Toss the buzzwords into the buzzsaw

Toss the buzzwords into the buzzsaw

As a freelance copywriter for tech and corporate clients (and a former technical writer), I have found a LOT of resistance to clean, simple “shirtsleeve English”. Too many corporate types seem to fear that clear language and everyday words will somehow reduce the value of their ideas or offerings.

Quite the contrary. Keep it simple, focused on your target audience, pack it with mouth- watering benefit statements, and conclude with a compelling call to action — and you’ve got a winning formula.

Sure, jargon is sometimes appropriate. But it has to be your audience’s jargon — not your own. I once rewrote a Web site that was hip-deep in obscure, mystifying corporate-speak and computer terminology describing asset management offerings for global corporations. Yet their target customer was the kind of guy who spends more time wearing a hardhat and toolbelt than using a computer.

Look, it’s hard work to read, analyze and (hopefully) find the meaning in corporate memos and marketing materials these days. But I get paid to do it. Don’t do that to your customers. Your job is to make it easy for them to understand what you’re selling and why it’s right for them.

An interesting thing sometimes happens after rewriting a case study, capabilities brochure or collateral. After most of the buzzwords and corporate-speak has been exorcised, the clients sometimes want them put back in. They think saying “utilize” instead of “use” makes them sound smarter. They think the word “solutions” still has a clear meaning in today’s marketplace. They think “interface” sounds way smarter than “meet.” They LIKE their jargon — even if their prospects and customers have to struggle to figure out what it means.

Sometimes I think good writers like Twain, Strunk and E.B. White would all be unemployed today. Their resumes would be far too underwhelming. Not enough buzzwords.

What’s your position on buzzwords and jargon?

PS: For more thoughts on this idea, visit 37 Signals, “Buzzwords say all the wrong things.” Link.

  1. AnonymousAnonymous09-29-2006

    My position is that you’re totally right on — *she said, choosing slang over buzz words.* [grin]

    Liz

  2. Ann HandleyAnn Handley10-13-2006

    Never a good idea to use jargon or buzzwords. In fact, shift my paradigm before I’ve had my morning coffee and I’ll core your competencies. (LOL!)

    Nice blog, BTW!

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