“There’s a thieves code in the corporate world”, says Patrick Gray, president of Prevoyance Group, a strategy consulting company: “I’ll use words that sound important but make no actual sense and give you the same privilege if you don’t call me out on it.” Mr. Gray’s advice: “Speak clearly and eschew cliché and you’ll set yourself apart.”
I couldn’t agree more. Copyeditors who spend hours fine-tuning business copy see an ever-increasing glut of business jargon, or “corporatese”, in the documents we’re paid to work with: “bleeding edge technology” (as in, risky new stuff), to “talk around something” (how about just talking about it?) “interface” (a fancy way to suggest interaction), and a personal favorite: “blue-sky solutioneering.” Would it be so uncool to simply invite your team to brainstorm new ideas to solve problem X? What’s the job description for the person who does this poetic blue-sky solutioneering—a solutioneer?
Here’s another gem of corporatese that makes my brain want to explode: “accelerated emergence of high maturity behaviors”, which for you mere mortals, means “faster results.” Yes, actual people otherwise clothed and in their right minds foist this linguistic loopiness on others on a daily basis. “We surveyed members of the legal community”, they like to say. As for me and my house, we’ll simply “talk to some lawyers”, thank you very much.
The pseudo-adjective “actionable” is another one that regularly rears its head in copy. Who do these people think they are, William Shakespeare? Mr. Shakespeare stuffed his plays and sonnets with words and word forms he’d made up: eyeball, so-so, laughable, outbreak, vulnerable, and obscene are just a few of his linguistic miracles, as relevant today as they were when playfully penned four hundred years ago. In contrast, we’re reminded of the well-worn cliché “think outside the box” and the fantasy verb “to synergize” which have long since lost their luster in modern usage, sort of like the jewel colors and cowl-neck sweaters of the 80’s.
Good business writing is like writing in any other genre: above par in concision, clarity, and simplicity. Good writing knows its place in the world. It doesn’t have to show off, isn’t lazy, and doesn’t exclude anyone: Who wants to be the only kid in a cubicle who doesn’t know what an “anticipointment”* is? Uncluttered, straightforward copy that uses standard English to communicate its message creates a comfort zone for readers and is an added step in getting everyone on board with those all-important business goals that are, after all, the goal.
In conclusion, a few tips for business writing:
- Say it simply. Really.
- Leave the word morphing to your poetry journal.
- Enjoy being a mere mortal.