It was my first week in a new job – working in the press office of the Post Office in Wales.
I’d barely taken off my coat when the phone rang. I answered, and the panicked voice on the other end of the line said: “We’ve had the Press on. There’s an issue with the PHGs at the MLO.”
Over the next three and a half years, I learned the Post Office was then an organisation wedded to its acronyms.
PHGs – Postmen Higher Grade. MLO – Mechanised Letter Office. DO – Delivery Office.
Within a large organisation, acronyms like these are widely-understood shorthand.
Outside, they become jargon.
One of the first lessons any trainee journalist learns is to ensure jargon does not creep into their writing. Why? People hate it – it acts as a barrier, loses their interest, disengages them, makes your writing seem hackneyed and stale.
If you’re a small business selling to the public, jargon in your emails, on your website, in your blogs, is a turn-off to your potential customers.
At best, there are clichés, such as “blue sky thinking” or “pushing the envelope”.
At worst, there are phrases which have your potential customers scratching their heads and wondering what on earth you mean.
Here are some examples from business which are enough to make any customer’s heart sink, and what they really mean:
- Due diligence – Putting effort into research before making a business decision.
- Sweat equity – Getting a stake in the business instead of pay.
- Land and expand – To sell a small solution to a client and then once the solution has been sold, to expand upon the same solution in the client’s environment.
- The helicopter view – An overview of a job or a project.
- Drink our own champagne – A term meaning that a business will use the same product that they sell to their customers. The champagne is an indicator a good product.
- End-user perspective – What the customer thinks about a product or service. It also is an indicator of a how a client would feel after having used the product or service.
Even social media posts can be guilty of using tortuous acronyms like these:
- YMMV – Your mileage may vary.
- IIRC – If I remember correctly.
- IANAL – I am not a lawyer.
When people have to remember six different passwords for different social media accounts, who has the time or energy to remember those?
Then, there’s technobabble. More often than not, this is used to cover up a lack of true understanding of the issue. People mistrust technobabble because they sense that, and if you use it instead of explaining things clearly, why should they trust you?
Why should you care about all of this? Small business thrives upon relationships and authenticity. That authenticity in dealings and communication builds the bond between business and customers, builds your business community. Authenticity and clarity build trust.
So how do you banish jargon, technobabble, and report-speak?
Remember: If you don’t understand something, neither will your customers.
All the technobabble in the world is no substitute for a clear explanation. Research it yourself. Write it simply. Your writing is about communication, not scoring points for knowing the latest buzzwords.
If you have to use an acronym, explain what the letters stand for the first time you use it.
For example: What we aim to do is generate good, organic search engine optimisation (SEO).
Read through your writing after the first draft and ruthlessly cut any clichés you see.
Inevitably, some will creep in. It happens to all of us.
Read it aloud.
What does it sound like? Would you cringe if you heard some of the phrases in a conversation at a bus stop? If so, you know what to do. Hit that delete button.
Welcome to the world of the jargon busters! Have you come across some terrible examples of jargon? Please share them with us below.