Nonetheless, the rewrites are definitely clearer. And they are jargon-free.

You can judge for yourself whether you think anything gets diluted.

1. Original: “The website is now fully operational with the ecommerce functionality all set up.”

1. Rewritten: The company has launched its website.

2. Original: “We are continuing our efforts that we began last fiscal year to pursue patent infringers in an effort to monetize the value of our extensive patent portfolio.”

2. Rewritten: To protect our many patents and the income they bring, we pursue violators. 

3. Original: “In the fourth quarter we paced our promotional activities to avoid the holiday season promotion clutters in the market.”

3. Rewritten: We ran holiday promotions earlier this year to increase their effectiveness.

4. Original: “The new company and its management team has invested a substantial amount of their time and effort in laying the groundwork for the company’s unique value proposition to its potential customer base while setting the stage for developing its brand of products.

4. Rewritten: The new company is developing its marketing plan. 

5. Original: “We believe the confusion associated with our warrant accounting has caused some potential investors to eschew the company due to the complexity of our earnings calculations.”

5. Rewritten: Investors want simpler accounting for our warrants.

6. Original: “The company’s customer-centric business model provides a strong value proposition to consumers.”

6. Rewritten: Customers like the company’s prices and service.

7. Original: “We are cognizant that we must address our debt situation and our pending line of credit maturity but we ultimately believe striving to improve our core business is a fundamental component of a solution for all parties in this regard.”

7. Rewritten: We will cut the company’s debt as we build business.

8. Original: “Questions may be poised* to management by participants on the call and in response the company may disclose additional material information.”   (* yes, the release used the word poised instead of posed)

8. Rewritten: Executives will answer questions during the call.

This phrase is just two words long, but what do they mean? Not to mention how, and why?

Here’s another post about how to make writing clearer and more direct.

Two pointers to keep in mind whether you are writing or editing:

  • Avoid phrases and prepositions wherever possible
  • Use active, strong verbs

Often, legal or other executives will resist simple language. It’s as if they take comfort in the convoluted. If you find yourself feeling that pressure, show this list to the jargon-pushers. Ask them which version they’d rather read. They might be surprised. You might get more cooperation in your quest for clarity.

Like any habit, scouting for extra words and jargon that clutter writing takes practice. Yet, it is a skill that can be learned. And mastering it will help you sell, persuade, reach and prompt action.

If you liked this post, please follow me on Twitter and through this blog. I’d like to hear your comments, too.

The advice to avoid jargon in writing is age-old and common. But it’s also smart.

We send out press releases, blog posts or content aimed at audiences because we want people to actually read and grasp the information and act on it in some way. That can’t happen if they have to struggle, even a little bit, to understand the message.

Knowing we’re supposed to banish jargon is the easy part. Doing it, though, can be excruciatingly hard – especially when a deadline looms.

So, here are 15 of the worst culprits from corporate communication, in my view. These words and phrases should never appear in a press release, email or other tool used to convey information.

Here, too, are suggestions for replacements for each one. The substitutes are not exact synonyms, in many cases. But, they are simple and clear words that could work in place of the jargon. Next time you get stuck and can’t find a way around “mission-critical” just take out this list and try to swap that phrase with something clearer.

       Kill          Use

  1. leverage  ➙ get, gain, use, pull, win, do, take
  2. utilize  ➙ use, show, fill, take, apply, push, work
  3. end-user  ➙ client, customer, audience, shopper, buyer
  4. synergy  ➙ team, powerful, effective, stronger, more, together
  5. strategic  ➙ smart, sharp, strong, vital, savvy, wise, clever
  6. best-practice  ➙ successful, prime, proven, winning, tested, solid
  7. mission-critical  ➙ main, big, major, central, chief, crucial
  8. win-win  ➙ good, smart, strong, clear, sound, skillful
  9. value-added  ➙ worthwhile, effective, better, helpful, ahead
  10. ideate  ➙ create, think, craft, whir, plan, test, solve
  11. operationalize  ➙ make, do, put, carry, finish, use, see, work
  12. scalable  ➙ grow, expand, wide, more, big, spread, include
  13. champion  ➙ support, push, press, sell, do, spread, lead, guide
  14. deliverables  ➙ results, value, outcome, change, effect
  15. outside the box  ➙ different, bold, striking, unique, brave, exciting

Let me know if these work for you. Also, if jargon isn’t tripping you up as much as writer’s block is, here’s another post to help you break free and get unstuck.