Ask the Editor™
Volume 10, Issue 2

In this issue:

Abolishing Jargon and Corporatese

I once attended a meeting that began something like this, "Our actionable objective is to leverage our core competencies to better interface with our target market and use the online medium to facilitate revenue growth."

One of my colleagues raised his hand, "So, we're going to make money on the Internet, right?"

If you've worked in Corporate America for any length of time, you've already been exposed to enough corporate jargon, acronyms, clichés, and mumbo jumbo to fill several pages in a book.

It sure sounds impressive, though, doesn't it? After all, the CEO who crafted the memo about "operationalizing synergistic functionalities" and the vice president who just sent you an email about "monetizing user-centric enablers" get paid a lot of money, so they sure as heck should be fluent in the latest buzzwords.

The problem, of course, is that corporatese often obscures or or even deliberately conceals the intended meaning - one large corporation called its layoffs a "resource action."

Our goal as writers is to communicate clearly. And the best way to accomplish this goal is through an integrated transformational approach to enhanced manuscription performance.

I'm kidding of course. (And I didn't even know "manuscription" was a word until I was playing around with my thesaurus. Might have started a new buzzword there!)

The best way to communicate with your reader is to write simply and directly.

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“He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.” Abraham Lincoln

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Is It Ever Okay to Use Jargon?

Every industry has certain buzzwords that are understood by insiders. It's like a secret handshake that shows you are "in the know."

Jargon serves as a short-hand to quickly express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group. For example, web designers use terms like "automagically," "bad neighborhoods," "breadcrumbs," "elastic layout," "inheritance," and "permalink" that have specialized meanings.

If almost all of your audience is in the same field and will understand the terminology you are using, then use it. Just remember that anytime you use jargon, you run the risk of obscuring your message.

Use jargon only if it precisely communicates your intended meaning and won't confuse the reader. If you are writing to an audience that will not understand the special terms of your industry, choose other words or define the jargon you are using.

And remember the problem with corporatese is that many terms have become so cliché and are used so reflexively that they have lost their power. Think about that the next time you plan to write about leveraging, integrating, or facilitating a synergy, functionality, or paradigm.

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“The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand.” Lewis Thomas

Writing in Plain English

Good writing is clear, simple, concise, well organized, focused, conversational, planned, enjoyable, and engaging. In short, good writing is written in plain English. It uses short sentences, everyday words, active voice, and personal pronouns to clearly communicate with the reader.

Here's what you can do to avoid corporatese and write in plain English:

- Use short sentences. Over-complexity is the enemy of clear writing. Shorter sentences are effective at communicating complex information quickly because they break it up into small, easy-to-process units.

- Use active voice. Active voice focuses attention on the performer of an action. Passive voice lengthens a sentence and often creates ambiguity by obscuring the agent responsible for the action. Here is an example of passive voice: "A home run was hit by Sammy Sosa." Notice how much stronger this rewrite is: "Sammy Sosa hit a home run."

- Write conversationally. Don't write, "Pursuant to the phone conversation, I am forwarding you the proposal." Instead, write, "As we discussed on the phone, I am sending you the proposal." When was the last time you used "pursuant" in everyday speech?

- Write simple, strong sentences. Keep the subject and verb close together. For example, instead of writing, "With reference to your proposal, I feel it was an excellent one," write, "Your proposal is excellent.”

- Avoid wordiness. Omit superfluous words wherever you can. For example, avoid redundancy by writing "fundamentals" instead of "basic fundamentals." Or turn nouns into verbs whenever possible. For example, write "he decided" instead of "he made a decision."

- Use simple, everyday words. For example, instead of "commencement," use "start" or instead of "obfuscate," use "confuse."

- Cut out the useless opener. The phrase "is that" is usually a dead give away that all that comes before is unnecessary information, for example, "What I would like to say is that…"

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“Broadly speaking, the short words are best and the old words best of all.” Winston Churchill

Ask the Editor™ Question

I turned the tables in this issue and asked a group of readers to send me examples of corporatese that annoyed them:

Our multidisciplinary team of tenured experts consistently delivers a value proposition that exceeds clients' expectations.

How about one we've been hearing lately that comes under the category of bad taste, literally and figuratively: They drank the Kool-Aid

Key differentiator

Push the envelope

Don’t “reinvent the wheel”

Best of breed

Leveraging core competencies






Paradigm shift

Throw you under the bus

At the end of the day

Let's take this off line

Drilling down


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