I am still amazed when businesses don’t try to break the jargon habit. A few months ago, I received a company letter about a pension-related matter. Upon first read, it was almost incomprehensible. I had to puzzle through the self-important, convoluted phrasing for some time to understand why they even wrote me in the first place.

That letter bothered me so much, I rewrote it in plain language and sent it back to illustrate my point.

In retrospect, maybe I went a bit overboard… but I was just so irked.

Write what you mean

If you can get your point across in simple terms, then do it. End user documentation, sales policies, distributor manuals, employee handbooks, whatever. All are far more effective if you write them in plain, direct language that doesn’t leave the reader guessing at a meaning or a path forward.

Writing in plain language is even more important in government documentation. It needs to be accessible and understood by everyone, and easily translated when needed. There is an exciting shift toward plain language in our Canadian government, so let’s keep that trend going.

Talk the talk, too

For business and government purposes, this should also mean speaking in plain language.

In my experience, a lot of time is wasted in meetings and presentations because of corporate jargon and insecurity. A strong work culture will encourage people to speak plainly and own their decisions.

If you’re assigning a team member to a strategic account to help them during inventory, then that’s what you should report. Don’t report that you are “optimizing available field resources to improve efficiencies and accelerate regional growth,” which sounds important but leaves your audience struggling to decipher your words.

Plain language saves money

From a technical writing perspective, using consistent wording and sentence structure not only helps the reader quickly digest information, but saves the company time and money. You can reuse chunks of text when the style and tone are consistent. You can substantially lower translation costs. And most importantly, with clear, concise documentation, you can make your customers self-sufficient, which in turn lets you concentrate on selling, not explaining.

The right word at the right time

Now, that said, I wouldn’t let a syllable count deter me from using the word with the best meaning. If I write “utilize”, that’s because I mean “utilize”, not “use”. Contrary to what some critics may say, writing in plain English is not dumbing down the language. It’s just using the right word at the right time for the right audience – and that’s doing your reader a service.

Karen asking to speak to the manager

PS I’m no fool. I’m sure that HR department referred to me as a Karen for weeks.