The Bane of Business Jargon


Every profession has its own vocabulary. Physicians are used to mixing Latin terminology with their English, and physicists studying subatomic particles ascribe different meanings to “charm” and “strange.” The business realm is no exception, but some business jargon needlessly alienates or bores its readers. You can’t communicate effectively with your staff or customers if you rely on business content that contains more style than substance.

Leveraging, Monetizing and Other Buzzwords

Business buzzwords go out of fashion almost as quickly as teen slang, and they have as much lasting impact on their audience. With few exceptions – the 1980s trend of using “impact” as a verb is apparently here to stay – buzzwords are ephemeral. These words became popular because they were striking when they were new, but their cachet has long since faded to cliché. When it was newly adapted to business writing, “leveraging” sounded fresh; it created a vivid image of using simple tools to effect big changes.

Over time, though, buzzwords lose their power to make their intended audience sit up and take notice. They become invisible. “Monetize your website” returns millions of results on Google because everyone uses the same well-worn buzzword to describe the process of transforming a product or service into a valuable commodity. Thousands of nearly identical resumes describe a candidate’s ability to “leverage” skills in creative ways.

Business writing rarely packs the emotional wallop of poetry or good fiction, but it shouldn’t lull the audience to sleep with buzzwords that have lost their buzz, either.

Using (Not Utilizing) the Right Words

Everyone learns how to write in grammar school. When young students first start writing, teachers praise them for using bigger words. When they get into college, no one breaks them of the big-word habit. They learn to stretch research papers with longer words even when they don’t quite fit; student writers love to insert “utilize” for “use” or “countenance” for “face.” After graduation, they follow the same habits they learned at an early age, writing multi-page memos and 1,500-word home pages.

Powerful business writing is the opposite of puffy academic writing, especially online. Crisp, concise writing conveys more meaning in smaller bites. It delivers your message straight from the screen to a reader’s brain without getting tangled on complex vocabulary or misused words. Experienced professional writers sometimes use big vocabularies, too, but only when needed.

“Utilize” isn’t always the wrong word; sometimes it’s important to express how to make something useful. In most cases, though, what the writer really means is “use.”

How to Write Without Saying a Thing

Business writing often suffers less from stilted writing than from poor editing. A 40-page report may look impressive, but if it contains empty sentences and tautologies, the 30 pages of valuable information it contains are buried. Take a look at the following sentence:

“The fundamental difference between superior strategies and inferior strategies is their success in achieving objectives.”

Translated into plainer English, the sentence says that successful strategies are more successful than unsuccessful ones. Making such an obvious statement, however it’s couched, detracts from the meaningful information in an otherwise useful report. An editor would have strengthened the article by removing self-evident filler and letting the quality of the paper’s research shine.

Using filler in article marketing is a common way to conceal the writer’s spotty knowledge of English, especially when the author’s being paid by the word. Stuffing sentences with padding lets inexperienced writers meet a client’s word count without research or a thesaurus. Bloated writing is a poor value for clients and a chore for readers.

Shorter isn’t always better. Sometimes it takes a few thousand words to express an idea fully. In most professional contexts, though, tight writing with a minimum of business jargon speaks volumes.

© Business Content, Inc. 2013 All Rights Reserved.

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