One of my recent posts offered clear, simple, and powerful words to substitute for jargon. Some of the readers questioned (in the comments section and via social media) whether replacing jargon with shorter, more straightforward words would dilute meaning or even undercut the credibility of a company’s message.
I disagreed. But, I figured I should back up that assertion with examples drawn from real life.
Recently, I trawled real corporate press releases and quickly found several examples that crossed my eyes and muddled my brain. (And I spent more than a decade as a financial journalist.)
Below, I’ve reprinted snippets from eight of those media releases. In each case, I rewrote the wordy phrases and trimmed the jargon and extra stuff. I used active verbs and shorter sentences. Each example is different, but the concept is the same.
The idea is to show how to strip away unneeded or fuzzy words and distill meaning. This isn’t relevant only for PR professionals. This habit is essential for bloggers or others who want people to share their posts, buy their services or products, or do something else they urge. In today’s economy, that’s pretty much all of us.
If our audience has to spend much time figuring out what we mean, they will move on and we will lose out. Why make it hard for them? That’s what the eight press releases had in common: It was harder than it should have been to get the message. Great content is easy to read.
Sentences from real press releases
In these eight examples, the original phrasing from the release appears first; my rewrite immediately follows.
I kept each rewrite to just one phrase or sentence. For some of the rewrites, adding another short sentence might have helped convey the meaning more precisely. Nonetheless, the rewrites are definitely clearer, and they are jargon-free.
You can judge for yourself whether you think anything gets diluted.
Original: “The website is now fully operational with the ecommerce functionality all set up.”
Rewrite: The company has launched its website.
Original: “We are continuing our efforts that we began last fiscal year to pursue patent infringers in an effort to monetize the value of our extensive patent portfolio.”
Rewrite: To protect our many patents and the income they bring, we pursue violators.
Original: “In the fourth quarter we paced our promotional activities to avoid the holiday season promotion clutters in the market.”
Rewrite: We ran holiday promotions earlier than usual this year to increase their effectiveness.
Original: “The new company and its management team has invested a substantial amount of their time and effort in laying the groundwork for the company’s unique value proposition to its potential customer base while setting the stage for developing its brand of products.”
Rewrite: The new company is developing its marketing plan.
Original: “We believe the confusion associated with our warrant accounting has caused some potential investors to eschew the company due to the complexity of our earnings calculations.”
Rewrite: Investors want simpler accounting for our warrants.
Original: “The company’s customer-centric business model provides a strong value proposition to consumers.”
Rewrite: Customers like the company’s prices and service.
Original: “We are cognizant that we must address our debt situation and our pending line of credit maturity but we ultimately believe striving to improve our core business is a fundamental component of a solution for all parties in this regard.”
Rewrite: We will cut the company’s debt as we build business.
Original: “Questions may be poised [sic] to management by participants on the call and in response the company may disclose additional material information.”
Rewritten: Executives will answer questions during the call.
Often, legal or other executives will resist simple language. It’s as if they take comfort in the convoluted. If you find yourself feeling that pressure, show this list to the jargon-pushers. Ask them which version they’d rather read. They might be surprised. You might get more cooperation in your quest for clarity.
As is true of breaking any habit, it takes practice to scout for the jargon and extraneous words that clutter writing. Yet, it is a skill that can be learned, and mastering it will help you sell, persuade, reach, and prompt action.
Becky Gaylord worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Sydney, Australia, before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. A version of this story first appeared on Becky’s blog.