Does this sentence make my ass look big?

| Filed Under: Insights | By:

Every business has communication challenges. How do we convey who we are and what we do to a variety of audiences? Whether writing for a company brochure, website or press release, the goal is the same: clarity. Understanding. And yet, business writing is notoriously full of jargon and difficult to parse. Who hasn’t encountered sentences like these?

We strive to create and maintain evolving business partnerships with our clients through innovative value-added consultative services.

We use predictive analytics as a decision support tool to drive a forward-looking analysis of scenarios, response effectiveness, and critical correlations that can complicate or escalate events.

Combining the latest state-of-the-art technology with a robust, intuitive and agile consumer interface, our company’s newest widget is truly transformative.

This kind of writing is like talking in a fake British accent in order to sound more intelligent. It’s distracting, inauthentic, difficult to understand – and nobody is buying it. In a busy world with limited time, the best way to reach your audience is by being direct. Succinct. Favoring simple words and sentences over more complex and meaningless ones.

According to novelist James Michener, “good writing … consists of trying to use ordinary words to achieve extraordinary results.” Or to put it even more bluntly: Keep it simple, stupid.

When you take a critical look at your business writing, what do you see? Is it written in everyday English, in active voice with strong verbs and minimal fluff (adjectives and modifiers)? Could the average person understand it quickly and easily? If it isn’t, then it’s time to put your copy on a diet.

Look for hidden calories and fat sabotaging your efforts to communicate clearly with your customers. Overused words and marketing jargon are easy targets for elimination. Here are a few examples to look for:

Innovative

Easily the most abused adjective in all marketing materials and press releases. You have to explain why the product represents a significant, positive change. Is it faster, cheaper, more effective? What’s the potential impact for real people?

Raise the bar

This means to set a higher standard, which sounds a whole lot better. Be specific, not lazy.

Solutions

If you’re going to talk about a solution, first describe the problem it solves, then the solution in detail. Replace solutions with specific benefits; e.g., This product simplifies household budgeting.

World-class

That’s a big boast for most products, companies or services. Unless you’ve got an Olympic medal or tiara, this is probably a vast overstatement. And it doesn’t tell your audience anything concrete. Instead, explain what sets you apart: Our customer service reps answer every call within one ring.

Breakthrough/Groundbreaking/Revolutionary

Exactly what are you breaking through? What are you transforming and how will it be better? If your product solves an important problem, say so. Don’t lazily rely on vague adjectives.

Forward-looking

As opposed to backward-looking? What are you really trying to convey? That your company is preparing for future challenges? That you’re proactively investing in new technologies?

Market-leading

Why does this matter to your customers? Which market are you talking about? How are you a leader? In sales, reputation, output? Focus on what makes you different from the competition.

Cutting edge/State-of-the-art

The Sony Walkman was state-of-the-art. So was the first iPhone. Try less dated-sounding alternatives like forefront, frontier, leading, progressive, pioneering, etc.

High quality

If you’re going to talk about quality make sure you can explain and quantify it. What measurements prove it? Do you have certifications or awards to support your claims?

Game-changing

This is both overly casual and hyperbolic. And you’re probably just looking for another way to say innovative, revolutionary and groundbreaking, aren’t you? Words like these don’t tell the customer anything, really. They don’t offer a unique attribute or say why the product will help the customer solve a problem. Or why the product will make a task easier or more efficient. Focus on the impact, not the adjective.

Outside the box

There’s nothing creative or original about “outside the box” as an adjective. Try alternatives like different, bold, striking, unique, brave, exciting. And as always: show, don’t tell.

What overused words are you sick of reading in business communications? Share them with us in the comments.