The Danger of Arrogant Writing


Guest Blog Post By: Dave Yewman

It happens all the time – and it’s usually an engineer who says it.

Stop writing jargon, says Yewman

During a presentation workshop I’ll go on a rant about jargon; how it kills communications; how using it is arrogant, and how much audiences hate the insider terms and silly acronyms that populate so much of our contemporary corporate communications.

And then it happens.  After a sharp intake of breath the engineer says something like, “Yeah, but our (fill in the blank: partners, customers, prospects, employees) understand those terms.”

No, they don’t.  They just haven’t told you.  And they won’t.

It’s human nature not to proactively demonstrate our stupidity; rare is the audience member who puts up her or her hand and says, “Yeah, I don’t get that term” or “What does that acronym mean?”  No one wants to look foolish; we all want to be part of the cool kids’ gang, so we keep silent and jargon – along with its close cousin acronyms – keeps killing communications.

Here’s what Amazon.com said about its “cloud” services – a cute-sy term that basically allows people to store information on Amazon computer servers – think huge, fridge-like machines that are probably located in a nondescript building outside of Salt Lake City (more details in a post by Laurence Vincent here).

“Amazon CloudFront delivers your static and streaming content using a global network of edge locations.  Requests for your objects are automatically routed to the nearest edge location, so content is delivered with the best possible performance.”

Okay then.

The sad thing is that this type of language is appallingly common across corporations.  What Amazon apparently means is that when you store something (your content) on its big ass server the Amazon software can make sure you get it really quickly, so you can download you vacation video in, say, 15 minutes instead of 45 minutes.

A few weeks ago I was in the United Kingdom reading a newspaper.  There was a job advertisement for a lecturer at Bournemouth University.  It said the university was, “providing innovative solutions to pedagogic issues in the teaching of media.”

I had to look up “pedagogic.”  It’s a Greek word meaning, “to lead the child.”  In the context of the advertisement it means a sort of holistic approach to teaching students.

But here’s the point: I had to look it up.

If Amazon wants regular human being to use its services, it should explain its “cloud” services using an example or at least clear language.  If Bournemouth University wants to actually recruit a lecturer, it should explain the post in a clear, simple way.

Yeah, but people who store things in the “cloud” may know what “an edge location” is, just as university lecturers may toss around “pedagogic” in casual conversation.  But what if they don’t? What if those organization are missing out because of intellectually lazy writing that kills effective communications? What if using such terms just comes across as arrogant?  What if intended audiences hate those terms and don’t get in touch?

Happens all the time.

My favorite current quote by Bono:

“If someone can’t explain to me what a particular theory is very quickly, I’m not coming up to the conclusion that I’m stupid and they’re smarter than me. I’m saying, ‘You’re just not very good at explaining. Try it again.'”

(Dave Yewman owns Dash Consulting, which helps executives “Get to the Point.” He’s also the author of “On Getting To The Point,” a volume of writing tips that should be a must read for any PR practitioner who enjoys a good belly laugh while actually learning something. He’s also find him on Twitter and on LinkedIn.)

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2 Responses to “The Danger of Arrogant Writing”

  1. Thank for a informative post.

    It really is annoying when you’re somewhere and whoever is talking is using terms you have no clue what means. The only good thing about it is that you probably lock some of them up when you get home and learn a few new words

  2. I’ve attended some meetings with engineers and tech guys and left with my head spinning. The jargon was so thick and dense you needed a pick-axe to get through it!

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