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“Corporate jargon just threw up all over my document!”

20 August 2015

We would consider cross-fertilising our ideas to proactively implement a robust and holistic approach that would be forward-thinking so that we could align our strategy, transition the supply chain, and reach out to customers.

Do any of you understand what on earth that means? No, me either. But you’ve seen something similar. Do your friends talk like that at the pub or when you go out for dinner? Do authors write like that in books? Do your connections write like that on facebook or twitter? No, they don’t. So why do so many of us turn on the corporate jargon vomit at work and wipe it all over our documents, emails, and, more worryingly, tenders and proposals?

Here’s why…

  1. You’re afraid of making a confident statement or a presumption in case you are wrong.
  2. You think corporate words make you sound business-like, professional, and sophisticated.
  3. You think they make you sound like you know your stuff when you’re actually trying to hide that you don’t even understand what you’re saying.
  4. Writing like this has become ‘normal’. It’s what we do when we put on our work clothes. We switch it on at 9am and turn it off at 5pm. At work you are dealing with people. The same people that live and breathe as you do, the same people who exist outside of the workplace, and do the same normal things that you do. Gone are the days when this way of writing at work was considered smart and trustworthy, if it ever was. It now has the exact opposite effect. Albert Einstein once said ‘if you cant explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’, and I whole-heartedly agree.

How to get out of the habit

It’s hard to change a writing style that you have been used to and will take some conscious thought each time you put finger to keyboard, but it’s worth the effort. This is what you need to consider:

Get to the point

People are impatient, especially at work. If you make them work too hard to find the meaning in what you’re saying, they will give up on your document before they get to the important part.

Re-read your text. If there is anything in there that doesn’t need to be, repeats a previous point in a different way, or over explains something that can be made simpler, then take it out.

Write shorter sentences

Long sentences dilute the impact of your point and the reader will get lost in a confused string of never ending words.

Break sentences down by adding full stops where there is a natural break. Read it aloud to help you see where these are.

Make it skim-friendly

Your reader looks at tens if not hundreds of emails, documents, and corporate literature every day. If you are submitting a proposal, this will be in a pile of many others, trying to persuade the reader to hire them. Subjecting the reader to wall-to-wall text makes it harder to find the points that interest them the most.

Signpost the document with titles and subtitles so they can jump around the document. For proposals, don’t right align the text. Even though it makes the document look neater, right-alignment also makes the spaces between each word inconsistent.  The eye has to constantly re-adjust, and it makes it harder to digest.

Remove passive voice

This raises insecurities, creates uneasiness, and confuses the reader about who is taking the action.

Use ‘I’, ‘we’, and ‘you’. It creates a relationship between the writer, the reader, and your organisations. Make it clear what you are taking responsibility for, and what they need to do. For example, instead of writing ‘moving the database to a shared system could be beneficial’, make it active and give it ownership by writing ‘you will see more benefits from your data if we move it to a shared system’.

Eliminate weakness

Words like ‘possibly’, ‘assume’, ‘generally’, ‘perhaps’, make you sound unsure and uncommitted. If it all goes wrong, at least you said ‘possibly’.

Remove any areas of doubt in your text. Instead of writing ‘we assume that you have this in hand, but our approach will generally drive the right results’, write ‘we know this is something you are already looking at. With our help, we will get you the right result.’

Remove corporate jargon vomit

Unless the reader is familiar with your organisation and your industry, they won’t know what you mean. Your audience is not you, it’s them.

Explain in plain English. Spell out acronyms and remove cringe words that make you sound like a corporate robot. Write it to them and for them.

What’s wrong with these?

Here are a few real sentences that I have come across in business.

  1. We will ensure that our reporting structure is backed up by the resources required to interrogate the real issues behind the issues, providing high level strategic and detailed reports as required.
  2. Our early research and soft marketing suggests a soft marketing approach.
  3. It goes without saying a number of schedules and viewings will be organised in order to achieve the required results, although this may be limited primarily due to the lack of supply and available options currently in the open market.
  4. Upon evaluating the properties based on the matrix and the efficiency of each property using space planning services, negotiations will take place with a view to agreeing heads of terms as soon as practically possible.
  5. In practical terms…
  6. The objective of the strategy review is to identify the best way to drive value from this underperforming performing asset alongside the provision of an effective long-term accommodation solution for the UK business.
  7. A potentially relevant example is…
  8. There are “probably” 3 main reasons for favouring us.
  9. Our strategy is to build a strategy.
  10. These options were tested with the planners from the outset, recalibrating their expectations towards a lesser quantum of development and less planning gain and ensuring that the quantum of residential and other uses…