Word use: The good, the bad, and the jargon

The words you use matter. If you’re repeating negative terms back to reporters or using words no one outside your industry understands, it’s time to revise your lexicon.

Communication is only as good as the communicator.

In PR, we often see companies with a great message bog it down with jargon or poorly placed words. Word usage is vital and can be especially difficult to navigate when working with journalists.

Releases, newsletters, and emails can be reviewed and adjusted to correct badly used words and eliminate jargon before they’re sent out; live interviews are less forgiving. Positive, understandable word usage is crucial to getting your message across in interviews.

To help out, here is a quick breakdown on how to craft your words in a way that results in successful media engagement:

The good

Just like Clint Eastwood, these are the words you’re rooting for. These words are the heroes of your corporate message and brand. Words such as: “trusted,” “responsible,” “dedicated,” “professional,” and “creative.”

These are your champions. Use them when working with members of the media. Strike a balance, though. Some are buzzwords that, though positive, could have a negative connotation at the moment. Dust off that thesaurus and find similar words that portray what you want to convey.

It’s also important to know your comfort level. Is “business acumen” a phrase you’d use, or are you more naturally going to say “business expertise”?

The bad

Sometimes reporters might phrase a question using a negative word. If you repeat it, then blam! You’ve just associated yourself with the bad word, and they’ve got an eye-grabbing headline. Those negative headlines do sell. As more media outlets clamor for evaporating funds, these headlines might mean more clicks and views to boost their advertising budget at your company’s expense.

By and large, media outlets do not do this intentionally, but it’s good to be aware. Before you can avoid these words, you must identify them. Make a list, and practice responding to questions with bad words with answers containing good words.

A recent example is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s statement in response to allegations that he had abused his son. What’s wrong with the following sentence? “I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser.”

I’m not condoning Peterson’s actions, but we can still learn from what he said. All anyone will take away from his quote are the phrases “not a perfect parent”and “child abuser.” Clearly, he’s trying to take the issue head on, but although that approach might work in football, it doesn’t always work in communications.

The jargon

Coming from the Army, I hold this as one of my favorite areas. Every business has jargon, but the military takes it to an entirely different level.

Here’s an example: “BLUF, in the Army, a BCT can take an APFT near the PX NLT 0600 while in APFUs.”

When was the last time you read a company memo that didn’t have some form of jargon in it?

“Company X is advancing the corporate culture through innovative synergetic solutions, etc.” Probably the biggest culprits work within the pharmaceutical industry, which generates those commercials that list confusing and frightening side effects.

Regardless of the industry, spokespeople must identify these words and break them down so that even someone’s grandma could understand them. If you’re unsure whether a word is “jargon” or not, test it out on your friends. Send your new business messaging concept to a friend who works in a completely different field, and see whether they know what you’re talking about.

What buzzwords are associated with your business?

Kevin Hartman is project coordinator at LTPR. A version of this article originally appeared on the LTPR blog.


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