Have you ever chatted with a professional in a different line of work from yours and walked away wishing you’d brought a translator to the table with you? You’re pretty sure it was English — at least, the little words sounded familiar. But 90 percent of it somehow managed to whoosh right over your head. Are you stupid? Do you have a hearing problem? Or have you simply been buzzed by wall-to-wall buzzwords?
We all fall into jargon from time to time. It exists for a reason, and it can be highly useful or even necessary among those in the know. Car buffs debate issues involving torque and fuel ratios, composers pepper their language with Italian musical phrases, electricians casually drop terms such as “resistance” and “capacitor,” and physicists no doubt talk like time-traveling refugees from Star Trek: the Next Generation. It’s only natural for people in the same profession to talk shop. The problem comes when the engineer or the musician or the IT expert suddenly has to speak to a general audience. We’re listening, but we just don’t understand. And after a few minutes of not understanding, we’re no longer listening either.
The problem isn’t limited to industry-specific terminology, either. I’m often asked to rewrite or edit content written by people who work in a more general business field, and I still have to spend half the project time figuring out what the heck these folks are trying to say. A lot of it tends toward the nebulous, stuff about “aligning verticals and utilizing granular compartmentalization to achieve a more impactful synergy,” yadda yadda yadda. Business-speak is a way for people to talk a lot without saying much. But if you’re trying to sell yourself or your product/service to a mainstream audience, don’t be shocked if you’re rewarded by the sound of crickets chirping.
As a first step in clearing up your verbiage, try to avoid jargony words that ordinary language can handle perfectly well, such as “agreeance” (agreement) and “incentivize” (spur, motivate). And watch out for whiz-bang phrases that describe something that isn’t really that amazing, such as “results-oriented.” (You’d never guess how many business professionals think it a huge feather in their caps to describe themselves or their company as “result-oriented.” As opposed to what, “sitting-around-doing-nothing-oriented?”) “Full-service” is another phrase I’ve attacked on this blog before. (Ever hear a company describe itself as “partial service?”) Finally, don’t overuse the relatively simple, easy-to-understand buzzwords just because they aren’t as likely to whoosh us — for instance, not everything has to be a “driver” for something else. (I see that one a lot too.) Get a thesaurus and give another word or two a chance. We’ve got lots of them.
If you’re not sure you can veer away from industry lingo, or you can’t tell how accessible your stuff is to your intended audience, get a professional copywriter or copyeditor to go over it for you. You may get a revised version that makes you exclaim, “Oh, so that’s what I was saying!”
For more about my writing services and current package deals, check out my website at www.reynoldswriting.com.