Lists of business jargon are a dime a dozen. To make this one worth your time, I’m going to:
- Create a comprehensive list of words and phrases encountered in everyday business writing
- Suggest better alternatives so you can add meaning and persuasive power to your blog posts
This means that you will be understood, create more impact and attract more readers to your blog and website. So here are some solutions for better writing to tweak and hone your communication.
1. At the end of the day. Any time you write this phrase, your next step is to delete it.
2. Awesome. If you’re describing the Grand Canyon or the dimensions of the universe, awesome is fine. Otherwise, find a less sensational (i.e., more realistic) adjective, such as outstanding or exceptional.
3. Bandwidth. This is a euphemism to make we don’t have time sound like it’s part of the plan. If you simply say you don’t have the time or resources, people will respect your frankness.
4. Bleeding edge. With so many companies on the bleeding edge, it’s no wonder the economy is hemorrhaging. Overstatements such as this inspire skepticism. Instead, talk about your groundbreaking business model or new approach.
5. Brain surgery. This isn’t brain surgery has been so overused it carries comical overtones the author may not intend. Better to operate with a straightforward word like complicated.
6. Buy-in. Try support or agreement instead.
7. Champion (as a verb). Replace with support, defend or perhaps spearhead.
8. Content is king. A massively overused metaphor that lets people know you don’t understand content. Why? Because king metaphors apply when a clear, measurable hierarchy exists; e.g., The blueberry is the king of antioxidants. Content is one element of a complex marketing system in which all components have unique and essential value. Homework and discussion: What is a simple metaphor for that?
9. Core competencies. A fancy way of saying we’re good at this. There’s nothing wrong with saying we specialize in this, or we excel at this.
10. Cutting edge. See bleeding edge.
11. Deep dive. Overuse has sunk this way of describing a thorough analysis. Try explore, analyze, or the soon-to-be-overused unpack.
12. Disconnect (as a noun). This word is not only overused, it’s also vague. Does disconnect imply a difference of opinion or just a misunderstanding? Clear up the confusion by using the former or latter.
13. Disruptive. If a product or business model is truly disruptive, you don’t need to describe it as such; it will speak for itself.
14. Drill down. Replace with look more closely at.
15. Drink the Kool-Aid. This phrase was gruesomely powerful in the ‘80s, when the Jonestown Massacre was fresh in people’s minds. With overuse, the phrase has become vague: Does it mean a person is a fanatic, believes in something evil, or just toes the company line? Think about what you really mean and use a more precise description.
16. Ducks in a row. A silly way of saying we’re ready or organized.
17. Ecosystem. Ecosystem can describe Microsoft Windows or Apple, where users have deep and broad interaction with products and services in a closed system. For the most part, however, ecosystem is an overreach. In most business situations, ecosystems are merely systems or networks or product groups.
18. Empower. Better options are assign responsibility or delegate responsibility. Besides being overused, empower has a bad business vibe, as it suggests class warfare.
19. Epic (as an adjective). Epic describes something of heroic, sweeping proportions. Applying the word to business content or situations is an epic overstatement that serious-minded people won’t take seriously. A simple adjective like useful or memorable carries more weight.
20. Get on board. See buy-in.
21. Going forward. For the most part, this phrase can be eliminated: Going forward, we will hire 10 people.
22. Guru. If others describe you as a guru, people will be skeptical. If you describe yourself as a guru, people will laugh in your face.
23. Holistic. Comprehensive or complete is more straightforward.
24. Ideation. To ideate is to form ideas or concepts. The word is frequently used in a clinical (and rather ominous) context, such as suicidal ideation. In business, stick with phrases such as develop a strategy or brainstorming session.
25. Impact (as a verb). Grammatically correct options: have an impact on or have an effect on or simply affect.
26. Incentivize. A mouthful of mush that means motivate.
27. Innovative. Describing a product or service as innovative means nothing. You have to explain in what way the product is innovative. Since most things described as innovative aren’t, this can be a daunting task.
28. Key takeaways. A puffed up way of describing important points.
29. Knowledge transfer. We’ll teach you beats We’ll engage in knowledge transfer by six syllables and a country mile.
30. Leaders. Everybody is a leader in this or a leader in that – so what? Here’s a case where frankness and modesty paradoxically arouse interest. If you claim only that you’re good at this or that, people may actually take notice.
31. Learnings. Ironically, this is not even a real word. Teachings or lessons, on the other hand, are.
32. Leverage (as a verb). Instead of, we leverage our volume to offer low prices, try, our volume enables us to offer low prices.
33. Low-hanging fruit. This phrase drives people bananas. Pear down fruit metaphors and juice up clarity with easy opportunities or easy options.
34. Mission-critical. What’s the difference between critical and mission-critical? Unless you want to sound like an astronaut, stick with critical.
35. Move the needle. This means to get meaningful or measurable results. Why not, then, say one or the other?
36. Ninja. See guru.
37. On the same page. In the old days, we were singing from the same sheet of music. Now, we’re on the same page. In any era, it’s easier to simply say, we agree.
38. Open the kimono. If you’re sharing secrets or proprietary information, just share them and be done with it. There’s no upside to bringing hidden body parts into the discussion.
39. Outside the box. Ironically, using this tired phrase alerts people that you have no creativity whatsoever. Instead, talk about creative or imaginative thinking.
40. Paradigm shift. If you say significant change or fundamental change, people will actually understand what you’re talking about.
41. Push the envelope. This could mean to act aggressively, assume risk, expand the boundaries of, or advance to the boundary. Think about what you mean exactly, and then describe it.
42. Quite frankly. Use this phrase only when you want people to know you’re being otherwise deceptive and insincere.
43. Raise the bar. This means to set a higher standard, which sounds a whole lot better.
44. Rock star. See guru and ninja.
45. Rocket science. See brain surgery.
46. Solutions. For my money, the worst word in the world. When people hear solutions, they think, “Here’s a complicated product that will create more problems than it solves.” Or, their minds simply go blank because they’ve heard the word a million times. Replace solutions with specific benefits; e.g., This product simplifies household budgeting.
47. Soup to nuts. To avoid coming off like a buffoon, substitute comprehensive or complete.
48. Synergy. When things synergize, they combine to have a greater impact than they can achieve on their own. Synergy is a useful business concept, but the word has been run into the ground. The key is to avoid synergy when you mean only collaboration, cooperation or consolidation.
49. Thought leader. See guru, ninja and rock star.
50. World class. A bold statement that should be used only to describe proven and widely accepted products, services, systems and organizations. Even then, it doesn’t convey anything concrete. As with solutions, it is far more persuasive to describe the standout quality of the subject in question: Our customer service reps answer every call within one ring.
(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?
Listen to this post as a podcast.
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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