Let’s Make English The Official Language of Business4 min readFebruary 15, 2016
We often hear discussions about making English the official language of all government business in the United States. Maybe we should also think about making plain, understandable English the official language of business websites and all business writing.
Businesses frequently write in jargon that’s specific to their industries, and if they’re selling to a general audience, that’s not good for sales. If I can’t understand your website’s writing, I won’t know how you can improve my life, so I probably won’t call you. With that in mind, take a look at this copy from a website and see if you know how the business will improve your life:
Unleash your team by releasing them from all the administrative functions that technology can now provide. We specialize in technology integration solutions in very large enterprise applications or small custom web solutions including the web design & dvelopment*, SDLC, process redesigns, contact center technologies, digital commerce, and social media.
*Yes, the “e” is missing on the website.
Huh? Even after reading this several times, I don’t have a clear understanding of what the business does. I can figure out the first sentence, although “performs” would be a more appropriate verb than “provides”. That second sentence, however, is a real mystery, and a writer who assumes that I know what SDLC means certainly doesn’t know me.
I looked up SDLC and found that it’s an initialism that means Systems Development Life Cycle, which is not a topic that my friends and I regularly discuss at our pinochle games.
And what, you may ask, is the difference between an initialism, such as SDLC, and an acronym? Well, an initialism is an abbreviation formed from the first letters of the words in a phrase. In an initialism the speaker pronounces the letters individually, such as L-E-D – Light Emitting Diode. An acronym is a word formed from the first letters of a group of words, such as Laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).
And here’s the best way to deal with initialisms and acronyms. The first time you use one in a written piece, use both the full phrase and the acronym or the initialism. After that, it’s fine to use just the shortened version. Here’s an example:
The Lancaster County Historical Society (LCHS) has a large collection of books on all aspects of the county’s past. Located adjacent to James Buchanan’s Wheatland, the LCHS is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the people and events that have shaped the region.
OK. That’s enough on the rather obscure topic of initialisms and acronyms. Now, on to the substance of this blog. If your goal is to show potential clients how you can improve their lives and, therefore, increase your sales (the only purpose for business writing), here’s a simple question to answer before you start writing:
Am I speaking to a general audience or to my peers?
Your answer will tell you how you should write. If you’re writing from engineer to engineer or from lawyer to lawyer, it’s fine to talk about the molar attenuation coefficient (it has nothing to do with your teeth) or writs of habeus corpus. However, when you’re writing for a general audience, it’s best to stick to words that everybody understands.
Now, suppose that I would create a marketing piece for Sharp Innovations using writers’ jargon. It might read like this:
By brilliantly combining alliteration, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia at scale, our experienced scribes create marketing copy that moves beyond mere metaphors and takes the reader into the magical land of personification.
I have no idea of what that means, and that sense of bewilderment is the reaction that I often have when I read something written in industry jargon.
So always keep this in mind: When people come to your website, they’re interested in what you’re selling. Don’t make them try to translate your industry jargon into terms that they understand. Make it easy for them to get excited about your products and services. You’ll do that best if you use plain, understandable English.
And if you’re having trouble writing content that’s clear, concise, and lively, give us a call. Our experienced scribes are ready to write marketing copy that uses plain English to show potential customers how you can improve their lives.