Business Writing With Buzz
Front-end strategies for leveraged solutions in your business communiqués. (Or: learn to cut the cr_p and say what you mean.)
Anyone who missed the recent election must have been hiding under the proverbial rock, or willfully avoiding it altogether. If the latter is the case, we at Proof Communications sympathise because at no other point in the political calendar is the main purpose of communication – to impart information clearly – so casually abused, with the use of political double-talk, repetitive slogans (moving forward, anyone?) and ‘officialese’ at an apparent all time high. Or low, depending on your point of view.
You’ll know officialese when you hear it; it’s bureaucratic, hard to follow and mostly meaningless. Consider these examples from the excellent Bendable Learnings by Don Watson, author and speechwriter for former Prime Minister Paul Keating: ‘front-end strategies’, ‘leveraged solutions’, ‘the execution of deliverables’ and (our favourite) ‘synergy-related headcount reductions’, which was Nokia Siemens’ way of saying in a media release that they planned to fire a few people. It’s management-speak designed to hide either the horrible truth… or the fact that the speaker is utterly clueless about the subject. Which gives us an excellent insight into why pollies use it so much!
Officialese isn’t just a convenient tool for misinformation used by silver-tongued politicians. It’s also a disease that, if left unchecked, can spread rapidly and infect your business writing. Look at all your business communications – that’s everything from e-mail correspondence to reports and tenders – and ask yourself: is my meaning clear? Have I used industry jargon when talking to a customer who may not understand it? Am I using unnecessarily complex words when a simple, everyday alternative would work just as well?
We’ve talked about ways to make your business writing clearer in Proof Communications newsletters before but, unlike our Prime Minister’s favourite slogan, some things can bear repetition. Here’s a quick refresher on writing clearly and effectively:
1. What am I trying to say?
Identify the purpose of your communication or ‘key message’, as well as all the supporting information you need to convey.
2. Get yourself a gorgeous body.
Structure is crucial to clarity. As a rule of thumb, every paragraph should contain a unique point that contributes to your overall message.
3. Spell-check your work.
Your computer’s spell-check function doesn’t understand jargon, so it’s an excellent way of identifying industry-specific terms, as well as misspellings.
4. Honesty is the key.
Have you used ‘antediluvian’ instead of ‘old-fashioned’ because you think it makes you sound smarter? Not only do you risk alienating your customer, you might just run out of words. As CS Lewis said, “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” Save the posh words for the cryptic crossword.
As the American Plain English Foundation says: “Though no one knows the total cost of poor communication, the information we do have suggests it's high. While writing in plain language isn't easy, it pays off in positive results”.
So stop the rot: inoculate yourself against the spread of officialese before it costs you a customer!
Send This To A Friend! | Printer View
- Trackback Link
- Post has no trackbacks.
I’ve talked before about the need to choose your words oh-so-carefully in business communications, and nowhere is that process more complex than in international sales and marketing. We’ve all heard the hilarious anecdotes about translation errors made when English-speaking marketers try to take their campaigns global – hilarious, that is, unless you’re the person responsible – and the beauty of these cautionary tales is that they’re often made by multinationals: household names that can afford solid product research and really have no excuses for making this kind of mistake.
Some of the more famous examples:
- Coca Cola’s first translation into Chinese was ‘ko-ko-ken-la’… or, in a particular Chinese dialect, ‘bite the wax tadpole’. Researchers found a better alternative amongst the 40,000 Chinese characters available to them in the closer phonetic rendering ‘ko-kou-ko-le’; fortuitously, this translates roughly to ‘happiness in the mouth’.
- Nor is their competition immune. Pepsi’s ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ campaign promised Taiwanese-speaking consumers that Pepsi would ‘bring your ancestors back from the dead’.
- Swedish furniture giant IKEA named a desk FARTFULL. Enough said.
- American Motors tried to project a strong, masculine, heroic image by naming its new car the ‘Matador’. For Puerto Rican consumers, this translated to ‘killer’, which was particularly unfortunate in view of the country’s badly maintained roads and high road toll.
Yes, it’s all fun and games when it’s someone else’s neck on the chopping block. But let’s put aside the comic blunders of the world’s multinationals for a moment because your job – using English to communicate with a largely English-speaking market – presents its own challenges. All too often, there is a big difference between ‘communicating’ and ‘making your meaning understood’.
The study of communication and meaning is called semiotics, which looks at how signs and symbols (including words) combine to convey messages. To cut a long story short, the way words work – or rather, how effectively they communicate your intended meaning – is largely dependent on context, including physical barriers like language, and cultural and psychological factors, such as the upbringing and values of the target. The beauty of the English language is that it is so delightfully nuanced but this brings with it an ugly truth: there’s no guarantee that everyone in your target group will take from your business communications the meaning you intended. Ask anyone who has ever issued a party invitation – a value-laden word like ‘casual’ used to describe your dress code means very different things in Maroochydore than in Melbourne!
So the rules for clear business communications are:
- Refine your message: work out exactly what it is you want to say before saying it
- Think about your target market: age, culture, level of education, language barriers etc
- Look at the word options (synonyms) available to you: we’ve talked about this before but, to paraphrase CS Lewis’s famous piece of writing advice, don’t use ‘infinitely’ when ‘very’ will do or you’ll have nothing left to use when you want to talk about something really infinite. And avoid value-laden words where possible because, simply put, not everybody shares your values
- Don’t forget context: the format of your message (press release, shareholder report, tender, invitation, email) and the environment you’re using them (social, political, cultural, etc).
So to conclude: don’t think you’re immune to translation problems just because you work only in English, or even just in one English-speaking market (‘fanny pack’, anyone?) because understanding relies on so much more than merely a shared dialect.
And here’s a piece of free advice, courtesy of Proof Communications: if you’re ever toasting colleagues in Japan over a friendly glass of sake, don’t say ‘cin cin’, the Italian for ‘cheers’. It means ‘small penis’ in Japanese. Offence might well be taken…
For help with your communications, contact Rosemary on 02 9314 7506 or 0411 123 216 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Send This To A Friend! | Printer View
- Trackback Link
- Post has no trackbacks.
- Blowing your own trumpet - how to make it work for your business
- Mx - New Title or Tongue Twister?
- All souped up and ready to go. How one crazy idea is making all the difference
- Did you want ice with that?
- Four Letter Word Not So Innocent After All
- “Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died”
- Lost Your Brand Mojo? Here’s How to Find It Again
- When a typo put the Australian Defence Force under fire
- Are you giving the right message
- Have a great business opportunity but lots of competition standing in your way
- Customer comatose after reading newsletter
- Cut to the chase and keep your customers
- Why not say so
- Spit and polish. Quick ways to write better B2B documents
- Writing Killer Headlines
- Sell is not a four letter word
- Feed your website to keep it alive
- How to win a business award
- 10 ways to a business winning website
- How To Make Your Writing Look Like A Size 8
- How NASA can keep our business writing down to earth
- Rugby rules. Game on in our book
- Winning Business Awards
- Words that Win
- How two quick writing tweaks will get you better results
- Write your way to better business documents in 90 seconds
- Look to the future now it has only just begun - Why your sales materials need to be future focused
- Three little words that will change how you communicate
- Do you make these mistakes? 10 Common English Language Mistakes
- Extremely fast tips for great copywriting
- Making your message loud and clear
- Why it is not all about you but about YOU
- How simple words can make you seem more intelligent
- What not to say in your marketing materials
- Where’s the proof? How to show you're worth it
- You don’t need to be J.K. Rowling but this might help
- Quick, easy ways to get your writing started
- Tricky Words That Trip Us Up
- 5 ways to ramp up your marketing materials and get better results
- 7 ways to avoid report writing mistakes
- Use 'Find' to turn average marketing materials into great ones
- Does Your Spell Checker Let You Down
- When results come first: how to write case studies
- The three truths of business writing that may surprise you
- The Most Costly Typos in the World
- Best ever copywriting tip for any B2B content marketing
- Is LinkedIn killing your business?
- 7 (or it is ‘seven?) top tips for writing with numbers
- Telling Tales – connecting with your readers
- Where to start? Organising your ideas in B2B documents
- Quick fire! How to hit the mark with bullet points
- Keeping it clean: avoiding corporate jargon
- Words not to use
- Emotional content marketing
- How a little thought goes a long way
- Five grammar gremlins
- How a four letter word could win you new business
- Tender writing: 10 top tips for successful tenders
- I Just Couldn't Put It Down
- Ever tried a paraprosdokian?
- What's in it for me?
- EOI ROI RFT - What Does It All Mean?
- Gnats and Nerds: How to Write for Everyone
- Tell Me A Story: How To Colour Your Writing
- How the Big Bad Wolf Can Improve Your Business Writing
- Which word? Picking the right one every time
- Front-end strategies for leveraged solutions in your business communiqués. (Or: learn to cut the cr_p and say what you mean.)
- It's All Greek to Me... International Lessons in Business Communications
- On your bike, mate: Get yourself a hobby and a more effective you
- The Sad Truth about Commas
- What Bananas in Pyjamas Can Teach Us about Marketing
- How to Avoid Global Grammatical Embarrassment
- How well do you know the company you keep?
- The whole truth and nothing but the truth
- Bullet-proof: Tips for better bullet lists
- Rosemary's not-so-secret tips to copywriting great headlines and subject lines
- A quick and easy recipe for editing your marketing materials
- Your new best friend: 3 ways with full stops
- What not to say: why some words are better left unsaid
- 10 Top Tender (and Proposal) Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- How to Trim Your Dangly Bits
- How boring are you?
- Is this the World's Most Attractive Headline?
- How apostrophes can get you arrested
- Get a Great Verbal Brand
- Are typos costing your business?
- Top 10 Tips for writing Tenders and Proposals
- Get over it! How to overcome Writer's Block
- Let's get active!
- August 2015 (4)
- July 2015 (1)
- June 2015 (2)
- May 2015 (1)
- April 2015 (2)
- March 2015 (3)
- February 2015 (2)
- January 2015 (3)
- November 2014 (2)
- October 2014 (1)
- September 2014 (2)
- August 2014 (2)
- July 2014 (1)
- May 2014 (2)
- April 2014 (1)
- March 2014 (4)
- February 2014 (4)
- November 2013 (1)
- October 2013 (1)
- September 2013 (1)
- August 2013 (2)
- July 2013 (2)
- May 2013 (2)
- April 2013 (1)
- March 2013 (2)
- December 2012 (2)
- September 2012 (1)
- August 2012 (1)
- July 2012 (1)
- June 2012 (1)
- May 2012 (3)
- March 2012 (1)
- February 2012 (2)
- November 2011 (1)
- June 2011 (1)
- March 2011 (2)
- February 2011 (1)
- September 2010 (2)
- August 2010 (1)
- July 2010 (1)
- May 2010 (3)
- April 2010 (1)
- March 2010 (1)
- November 2009 (3)
- October 2009 (1)
- September 2009 (1)
- August 2009 (1)
- June 2009 (1)
- May 2009 (1)
- January 2009 (2)
- November 2008 (1)
- October 2008 (1)
- August 2008 (2)