Forget Jargon and Clichés; Write and Speak in Plain English

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Has this ever happened to you? You are on the phone with a potential client. They ask a few warm-up questions to break the ice and get to know you better. The interview seems to be going well. Or so you think. Until the interviewer – a high-level marketing exec – begins to ask questions filled with marketing buzzwords you are not familiar with.

How would you respond? What would you say?

I was in a similar situation a few months ago. When the marketing exec I spoke with began using marketing jargon, I suddenly felt ill-at-ease. I felt excluded from the conversation. I’m not a marketing person. I’m a writer and editor who happens to occasionally write marketing copy. If someone starts talking about SEO strategy and marketing ROI, my eyes glaze over.

My job as a writer is to communicate as clearly as possible with readers. I can’t get held up by industry jargon and buzzwords that might mean something to the company but does not communicate clearly with their audience. To truly understand what this exec wanted me to write for her organization would have taken far more time and effort to ask loads of questions, and I suspected she did not have the patience to answer them. Naturally, I did not get the assignment with this client.

Browse any corporate report and leadership communications, and you’ll see they are filled with industry jargon and clichés that confuse readers and don’t present the organization in a positive light. Jargon is language specific to a business or industry often consisting of acronyms, abbreviations and specialty vocabulary that’s used as a shortcut to meaning among those who understand it. The other problem in business writing is clichés, those overused phrases that really have no meaning at all, such as “game changer,” “value add,” and “blue-sky thinking.” (For a good list of these clichés, check out this recent Forbes article and this one on PlainLanguage.gov.)

If you want to distinguish yourself and connect better with readers, then you need to speak and write what you mean in plain English. In other words, watch your language.

How can these problems be fixed? Here are a few tips from Business.com to help your business writing become crystal clear without relying on jargon and clichés.

1. Know your audience. What is their demographic? Their education level? Once you identify your audience, speak in their language, not your own. If your audience is a department of IT professionals, of course, your language will consist of IT buzzwords because they are more likely to understand them. But if your audience is made up of customers, you’ll want to speak as plainly as possible.

2. Don’t dress up your message. Naturally, you want to come across as sincere and knowledgeable, but don’t gloss over the message by using longer words and convoluted language. That will only muddy your message and create confusion. You don’t want to make your message sound more impressive than it really is. If you need to communicate to employees that several people were laid off, say: “Because of the company’s poor sales performance the past year, we had to fire several people from our sales and marketing staff.” End of story.

3. Use shorter words and sentences. Studies have shown that shorter speeches and messages are easier to remember over the long term.

4. Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations. According to PlainLanguage.gov, abbreviations are often published in an inconsistent format. For example, IBM vs. I.B.M. Sometimes, abbreviations appear only once in a document so it makes no sense to include them in your communications. The general rule I follow is to spell out the full company name the first time it is mentioned followed by its acronym in parenthesis, then use the abbreviation for all subsequent mentions. For example, I would write the National Association of Realtors (NAR) for the first mention, then NAR for all other subsequent mentions in the same story.

5. Edit your message. Review and rewrite it until it sounds right. You can usually cut the first draft in half. It might be helpful to read it out loud so you can hear how it sounds to your own ears, or read it to one or two other people who can provide feedback.

Your communications don’t have to be complex and confusing. Keep it simple. When you use plain English to write or speak your message, you will not only communicate more clearly and succinctly, you will win the respect of your audience.

What Should You Do If You Experience Writer Burnout?

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The topic of burnout made news earlier this week when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized it as an “occupational phenomenon.” Yes, burnout is an actual thing, though the WHO fell short of calling it a medical condition. WHO describes burnout as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Burnout is characterized by three factors:

* feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
* increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to the job
* reduced professional efficacy

However, WHO advises that their description of burnout is limited to the occupational environment, not to everyday matters like parenting or going to school.

How does burnout affect writers and other creative types? Do they experience burnout too? The answer, of course, is a definitive yes.

Julie Niedlinger, a freelance writer writing at the CoSchedule blog, says writer burnout happens when you use up all of your creative reserves. “Burnout is characterized by churning out content in a machine-like mode.”

Writer burnout is not to be confused with writer’s block, which is essentially having a lack of writing ideas. You stare at a blank page looking for a nugget of inspiration to begin writing, but there’s no feeling of burnout associated with it.

Other factors may play a part in burnout. Maybe you don’t necessarily like the topic you are writing about. Maybe you notice that the work you are producing is low-quality, below the standard of excellence you normally strive for. Maybe you realize that you pour so much of yourself into the writing process that you have neglected other areas of your life such as your relationships, your social life and your health. Because it seems you are working like a machine all the time, you aren’t totally present with your writing and you no longer enjoy the writing process.

Social media and technology have added pressure on creative types to constantly be “on”. Downtime is not encouraged or even thought about. It’s difficult to know when to turn off your switch.

Add the pressures of daily living – paying bills, making doctor appointments, getting the car fixed, making dinner for the family – and you can see how easily it is to become burned out by life.

If this sounds like you, don’t fret. There are several things you can do to climb out of this cycle of burnout.

1. Remember that you are not a machine. You are only human, and humans need to frequently recharge their batteries, just like cell phones. Otherwise, you won’t operate efficiently. Even better, just unplug yourself for a weekend. Learn to do nothing.

2. Change how you write. Niedlinger suggests diversifying your writing. If all you write are blog posts for low-paying content mills, try writing something different, like short stories or essays. Or write about a topic that has always fascinated you. If you have always enjoyed looking up at the stars and the planets, write about astronomy. Write for the pure pleasure of writing.

3. Alter your language. Stop calling it content or copy, writes Niedlinger. Find another name for what you do. Instead call it “my writing,” “my fiction,” “my essays,” or “my craft.” When you alter the language, you alter your relationship to your work.

4. Celebrate your milestones. Writers can become so trapped in the cycle of doing that they leave no time or space for being, writes life coach Kendra Levin in Psychology Today. Writers today allow no time to celebrate their successes. They have difficulty celebrating milestones, such as finishing a tough revision, finishing a chapter or getting an essay published. There always seems to be more work to do. Instead of jumping into the next project, honor and celebrate what you’ve just completed. Go out to dinner with a friend or give yourself a day off from writing. Every chapter you write and every essay that gets published is worth celebrating.

5. Remember that writing can save your sanity. “Making art can push you to burnout, but it can also save you from it,” writes Levin. “Writing is therapy, writing is meditation, writing is self-care.” I will also add that writing is comfort food for the soul. When life gets to be too much, take your problems to your journal. Use it as a tool to dump all your negative emotions. That’s where you can write to save your sanity, no matter what is happening on the outside.

Burnout doesn’t have to kill your love for writing. When you begin to notice signs of burnout, take note of it. Then make changes that will help you regain a healthy relationship with your writing.