Writing words that matter; 5 tips to improve your communications

Words are the molecules that create the science of language. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people, estimate there are approximately a million English words, but rightly explains – as does Slate – there is no way to know for sure an exact number. We do know, however, there are several that downright annoying people.

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Ragan Communications recently published its list of 25 Least Favorite Words, compiled through an informal survey on its Facebook page. Among those making the list were:¬†Essentially, basically, methodology, vetted, align, aforementioned, functionality and irregardless. To this list I’d like to add: Bandwidth, group-think, synergy and its cousin, synergistic. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these offending words are often organizational communicators. Stop it!

I’m not sure if we lose our way somewhere along the organizational journey, but we communicators seem to morph into monotonous linguists who spew corpspeak with little regard for the senses of normal human beings. Why is that? Where once we championed clear communications and all that was noble and true about writing words that connected with people, we begin to sound like…accountants. Again I say…stop it!

Here are five tips to help your organization write clearly without using words that annoy your audiences.

1. Remember your readers aren’t on the inside.

Too often news releases are written as if sections of an internal memo were copied and pasted into the release template. The whole point in writing a release is to explain to people how what you do benefits them. It should be done in an interesting way that connects with them. That will never happen with the corporate speak found in internal memos.

2. Change your perspective

Get outside your position – outside your organization – and sit in the seats of members of our audience, those people with whom you are trying to connect. What would you say to you that would create interest in your organization? You’re a consumer too, and it is certain that you criticize other organizations for missing the messaging mark when speaking to your inner consumer. Are you guilty of the same thing? You need a change of perspective.

3. Reconnect with action verbs

Not everything should be written as if it were a script for Die Hard 16, but action verbs create energy and carry interest. Give readers solid noun-verb construction written in an interesting way – limiting the adjectives – and chances are great they’ll make it to the end of your information. Too often our organizational communications bogs down with wordy words, sedentary verbs and cliche adjectives.

4. Know your audience

I touched on this in Content marketing done the “right” way, but my point here is if you plan to engage your audiences through social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, you’d better drop the aforementioned, synergistic group-think language, create some bandwidth for your writers and essentially create copy that is readable. Formality doesn’t fly in social mediums so you need to know to whom you’re speaking and how to speak to them.

5. If you can’t write, don’t; find somebody who can

Writing has never mattered more for organizations than in this age of content marketing and brand journalism. There is simply too much information “out there” these days for people to process so what you communicate matters. You aren’t looking for “potential readers” in your analytics, you are looking for “readers.” Don’t disqualify your chances to get real readers by creating copy laden with corporate speak. There are too many good writers available who can strengthen your organizational communications and provide a fresh voice welcomed by your audience.

Don’t be lazy. Spend time objectively evaluating your organizational communications – both internally and externally – and determine if you are using language that connects with your audiences, or if your audiences will be pulling words from your copy to include in the next round of least favorite words used.

What are some of your least favorite words that seem to crop up in corporate communications? 


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