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Tuesday, 06 May 2014 10:16

Let’s simplify jargon and gobbledygook

Let’s simplify jargon and gobbledygook

It’s everywhere — in business, in government in organisations.


What’s scary is that 26% of executives admit to using expressions they don’t understand in meetings. And another research report showed that the thing people dislike most in their jobs is jargon.


The worst organisations for jargon:

  • Law
  • Financial services
  • IT
  • Science and medicine
  • Government

Organisations spend a lot of money on websites and emails with information that many people simply can’t understand.


It’s estimated that poor communications account for as much as 40% of the total costs of managing all business transactions.


The hidden costs of gobbledygook

Gobbledegook wastes time and money. Difficult documents and emails take longer to read and understand.

Published in PR & Communications
Monday, 18 March 2013 10:28

Plain language – a legal requirement in South Africa

Plain language – a legal requirement in South Africa

Since The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) came into full effect in April 2011, it’s now against the law to use difficult to understand language in financial and legal documents.


It means all product and service related information, such as websites, brochures and marketing material – must be understandable to ordinary consumers with average literacy skills.

Published in PR & Communications
Warren Buffett

One of the world's most famous and successful investors – Warren Buffett, prefers to write in plain English.


He wrote the preface in the Plain English Handbook, published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission – which gives some useful advice:


“Write with a specific person in mind."

"When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters.
I have no trouble picturing them: though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them."

"My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.”
– Warren Buffett


Here, he captures the essence of writing in plain language, making four key points:


  • Keep your reader in mind
  • Use clear, simple language
  • Avoid technical jargon and gobbledygook
  • Write to inform not to impress


If writing plainly is good enough for Mr Buffett, it’s good enough for anyone. Here's how he does it:


How to write like Warren Buffett


1. Keep it personal – use 'you, we, us and I'. People respond more positively when addressed personally.


2. Use short sentences and short paragraphs – aim for an average of 15-20 words per sentence. Make only one point per sentence. Break long sentences into 2-3 short ones.


3. Aim to be understood – what you write must be clear on first reading.


4. Use the active voice – it's more vigorous and direct. It's also easier to read and understand: 


         – use ‘consider’ not ‘consideration’


         – ‘appoint’ instead of ‘appointment’


         – ‘notify’ rather than ‘notification’




5. Be economical with words – use only as many words as you need:


         – use ‘A new bank account is being set up’ instead of  'A new bank account is in the        process of being set up’


         – ‘now’ rather than ‘at this present time’


         – ‘for’ not ‘on behalf of’


6. Use everyday words and expressions – inflated words add little value; buzzwords even less. Stick to words you use in everyday conversation.


7. Get to the point – remember your readers don't have much time. Be straightforward. Free yourself of corporate mumbo-jumbo.

Published in PR & Communications
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