Techniques That Promote Easy Reading on Small Mobile
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Techniques That Promote Easy Reading on Small Mobile
4 Writing Business Messages
After studying this chapter, you will be able to
- Identify the four aspects of being sensitive to audience needs when writing business messages
- Explain how establishing your credibility and projecting your company’s image are vital aspects of building strong relationships with your audience
- Explain how to achieve a tone that is conversational but businesslike, explain the value of using plain language, and define active and passive voice
- Describe how to select words that are not only correct but also effective
- Define the four types of sentences, and explain how sentence style affects emphasis within a message
- Define the three key elements of a paragraph, and list five ways to develop coherent paragraphs
- List five techniques for writing effective messages for mobile readers
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Communication Matters . . .
“From now on, write all your email messages as though you’re writing for a mobile reader and save all your readers time and effort.” 1
—Verne Ordman, business writing skills trainer, Verne Ordman and Associates
As an experienced business trainer with an advanced degree in industrial psychology, Verne Ordman has a keen sense of how people process information. Her advice regarding email messages not only suggests how pervasive mobile devices have become in business today but also highlights the importance of keeping readers’ needs in mind for every message you create. This chapter addresses the writing phase of the three-step writing process, with practical advice for adapting to your audiences and composing messages that get results.
The techniques that promote easy reading on small mobile screens make messages easier to read on any device or system.
Hero Images/Getty Images
Adapting to Your Audience: Being Sensitive to Your Audience’s Needs
1 LEARNING OBJECTIVE
Identify the four aspects of being sensitive to audience needs when writing business messages.
Readers and listeners are more likely to respond positively when they believe messages address their concerns.
Verne Ordman and other successful communicators will tell you that audiences tend to greet incoming messages with a selfish question: “What’s in this for me?” If your target readers or listeners don’t think a message applies to them, or if they don’t think you are being sensitive to their needs, they won’t pay attention. You can improve your audience sensitivity by adopting the “you” attitude, maintaining good standards of etiquette, emphasizing the positive, and using bias-free language.
Adopting the “You” Attitude
Adopting the “you” attitude means speaking and writing in terms of your audience’s wishes, interests, hopes, and preferences.
You are already becoming familiar with the audience-centered approach, trying to see a subject through your audience’s eyes. Now you want to project this approach in your messages by adopting the “you” attitude—that is, by speaking and writing in terms of your audience’s wishes, interests, hopes, and preferences.
On a simple level, you can adopt the “you” attitude by replacing terms that refer to yourself and your company with terms that refer to your audience. In other words, use you and your instead of I, me, mine, we, us, and ours:
Instead of This Write This Tuesday is the only day that we can promise quick response to purchase order requests; we are swamped the rest of the week. If you need a quick response, please submit your purchase order requests on Tuesday. We offer MP3 players with 50, 75, or 100 gigabytes of storage capacity. You can choose an MP3 player with 50, 75, or 100 gigabytes of storage.
Of course, you will have occasions when it is entirely appropriate to write or speak from your perspective, such as when you are offering your opinions or reporting on something you have seen. However, even in those instances, make sure you focus on your readers’ needs.
Also, be aware that the “you” attitude involves a lot more than just using particular pronouns. It’s a matter of demonstrating genuine interest in your readers and concern for their needs (see Figure 4.1 ). You can use you 25 times in a single page and still offend your audience or ignore readers’ true concerns. If you’re writing to a retailer, try to think like a retailer; if you’re dealing with a production supervisor, put yourself in that position; if you’re writing to a dissatisfied customer, imagine how you would feel at the other end of the transaction.
Avoid using you and your when doing so
- Makes you sound dictatorial
- Makes someone else feel guilty
- Goes against your organization’s style
Keep in mind that on some occasions it’s better to avoid using you, particularly if doing so will sound overly authoritative or accusing. For instance, instead of saying, “You failed to deliver the customer’s order on time,” you could avoid the confrontational tone by saying, “The customer didn’t receive the order on time,” or “Let’s figure out a system that will ensure on-time deliveries.”
Maintaining Standards of Etiquette
Even if a situation calls for you to be brutally honest, express the facts of the matter in a kind and thoughtful manner.
Good etiquette shows respect for your audience and helps foster a more successful environment for communication by minimizing negative emotional reaction:
Instead of This Write This Once again, you’ve managed to bring down the website through your incompetent programming. Let’s review the last website update to explore ways to improve the process. You’ve been sitting on our order for two weeks, and we need it now! Our production schedules depend on timely delivery of parts and supplies, but we have not yet received the order scheduled for delivery two weeks ago. Please respond today with a firm delivery commitment.
Figure 4.1 Fostering a Positive Relationship with an Audience
CD Baby, the world’s largest retailer of independent music, uses clear, positive language to help musicians understand the process of selling their music through the company and its affiliates. By making the effort to communicate clearly and succinctly, the company encourages a positive response from its target readers. Source: http://members.cdbaby.com
Some situations naturally require more diplomacy than others. If you know your audience well, a less formal approach might be more appropriate. However, when you are communicating with people who outrank you or with people outside your organization, an added measure of courtesy is usually needed.
Use extra tact when communicating with people higher up the organization chart or outside the company.
Written messages and most forms of digital communication generally require more tact than oral communication. When you’re speaking to someone live, you can soften your words by your tone of voice and facial expressions. Plus, you can adjust your approach according to the feedback you get. However, if you inadvertently offend someone in writing or in a podcast, for example, you usually don’t get the immediate feedback you would need in order to resolve the situation. In fact, you may never know that you offended your audience.
Emphasizing the Positive
You can communicate negative news without being negative.
You will encounter situations throughout your career in which you need to convey unwanted news. However, sensitive communicators understand the difference between delivering negative news and being negative. Never try to hide the negative news, but look for positive points that will foster a good relationship with your audience: 2
Instead of This Write This It is impossible to repair your laptop today. Your computer can be ready by Tuesday. Would you like a loaner until then? We wasted $300,000 advertising in that magazine. Our $300,000 advertising investment did not pay off; let’s analyze the experience and apply the insights to future campaigns.
If you’re trying to persuade audience members to perform a particular action, point out how doing so will benefit them:
Show audience members how they will benefit by responding to your message.
Euphemisms are milder synonyms that can express an idea while triggering fewer negative connotations, but they should never be used to obscure the truth.
Instead of This Write This We will notify all three credit reporting agencies if you do not pay your overdue bill within 10 days. Paying your overdue bill within 10 days will prevent a negative entry on your credit record. I am tired of seeing so many errors in the customer service blog. Proofreading your blog postings will help avoid embarrassing mistakes that erode confidence in our brand.
Look for appropriate opportunities to use euphemisms, or milder synonyms, that convey your meaning without carrying negative connotations. For example, when referring to people beyond a certain age, use “senior citizens” rather than “old people.” Senior conveys respect in a way that old doesn’t.
However, take care when using euphemisms. It’s easy to push the idea too far and wind up sounding ridiculous—or worse yet, obscuring the truth. Speaking to your local community about the disposal of “manufacturing by-products” would be unethical if you’re really talking about toxic waste. Even if it is unpleasant, people respond better to an honest message delivered with integrity than they do to a sugar-coated message that obscures the truth.
Using Bias-Free Language
Bias-free language avoids words and phrases that unfairly and even unethically categorize or stigmatize people.
Bias-free language avoids words and phrases that unfairly and even unethically categorize or stigmatize people in ways related to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, or other personal characteristics. Contrary to what some might think, biased language is not simply about “labels.” To a significant degree, language reflects the way people think and what they believe, and biased language may well perpetuate the underlying stereotypes and prejudices that it represents. 3 Moreover, because communication is largely about perception, being fair and objective isn’t enough: To establish a good relationship with your audience, you must also appear to be fair. 4 Good communicators make every effort to change biased language (see Table 4.1 ). Bias can take a variety of forms:
- Gender bias. Avoid sexist language by using the same labels for everyone, regardless of gender. Don’t refer to a woman as chairperson and then to a man as chairman. Use chair, chairperson, or chairman consistently. (Note that it is not uncommon to use chairman when referring to a woman who heads a board of directors. Archer Daniels Midland’s Patricia Woertz and Xerox’s Ursula Burns, for example, both refer to themselves as chairman.5 ) Reword sentences to use they or to use no pronoun at all rather than refer to all individuals as he. Note that the preferred title for women in business is Ms. unless the individual asks to be addressed as Miss or Mrs. or has some other title, such as Dr.
- Racial and ethnic bias. Avoid identifying people by race or ethnic origin unless such identification is relevant to the matter at hand—and it rarely is.
- Age bias. Mention the age of a person only when it is relevant. Moreover, be careful of the context in which you use words that refer to age; such words carry a variety of positive and negative connotations. For example, young can imply youthfulness, inexperience, or even immaturity, depending on how it’s used.
- Disability bias. Physical, cognitive, sensory, or emotional impairments should never be mentioned in business messages unless those conditions are directly relevant to the subject. If you must refer to someone’s disability, put the person first and the disability second.6 For example, by saying “employees with physical disabilities,” not “handicapped employees,” you focus on the whole person, not the disability. Finally, never use outdated terminology such as crippled or retarded.
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TABLE 4.1 Overcoming Bias in Language
Examples Unacceptable Preferable Gender Bias Using words containing man Man-made
Artificial, synthetic, manufactured, constructed, human-made
Humanity, human beings, human race, people
Executive, manager, businessperson, professional
Sales representative, salesperson
Using female-gender words Actress, stewardess Actor, flight attendant Using special designations Woman doctor, male nurse Doctor, nurse Using he to refer to “everyone” The average worker . . . he The average worker . . . he or she
Average workers . . . they
Identifying roles with gender The typical executive spends four hours of his day in meetings.
The consumer . . . she
The nurse/teacher . . . she
Most executives spend four hours a day in meetings.
Consumers . . . they
Nurses/teachers . . . they
Identifying women by marital status Mrs. Norm Lindstrom Maria Lindstrom
Ms. Maria Lindstrom
Norm Lindstrom and Ms. Drake Norm Lindstrom and Maria Drake
Mr. Lindstrom and Ms. Drake
Racial and Ethnic Bias Assigning stereotypes Not surprisingly, Shing-Tung Yau excels in mathematics. Shing-Tung Yau excels in mathematics. Identifying people by race or ethnicity Mario M. Cuomo, Italian-American politician and ex-governor of New York Mario M. Cuomo, politician and ex-governor of New York Age Bias Including age when irrelevant Mary Kirazy, 58, has just joined our trust department. Mary Kirazy has just joined our trust department. Disability Bias Putting the disability before the person Disabled workers face many barriers on the job. Workers with physical disabilities face many barriers on the job. An epileptic, Tracy has no trouble doing her job. Tracy’s epilepsy has no effect on her job performance.
Adapting to Your Audience: Building Strong Relationships
2 LEARNING OBJECTIVE
Explain how establishing your credibility and projecting your company’s image are vital aspects of building strong relationships with your audience.
Successful communication relies on a positive relationship between sender and receiver. Establishing your credibility and projecting your company’s image are two vital steps in building and fostering positive business relationships.
Establishing Your Credibility
People are more likely to react positively to your message when they have confidence in you.
Audience responses to your messages depend heavily on your credibility, which is a measure of your believability and is based on how reliable you are and how much trust you evoke in others. With audiences who don’t know you and trust you already, you need to establish credibility before they’ll accept your messages (see Figure 4.2 on the next page). On the other hand, when you do establish credibility, communication becomes much easier because you no longer have to spend time and energy convincing people that you are a trustworthy source of information and ideas. To build, maintain, or repair your credibility, emphasize the following characteristics:
Figure 4.2 Building Credibility
Gregg Fraley is a highly regarded expert in the field of creativity and business innovation, but because his services are intangible, potential clients can’t “test drive” those services before making a purchase decision. He therefore takes special care to build credibility as part of his communication efforts. Source: Gregg Fraley Enterprises.
To enhance your credibility, emphasize such factors as honesty, objectivity, and awareness of audience needs.
- Honesty. Demonstrating honesty and integrity will earn you the respect of your audiences, even if they don’t always agree with or welcome your messages.
- Objectivity. Show that you can distance yourself from emotional situations and look at all sides of an issue.
- Awareness of audience needs. Directly or indirectly, let your audience members know that you understand what’s important to them.
- Credentials, knowledge, and expertise. Audiences need to know that you have whatever it takes to back up your message, whether it’s education, professional certification, special training, past successes, or simply the fact that you’ve done your research.
- Endorsements. An endorsement is a statement on your behalf by someone who is accepted by your audience as an expert.
- Performance. Demonstrating impressive communication skills is not enough; people need to know they can count on you to get the job done.
- Confidence. Audiences need to know that you believe in yourself and your message. If you are convinced that your message is sound, you can state your case confidently, without sounding boastful or arrogant.
- Sincerity. When you offer praise, don’t use hyperbole, such as “You are the most fantastic employee I could ever imagine.” Instead, point out specific qualities that warrant praise.
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Be aware that credibility can take days, months, even years to establish—and it can be wiped out in an instant. An occasional mistake or letdown may be forgiven, but major lapses in honesty or integrity can destroy your reputation.
Projecting Your Company’s Image
Your company’s interests and reputation take precedence over your personal views and communication style.
When you communicate with anyone outside your organization, it is more than a conversation between two individuals. You represent your company and therefore play a vital role in helping the company build and maintain positive relationships with all of its stakeholders. Most successful companies work hard to foster a specific public image, and your external communication efforts need to project that image. As part of this responsibility, the interests and preferred communication style of your company must take precedence over your own views and personal communication style.
Many organizations have specific communication guidelines that show everything from the correct use of the company name to preferred abbreviations and other grammatical details. Specifying a desired style of communication is more difficult, however. Observe more experienced colleagues to see how they communicate, and never hesitate to ask for editorial help to make sure you’re conveying the appropriate tone. For instance, with clients entrusting thousands or millions of dollars to it, an investment firm communicates in a style quite different from that of a clothing retailer. And a clothing retailer specializing in high-quality business attire communicates in a different style than a store catering to the latest trends in casual wear.
Adapting to Your Audience: Controlling Your Style and Tone
3 LEARNING OBJECTIVE
Explain how to achieve a tone that is conversational but businesslike, explain the value of using plain language, and define active and passive voice.
Your communication style involves the choices you make to express yourself: the words you select, the manner in which you use those words in sentences, and the way you build paragraphs from individual sentences. Your style creates a certain tone, or overall impression, in your messages. The right tone depends on the nature of your message and your relationship with the reader.
Creating a Conversational Tone
Most business messages aim for a conversational style that is warm but businesslike.
The tone of your business messages can range from informal to conversational to formal. If you’re in a large organization and you’re communicating with your superiors or with customers, the right tone will usually be more formal and respectful. 7 However, that same tone might sound distant and cold in a small organization or if used with close colleagues. Part of the challenge of communicating on the job is to read each situation and figure out the appropriate tone to use.
Compare the three versions of the message in Table 4.2 on the next page. The first is too formal and stuffy for today’s audiences, whereas the third is too casual for any audience other than close associates or friends. The second message demonstrates the conversational tone used in most business communication—plain language that sounds businesslike without being stuffy at one extreme or too laid-back and informal at the other extreme. You can achieve a tone that is conversational but still businesslike following these guidelines:
- Understand the difference between texting and writing. The casual, acronym-filled language friends often use in text messaging, IM, and social networks is not considered professional business writing. Yes, it is an efficient way for friends to communicate—particularly taking into account the limitations of a phone keypad—but if you want to be taken seriously in business, you simply cannot write like this on the job.
- Avoid obsolete and pompous language. Most companies now shy away from such dated phrases as “attached please find” and “please be advised that.” Similarly, avoid using obscure words, stale or clichéd expressions, and complicated sentences whose only intent is to impress others.
- Avoid preaching and bragging. >Readers tend to get irritated by know-it-alls who like to preach or brag. However, if you need to remind your audience of something that should be obvious, try to work in the information casually, perhaps in the middle of a paragraph, where it will sound like a secondary comment rather than a major revelation.
- Be careful with intimacy. Business messages should generally avoid intimacy, such as sharing personal details or adopting a casual, unprofessional tone. However, when you have a close relationship with audience members, such as among the members of a close-knit team, a more intimate tone is sometimes appropriate and even expected.
- Be careful with humor. Humor can easily backfire and divert attention from your message. If you don’t know your audience well or you’re not skilled at using humor in a business setting, don’t use it at all. Avoid humor in formal messages and when you’re communicating across cultural boundaries.
TABLE 4.2 Formal, Conversational, and Informal Tones
Tone Example Stuffy: too formal for today’s audiences Dear Ms. Navarro:
Enclosed please find the information that was requested during our telephone communication of May 14. As was mentioned at that time, Midville Hospital has significantly more doctors of exceptional quality than any other health facility in the state.
As you were also informed, our organization has quite an impressive network of doctors and other health-care professionals with offices located throughout the state. In the event that you should need a specialist, our professionals will be able to make an appropriate recommendation.
In the event that you have questions or would like additional information, you may certainly contact me during regular business hours.
Most sincerely yours,
Samuel G. Berenz
Conversational: just right for most business communication Dear Ms. Navarro:
Here’s the information you requested during our phone conversation on Friday. As I mentioned, Midville Hospital has the highest-rated doctors and more of them than any other hospital in the state.
In addition, we have a vast network of doctors and other health professionals with offices throughout the state. If you need a specialist, they can refer you to the right one.
If you would like more information, please call any time between 9:00 and 5:00, Monday through Friday.
Samuel G. Berenz
Unprofessional: too casual for business communication Here’s the 411 you requested. IMHO, we have more and better doctors than any other hospital in the state.
FYI, we also have a large group of doctors and other health professionals w/offices close to U at work/home. If U need a specialist, they’ll refer U to the right one
Any? just ring or msg.
Using Plain Language
Audiences can understand and act on plain language without reading it over and over.
An important aspect of creating a conversational tone is using plain language (or plain English specifically when English is involved). Plain language presents information in a simple, unadorned style that allows your audience to easily grasp your meaning—language that recipients “can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it.” 8 You can see how this definition supports using the “you” attitude and shows respect for your audience (see Figure 4.3 ). In addition, plain language can make companies more productive and more profitable because people spend less time trying to figure out messages that are confusing or aren’t written to meet their needs. 9
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Figure 4.3 Plain Language at Creative Commons
Creative Commons uses this diagram and text to explain the differences among its three versions of content licenses. Source: Copyright © 2012 by Creative Commons. Reprinted with permission.
Selecting Active or Passive Voice
The choice of active or passive voice also affects the tone of your message. In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject performs the action and the object receives the action: “Jodi sent the email message.” In a sentence written in the passive voice, the subject receives the action: “The email message was sent by Jodi.” As you can see, the passive voice combines the helping verb to be with a form of the verb that is usually similar to the past tense.
Active sentences are usually stronger than passive ones.
Using the active voice often makes your writing more direct, livelier, and easier to read (see Table 4.3 on the next page). Passive voice is not wrong grammatically, but it can be cumbersome, lengthy, and vague. In most cases, the active voice is the better choice. 10 Nevertheless, using the passive voice can help you demonstrate the “you” attitude in some situations:
Use passive sentences to soften bad news, to put yourself in the background, or to create an impersonal tone when needed.
- When you want to be diplomatic about pointing out a problem or an error
- When you want to point out what’s being done without taking or attributing either the credit or the blame
- When you want to avoid personal pronouns (I and we) in order to create an objective tone
The second half of Table 4.3 illustrates several situations in which the passive voice helps you focus your message on your audience.
Composing Your Message: Choosing Powerful Words
4 LEARNING OBJECTIVE
Describe how to select words that are not only correct but also effective.
After you have decided how to adapt to your audience, you’re ready to begin composing your message. As you write your first draft, let your creativity flow. Don’t try to draft and edit at the same time, and don’t worry about getting everything perfect. Make up words if you can’t think of the right ones, draw pictures, or talk out loud—do whatever it takes to get the ideas out of your head and onto your computer screen or a piece of paper. If you’ve planned carefully, you’ll have time to revise and refine the material later. In fact, many writers find it helpful to establish a personal rule of never showing a first draft to anyone. By working in this “safe zone,” away from the critical eyes of others, your mind will stay free to think clearly and creatively.
TABLE 4.3 Choosing Active or Passive Voice
In general, avoid passive voice to make your writing lively and direct. Dull and Indirect in Passive Voice Lively and Direct in Active Voice The new procedure was developed by the operations team. The operations team developed the new procedure. Legal problems are created by this contract. This contract creates legal problems. Reception preparations have been undertaken by our PR people for the new CEO’s arrival. Our PR people have begun planning a reception for the new CEO. However, passive voice is helpful when you need to be diplomatic or want to focus attention on problems or solutions rather than on people. Accusatory or Self-Congratulatory in Active Voice More Diplomatic in Passive Voice You lost the shipment. The shipment was lost. I recruited seven engineers last month. Seven engineers were recruited last month. We are investigating the high rate of failures on the final assembly line. The high rate of failures on the final assembly line is being investigated.
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Correctness is the first consideration when choosing words.
You may find it helpful to hone your craft by viewing your writing at three levels: strong words, effective sentences, and coherent paragraphs. Starting at the word level, successful writers pay close attention to the correct use of words. 11 If you make errors of grammar or usage, you lose credibility with your audience—even if your message is otherwise correct. Poor grammar suggests to readers that you lack professionalism, and they may choose not to trust you as an unprofessional source. Moreover, poor grammar may imply that you don’t respect your audience enough to get things right.
The rules of grammar and usage can be a source of worry for writers because some of these rules are complex and some evolve over time. Even professional editors and grammarians occasionally have questions about correct usage, and they may disagree about the answers. For example, the word data is the plural form of datum, yet some experts now prefer to treat data as a singular noun when it’s used in nonscientific material to refer to a body of facts or figures.
With practice, you’ll become more skilled in making correct choices over time. If you have doubts about what is correct, you have many ways to find the answer. Check the Handbook of Grammar, Mechanics, and Usage at the end of this book , or consult the many special reference books and resources available in libraries, in bookstores, and on the Internet.
Effectiveness is the second consideration when choosing words.
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In addition to using words correctly, successful writers and speakers take care to use the most effective words and phrases. Selecting and using words effectively is often more challenging than using words correctly because doing so is a matter of judgment and experience. Careful writers continue to work at their craft to find words that communicate with power (see Figure 4.4 ).
Balancing Abstract and Concrete Words
The more abstract a word is, the more it is removed from the tangible, objective world of things that can be perceived with the senses.
The nouns in your business messages can vary dramatically in their degree of abstraction or concreteness. An abstract word expresses a concept, quality, or characteristic. Abstractions are usually broad, encompassing a category of ideas, and are often intellectual, academic, or philosophical. Love, honor, progress, tradition, and beauty are abstractions, as are such important business concepts as productivity, quality, and motivation. In contrast, a concrete word stands for something you can touch, see, or visualize. Most concrete terms are anchored in the tangible, material world. Chair, green, two, database, and website are concrete words; they are direct, clear, and exact.
Figure 4.4 Choosing Powerful Words
Notice how careful word choices help this excerpt from a report published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants make a number of important points. The tone is formal, which is appropriate for a report with global, public readership. (GAAP refers to accounting standards currently used in the United States; IFRS refers to international standards.) Source: ©2013 AICPA used by permission.
Of the two types, abstractions tend to cause more trouble because they are often “fuzzy” and can be interpreted differently, depending on the audience and the circumstances. The best way to minimize such problems is to balance abstract terms with concrete ones. State the concept, then pin it down with details expressed in more concrete terms. Save the abstractions for ideas that cannot be expressed any other way.
Finding Words That Communicate Well
Try to use words that are powerful and familiar.
When you compose business messages, look for the most powerful words for each situation (see Table 4.4 on the next page):
- Choose strong, precise words. Choose words that express your thoughts clearly, specifically, and strongly. If you find yourself using many adjectives and adverbs, chances are you’re trying to compensate for weak nouns and verbs. Saying that sales plummeted is stronger and more efficient than saying sales dropped dramatically or sales experienced a dramatic drop.
TABLE 4.4 Selected Examples of Finding Powerful Words
Potentially Weak Words and Phrases Stronger Alternatives (effective usage depends on the situation) Increase (as a verb) Accelerate, amplify, augment, enlarge, escalate, expand, extend, magnify, multiply, soar, swell Decrease (as a verb) Curb, cut back, depreciate, dwindle, shrink, slacken Large, small (use a specific number, such as $100 million) Good Admirable, beneficial, desirable, flawless, pleasant, sound, superior, worthy Bad Abysmal, corrupt, deficient, flawed, inadequate, inferior, poor, substandard, worthless We are committed to providing . . . We provide . . . It is in our best interest to . . . We should . . . Unfamiliar Words Familiar Words Ascertain Find out, learn Consummate Close, bring about Peruse Read, study Circumvent Avoid Unequivocal Certain Clichés and Buzzwords Plain Language An uphill battle A challenge Writing on the wall Prediction Call the shots Lead Take by storm Attack Costs an arm and a leg Expensive A new ball game Fresh start Fall through the cracks Be overlooked Think outside the box Be creative Run it up the flagpole Find out what people think about it Eat our own dog food Use our own products Mission-critical Vital Disintermediate Get rid of Green light (as a verb) Approve Architect (as a verb) Design Space (as in, “we compete in the XYZ space”) Market or industry Blocking and tackling Basic skills Trying to boil the ocean Working frantically but without focus Human capital People, employees, workforce Low-hanging fruit Tasks that are easy to complete or sales that are easy to close Pushback Resistance
Avoid clichés, be extremely careful with trendy buzzwords, and use jargon only when your audience is completely familiar with it.
- Choose familiar words. You’ll communicate best with words that are familiar to both you and your readers. Moreover, trying to use unfamiliar words can lead to embarrassing mistakes.
- Avoid clichés and use buzzwords carefully. Although familiar words are generally the best choice, avoid clichés—terms and phrases so common that they have lost some of their power to communicate. Buzzwords, newly coined terms often associated with technology, business, or cultural changes, are more difficult to handle than clichés because in small doses and in the right situations, they can be useful. The careful use of a buzzword can signal that you’re an insider, someone in the know.12 However, buzzwords quickly become clichés, and using them too late in their “life cycle” can mark you as an outsider desperately trying to look like an insider.
- Use jargon carefully. Jargon, the specialized language of a particular profession or industry, has a bad reputation, but it’s not always bad. Using jargon is usually an efficient way to communicate within the specific groups that understand these terms. After all, that’s how jargon develops in the first place, as people with similar interests develop ways to communicate complex ideas quickly.
The Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus helps you find the right word by organizing words according to their relationship with other words.
If you need help finding the right words, try some of the visual dictionaries and thesauruses available online.
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