In our last post on improving your business writing, we discussed getting to the point, using simple language, and using the active voice. In this post, we’re talking about things that can ruin good writing, like jargon, tautologies, platitudes, truisms, and obvious statements.
Beware of Jargon
All fields develop specialized language to address specialized topics. That’s fine. However, too much jargon can make text impenetrable, even to subject matter experts. If the jargon has no plain English equivalent, use the jargon. If there is a simple English equivalent, use it.
Important note: the wider the intended audience of your writing, the less jargon you should use. If you must use jargon, be sure to explain it the first time you use it.
A tautology is a statement that says the same thing twice. Tautologies say nothing useful and they are not refutable or verifiable. For example:
“Before selecting a new cloud provider, it is important that you figure out exactly which one is right for your business.”
In this statement, “figure out exactly which one is right” means the same thing as “selecting”, so another way of writing this sentence would be:
“Before selecting a new cloud provider, it is important that you select the one that is right for your business.”
This statement is useless.
A platitude is a trite, banal, or cliché statement, often with a moral dimension. For example:
People are our most valuable asset.
There’s no I in team.
Work smarter, not harder.
Platitudes are useful phrases in conversation. They’re social lubricant for when you don’t really have anything to add or aren’t sure what to say. These phrases have no place in writing. You can just stop writing after you’ve made your point.
A truism is a statement that is obviously true. More formally, it is a statement that says nothing beyond what is implied by its terms. For example:
Profit is the difference between income and expense.
Our budget will dictate what we spend.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Good writing does not need to point out the obvious. Truisms can come across as condescending or make the writer look dumb.
Note: a truism is not, as many business writers seem to think, just a thing that is true.
Avoid Obvious Statements
Obvious statements are safe. They’re hard to prove wrong, look like a contribution, and have a veneer of helpfulness. Maybe that’s why they’re so common in business writing. However, they’re useless. For example:
Understanding market trends is more important than ever before.
Companies must keep abreast of developments in their field.
Training will improve our employee’s skillsets.
All these things are obviously true so they don’t need to be said.
The Bottom Line
Business writing is rife with jargon, tautologies, platitudes, truisms, and obvious statements. By avoiding these (or, at least, using them judiciously), you can set your writing apart from much of the rest.