Have you ever turned up to a corporate event, read a PR release or a blog post and the cliched communication made you wince? Creating clear conversational writing and content sometimes means that old habits need to be unlearned!
So here’s another batch of business jargon, along with suggestions for how to replace these overused, confusing, vague, pretentious and/or misleading terms. If you’d like to see more, here are my first 50 epic jargon solutions.
1. Actionable. An actionable item is one you can take action on. Whether the action is desirable is another story. For that reason, an item may be more clearly described as practical, useful, realistic or workable.
2. Around. Don’t have a discussion around an issue; have a discussion about an issue.
3. Balls in the air. Sound less like a carnival act and more like a business professional by saying that you are busy or have several projects underway.
4. Best of breed. “Of breed” adds nothing to “best.” Just say you’re the best.
5. Big bang for the buck. A sleazy fast-talker’s way of saying this or that product or service has exceptionally high value.
6. Bring to the table. This is an overused way of saying a person contributes this or that specific thing to a project or work group.
7. Business case. Redundant. If you’re talking business, you should simply say case.
8. Check the box. Replace with complete the task.
9. Compelling. Overused! A 90 percent discount is compelling, but a 5 percent discount is merely interesting. Don’t describe something as compelling unless it is.
10. Competitive advantage. This phrase is a puffed up, boardroom-y way of saying your company excels at something.
11. Corporate culture. Small businesses overreach when they claim to have a culture. It’s more realistic, honest and believable to say you have a particular kind of environment or atmosphere.
12. Deck. Some people know that a deck is a slide presentation. Everybody else will think you’re not playing with a full one.
13. Disambiguate. The word you’re looking for is clarify.
14. Evangelist. A generous, one-sentence Yelp review does not an evangelist make. Evangelism takes fiery passion and sustained, unsolicited effort. Too often businesses describe as evangelists those who are loyal customers or casual fans of the brand.
15. Evolve. More precisely stated, a business plan or relationship develops, strengthens or grows in complexity or size.
16. Frictionless. Overstatement. Friction has to do with change, and what type of business change has ever occurred without friction? If you say something can take place with minimal friction, you’ll be much more accurate and believable.
17. Functionality. Instead of multi-user functionality, try supports multiple users. The latter phrasing is easier to read and contains an action verb rather than a bland, corporate compound noun.
18. Game changer. Whereas paradigm shift is too formal, game changer is too casual. Instead of either of these, meet in the middle with significant change or fundamental change.
19. Granular. Instead of taking a granular look, look at the details.
20. Grow the business. Unless you’re a farmer, build the business.
21. Human capital. Ironically, few pieces of business jargon are as dehumanizing as human capital. Much better to speak of employees, workers, laborers, workforce, crew or staff.
22. Jump the shark. If a business or product is past its prime and grasping at straws to stay relevant, it has jumped the shark. The metaphor is past its prime; grasping at this straw makes your writing suck.
23. Killer app. More overstatement. Most “killer apps” are dead within months of their introduction.
24. Laser focus. I guess when regular focus isn’t enough, companies must bring out the big guns and employ laser focus. C’mon: drop the pretentious laser and just focus.
25. Level playing field. Stop going over the same metaphorical ground and replace this phrase with fair competition.
26. Magic bullet. High caliber business writers replace this overused phrase with cure-all or panacea.
27. Maximize. To sound like a real person, say that your product or service improves results rather than maximizes results.
28. Methodology. Scholars, scientists and extremely complex businesses have methodologies. To avoid sounding pretentious, say that your business has documented methods, processes or internal systems.
29. Next steps. This harmless-looking phrase escalates word count. Instead of, as a next step we will … just say, next, we will.
30. One throat to choke. This means you are the only place your client needs to go for answers. Don’t give your client any ideas! Instead, simply say that you are fully accountable.
31. Out of pocket. A tailor’s inventory may be out of pocket. You’re just busy.
32. Pain point. Replace with problem, challenge, frustration, difficulty or headache.
33. Preplan. When people say preplan, they usually mean early-stage planning. Preplanning is something (I’m not really sure what) that people do before they start planning.
34. Preschedule. See preplan.
35. Proactive. When people are proactive they take the initiative. Doesn’t take the initiative sound stronger and more like something a real person would say?
36. Reach out. Customers don’t want you to reach out, as that phrasing is vague and nonchalant. They prefer you visit, call, email or text them (ideally within a stated amount of time).
37. Reinvent the wheel. When people reinvent the wheel, they are laboriously recreating something essential that already exists in finished form. The phrase is actually useful for describing this situation; problems arise when it is used to describe something that is not laborious, not being recreated, not essential and/or not already existing in finished form.
38. Resonate. When an idea resonates, it reaches people on an emotional level or in a way they can relate to. This is why it may be better to say either that people will be moved by this idea or will relate to this idea.
39. Roadmap. Vague. In business, a roadmap could be a strategic plan, a tactical plan or a set of instructions. Decide what you really mean and describe accordingly.
40. Robust. Robust functionality just doesn’t resonate. On the other hand, people will relate when you say your product does a lot of useful things.
41. Seamless. See frictionless. Few things, if any, in business are seamless. Replace this word with something along the lines of easy to implement.
42. Secret sauce. Your secret sauce is your competitive edge; something crucial you can do that your competitors cannot. Secret sauce trivializes a supremely important concept; replace the phrase with key benefit, unique benefit, unique advantage, etc.
43. State of the art. This phrase used to be state of the art … but now lets customers know your product has jumped the shark (see jump the shark). Better to avoid superlatives and describe it as your latest model, or having the latest technology.
44. Strategic plan. Few companies have the stamina and expertise to create a genuine strategic plan. More often, the phrase is used to describe a strategic sketch, strategic guesswork or a tactical plan. Don’t overinflate what you’ve created (and your ego) by calling these latter items a strategic plan.
45. Touch base. See reach out.
46. Traction. In general business usage, when something gains traction, it begins to take hold or gather momentum. Either of these latter phrases conveys the idea more clearly than traction.
47. Unpack. To unpack an idea is to examine it in detail. Unpack is becoming overused; better to stick with examine in detail.
48. Value-added. Saying your product or service has “value-added” components doesn’t tell anyone anything about what the value is or how the value is relevant; in other words, the phrase is meaningless. Reaching for this phrase means the time has come to point out product and service benefits.
49. Win-win. Theoretically, it’s a game where both parties win; the opposite of a zero-sum game. In business world reality, a win-win is a phrase the party that wins more uses to console the party that wins less. Better to avoid the whole concept and describe specifically what each party gains.
50. Zero-sum game. A game where one party wins and the other loses; the opposite of a win-win. Since not everyone knows this, a clearer (and powerful) way to describe it is winner take all.
(Note: The Straight North content team used our real-life business writing and editing experience to compile these 50 entries.)
Over to You
What words or phrases can you add to the list – and what are better replacements?
Guest author: Brad Shorr is Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, an Internet marketing agency headquartered in Chicago. He is an experienced content strategist, respected blogger, and SEO copywriter. Connect with him on Twitter @bradshorr.
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