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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.)

Rosemary Gillespie - Thursday, September 16, 2010

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!


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