The Power of Simple Writing: Don’t Get Bogged Down in Business Jargon

The Power of Simple Writing: Don’t Get Bogged Down in Business Jargon

We’re not all born writers. But that doesn’t mean each of us can’t write effectively.

Unfortunately, the business world has developed a collection of jargon that it loves to use in writing. This jargon is so common, and most inexperienced writers have come to think of it as good writing — a style to replicate.

It’s not.

Business jargon is instead like a marshmallow — it looks substantial and it might even taste pretty good, but it’s not going to fill you up and there’s zero nutritional value. That is, it might fill up a page and it might even sound right, but it’s saying nothing and it’s not going to get you any results.

Don’t believe me? There’s even an academic study on the dangers of overly complex words. Derek Halpern of Social Triggers picked up on the research. Here are his (passionate) thoughts:


What are Some Examples?

I did a quick search of consulting firms to find some good examples of business jargon in action. Here’s a list of business jargon’s greatest hits:

  • Collaborative
  • Integrated
  • Ethos
  • Innovation
  • Utilize
  • Deep bench
  • Expertise
  • Context
  • Bring our broad knowledge to bear
  • Purpose-driven
  • Disrupt the status quo
  • Operational muscle
  • Sustainable results
  • Creating business value
  • Results-oriented
  • Differentially focused

Developing “operational muscle” sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want operational muscle? And you might even be able to explain what it means. But it would take too long, and there’s a much shorter and more effective way to get the point across.

Hiring a firm that “bring its knowledge to bear” sounds OK, too, doesn’t it? But is that the best way to tell potential clients that you know a lot and that you use that knowledge to help them?

And then there’s the firm that describes itself as “differentially focused.” I assume this means they want to do something better than any of their competitors do it. So why not just say that?

The Solution: Read it Out Loud

It’s not always easy to avoid business jargon. Like I said: We’re surrounded by it. We’ve been force-fed business jargon so often that it has started to sound right. It’s the default — it’s what businesses write when they can’t think of anything else.

But you can use tricks to avoid business jargon. And here’s my favorite: Read it out loud.

Yes, read it out loud. Are you writing an About Us page? When you think you’re done, read it out loud. Not in a whisper, but rather in a normal voice. How does it sound? Did you run out of breath at certain points? Did you stumble over certain phrases? Did you hear any puffed-up business jargon? If so, mark those areas and redraft.

I like to take it a step further: I’ve developed a read-out-loud persona. I don’t just read out loud in my own voice, I read as though I’m James Earl Jones giving his famous baseball speech in “Field of Dreams.” Check it out:

There’s a lyrical quality to the speech. It sounds poetic. It uses big words when appropriate, but it uses simple terms and powerful imagery:

  • “sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon”
  • “dipped themselves in magic waters”
  • “memories so thick they have to brush them away from their faces”
  • “an army of steamrollers”
  • “erased like a blackboard”

James Earl Jones says: “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say — it’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have, and peace they lack.”

But what if he had said: “Your visitors will be willing to pay the admission charge because they have ample resources and are willing to exchange them for moments of optimal benefit and mental relaxation.”

That’s a speech that ends up on the cutting room floor.

It’s Important to Express Complex Ideas in Simple Terms

I was given a great gift by an editor I once had: a book called “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” by Roy Peter Clark. This book includes an entire chapter named: “Prefer the simple over the technical.”

It even creates a concept called “familiarization,” which simply means “taking the strange or opaque or complex and, through the power of explanation, making it comprehensible, even familiar.”

At High Tech IQ, as we talk to tech founders and executives, we find that they are often so close to their work that they tend to describe it in innate and complex detail.

But here’s the twist: Most customers don’t care what you do. They care instead about the results you deliver.

They don’t care if you can integrate new technologies into existing systems — they care instead if you can make life easier for them.

They don’t care if you can automate routine business tasks — they care instead if you can save them time.

They don’t care if you can identify inefficiencies in business processes — they care instead if you can save them money.

If you’re getting caught up writing about the “collaborative” nature of your work or the “deep bench” your company offers or your corporate “ethos,” take a break and try again. In time, the appearance of business jargon will start setting off alarms in your head — and you’ll be able to quickly edit into something more clear and far more compelling.

Are You Struggling With Your Writing?

Getting rid of business jargon can be hard, especially if you’ve worked in a place where it’s the official language for emails and press releases and proposals. It can be hard to shake, and sometimes it can feel impossible.

At High Tech IQ, we’re here to help. What types of struggles are you having with writing? We can help you find the right words, the ones that will actually mean something to your target audience — the ones that will help turn visitors in customers.

Contact us today if you need help finding the right words to describe your business.