Do you have “jargon speak”?

It’s hard to get someone to care about what you are doing, understand what you are doing or even know what promises you are making when you have been struck down with “jargon speak”.

It’s a terrible affliction and we all know people and organisations that either have it or have had it. It’s highly infectious and can make entire sectors virtually unintelligible to anyone from outside them. It seems particularly rife in business to business areas, but really can be found nearly everywhere.

“Jargon speak” leads to sentences like the one I saw this weekend. I won’t name the company, but it went something like this, “the first product value model that will redefine business dynamics…”. I see examples like this every day from all kinds of businesses.

But seriously, “jargon speak” is a danger to all business (or a great opportunity for those that choose to avoid it – depending on your view of things). Avoiding it requires giving words used to talk about things the same importance and weight as other aspects of making and selling what you do. And one way you can do that is by hiring a great copywriter.

There are lots and lots of really good reasons to find a great copywriter and include their services in your budget – avoiding “jargon speak” is just one of them. Great copywriters bring you closer to your readers and make them care about what you are saying and doing.

And, no, the ability of Jane who works for you or Joe who started the organisation to put words on a page in a vaguely coherent fashion doesn’t make them a great copywriter (or even a good one).

So how do you know if you have “jargon speak”?

  • Do you say things like “build sales effectiveness” instead of “get more people to buy our X”?
  • Do you use acronyms instead of words?
  • Do you use vague generic terms like “increase business performance”?
  • Do you invent new phrases like “the product viewpoint” to try and describe what you do?
  • Do your sentences require a second read and a map to try and figure out what you are actually saying?

But don’t fear, “jargon speak” isn’t terminal. If you don’t have the budget to bring in a great copywriter to help ease the symptoms, there are three easy home remedies you can use to avoid being struck down.

  • When in doubt use plain English. Say what you mean in as many words as that requires, preferably by combining words in a way that anyone can understand (see number 2).
  • Apply the stranger test. Will someone who doesn’t know anything about you be able to understand it? Hint: these people are also known as prospective customers.
  • Never cut and paste copy from another organisation. There is no quicker way to catch “jargon speak” than by sharing someone else’s copy!

Have you seen a particularly bad case of “jargon speak” or conversely a great example of an organisation who has avoided it – tell us in the comments.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan


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