Business Jargon – Don’t let it cost you customers

Posted on July 25, 2018 in Copywriting

‘Hard Brexit’, ‘Max-fac’, ‘Passporting’ … What do they mean, and do they mean the same to all of us? Hum.

These Brexit terms are a reminder that using unfamiliar and undefined jargon runs the risk of confusing and annoying customers. And they can also be interpreted differently by staff. If you give instructions to ‘reach out’, for example, are you telling staff to speak to an organisation, invite them to a meeting, or form a partnership with them?

And with more and more pressures on people’s time, and Social Media enticing and forcing us to use ‘shorthand’, the use of jargon is undoubtedly escalating. Despite its risks and consequences. So, here are my tips – drawing on my experience of what works.

  1. Paint your audience – As you write, think of someone who characterises your target audience – ideally someone you know well. Imagining they are seated in front of you will help you tune into your audience’s needs, and stick to everyday language.
  2. Ditch your suit – Believe it or not, how you are feeling and how you are dressed will influence your writing’s tone of voice. It is true.  So, wearing a suit and tie could be at the root of your problem?
  3. Find a hero – We absorb the writing styles of what we read around the office, just as children pick up their parents’ accents. However, if you keep examples of writing styles you want to copy, and read them before you start writing, they will rub off on your work.
  4. Decide your style – Decide on three adjectives you’d like your writing to sound like, and then identify their extreme opposites that you want to avoid (e.g. confident – extreme opposite, arrogant). Use these adjectives to guide your writing.
  5. Beware of nominalisations (abstract nouns) – It’s common for businesses to use these instead of what are their verb and adjective equivalents (e.g. notification compared to ‘to notify’; precision compared to ‘precise’).  However, they make your sentences wordy, unclear and bureaucratic – so ditch them!
  6. Read your text out loud – This is a great way for spotting anything unintelligible before you share it wither a wider audience. Long sentences, clichés and jargon should leap out at you as you read – for your immediate treatment.

In summary … Write clearly, and you won’t pay the cost of jargon