Every profession speaks its own language, uses its own insider terms and shorthand for easier communication of complex topics. Most business people, for example, will understand if someone tells them, “The CIO needs the RFP ASAP … COB at the latest.” While all those acronyms after a while come to resemble a letter salad more than a form of communication, the sentence will still make sense to those “in the know.”
Some business jargon, though, is more industry- or department-specific: the legal team might understand that “SOP” is “standard operating procedure” and the IT folks will know what a “GUI” (“graphical user interface”) is, but a lawyer and a techie using their own lingo with each other might have a harder time making their points clear.
And that’s where the danger of using insider language lies: in not making yourself 100-percent clear to an “outsider,” whether that’s a co-worker in a different department or a CXO (that’s any C-level executive officer) in a different company that you’re trying to win business from.
So how can you make sure your communications are free of obfuscating jargon? Keep these tips in mind as you read through your proposals, letters or emails:
- Scan for an overabundance of “letter salad” – Acronyms can be useful shorthand but also make readers’ eyes glaze over when used too heavily. Documents overpopulated with abbreviations tend to look more like computer-generated code than a form of human-to-human communication … and it is fellow humans you’re trying to communicate with, remember.
- Ask yourself this: Would your mother understand? – Food writer Michael Pollan famously advised readers to not eat any food Granny wouldn’t recognize as edible. The same idea holds in effective writing: With obvious exceptions (“email,” “networking,” “mobile devices,” etc.), try to avoid using too many words an older generation – or kids, for that matter – wouldn’t recognize as words.
- Read your writing out loud – Do your words sound natural, like something you could comfortably speak as well as put down on paper? Or do they sound as if you’re speaking some advanced dialect of Corporatese instead of English? If so, you probably need to tone down the jargon considerably.
For more in-depth guidance on clear, effective writing, check out our course on “Write the business case,” which provides execs with hands-on training in preparing proposals, whitepapers and other documents aimed at winning new business. The next available session is scheduled for 9 am to 4 pm in the greater London area on Tuesday, July 10.
Enjoy this post? We publish a regular email newsletter featuring the past week’s blog posts, as well as tips, event information and special offers. Click here to sign up for free.