Jan 07, 2011

Jargon isn’t just boring, it’s risky

Writing press releases is often an exercise in thinking outside the box, demanding we identify and leverage language that will add value to a message while synergistically engaging the audience and conveying key points.  At the end of the day, the result, from end-to-end, is a world-class communication.

Oh, how awful.

Writing press releases is often an exercise in thinking outside the box, demanding we identify and leverage language that will add value to a message while synergistically engaging the audience and conveying key points.  At the end of the day, the result, from end-to-end, is a world-class communication.

At the end of each year comes a raft of blog posts and forum discussions railing against jargon that’s been over used to the nth degree, and now borders upon ridiculous.   As I guffawed, snickered and re-Tweeted these posts, I started to think about the negative effects jargon has on our messages and our ability to communicate.

It took me about two seconds to conclude that jargon-laden messaging isn’t just boring.  It’s flat out risky and can significantly reduce the results a campaign generates.  Here’s why:

1) Jargon creates an instant lack of credibility.  Journalists constantly bemoan and criticize messages loaded with unsupportable hyperbole.     As one ex-reporter told me, she trawled press releases with a finger hovering over the delete button.   Jargon laden headlines simply aren’t taken seriously.

2) It’s flat out boring.  I think we can agree on this point, and making an audience’s collective eyes glaze isn’t the objective of any PR campaign I’ve ever seen.

3) It’s not search engine friendly. In fact, it’s search engine hostile.  Simply put, our audiences search for specific terms.  They don’t seek out best-in-class, innovative, world-leading gizmos.  The terms internet searchers use are specific, relating to the problem they want to solve, or the need they wish to fill.

4) It’s anti-social.  On the one hand, we’re all talking about humanizing our brands by using social channels.  The content we create will invariably be seen by our audiences in networks, creating a disconnect in the brand’s online voice.  There’s another problem, too, and it relates to the prior point about SEO.   The social layer is strongly informing search results – tweets, conversations and reviews show up high on search engine results pages.  I’d wager your friends, fans and followers don’t infuse their conversations with jargon.  Synching your brand’s online language with that of your audience can increase content visibility in networks — and search engines.

Some tips to a jargon-free future:

  • Write strategically.  Every message issued or posted online – press releases, web site content, pitches, blog posts – will wind up in search engines and (probably) social networks.  The headline, subhead and lead are important real estate in your message that carry real weight in search engines.  Reacquaint yourself with key SEO writing tips – don’t waste that scarce and valuable space with jargon.
  • Rigorously avoid verbification of nouns.   We laughed at the creation of the word “refudiate,” but many use similarly silly terms, like monetize, budgetize, incentivize … are essentially made up words that caught on.  They all of which started life as perfectly respectable nouns, but devolved into linguistic monstrosities.  And yes, I just made up verbification, which should only be used when making tongue-in-cheek references.
  • Bust out the thesaurus, and challenge yourself to find more accurate terms.
  • Make clarity of thought the goal.  Too often, we try to cram multiple concepts and angles into a single press release (or other message.)  The result is the written equivalent of a force-fed goose – over-stuffed, bloated, and so wobbly it has difficulty standing on its own.

One of my new years’ resolutions – wage war against jargon in everything I write, proof or edit.   Will you join me?

Authored by Sarah Skerik, VP-social media, PR Newswire.

Neato word cloud created using Wordle.

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