Lost in Translation

Okay, I confess that I am something of a grammar and punctuation nerd. I spot errant apostrophes as easily as I draw breath. The wrong pronoun case sets my eyelids to twitching. Eats, Shoots and Leaves made me laugh out loud and want to kiss the feet of its author. At last, a kindred spirit!

I realize that not everyone is a grammar ninja (my nickname around the office), so I tend to give people some slack when they get it wrong. But I have suffered in silence long enough over poorly worded business communications. Action must be taken.

Exhibit A: Company Z delivers Customer Relationship Management solutions that drive top-line revenue growth and increased profitability. We view CRM not as a strategy in and of itself, but as a set of mission-critical, customer-facing disciplines that ensure realization of Sales Growth Strategy objectives.

Several capillaries just burst inside my head as I tried to figure out what the heck this means. Who is this company talking to? What are they trying to communicate? What do they actually DO? And why can’t they use English? (Note: company names altered to protect the verbose.)

Exhibit B: Companies must shape human capital initiatives, prioritize systemic change, and inform work unit interventions for maximum accountability and workflow efficiency.

I think my nose is bleeding.

Exhibit C: Software Company and Y Group have partnered Product, the industry leading, Real Time, Out-of-Band Multi-Factor Authentication solution from Software Company and the established managed services facilities of the Y Group to offer the first industry utility service of its kind in Australia.

Does anyone out there know the signs of a stroke?

But seriously, this kind of language is just unacceptable—unless your intent is to completely befuddle potential clients. And of course it’s not your intent! Yes, there are certain words or phrases that the general populace won’t understand but your target audience will. But if almost every word in your press release, “About Us” statement or product slick is a jargon word, it becomes difficult and tedious to the point of pain to read. All but the most stalwart journalists and prospects will abandon the piece without finishing it. So much for effective, persuasive communication.

Here are a few tips for not boring, disgusting or scaring away your audience:
  1. Elevator pitch: If you had 30 seconds to explain what your company or new product does to someone who’s not in your industry, what language would you use? Write like that.
  2. Read it to a high schooler: If they have no idea what you do or what the piece is about, start over.
  3. Do a gobbledygook check: David Meerman Scott has a great list of jargon words to avoid. Replace whatever jargon you find with actual words.
  4. Grade your press release: There’s a new and free online service called Press Release Grader. It shows you the grade level of the writing, the most frequently used words, content suggestions and more.
  5. Hire a grammar ninja: Not everyone can write. Don’t entrust your communication to someone who can’t—no matter how smart or knowledgeable or nice they are.
Now, please call the paramedics for me.

Posted by Heath Havlick

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