Keeping jargon at bay

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Nice piece in the FT last week that reflects a change that I’ve experienced directly in communications over the past two decades.  Currently there’s a move to making organisational communications intelligible and interesting.  It’s still not common, but getting better.  My favourite from the FT article is this:

… In one session, participants rewrite a corporate mission statement, turning “unsubstantiated assertions” and “meaningless words” such as “good practice” and “deliverables” into good English.

Mark Watkins, director of corporate communications at Nycomed, the Danish pharmaceuticals company, explains he was attracted to the course because he felt weighed down by impenetrable corporate writing: “When people go into communications they don’t set off to write in management speak but they get lost. No one wants to produce something unintelligible and uninspiring. But it happens.”

He says the exercise reinforced the need to use clear, engaging language and to substantiate assertions with concrete examples. Stuart Delves, a course tutor who writes for business and the theatre, says: “People get jaded about language in corporations. We hope to light their enthusiasm for language and make them think how they use it.”

It is, of course, another case of “horses for courses” or “bounded applicability”.  There are times when you want to use the abstracts and assertions, but that’s usually when your next step is to encourage readers to think through exercises around those same words and make sense of them for themselves.  As communications, far better to be clear and concrete.

And the idea that business communications need protagonists.  Good lord!

A far cry from the comment I got at my first PR job from my then Account Manager:  “Get yourself a different career, because you can’t write for business and never will.”


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