Richard Branson

Few things drive me crazier than the jargon-loaded, meaningless, bloated language I see used in far too many marketing and PR campaigns. Let’s be honest: Much of it is impenetrable dreck, unreadable to the point of being offensive.

I swear, sometimes it’s almost like we hope no one will read it. As long as the client isn’t complaining, what’s the big deal, right? As for whether or not the client’s message is having any effect? Nevermind all that.

Gazillionaire Richard Branson, of all people, recently went off about jargon to his 4.2 million followers on LinkedIn. Branson cuts right to the point:

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.”

Exactly. Lousy language is annoying. It causes people to tune you out.

If It’s Hard to Read You, People Will Simply Stop

As I told fellow Idea Grove staffers recently, we should aspire to clarity of language in everything we do, whether it’s a tweet or a 4,000-word whitepaper.

Our goal should not be to appear smarter than everyone else, although it’s nice if people think that. Rather, we should work to make everything we write as easy to read as possible.

Why? Because easy reading – language that propels an audience forward, from one sentence to the next – leads to more effective communication. If reading is difficult, people will simply stop. That’s especially true on topics such as enterprise technology, which can be difficult material anyway.

As a writer and editor, I liken my mission to that of a tour guide through difficult terrain. I am leading readers to meaning via the safest route I can find, with as few roadblocks and stop signs as possible.

When you boil it down, clarity is the core value we in marketing and PR provide to our clients.

If you’re struggling with these issues in your own work, here are some things you can do to begin the process of translating your writing from business-ese to something that more closely resembles English:

1) Dump meaningless words and phrases. Nevermind going forward. Forget core value propositions. Leave behind your ability to facilitate and utilize best practices from a holistic standpoint. It’s junk language that stands between your reader and whatever you are trying to say. All it does is lull the reader to sleep.

2) Here’s a bag of periods. Sprinkle liberally. A rule of thumb: If you can’t read a sentence aloud in one breath with oxygen to spare, it’s too long. Another: No sentence should contain more than two ideas. As someone once advised me, pity the poor reader. He’s a tired soul.

3) What’s your point? Before you write a word, you should have a clear idea of what you want to say and a rough idea of how you will structure the work. Then, get to the point quickly. If you write a meandering mess, the reader will figure it out right away and refuse to follow you down the rabbit hole.

4) Get smart, then write. Before writing, ask yourself: Do I truly understand what I’m writing about? If not, always ask more questions and do more research. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing too much that says nothing.

5) Copy-and-Paste Is Lethal. Sometimes, it seems easier to cut-and-paste old marketing material without taking the time to understand and/or improve it. Big mistake. It’s possible the last guy had no better idea what he was writing about than you do. All you’re doing is repeating his mistakes and, most likely, perpetuating lousy writing.

6) Don’t become an automaton. We all were born into this world and taught a human language. There’s no reason to change that now.