Ban the buzzwords and say it plainly
Here at contentgroup, we pride ourselves on our use of plain English.
In the spirit of ensuring this is something we truly live up to, two weeks ago a decision was made to ban the following pointless buzzwords and phrases:
- Double down/drill down/deep dive
- Let’s take this offline
- Hit the ground running
- Let’s touch base/circle back
- Moving forward
Since then, any and all uses of the prohibited phrases have incurred a 50c fine.
We’ve been holding each other accountable. Politely – and sometimes not politely – reminding the offender of the penalty when an offence occurs. At the time of writing, contentgroupies had racked up a total of $14.00.Impressed by this, I decided to ask our people for some tips to help our readers avoid buzzwords and use plain English in their writing instead.
Here’s what they came up with:
David Pembroke, Founder and CEO: “When I first started working in journalism, I was given the advice to write for my 12-year-old cousin. If they don’t understand what you have written, start again.'”
David Polglase, Head of Consulting: “If you’re struggling to write in plain English, ask for help. A second opinion is always useful.”
Gillian Field, Project Director: “Run your content through a reading-level checker. We should be writing for a year 9/10 level of understanding. There are plenty [of reading checkers] on the internet that will do this for you.”
Lydia Stevens, Senior Communication Strategist: “Forget the standard teaching that big words make you sound clever. Big words actually make your writing less accessible.”
Chloe Wheeler, Senior Communication Strategist: “Avoid ‘weasel words’, ‘buzzwords’ and jargon – the purpose of written content is to inform, not to confuse. Also, just because everybody is talking about the benefits of ‘innovation’ and ‘collaboration’, use these words with caution! Without due consideration or purpose, they could portray you as flaky, untrustworthy or ill-informed to your audience. Say it simply where you can – less is more.”
Chris Ritchie, Senior Communication Strategist: “Read classic literature – for example, works by George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.G. Wells, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and translations of Homer and Virgil. Learn from the best.”
Sarah Ferlitsch, Communication Strategist: “If there’s a simpler alternative to any word, use it. For example – don’t write ‘utilise’, write ‘use’.”
Georgia Campbell, Communication Strategist: “Keep it ‘Simple Sally’ – you don’t need to impress your audience with extravagant language.”
Jessica Frecklington, Communication Strategist: “When you read your content aloud, does it feel lengthy and unnecessary? Length doesn’t always equate to better. Just because what you’ve written is 10 pages long, it may not be good content. Additionally, always seek another person’s opinion of your writing. You might have written something that makes sense to you, but it might not make sense to others.”
Hillary Lang, Graphic Designer: “Each paragraph should be short, sweet and to the point. No one will read your content if paragraphs are more than three to four sentences.”
Aagam Shah, Data Analyst and Web Developer: “Use headings and sub-headings to make it easier for people who skim read.”
Donovan McComb-Gray, Research and Marketing Coordinator: “Before proofreading your work, revise it. Proofreading checks grammar, revising checks flow, tone and language.”
Although plain English developed as a general-purpose strategy for improving public communication, its relevance is far-reaching.
Think of how often you use buzzwords, and see if you can catch yourself before you use them again. Then make a start on ‘saying it plainly’ – online and offline – and keep our tips in mind.
One of contentgroup’s core values is ‘simplicity’. Take the time to find the right word or phrase and turn your back on complexity. It’s always worth it.
What are your plain English tips? Let us know in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.