Reading List | 15 Apr 2016

Jargon and Job Security

Recently, I’ve watched The Big Short, the 2015 Adam McKay’s film that attempts to explain the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007-2008. The film made a lot of good points. One of them being that Wall Street makes up all kinds of terms to keep everyone thinking that only Wall Street financial institutions can do what they are doing — no one else can understand all the difficult concepts they are operating with, let alone make money using them. Financial jargon leads to confusion of general public, which in turn leads to job security for Wall Street operators and allows them to get away with things that can lead to a meltdown of the entire world economy. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 is the case in point.

Marketers, on the other hand, have to make sure that all the collateral and materials we put out is free of jargon and technical terms the average customer will not understand. This is one of the main points made by Frank J. Pietrucha in his Supercommunicator book. The rest of the book is pretty common sense for an experienced writer or presenter, but it is always good to review what you already know in order to actually use that knowledge in your everyday writing.

Read on for a quick list of tips that will make you a supercommunicator.

Supercommunicator by Frank J. Pietrucha


Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated So Anyone Can Understand
Frank J. Pietrucha
Copyright © 2014 AMACOM, a division of American Management Association
272 pages


A Few Tips for Supercommunicators:

Lead with the conclusion – State the main point of your communication immediately, so your audience can’t miss it.
Use big words sparingly – Needlessly complex words put readers off. Stick with simple words that everyone understands. John L. Beckley says in his book The Power of Little Words: “Look for plain, ordinary, conversational words that give an immediate, sharp impression.” Microsoft Word provides the function offering “readability statistics” to help you judge the complexity of your communications. Target your work to grades eight to ten on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale – that’s the level of most New York Times stories.
Combat jargon abuse – Using the arcane language of the specialist interferes with clear communication and blocks understanding. Sometimes, communicators use jargon purposefully to manipulate and mislead their readers.
Avoid acronyms – Insider acronyms burden and confuse readers. Many have multiple meanings; for example, ATM can mean Automatic Teller Machine or Asynchronous Transfer Mode. Acronyms result in alphabet-soup communications that readers must laboriously spoon through to discover meaning.
Shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, shorter chapters – Don’t overload your readers with information. Keep your messages short, concise and to the point. But beware of the trap of writing only short sentences. Vary your sentence composition. Keep your communications as simple as they need to be, but never any simpler. Oversimplification may insult your readers.
Develop content that syncs with your audience’s culture – Consider your readers as you plan your communications. You would, for example, present information to members of the Tea Party differently than you would to a liberal audience.
Make it error-free – Credibility is everything. People will automatically discount most of what you say if they find you’ve made even one factual mistake. Review your work, and have someone else check it, too.
Active voice is the right voice – Active voice makes for robust, powerful sentences that call to action. Passive voice is weak and blurs meaning.

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