Are you writing for humans?

tangled-cablesOne of the gaps in my education is my inability to speak a second language. At various times I’ve worked to learn French, Japanese, and Italian. I had a bit of success with all three, but time pressures from other parts of my life have prevented me from getting beyond “good day”, “which way to the cathedral?”, and “where is the bathroom?”

Nevertheless, as a copywriter I often find that I’m playing the role of “translator” between clients and their target audience.

Professional jargon is sometimes the main thing that needs to be untangled, but more often it’s the age-old problem of gobbledegook. These terms and phrases are the product of fear, spin, or misguided attempts to impress the largest-possible audience.

The inevitable result is copy that sounds like it was written by and for machines. Trouble is, even if you’re a business-to-business guru chasing Fortune 500 companies, you’re ultimately writing for people.

To help you avoid these communication-killers, here’s a quick rundown of some of the more recent dehumanizing buzzwords and what they really mean. Scratch them from any communication intended for human beings.

  • Stakeholders People. (Sometimes “the people working on this project,” but more commonly “the people who sign our paychecks.”)
  • Space A term for “home” or “office” that isn’t hip anymore because too many of your friends are also using it.
  • Core Competency 1) The stuff you’re good at. 2) The stuff you’d rather be doing besides marketing, accounting, and cleaning your office.
  • Deliverables Items on your to-do list.
  • Mainstream “Wow, people are actually buying this stuff!”
  • Solution A product or service. (Yes, Mike Bosworth could be a genius, but most people who read his book don’t seem to get beyond this simple word substitution.)
  • Scaleable Solution A product or service that might still work if we attract new customers.
  • Low-Hanging Fruit Easy sales we should have been closing two years ago.
  • Next-Generation Please buy a new gadget to replace the one you bought last year. Please?
  • “For all your _________________ needs!” We haven’t done any market research.
  • Post-PC Office Environment Our receptionist has an iPad.
  • “We’re the best-kept secret in _________________.” Our marketing sucks.

Best regards,

-Tom

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