How to write copy like an idiot

I remember being at a presentation last year and we were told by the speaker what his company did, and this is how he described it:

“Our end-to-end, mission critical solutions create synergy for best-of-breed market leaders.”

More recently I was approached by a company to trial their software. They described it as:

“An open, extensible sales acceleration platform that optimizes sales processes with deep engagement analytics and automation”

I don’t know about you but I can’t even begin to understand what these words mean. These phrases are jargon rich and meaning free. Worse still, it doesn’t help me understand what these companies do.  So if I happened upon them, I wouldn’t know that they were software companies; they could be kitchen equipment suppliers, or dental hygiene services – who knows.  The tragedy is, I doubt they themselves know, but I bet they think they’re really smart, because they use this kind of strangulated language.

This way of thinking (because it is a way of thinking) is damaging to businesses.

Why?  Let me give you 5 reasons.

The first thing to say is that when you describe yourselves in this kind of language, although it sounds very clever, no one has got the time to either decipher it or read further.   The simple fact is that their intended audience doesn’t care enough to give these companies a second thought.

When faced with all this jargon and nonsense, it’s hard not to think that the person speaking the words is arrogant and scornful of their audience.  Their view is that if you don’t buy into their jargon then they don’t want to speak to you.

A lot of the time we use jargon, sometimes we have to, thinking that everyone understands the words as written. The problem is that, unless it’s completely unambiguous, the words we use will be open to interpretation, and therefore not have the impact we want them to have. It’s worse if we use jargon and cliche to describe what we do.

We all like to sound cleverer than we really are and using jargon helps us to inflate our importance amongst our peers. Frankly that’s just sad and pathetic. Using meaningless jargon is often brought on by peer pressure – you know, deep down, that you can use smaller words to define exactly what you mean to say, but instead of that we use language that we know will identify us as ‘in the know’.

Lastly, marketing people have a duty to perform – to make all the communications of their company clear and understandable by the intended audience.  If that audience is a technical one then by all means use technical language.  But if your audience is not technical, or specialist, then maybe we should temper the jargon.

My plea is to stop using these ridiculous words, meaningless phrases and ludicrous jargon and simply state clearly what we do.  At least try to show our audience some respect (without patronising them) and define jargon terms or abbreviations, acronyms and mnemonics.

Here are a few final thoughts on how not to write like an idiot.

Write your copy and read it out loud to an 11 year old.  If the 11 year old can understand it, you’re in good shape.  If you can’t find an 11 year old (and where are they when you need one), then read it out loud to someone not in the same business as you, parents and grandparents are especially good for this.

Avoid all jargon, mnemonics, abbreviations, acronyms and technical phrases.  If you have to use them, explain them.

Write in short sentences, like this one.

Avoid cliches, like the plague (sorry).

Avoid words and phrases that you think make you look smart but are actually just drivel.  Describing your product as an open, extensible sales acceleration platform that optimizes sales processes with deep engagement analytics and automation, isn’t just idiotic, it’s commercial suicide.

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